A Backpacker's Guide To New Zealand

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New Zealand—a land of breathtaking landscapes, green pastures, friendly people, and endless opportunities for adventure.

From hiking up the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to being tantalized by the vastness of the Fiordland, this island nation provides the perfect environment for backpackers and travelers from all four corners of the globe.

Whether you're still drafting an itinerary for the trip or are already inside the country, this guide will give you some tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your stay in New Zealand.

Let's dive straight into it.

Understand Your Motivations For Travel

Before you start planning anything, it's important to take a step back and think about your why.

If you're from halfway across the globe and are looking for a complete change of scenery, New Zealand is an ideal location. With its unique landscapes and diverse range of activities, the country's picturesque scenery is sure to leave you in awe.

On the other hand, if you're simply looking for a short getaway to relax and rejuvenate and are budget-strapped, it might be best to hold off on New Zealand and look at cheaper destinations closer to home.

That said, financial factors aren't the only thing to consider when making a decision. If you're not sure whether traveling to New Zealand is right for you, here are some reasons why you should:

  1. You love nature and the outdoors: New Zealand is home to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world, from snow-capped mountains to pristine beaches.
  2. You're looking for an adventure: New Zealand is an adrenaline junkie's haven. Snowboarding, surfing, kayaking, and mountain trekking are all things you can do in this country.
  3. Drivable roads: Renting a campervan or car with car rental services like Go Rentals is convenient due to New Zealand's connected and drivable roads.
  4. You want to immerse yourself in a new culture: While New Zealand is a relatively young country, it's still home to a unique culture that's a mix of Maori and European influences.
  5. Crime is virtually non-existent: There's little threat to your security when you're backpacking in New Zealand, making it a great destination for solo travelers.

Just like every travel destination, you'll need to prepare beforehand to ensure that you don't get into any sticky situations while you're abroad.

Here are a few more general pieces of information for backpackers to keep in mind before starting their trip to the world’s Adventure Capital.

Geography

Photo by Tobias Keller on Unsplash
New Zealand landscape

New Zealand is an island country located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It's made up of two main islands—the North Island and the South Island—as well as over 600 smaller islands.

The North Island is home to the country's capital city, Wellington, while the South Island is where you'll find the majority of the country's attractions, such as Milford Sound and Fox Glacier.

If you're looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, the smaller islands off the coast provide a more laid-back atmosphere where you can unwind and enjoy the tranquillity of nature.

Climate

New Zealand's climate is relatively mild all year round, thanks to the country's location in the Southern Hemisphere.

The North Island has a subtropical climate, while the South Island has a temperate climate. This means that you can expect warm summers and cool winters regardless of which island you're visiting.

However, it's worth noting that the climate can vary depending on which region you're in. For example, the Bay of Plenty region in the North Island is known for its hot, humid summers.

On the other hand, the Central Otago region in the South Island is one of the driest and coldest places in the country.

Visa Requirements

As a general rule, all travelers to New Zealand must have a valid passport. If you're a citizen of Australia, Canada, Japan, or the United States, you can stay in the country for up to three months without a visa.

Citizens of all other countries must apply for a tourist visa before traveling. This can be done online through the New Zealand Immigration website. Working holiday visas also allow young people aged 18 to 35 to live and work in New Zealand for up to one year.

Places to Visit: North Island

On the North Island, there are a few main places you must visit. Here are some of the most notable destinations situated on the North Island.

1. Auckland

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Auckland

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and the perfect place to start your North Island adventure. This vibrant city is located on a narrow isthmus and is fairly centralized, with places like the Bay of Islands and Rotorua all a car ride away.

2. Pouakai Crossing

Another must-visit location in the North Island is the Pouakai Crossing. This 18.4 km hike will take you through the native forest, over a volcanic plateau, and past the stunning Pouakai Tarns. The crossing also overlooks the mighty Mount Taranaki, which can make for breathtaking photographs.

3. Redwoods Forest

In the deep, lush rainforests of Rotorua stands a vast network of Californian Coast Redwood trees. This is the only place in the world where you can see these mighty trees outside of their natural habitat. The forest also has many walking and biking trails, making it the perfect place to explore if you love trekking and exploring a nature-filled wonderland.

4. Hell's Gate Mud Spa

Not to be confused with the famous national park in Kenya of the same name, Hell's Gate is a unique mud spa experience that you can only find in Rotorua, New Zealand. Besides a main geothermal mud bath, there are sulfurous spas and a large waterfall within the premises of this one-of-a-kind geothermal reserve.

5. Waitomo Caves

Photo by Tomas Malik on Unsplash
Waitomo Caves

The Waitomo Caves are a must-see for any traveler to the North Island. This fascinating cave system is home to millions of glowworms and stunning limestone formations. Deep inside the cavern, underground rivers flow through this labyrinthian maze, requiring tourists to ride a boat to venture deeper into the cave.

Places to Visit: South Island

Nature awaits you on the South Island. Here are some places on the South Island where unforgettable adventure awaits!

1. Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is known for its golden beaches, clear blue waters, and lush vegetation. Every so often, you may even encounter baby seals frolicking in various boulders sprawled throughout the seashore.

2. Mount Cook

Photo by Sebastien Goldberg on Unsplash
Mount Cook

Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. If you're an experienced hiker, you can test your limits by summiting the 3,724-metre-tall peak. However, the Hooker Valley Track is much more manageable and still provides stunning views of the Southern Alps, as well as glaciers, rivers, and waterfalls.

3. Christchurch

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island. This charming seaside town has a relaxed vibe and plenty of activities to keep you busy. Visit the Christchurch Art Gallery and Canterbury Museum for a closer look at national history and culture. Or, take a walk through the Botanic Gardens for a moment of peace and tranquillity.

4. Milford Sound

A popular tourist spot, Milford Sound is a fiord located in the southwest of New Zealand's South Island. Specifically, it's found within the Fiordland National Park. What makes Milford Sound a sight to behold isn't merely the picturesque landscape it flaunts, getting there is half the fun too! You'll pass by Mirror Lakes, Pop’s View Lookout, and the Chasm before arriving at the Milford Sound, which makes the adventure all the more stunning.

5. Lake Tekapo

Close to Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo is another one of New Zealand's gorgeous alpine lakes. The lake is turquoise in color and is surrounded by lupins (a type of flowering plant) in the summer months. Besides the lake itself, there are numerous cafes and restaurants strewn around the area as well, so you can rest your feet and enjoy the view.

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Lisette Paras

Lisette is a Filipino born Australian living in San Francisco. She is crazy about festivals and loves to try new and interesting foods wherever she visits.

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