New Zealand Backpacker guide
Introducing New Zealand. Two islands providing one hell of an adventure.
The land of the long white cloud is a very special place, offering backpackers a unique and unforgettable travel experience.
Prepare yourself for some of the most stunning scenery in the world. We are talking epic mountain views, ridiculous National Parks, giant glaciers, picturesque waterfalls, natural thermal springs… The list goes on and on!
If the scenery doesn’t completely win you over, how about some action-packed activities with a sprinkle of adrenaline?! The adventure capital of the world offers you world-famous bungy jumps, canyon swings, jet boat rides, sky-dives, white water rafting and much more!
And if that’s STILL not enough for you, how about visiting famous Lord of the Rings film locations and Hobbit villages?! Not a fan? OK, well fascinating M?ori culture, world-class hiking routes and ski slopes definitely seal the deal! Read on for your complete guide to backpacking in New Zealand.
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Best time to visit New Zealand
By Kristi Jaims
Ever wondered when the best time to visit New Zealand is? There’s no simple answer. It depends on your weather preferences and what type of experiences you’re chasing.
New Zealand weather
The climate is varied throughout the country due to its differing landscapes – alpine mountain ranges, lush rainforests, desert plains and golden beaches. Temperatures decrease the further south you travel, with the yearly average for the North Island being 16°C and for the South Island 10°C. New Zealand is located between subtropical climates to the north and faces icy blasts from Antarctica in the south, so the weather can change unexpectedly and dramatically. Like a good scout, be prepared for anything!
Summer is generally the most popular time for visitors travelling to New Zealand and if you like water activities and going to the beach it might be the right time for you. Think warm, long days with average daytime temperatures ranging between 20-25°C. New Zealand benefits from daylight savings in summer, so it’s often light until 9pm.
Autumn (especially March) can be a great time to travel around New Zealand as many of the summer crowds have left, tourist attractions charge off-peak rates and the weather is still warm.
Note: If you’re heading to NZ on a Working Holiday Visa it is more challenging to pick up work around this time because of the low tourist numbers.
The weather starts to cool from April onwards, bringing rich red and orange autumn leaves. This time of year is perfect for hiking and outdoor activities, though it does see an increase in rainfall.
Unless you really dislike the cold, winter can be an awesome time to travel New Zealand. The tallest mountains are covered in soft white snow and the icy-fresh mornings are seriously photogenic. Both islands of New Zealand offer world-class ski fields, so if you’re into snow sports and fancy skiing on an active volcano, it’s a no-brainer. The average daytime temperatures range between 10-16°C in winter.
In spring, New Zealand sees an influx of baby lambs, colourful flowers in bloom and snow on the mountains gradually fade as days turn warmer. This is a great time of year to go white water rafting and to spot more active wildlife. By November, it begins to feel like summer. This is another great month to travel before the tourists flock in from the beginning of December.
Located up north, New Zealand’s largest city Auckland sees some of the highest average temperatures in the country. Summer days can be sticky and humid at an average high of 25°C or more, while winters are mild and damp with an average high of 16°C.
New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, is located on the south coast of the North Island and nicknamed ‘Windy Wellington’ for its strong southerlies. It has a mild climate and doesn’t see extreme temperatures. Summer highs average 20°C, while winter highs average 12°C.
New Zealand visa
By Maya Steiningerova
To visit New Zealand, travellers need a New Zealand tourist visa or a New Zealand working holiday visa. Travellers from most countries don’t have to apply in advance and can get up to 3 months covered by a tourist visa on arrival. A New Zealand visa for UK travellers can be obtained on arrival for up to 6 months.
If you fall in love with NZ and wish to stay longer, then consider the working holiday visa. The eligibility criteria you must meet to apply is as follows:
- You must be aged between 18-30 years (18-35 for some countries)
- You must have enough money in your account to afford an outbound ticket from New Zealand
Depending where you’re from, you can spend 12-23 months living, studying, working and travelling in New Zealand. Each country has their own quota for working holiday visas so check the official website for more info. While a few countries have unlimited spots, those with a limit get filled very quickly. For example, travellers from the UK have unlimited places, and applications are open all year. But, Slovakia has only 100 places per year and when applications open in May, the quota is filled within 10 minutes!
Getting around New Zealand
By Sophie Piearcey
The good news for anyone planning a trip around the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ is that New Zealand is a relatively straightforward country to navigate. Getting around can be affordable and the options are endless. With the rise of bus tours, airports in most towns, a national bus system and a competitive rental car market, New Zealand has got you covered.
New Zealand has international airports stationed on both the North and South Islands, receiving flights from all over the world. Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown are home to the big international airports. Flights arrive daily from a multitude of worldwide destinations and you will receive a warm Kiwi welcome the second you arrive.
*Top tip: Always get the window seat. Some of the views are insane! Especially flying into Queenstown.
Flying around the country is also very easy. You are likely to grab a bargain using sites like Grabaseat and opting for budget airlines such as JetStar.
One of the most popular options for touring the country is aboard a bus tour. If you’re up for socialising, partying and adrenaline fuelled activities then check out the big brand backpacker buses. Kiwi Experience and Stray are the best known and offer several different routes around NZ. If that’s not really your scene, then the Intercity is a nationwide bus network that will get you to all major towns and tourist hotspots. Providing a hop on, hop off system it’s the perfect balance between guided and self-guided.
Train travel in New Zealand is virtually non-existent – unfortunately there isn’t a network that will allow you to travel the length of the country. However, there is one epic train journey you can take. The Tranz Alpine will take you from the South Islands wild west coast through to Christchurch and has been ranked as one of the world’s greatest train journeys. She may cost you a dollar or two, so budget accordingly if this scenic trip is on your bucket list.
You may also opt to hire a campervan or a car to travel around. New Zealand is small and compact, so a straight top to bottom trip including a four-hour ferry ride will take you little over 24 hours to navigate. Kiwi roads are exciting; a collection of turns, mountain high passes and bridges that span across glacial waterways mean you’ll never be short of a good view on any road trip. There are dozens of rental companies offering a variety of vehicle options, ultimately making the market very competitive and driving prices down – WINNER! Kiwi folk are a friendly bunch and hitchhiking is also a fairly popular way to see the country, but of course this comes with its risks.
Enjoy your epic journey through Middle Earth, however you choose to explore it!
New Zealand accommodation
There are over 250 hostels in 65 towns across New Zealand, so wherever you’re exploring it’ll be easy to find an affordable, comfy bed. The quality of hostels throughout New Zealand is high, with an average rating of 8.1 out of 10. Wherever you’re heading, you can find your bed using the Hostelworld app. Below are a few recommendations for top hostels in some key locations that you’re not going to want to miss.
Adventure Queenstown Hostel is rated 9.7 out of 10 from almost 2000 reviews and is the most central accommodation in town, conveniently located just a few minutes’ walk from the buzzing town centre. AQH run in-house activities 5 nights a week, making it easy to meet fellow backpackers from all around the world.
Also, check out the vies at Jucy Snooze
Haka Lodge Auckland is one of Auckland’s most popular hostels, with a homely feel and friendly atmosphere. Guests love that every bed has its own light, power point and curtain for added privacy. Haka Lodge is also just a 15minute walk away from the SkyTower, where you can enjoy the best views of Auckland from 328 metres high!
Jailhouse, as the name suggests, is a hostel set in a historic former jail. Beautifully renovated into a stylish and unique hostel, Jailhouse won the award for best hostel in New Zealand in 2009 and 2013 and is currently rated 9 out of 10 from over 4000 reviews!
Funky Green Voyager is aptly named due to the green building, green garden and their love for recycling. You’ll be welcomed into a comfortable, cosy atmosphere, a beautiful backyard with BBQ facilities and the perfect location, near the centre of Rotorua and all the shops you’ll need.
New Zealand Backpacking Budget
By Eline Schreurs
New Zealand currency
New Zealand has its own currency; the New Zealand Dollar. One dollar is around €0.60.
Cost of living in New Zealand
How much money you need to backpack around New Zealand depends on many factors: How long are you travelling for, how do you plan to travel around and how many activities do you intend to do?
It is possible to explore New Zealand on the cheap, but once you’ve gone all that way do you really want to miss out on amazing experiences like bungy jumping ($250 NZD) or white-water rafting ($150 NZD)? Practice our tips for saving money before you go so you can make the most of your time there.
If you rent a car, are not afraid of camping, and want to travel both the North and South Islands, you will need around $7000 or €4000. With this amount, you could comfortably travel around for seven weeks. You can’t eat out every night, but you’ll be able to do all kinds of cool things.
Backpackers who’ve been to Australia will notice that in general, prices are not too different in New Zealand. How much money you need really depends on what your spending habits are. If you know that you’ll rarely be cooking for yourself in the hostel kitchen then of course you’re going to need more than the shoestring backpacker.
Before you book anything, shop around with different travel agencies for your activities or bus passes. They will always have some package deals on things like rafting and bungy jumping which are worth checking out.
Best places to visit in New Zealand
By Maya Steiningerova & By Eline Schreurs
If you’re travelling from Europe, New Zealand is a fair old way from home – so make the most of your time there by squeezing in lots of sight-seeing on both islands. It’s a stunning country with epic scenery; the perfect destination for an amazing road-trip. You can easily rent a vehicle to get around in NZ and the prices are reasonable. If you’re sticking around for a while, why not buy a campervan and sell it on before you leave?
Whilst you’re on the road there are plenty of budget-friendly hostels allowing you to rest up before another day on the road. Road-tripping is definitely a great way to see NZ, as you can pick your preferred route and go at your own pace. To get the most of your New Zealand road-trip we’d recommend two weeks minimum, but most backpackers will tell you three to four weeks is a better amount of time to see all the top locations. Driving around the islands can take a bit of time due to the lack of highways, so be prepared for some steep, winding roads as you head up the mountains! But rest assured, the views from the top are well worth the effort.
The majority of backpackers tend to start their Kiwi adventure in Auckland, making their way down the North Island to the South Island. The list below is in this order. However, if you’re starting in Christchurch or Queenstown do not fear, you can utilize the below list to create your own route.
If you have any more suggestions of unmissable spots, please share them in the comments below for future NZ adventurers!
If you’re a fan of city life, then don’t miss out on Auckland. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and the gateway to the North Island. There’s no better place to appreciate Auckland’s beauty than from the iconic Sky Tower. There is an entrance fee, but the views are well worth it. After the Sky Tower, why not take a stroll around the Auckland Domain and check out the shops.
Hot Water Beach
Hot Water Beach is one of the most unique beaches in the world. Even though New Zealand is not exactly famous for its beaches, this one is worth a visit. Get there an hour or so before low tide and
dig yourself a small hole in the sand to enjoy your very own hot pool with ocean view. The hot water bubbles up from a serious of geothermal springs below the sand. Science at it’s best!
If you have tiny feet and love an adventure then you might feel at home in Hobbiton, the famous Lord of the Rings movie set. Take a guided tour and you’ll witness sets and props from the Lord of The Rings movies such as the Hobbit Huts. An incredible experience for any LOTR fans.
Rotorua hot springs
The geothermal activity beneath Rotorua means that the area is filled with hot springs and pools. Take your pick from luxury hot spas, mud pools or free natural hot pools. The bad news is it might take you a few hours to get used to the odd eggy smell that fills the air. Backpackers favourite hot pools include Kerosene Creek and Waterfall Spout Bath Wai-O-Tapu.
Maori show in Rotorua
Rotorua is the cultural heart of New Zealand and is home to three Maori villages – Mitai, Tamaki and Whakarewarewa. Here you can visit them, watch a live haka performance and even stay overnight in a traditional Maori village. Discover the history of New Zealand and Maori culture with this truly authentic experience.
Waitomo Glow-worm Caves
The thought of spending time with worms in a dark cave may sound unpleasant, but this experience is magical, honest! Tiny worms living on the rocks begin to glow at night, radiating a soft aquamarine colour that gives the dark cave a beautiful makeover. The most popular place to see them is the Waitomo Caves. If you’re looking for budget-friendly options, try Lake McLaren near Tauranga or Kawiti Caves in Waiomio.
Taupo is known as ‘nature’s ultimate playground’ thanks to its offering of outdoor activities. If you’re into water sports then you’ll be spoilt for choice at Lake Taupo with paddle boarding, kayaking, scenic cruises and fishing trips all on offer. If you’d rather stick to dry land there are also stunning cycling trails, such as Great Lake Trail (71 km) or The Timber Trail (85 km).
The Tongariro Crossing
Next up, head to Mount Tongariro for the Tongariro Crossing, which features the famous Mount Doom from Lord of The Rings. The exhausting yet exhilarating 20km hike takes between 6 and 8 hours but is well worth it if you’re a LOTR fan.
Fancy another North Island hike? If you answered yes, then Mount Taranaki is a must. Lonely Planet declared this hike as one of the must-do experiences in New Zealand and they were right, it’s amazing. But it’s also exhausting and challenging, so come prepared. Luckily, the view is worth every painful step it takes to get to the top. It’s a great alternative hike to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which can be a little overcrowded due to the Lord of the Rings connection.
Here, you can go white-water rafting on the Rangitikei River. This is classed as grade 5 rafting, which means it’s one of the wildest and roughest rafting experiences there is. An epic challenge for thrill-seekers!
Wellington is the place where you can see all the ships arriving and leaving, but it also has one of the most beautiful museums ever; The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The museum showcases a great variety of NZ history, but the most interesting floor is the one devoted to the Maoris, the Aboriginal people of New Zealand.
Fjords in Marlborough Sounds
If you’re up for a good hike, then take on the stunning Queen Charlotte track and enjoy the fjords of Marlborough Sounds. The 70 km long trek can be split into several day hiking trips or done all at once as a multi-day trip.
Nelson is a little town at the top of the South Island which is proudly home to the most hours of sunlight in NZ. This makes it an excellent place to chill at the beach. Close to Nelson you can also find Abel Tasman National Park, a stunning area for walking and kayaking.
Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is the perfect adventure destination with never-ending ocean views. You can choose from several walking routes, one of the most popular multi-day hikes being the Abel Tasman Coast Track which is usually completed in 3-5 days. The best part is that you can jump in a kayak or take advantage of the water taxis between the campsites.
Punakaiki pancake rocks and blowholes
Driving along the west coast of the South Island is a real treat. One of the most popular stops is Punakaiki Rocks. You can enjoy a walk around the unique rock formations which, like the name suggests, resemble pancakes! Prepare to dodge a few splashes as the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes.
Huge earthquakes hit this town in 2010 and 2011 and they are still recovering from the damage caused. The church is still in ruins, many buildings are still not fixed and there are a lot of temporary shops in containers. But despite all of this it is still a beautiful place, with a wonderful community and a lot of amazing street art.
Franz Josef Glacier
There are not many places in the world where you can see a glacier in the rainforest, but this is one of them. You can take a guided tour allowing you to walk up the glacier, or trek through ice tunnels and sample the ice-cold fresh water. Or, if you have a bit (or a lot) of extra spending money left over, you could take a helicopter tour which provides an amazing birds-eye view of the impressive glacier.
Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, reaching 3,724 meters. Whilst climbing the mountain is very dangerous and only for experienced climbers, you can see it up close via an easy trail through Hooker Valley. The walk allows you to see glaciers en route to the main event. You can also jump on a boat tour, allowing you to whizz around the lakes and take some great snaps.
When popular Queenstown gets a little overwhelming, head to Wanaka. It’s quieter but equally beautiful, thanks to epic lake and mountain views. The area offers many hiking routes, biking trails and water activities. One of the best hikes is Isthmus Peak (16 km roundtrip), from which you can see both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.
With skiing in the winter and adrenaline activities in the summer, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world. Stunning scenery, endless activities and wild nightlife – you’ll definitely leave Queenstown with a smile on your face and a story or two. There are so many things to do in Queenstown, so check out our top tips for exploring the town and beyond.
Routeburn track is the most popular multi-day trek in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, taking you through Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. Throughout the 32 km track you’ll see astonishing changes in scenery, including snow peaked mountains, glaciers and alpine lakes. Most people start the trek on the Queenstown side of the Southern Alps and finish on the Te Anau side, which hikers usually complete in 2-3 days.
New Zealand Food
When in New Zealand make sure you try some of the most iconic Kiwi cuisine. With a primarily agricultural economy and a coastline of 15,000 km, it should be no surprise that produce from the land and sea are favourites with locals and visitors alike.
Although some local cuisine is similar to Australian and British, New Zealand has some very distinct foods that you must try as you can’t find them anywhere else!
Here are some must-try New Zealand foods:
Traditional Maori kai (food) that is cooked underground in a pit, trying H?ng? is an experience in itself. Roast dinner style ingredients are used, such as lamb, pork, chicken, potato, kumara (sweet potato) and pumpkin. The cooking process takes many hours and makes the food tender and delicious with an earthy, smoky flavour. Rotorua is a great place to try H?ng?.
Hokey Pokey ice cream
Hokey Pokey is New Zealand’s most well-loved ice cream flavour and a perfect treat from the dairy (local corner store) on those hot summer days. It’s a creamy vanilla ice cream flecked with golden nuggets of honeycomb toffee. Tip Top ice cream is the most popular in New Zealand and any flavour made by them is a winner. If you go for a double scoop, try Goody Goody Gum Drops on top of the Hokey Pokey. It’s another unique Kiwi taste made up of a green bubble gum flavour bursting with gum drops. Sugar overload!
Seafood caught fresh is a common staple in many Kiwi’s diets. Whitebait fritters, paua, bluff oysters and greenshell mussels are favourites unique to New Zealand. Classic fish and chips are a popular takeaway meal for Kiwis and great to share on the beach in fine weather.
New Zealand does chocolate very well and you can’t go wrong with any made by the biggest and most-loved brand, Whittakers. If you like nuts, go for a Whittakers peanut slab. Other special Kiwi chocolate to try include Moro Bars, Pineapple Lumps, Jaffas, Buzz Bars and Chocolate Fish.
Still a sore topic for many Australians, it was recently proven that the humble pavlova did in fact originate in New Zealand. It’s a favourite summer and Christmas Day dessert made of meringue and impressively topped with whipped cream, fresh strawberries, kiwifruit and anything else you may like. It also pairs well with Hokey Pokey ice cream.
“World famous in New Zealand” as the saying goes! L&P or Lemon and Paeroa is the most iconic fizzy drink in New Zealand. It’s similar to lemonade with its own unique twist. Created in Paeroa in 1907, it was originally made with lemon juice combined with carbonated water. Now manufactured by Coca Cola, it’s a very refreshing soft drink that goes great with fish and chips.
A popular on-the-go meal for many Kiwis, pies are hand-sized pastries filled with meat and gravy. Mince and cheese is a classic and even better when paired with Watties tomato sauce. You can find hot pies from any bakery, dairy, supermarket and service station.
The tasty Ferg Pie in Queenstown _yvonnedang
Known worldwide for its unique health properties, Manuka honey is made with pollen from the Manuka tree. It has a richer, heavier flavour than regular honey and is delicious on buttered bread or toast. It makes a great gift to take home as it’s very expensive to buy outside of New Zealand.
Marmite and Vegemite
Different than the British version, New Zealand’s Sanitarium Marmite is a standard item in most Kiwi’s pantries. For those who don’t know, it’s a yeast extract spread combined with a few herbs and spices. When the Christchurch earthquake damaged the company’s factory, a Marmite shortage was declared which prompted a national panic. Similarly, the Australian Vegemite is another much-loved yeast spread in New Zealand. A small piece of advice with both spreads: less is more!
New Zealand culture
By Sophie Piearcey
New Zealanders are among the friendliest people in the world. As well as being famous for its epic scenery, incredible coastline and mountains that will make your jaw drop on the daily, the people are world famous for their kind nature and welcoming attitude to foreign travellers. Don’t be surprised if you end up round a dinner table or cracking a beer with a local, they love to chat and educate people about their homeland. Most Kiwis wear their heart on their sleeves and are totally passionate about this magical land.
Unless you’re from New Zealand then the most you’ve probably seen of New Zealand culture is the Haka performance from the All Blacks rugby team. Maori culture is rich and the Haka is only the beginning. A powerful Haka performance can bring one to tears and leave visitors intrigued about the people and places that make New Zealand what it is today.
New Zealanders are also known for their love of a good feed. Whether it be BBQ or Hangi, sharing food is what brings this nation together. If you’re lucky enough to partake in a Hangi then you’re in for a treat. It’s a traditional Maori form of cooking, in which a pit is filled with stones which are heated then cooled down, before food is placed on top. A fantastic way to spend the day bonding and a real authentic Kiwi experience.
Rotorua is the cultural heart of New Zealand. Here, you can visit a traditional Maori village, watch a live haka performance and even stay overnight. The Maori were the first settlers in NZ over 1,000 years ago; their values are as pure as the land and their spiritual stories will have you hanging on the edge of your seat. From their carvings on wood to traditional greenstone and the iconic face tattoo, the Maoris are captivating people, who welcome you to explore their land, Aotearoa.
The Maori language is just as interesting as the people who speak it. It has evolved in New Zealand over several hundred years and you will still see M?ori words on road signs, in shops and spoken sporadically throughout the country. The Maori people are incredible storytellers who will gladly share their legends of the mountains and lakes of New Zealand with you.
Here are some Maori words that you may commonly hear while on the road:
- Kia Ora – A greeting; hello, hi, welcome
- Aroha – love
- Aoraki – The Cloud Piercer; New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook
- Aotearoa- The Land of the Long White Cloud; New Zealand
- M?rena– good morning
- Haere pai hoa – travel well, friend
- Haka – one of the most popular and well-known Maori words, haka means to dance or perform
Immersing yourself in New Zealand’s culture is an absolute must when travelling this epic country. You will be inspired by the people you meet and the conversations you have.
New Zealand Travel Advice
By Eline Schreurs
New Zealand is a country known for beautiful nature and extreme sports. But before you head to the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, here are some points you should consider:
New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of GMT, meaning it’s one of the first places on earth to welcome in the new day! So, if you want to call home, calculate the time before you start waking up your whole family at 4 o’clock in the morning!
If you want to withdraw money from your account in NZ, you will be charged a small fee to do so. If you are in New Zealand for a longer time you should consider opening an account there which is simple to do, but you will need a New Zealand address. Some hostels can help with this, so it is worth checking out.
New Zealand offers a wide range of adrenaline-pumping activities, so before purchasing your insurance make sure you are covered for the activities you want to experience. For instance, some insurance policies will not cover bungee jumping, white water rafting etc.
Before your NZ trip, take note of the below public holidays. If you’re there during these days be mindful that certain places may be closed, or activities may be busier than normal.
- New Year’s Day — Tuesday 1 January 2019
- Day after New Year’s Day — Wednesday 2 January 2019
- Waitangi Day — Wednesday 6 February 2019
- Good Friday — Friday 19 April 2019
- Easter Monday — Monday 22 April 2019
- ANZAC Day — Thursday 25 April 2019
- Queen’s Birthday — Monday 3 June 2019
- Labour Day — Monday 28 October 2019
- Christmas Day — Wednesday 25 December 2019
- Boxing Day — Thursday 26 December 2019