So you want to go backpacking New Zealand, the land of Middle Earth, pardon, New Zealand, do you? Well, that’s perfect because this country is a backpacker heaven. So many backpackers come here on a regular basis, there have been a lot of adaptations made for their comfort. For instance, travelling by bus is comparatively cheap, hostels have wifi (mostly, you have to pay for it, though) and there are tons of activities on offer. Since you wish to travel New Zealand on a budget, I presume you want to get the most out of your experiences but not spent too much so as to save up for the next epic tour or activity. Here’s how to:
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New Zealand Travel Itineraries
New Zealand has so much to offer, so you need a few weeks to get a good overview. I had five weeks in total and it still wasn’t enough. If you had to decide on one island, make it the South Island. It really is that much more visually stunning.
Example for a South Island New Zealand Itinerary 7 Days
You will most likely fly into Christchurch, which has been completely rebuilt after the earthquake destroyed it a few years ago. It is a vibrant town, full of little gems and easily walkable. Explore it for a day and then head South to Dunedin. Here, you can find the fairy penguins, the steepest road in New Zealand and the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. The botanical gardens are free to visit and very beautiful. Stay for one or two days.
Next for your New Zealand itinerary, head over to Queenstown, where you can go skiing in the winter and hiking the mountains in summer. Walk up the hill before sunset and then descend in the cable car down unto the glistening city lights at night.
For day four, check out Wanaka, which is known for that famous tree in the lake, on your way to Tekapo. The latter town makes for the most striking New Zealand photos as this is where you can find the abandoned house next to the crystal clear lake, snow capped mountains and – in spring – a sea of lupin flowers. You can easily combine both in a day trip.
For day five, check out Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier on an adventurous hike. Better book a guided tour because this isn’t entirely safe for the inexperienced but well worth it. For day six, you could head over to Nelson if you are keen on a few hours drive, otherwise head east to Kaikoura. This small town doesn’t offer much in terms of entertainment but the nature is mesmerising. Rugged cliffs, lazy seals and wonderful backyards. For the last day, go for a day trip from Christchurch to the peninsula of Akaroa.
Example for a North Island New Zealand Itinerary 7 Days
After landing on the North Island – probably in Auckland -, go on a coast to coast walk to stretch your feet and enjoy the wonderful skyline of Auckland. To get even better views, head up Mount Eden for sunset. The next day, schedule in a day trip to the islands in Auckland’s Bay, such as Rangitoto, Waiheke and then end the day with a sunset viewed from the hill above Devonport.
Next during your New Zealand travel, drive over to Rotorua for a special experience of Maori culture in Whakarewarewa, followed by a walk in the Redwood forest nearby. If you stay another day, why not participate in ziplining, go to a local thermal spa or marvel at the colours of Mount Terawa? A great place often overlooked by tourists is Napier with its pastel Art Deco architecture and hilly cityscape. Spending an afternoon here is fine, then move on to Wellington.
In the capital of New Zealand you absolutely cannot miss Weta Cave in Wellywood. Take the local bus and you will get a guided behind the scenes peak of the Lord of the Rings production and how props are made in a very minute process. Also, you should visit the Botanical Gardens, the local beaches and fresh food markets. If you are a The Tribe Fans, then the local filming locations will make you feel giddy with excitement.
Backpacking in New Zealand: Where to Stay
To get the best out of your buck, compare as much as you can. The main websites for cheap deals are www.hostelworld.com and nakedsleep. You can also score great deals on Booking.com. Sign up to newsletters to get notified of special sales rightaway.
Regarding nakedsleep, you should know that they are part of the nakedbus company, which means that buses often drop you right off at the hostel doorsteps (as some are a bit further out). Therefore, always double check the location of your stay and the bus dropoff if you decide to travel New Zealand by bus.
Since you are backpacking New Zealand, you will want to stay at hostels. Luckily, New Zealand caters to exactly that scene and there are plenty of New Zealand hostels to choose from, some better than others. I personally prefer the YHA brand over X Base, which is geared towards party people. Here are a few hostels that offer a great experience.
To cut costs even more for backpacking in New Zealand check couch availabilities with locals. Couchsurfing is a great way to connect as well as get free of charge stays and if you want to immerse yourself even more and for longer, check out WOOFing and Workaway programs.
Camping also is a more affordable option, in particular when you are planning on hiking New Zealand. Check camping fees and locations in advance on CamperMate.
|Auckland||YMCA Hostel, Verandahs Backpackers Lodge|
|Rotorua||Rotorua Downtown Backpackers|
|Wellington||The Dwellington, Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers|
|Kaikoura||Sky Hi Hostel Lodge, Dusky Lodge and Backpackers|
|Christchurch||JUCY Snooze Christchurch, Dorset House Backpackers|
|Dunedin||On Top Backpackers, Dunedin Central Pod Hostel|
|Queenstown||YHA Queenstown Lakefront, YHA Queenstown Central|
|Wanaka||Matterhorn South Lodge|
|Tekapo||Tailor Made Tekapo Backpackers|
As mentioned earlier, public transport is pretty cheap. It might not be greatly developed since you will find it mostly in cities or as a connection between them. So don’t count on it to take you into nature – sadly, you still need a car or book a tour for this. But since you are a backpacker and probably staying at a youth hostel, you can simply have the reception make a shout out or ask fellow travellers the old fashioned way whether they would like to have a day tour or share a taxi or uber with you.
A lot of the times, it is possible to walk or take the bus to the outskirts of town and then start hiking from there. Just be aware that maps aren’t to scale and plan in enough time accordingly. Some cities have free city centre lines, such as Auckland (if you own an AT Hop Card) and Hamilton. If you prefer guided tours, check out TourRadar tours.
Speaking of tours when backpacking New Zealand, if you rather not book every route with the Nakedbus or Intercity but have a guide on tour that books everything for you and you just have to hop on and hop off (as well as pay for the bookings and activities since they are not included), then you can try out Kiwi Adventures.
Ok, so you want to backpack NZ and be travel sassy by avoiding public transport, there are two options for you. For one, you could rent a car. There are many campervan rental companies out there with Jucy being popular options. It’s always good to read a campervan rental review in advance to know what to expect.
However, the cheaper version would be car relocation through services like TransferCarNZ. This means that you are not as flexible as you might otherwise be, but getting a car and only paying petrol just to drop it off in another city sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
If you do indeed want to get your own campervan or station wagon, take advantage of the trends of backpacker fluctuations. Avoid summers as this is when the majority of backpackers arrive and the demand rises. (Keep this in mind for reselling later.)
Instead, opt for late autumn and look on hostel pinboards, facebook groups and websites, such as TradeMe. Be careful of what you buy and always get a pre-inspection, double check the vehicle history report, ownership papers and valid WOF.
I have been offered free lifts, but have not actually stuck out my thumb and tried it out myself. But from the experience of some of my fellow travellers it really sounds as if it was absolutely safe and easy to get around like this. One woman I met travelled all of the coastlines and main inner cities just hitchhiking for 4 months. She never encountered any problems and was always able to find a hostel on arrival.
The most popular option when backpacking New Zealand and needing some food is to cook for yourself. This also means, you better bring your own set of durable plastic cutlery, sachets of salt and pepper and possibly a Tupperware box so you can take leftovers with you for lunch on the road. Hostels offer cooking facilities (even though some might not even have muesli bowls or even remotely clean pots) and farmers markets on weekends offer great prices on otherwise super expensive veggies and fruits.
For supermarkets, make sure you get a tourist card for Woolworths from the tourist information to be able to claim special deals. If you want to eat out, register with or download the app from Groupon and get amazing deals. The cheapest menu deal without a voucher I found was offered by fast food franchises for $5 a burger, drink and fries.
It might be a no brainer, but I will still include it. Tap water in New Zealand is potable, so why waste your small change on buying big bottles for the day, which adds up to a sum for which you could have eaten out nicely?
Therefore, bring your own bottle or buy one (yes, the one you may buy) and find a tap or one of the many drinking fountains everywhere in the country. They usually are located in libraries, train stations or near public toilets. Often, shopping and city centres also have them, so you do not have to go on a desperate hunt for water.
New Zealand promises a lot of wifi, there is one in the city centre of Hamilton, Auckland or Wellington, for instance. Often, hostels will list free wifi as a perk but then fail to live up to it. Buying wifi for $4 a day cuts down your budget fast and you might cut out on tasting meat pies.
To avoid that, find out whether your local library or i-site offers free wifi or locate the nearest McDonalds or Burger King (Burger King has a way better wifi quality by the way). If you want to invest in a sim deal, opt for telecom as they offer 1GB and have a good coverage even though you can find free sim cards from 2degrees everywhere.
Is Backpacking New Zealand Worth It?
Backpacking New Zealand was one of the best experiences I have had during my solo travels. It is a safe country, you can easily get around.
While New Zealand certainly isn’t cheap, there are plenty of backpacker tricks to stretch your budget. It’s great to connect with fellow travellers in hostels to hear their morself of advice and local tips on where to go. It made all the difference to my trip!
I hope these travel tips on backpacking New Zealand have been of help to you or will be in the future once you visit this amazing country. And don’t forget to leave space for your unique New Zealand souvenirs when you pack your backpack. Let me know if you have any more or tried some out yourselves.
Are you planning on backpacking New Zealand? Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.
This article appeared also in the online magazine Kiss from the World.