The Best Way to Travel in NZ is Backpacking
New Zealand is the perfect country to go backpacking in. Whether you’re on a shoestring budget that means you’re hitchhiking and couch surfing, or you can afford a more flashpacker experience, New Zealand will not disappoint. Gorgeous scenic landscapes, beaches, mountains, the home of the Lord of the Rings movies, a thriving craft beer scene, innumerable wine trails, and that laid back and welcoming New Zealand vibe – this is definitely an idyllic spot.
There is so much nature and beauty to enjoy, you can traverse the length and breadth of the country, taking in all the sights and sounds, and engaging with the unique wildlife and breath-taking landscapes. New Zealand is also perfectly set up for adventure, with biking, hiking, zorbing, diving and bungy jumping.
You can hire a car (or, buy a cheap car when you arrive in the country and then sell it when you leave, just remember to get insurance for your travels) and drive or there is public transportation to get around the cities. A backpacker travels light and can make the most of what the country has to offer in terms of affordable and cheap transportation options – and there are also loads of hostels and campsites to stay at along the way, whether you’re in the North or the South Island. And of course, there’s the people – New Zealanders are welcoming, friendly, and helpful. Backpacking means you’ll get to interact more with the locals, making friends is always the best part of the trip.
Let’s take a look at some of the must visit places for someone planning a backpacking trip, in both the North and South Islands. All of these destinations are accessible by hop-on-hop-off buses that travel around the country, connecting the main centres.
This is the obvious place to start, but still not to be missed. Queenstown in the South Island has a magnificent view of the Southern Alps, and also has a number of adventure sport activities to try, including bungee jumping (it was invented here, after all!), luging, zip lining and of course, plenty of biking and hiking. It is also a great starting point for your backpacking adventures. This is a backpackers playground, with loads of restaurants and a humming bar scene.
A couple of hours down the road from Queenstown, you’ll find Te Anau. It’s less touristy but has stunning lake-side views and a more chilled out vibe. Take a cruise to the glow-worm caves, or take a one hour drive and head to Doubtful Sound. It’s every bit as stunning as Milford Sound, but has a resident pod of dolphins, which will play alongside the boat if you’re lucky.
Fancy swimming with the dolphins? How about watching a colony of seals nap, play and sunbathe? Go whale watching, surf in the Pacific Ocean, or simply enjoy fish and chips overlooking the sea. Kaikoura also offers the opportunity to climb Mount Fyffe and enjoy a spectacular view of the surroundings. Also hop on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, which juts from the east coast of the South Island, and stretches over 11 kms, with the majestic ocean on one side and rugged coastline to boot.
Mount Cook/Aoraki is the country’s highest mountain and is home to easily viewable glaciers. Start at Mount Cook village and you can take a number of day walks – kea point, or a longer walk to the base of Mt Cook, where you can see a glacier lake. If you’re lucky, you might see avalanches high on the mountain, especially on a warm day. Watch for a puff of snow and listen for a distant roar.
This South Island National Park is a must do! Avalanche Peak is home to some of the most exotic, unique New Zealand wildlife, Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfalls will take your breath away, and Temple Basin is the place to go to ski. While this is not a place buses will stop for long, you’ll often find keas at the top of the pass too, NZ’s cheeky and curious native parrot.
Kahurangi National Park
The second largest national park in the country, Kahurangi in the north-west of the South Island has much to offer nature enthusiasts. You’ll find a multitude of trails leading to wild rivers, coastal forests and alpine fields. It is also the setting for some scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies.
Beach lovers should not miss visiting the Coromandel. There’s a network of small towns nearby, so you can hit up many beaches as you make your way along the coast. Eat at amazing restaurants, relax, and enjoy the clear waters and clean white beaches as you travel.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands, located north east of the North Island, comprises of 140 subtropical islands, so there is plenty to explore (and the weather is warmer than in the South Island). Get a glimpse of Maori culture, enjoy big game fishing, and visit picturesque waterfalls. Campsites are plentiful, but beware: You will never want to leave.
Whanganui National Park
This park in the North Island is popular with hikers and is home to the famed Bridge to Nowhere walk. Hike or bike across the park and enjoy the spectacular scenery and wildlife.
New Zealand’s capital city offers plenty for backpackers, with a cool café culture, Te Papa Museum, and a cool bustling city with loads of unique shops. The city makes for a change from the rugged nature of most of the other recommended spots on our list. A rich mix of culture, history, and cityscapes await the visitor.