Travel New Zealand
New Zealand is an easy country to travel. Everyone speaks English, crime is non-existent, ATM’s are everywhere, USD is accepted (make sure you know the conversion), and getting around is easy. Sadly, wi-fi is hardly free.
First off, I recommend renting a car if you are going there for a short period of time, 2 months or less. I rented a car through Apex for 54 days and it cost me $1500 NZD, this included a ferry ticket across the Cook Straight to the South Island. If I had bought a car I would have wasted time buying, licensing, and selling it. This is precious time you don’t want to lose in this beautiful country. There is a lot to see so put time over money.
If you have 3 months or more then either hitchhike (which is really popular and easy) or buy a car. Buying a car or campervan is popular because there are campgrounds everywhere and they’re cheap. If you hitch and carry a tent, then that is the cheapest option possible.
I highly recommend getting a vehicle because most things to do in New Zealand are outside of the city and getting there will be a lot easier with a set of wheels.
New Zealand is as cheap as you make it. If you only want to get around and see the sights, then it is a pretty cheap destination to travel. A bunk bed in a Dorm room is $20-30 and even less if you join the YHA. A double is usually $80. At the camp ground camping with a tent is as cheap as $10 and renting a cabin is anywhere from $60-80.
If you want to do the activities like Bungy Jumping, Skydiving, Scuba Diving, Zorbing, Canyoning, and Mountain Biking. Then that is where you are going to drop some money. Most activities cost around $200.
Scuba Diving: $200-250
Mountain Biking: $120-180
As you can see it is an expensive country to have fun, but it is well worth it. I recommend picking a few of those you really want to do and research the best place to do them.
My recommendations are:
Scuba Dive in the Bay of Islands
Bungy Jump and Canyoning in Queenstown
Mountain bike the Skyline in Queenstown
Zorbing in Rotorua
Skydiving in Taupo
Hiking is free but staying overnight will cost you. Most of the hikes allow camping. All you have to do is go to a DOC (department of conservation) site, use their computer for free, and book the campgrounds you want to camp at. If you choose to stay in a hut that will cost you a little more, usually $30. The huts have sinks with running water and toilets with paper, but very few have stoves, so pack your own just in case.
I recommend 2 months because I managed to do everything I wanted on both the North and South islands in that timeframe.
If you only have 1 month, fly into Auckland visit 1 or 2 spots of your choosing on the North Island, and spend the majority of the time on the South Island. The South Island is the best is the most scenic and least populated, just be ready for the sand fleas.
If you only have a few weeks then I recommend flying to each destination you choose. Driving takes a lot more time than you think in New Zealand because all of the roads are two-lane and have lot of hills and sharp turns. Plus, you will get stuck behind a lot of buses and campervans.
Here’s my recommended 2 month Itinerary:
Fly into Auckland: Go on top of the skytower for the view, then jump off if you want ($200). Drink beer at the Lumsden for Aucklands finest craft beer. Go volcano hopping from Mt. Eden to One Tree Hill because they offer great views of the city with some nice grass to lay on.
North to Tutukaka for diving: this is the launching point for diving the Poor Knight Islands. The diving is kind of steep $250, but it is an awesome chain of islands to see. The islands have been uninhabited for over 100 years.
Bay of Islands: Home to the two little sea towns of Kerikeri and Paihia. Diving is popular here because of two shipwrecks. The Canterbury and the Rainbow Warrior. If you dive with Dave and his company Dive North out of Kerikeri, make sure you book his Rainbow Warrior dive. The day starts with the wreck dive and finishes with an amazing tunnel dive between the Cavalli islands. One of my best diving combos ever.
Side trip: Drive north to Cape Reinga (2 hours up and 2 hours back) from Kerikeri.
Go south to Rotorua and Matamata: Matamata has Hobbiton if you fancy to see hobbit holes for $75. In Rotorua they have volcanic fields similar to Yellowstone and is the home of Zorbing. Zorbing is rolling down a hill in a hamster ball. It’s pretty fun but make sure you do it with water and go with OGO. If you can run down the hill without falling down you get a free shirt and a free ride.
Taupo: Taupo is a cool lake town next to Lake Taupo, the biggest lake in New Zealand. This spot is popular for skydiving and fishing.
Turanga: This is a super small town with a grocery store and a few restaurants. The main attraction is that it serves as the stepping off point for the Alpine Crossing day hike across Tongariro National Park. During the hike you can climb Mt. Ngauruhoe, which served as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings.
Drive west to New Plymouth along the Forgotten Highway: Cool surf town and stepping off point if you want to climb Mt. Taranaki (2,518 meters). It also has a pretty good party scene because of the university.
Wellington: Just another city that has a lot of wind. The thing that kept me here was all the breweries and craft beer bars. Stay at the YHA and go to the Black Dog Brew Co., buy a beer, and ask for the craft beer trail map. The map has 16 brew-pubs scattered all over the city. Buy a beer at each, get a stamp, and you get a free T-shirt. It’s also a good way to see the city. Also, if you want to party, the best party scene is on Courtenay street, not cuba street. Best bar is the Little Beer Quarter.
After Wellington take the ferry to the South Island during the day. It’s a beautiful 4 hour ride to Picton.
Picton: From Picton you can dive the Mikhail Lermontov shipwreck with the local dive shop. They only operate on certain days so call ahead. Another popular attraction is hiking the Queen Charlotte track.
Take the Queen Charlotte Highway to Nelson: Nelson is a cool little city with a craft beer trail similar to Wellington. Take a few days to chill out and drink some good beer before hiking the Abel Tasman.
Abel Tasman Track: I highly recommend this track. You can either walk it or kayak it. The track follows the coastline and is dotted with beautiful bays about every 5km. Do it slowly over about a 5 day period and bring snorkeling gear. If you get low on food you can pick mussels of the rocks outside of the Marine Reserve to cook for dinner. The track starts in Marahau and ends in either Totaranui or Wainui depending on how far you want to hike it. The bus picks up in both locations to bring you back to your car.
South along the west coast to Barrytown: Barrytown is super small. There is not even a restaurant. I recommend staying here a day to attend the knifemaking course with Barrytown Knifemaking. For $150 you can make your own knife from scratch. It’s a pretty unique experience.
South along the west coast to Fox Glacier: If you want to hike a glacier I recommend Fox over Franz Joseph. It’s just as good and it’s cheaper. I recommend doing the ice-climbing if you are reasonably fit. If you don’t want to ice climb then do the full-day because the half-day is just a waste of time and money. With the half-day you only climb up a small portion of the glacier and you will most likely have a bunch of kids in your group. Either way the glacier walk is slow and laid back, nothing strenuous to it at all.
Drive inland to Wanaka: Cool little lakeside town that turns into a ski-town in the winter. Best thing to do it grab a bottle, food, some snorkel gear, and spend the day drinking, eating, and swimming in the lake. You can rent paddle-boards and kayaks from a van on the street. If you feel like a day hike, climb Roy’s Peak, at the top is one of the most beautiful views in the world. No shit.
Drive to Queenstown with a lunch stop in Arrowtown: On the drive to Queenstown (the adrenaline capital of the world) you will see a turn off for Arrowtown. You should stop there for some wine and some lunch. It’s a quaint little town that will make you think you’re in the old west of America.
Queenstown: I stayed here a week and it wasn’t enough. You can don scuba gear and drift down the Clutha River, the fastest river drift in the world. Go Canyoning along the Routeburn track. The activity I highly recommend is renting a bike from Vertigo, buying a lift pass for the skyline gondola, and spending a few days downhill mountain biking. The trails range from easy (green) to difficult (black) and are filled with berms, tabletops, and doubles. The longest trail is 6km long. There is food and beer at the top of the hill so there is no reason to leave the mountain all day.
Queenstown is also home of the bungy jump so make sure you take advantage of that. It costs $180 for one jump. From here you can bungy at the original spot, Kawarau bridge.
Head west to Te Anau: Te Anau is a little lakeside town full of Italian and chinese restaurants. It is the stepping off point for the Kepler Track that takes you above the clouds and the beautiful Milford Track. I came here to do the Milford Track and snorkel in the creepy deep lake.
Drive north to Milford Sound: One of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen. I put it up there with Machu Picchu on a clear day. It is also one of the wettest areas in the world getting up to 7 meters of rainfall a year. The popular thing to do is to take a boat ride and do some sight seeing, but if you go diving with Descend Scuba then you get that AND scuba diving.The Sound is a unique place to dive because the salt water is covered with a layer of fresh water. This allows deep sea life to live at shallower depths. You can see black coral (which is actually white), seals, crayfish, dolphins, and dog sharks.
Drive east to Dunedin via the Catlins: Dunedin is a Scottish city as well as a university city. So there is lots of drinking and plenty of fun. It is home to the world’s steepest street (Baldwin st.) and the sports hall of fame museum. Run up the street as fast as you can. I got 2:35.
Drive North to Lake Tekapo: This is a beautiful blue lake similar to Wanaka. You can climb Mt. John (easier than Roy’s Peak I promise) for a good view of the area. Just spend a day or two here to chill out on your way to Christchurch.
Christchurch: the city of earthquakes. When I was here most of the city was under construction so I spent my time in the Antarctica museum. It costs $55 to get in but is worth it. It opened my eyes to this unknown part of the world. I added a new bucket list item from my visit here, Antarctica! From here you can also take a train through Arthurs pass to Greymouth which I hear is beautiful.
From Christchurch you can continue get a cheap flight to Auckland to fly back home. Around $100 or less.
If you only have a few weeks in the country then I recommend you visit Queenstown, Milford Sound, and do one of the Great Walks, either Abel Tasman or the Milford Track. Be aware that the Milford Track must be booked in advance because it sells out quickly. Try to plan it 3-6 months in advance.
That’s it. New Zealand is an awesome place. It feels like one giant beautiful farm. The country has 15 million sheep and only 4 million people in a land the size of Colorado. It’s the quiet, friendly, adrenaline-addicted version of America. Go blow some money, see some beautiful scenery, and have fun.