You will never have a dull moment in the land of adventure, where bungee jumping and black river rafting was invented. Home to Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, New Zealand is a country that you must visit for at least two weeks. The best way to see it is to rent a caravan or a car and drive from the top of the north island to the bottom of the south island or vice versa.
When to Go
The best time to go to New Zealand for good outdoor weather is during the summer months of December to February, but these are also the peak tourist months as it falls over the Christmas holiday and prices will be very high. To avoid the very hot weather and high prices, the months of February to April would be a good choice as the weather is still warm and the autumn colors in the south island make for great pictures.
You can fly to Auckland direct from Vancouver (14 hours), San Francisco (13 hours) and Los Angeles (13 hours) via Air New Zealand. American, Qantas and United also fly from LA. Flight can get quite expensive so this is a good way to use your miles if you have some saved up. You can also fly to Auckland from North America connecting through Australia, which can be cheaper. Make sure you purchase a flight out of the country before you fly in as they will ask you when you check-in for your flight. You do not need a flight out if you are heading over on a work or student visa though.
Traveling Around the Country
If you are planning to travel around the whole country, the best way is to rent a camper van or car and drive through the island. If you are traveling in a group splitting the cost won’t be too bad. Before booking a car though, check out the relocation rentals on the Jucy website. Here they will post cars that need to be relocated around the country and it only costs $1NZD per day to drive and they give you the first tank of gas free! They do give you a limit on how many days its takes you to make the trip though. Make sure to check the website often and early because these cars book up fast. If you are traveling with a New Zealand resident, Avis also has the same program, which you can find here.
If traveling solo, renting a car will be quite expensive. The best way to get around is to take Naked Bus or Intercity Bus (although Naked Bus tends to be cheaper). If crossing from the north island to the south island by car or bus, take into account that this ferry costs $55NZD per person. Another option that takes less time but will be more expensive is to fly domestically. Air New Zealand and JetStar Air fly to many cities around the country including Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown.
Where to Go
- Auckland – to visit Waiheke Island and the biggest city in the country
- Bay of Islands & Waipu – to relax on the beach and surf
- Rotorua – to visit a Maori village and Hobbiton
- Waitomo Caves – to black water raft and see the glow worms
- Christchurch – to explore the largest city in the south island full of European heritage
- Lake Tekapo – for some amazing hikes
- Queenstown – for adrenaline adventure activities and vineyards
- Milford Sound – to hike Milford Track (this takes 4 days and a permit is needed which you need to apply for about a year in advance)
- Wellington – to explore the capital of New Zealand
Before You Go
- New Zealand is very expensive, especially if you are coming from Southeast Asia. Be prepared to pay a lot for hostels (that aren’t great), for drinks, for food and for excursions. When heading over, make sure you have some money to spend on excursions as you will want to go on a lot of them to get the full New Zealand experience.
- Hitchhiking is common to do here and is safe.
- Here they use the Type I plug so you will need to bring a converter. It is a three pronged plug with two flat pins in a V-shape and a grounding pin. This is the same plug that is used in Australia, Argentina and China.
- Make sure to pack sunscreen if you are headed over in the summer as the sun is very strong.
- Download the app Grabone while in town to find great deals on restaurants and excursions around the country.
Currency & Payment
Here they use the New Zealand Dollar (NZD) for currency. $1USD is equivalent to $1.45NZD. $1CAD is equivalent to $1.08NZD. Almost all places around the country take credit card so there’s no need to change much money when you arrive as the rates are very bad. Make sure you have some cash though if taking public transportation.
You will likely fly into Auckland coming into the country. This is the biggest city in New Zealand, which has the largest international airport, but you won’t need more than two days here.
To get from the airport to the city center (CBD) and vice versa, take the Skybus which costs $18NZD each way. This is the cheapest way to get to the city if you are one or two people. It is also quite quick because it can use the carpool lanes. If you purchase your ticket online ahead of time, one-way will cost you $16NZD and a round trip will cost you $30NZD. It picks up every 15 minutes right outside the international and domestic terminals and drops off at five stops around the CBD. If you take a taxi from the airport to the CBD it will cost around $65-70NZD, depending on which company you go with. If you see a Cheap Cabs taxi, these will only charge around $38NZD for the ride into the city. Another option is to take a shuttle bus which costs $35NZD per person plus an additional $8NZD per additional person.
Where to Stay
Definitely stay in the CBD. Here you will be walking distance to almost everything. If budget isn’t an issue, look into spending a night on Waiheke Island as well. Oyster Inn is a good place (a room here costs between $375-450NZD). Backpackers, be aware the hostels here cost a lot more than other countries. They will average between $30-35NZD for a dorm room. Here are a few good places to stay in Auckland:
- Attic Backpackers Hostel
- Haka Lodge Hostel
- Ponsonby Backpackers Hostel
- Crown Plaza Hotel (if budget isn’t an issue)
- Hotel DeBrett (if budget isn’t an issue)
What to Do
- Coast to coast walk (16km) – begins at viaduct harbor and ends in Onehunga on Manukau Harbor. This will take you a few hours to do as it passes though Mt. Eden and One Tree Hill viewpoints.
- Day trip to Waiheke Island – only a 40min ferry ride from downtown Auckland which will cost you $36NZD. There are over 30 wineries on the island. Rent bikes while on the island and explore the vineyards and beaches. If budget isn’t an issue, overnight there at the Oyster Inn.
- Walk down Ponsonby Road – here you will find nice little shops, restaurants & cafes.
- Go to the top of Mt. Eden and One Tree Hill for a great view of the city.
Where to Eat & Drink
- Soul Bar and Bistro at Viaduct for dinner and drinks
- Jack Tar at Wynyard Corner for dinner and drinks – the fish and chips are very good here (half portion is quite big)
- Danny Doolans for late night drinks – this Irish Pub gets busy at around 2-3am
- Tasca at Mt. Eden for tapas (Spanish restaurant)
- Ponsonby Road has many good places to eat and drink. It is also a great place to go out at night. Here are a few that you should check out.
- Freeman & Grey – for a snack and drinks. From 5-7:30pm here, all their pizzas are $4 and if you have a New Zealand SIM card you can text to get a free pizza!
- Longroom – for drinks at night
- Chapel – for drinks at night
- Toms – for afternoon drinks on the weekends
- Prego – for dinner
Queenstown is smaller than you probably think. There are a few main streets that you find you won’t leave during your stay there. Make sure to plan a most of your trip to Queenstown ahead of time, especially if you are headed there in the summertime as hostels sell out quickly and excursions book up quickly.
If you bus into the city, the main bus stop bring you straight to the middle of the town and it is a short walk to most hotels and hostels. If you fly into town, take the Connectabus into the town for $12NZD. It runs from the airport every 15 minutes between 9am and 6pm. If you arrive between 7-9am and 6-11:20pm, you will need to check the schedule online as the times change. If you fly outside the hours of 7am to 11:20pm, book a supershuttle bus which will cost around $20NZD to/from the main streets of the city.
Taking taxis within the town can be very expensive and can be easily avoided by walking everywhere. It is a pretty small town. But if you need to take one, tell the driver “rate 3” which means local price, as it will be cheaper.
Where to Stay
There aren’t many places to stay in Queenstown. During the peak tourist season – summertime – you will need to book hostels a few weeks in advance to be safe. If you are planning last minute and there are no places showing up online, try calling the hostels as most don’t post all of the beds they have available online. A bed in a dorm room at a hostel in town will cost between $30 and $40NZD.
- Queenstown Backpackers Hostel
- Base Hostel
- Nomads Hostel
- Heartland Hotel
- The Glebe Apartments (if budget isn’t an issue)
- Browns Boutique Hotel (if budget isn’t an issue)
- Sofitel Hotel and Spa (if budget isn’t an issue)
- The Crown Plaza Hotel (if budget isn’t an issue)
What to Do
There are so many activities to choose from in Queenstown, you won’t have time to do them all. They are quite expensive to do so if you are on a budget choose one or two you really want to do and spend some time hiking. The Shotover jet ride and the canyon swing are supposed to be amazing. Skydiving and bungee jumping are really popular here too especially with bungee jumping being invented here.
- Skydive!!! It is safe here and the views are amazing. Go with the company Skydive Wanaka. They are great. It is very expensive to skydive but it is worth it! And it is also worth paying for the cameraman to jump out of the plane with you! The only negative to do it here is that you have to wear a hat and a suit if you haven’t done over 300 skydives but it isn’t too bad.
- Head out to the vineyards and bike around the area
- Gibbston Valley ($5 wine tastings)
- Chard Farm (free wine tastings)
- Peregrine (free wine tastings)
- Brennan ($10 wine tastings)
- Hike the Ben Lomans trail to the summit. This will take you about 5-7 hours (round trip) depending on how fast you hike. The summit is 1,748m and the trail is about 12km long. Make sure you bring lots of water, food and some warm clothes as it can get cold up top. Start at the bottom of the gondola and follow the Tiki Trail signs. If you don’t have time, or are not up to hiking that far, hike to the top of the gondola on the Tiki Trail. There is still a great view up there and it will save you the $35NZD gondola lift ticket. It takes about 45 minutes to hike this.
- Hike Queenstown Hill and sit in the basket of dreams. This is a short hike, great for a morning starting right in the heart of Queenstown. It takes about an hour to get to the top.
- Hike to the summit of Mount Alfred if you have time. This hike starts in Glenorchy, which is about a 45minute to an hour drive from Queenstown. I didn’t have time to do this but I hear it is one of the most incredible hikes on the south island.
Where to Eat & Drink
- Fergburger – they have the best burgers here! But be warned, there is always a long line during peak eating times so try to go at an odd time during the day to grab bite. There will likely still be a line but not as long. The burgers are worth the wait.
- Fergbaker – right next to Fergburger there is a bakery that sells delicious pot pies and sandwiches. If you go at midnight, all the sandwiches are 50% off which is a great option for lunch the next day!
- Devil Burger – for fries.
- Ferg – for ice cream.
- The Sundeck at the Bunker – great rooftop spot for drinks on a nice day.
- The World Bar – for drinks.
- Surreal rooftop bar and restaurant – for drinks.
This town is located in the middle of a live volcano in the center of the north island. There are many excursions you can do from this town such as the Waitomo Caves, Hobbiton, Zorbing, and the Maori Vilage Experiences. When it rains, don’t be surprised if a foul smell hits the city – this is just from the high sulfur levels.
The city is small enough you can walk pretty much to anywhere, except if you head out to do some excursions, a lot of those places are far away. Most will provide transportation or you can arrange transportation through the company that you booked with.
Where to Stay
Hostels cost in the range of $25NZD to $32NZD for a dorm. They also have private rooms as well.
- Rocksolid Backpackers Hostel
- Funky Green Voyager
- Crash Palace
What to Do
- Visit a Maori Village – there are plenty in the area but one of the most highly rated ones is the Tamaki Village Experience which can be purchased at $99NZD and is a 3 hour experience including a dinner feast in the evening. The village is about 20 minutes outside Rotorua but the company provides transportation to and from the village from the city center. Let them know ahead of time if you are vegetarian and they will order you a pumpkin lasagna. Another highly rated one is the Whakarewarewa Village Experience which is nestled in a geothermal valley, so unlike the Tamaki Village, here you see geysers, hot springs and mud pools. This is a day trip though as it is only open from 8:30am to 5pm. It is good if you are on a budget as it only costs $30NZD. You may choose to purchase a hangi meal here if you go between 12pm and 2pm.
- Go black water rafting in the Waitomo Caves – although it is about a 2 hour drive out there, it is worth it. There are a few different experiences you can book out there but the company who first started the tours is called Black Water Rafting. They offer 3 different experiences: black abyss, black labyrinth and black odyssey. If you can afford to spend the extra $50NZD or so, definitely do the black abyss tour which is 5 hours and costs $240NZD. It includes abseiling (repelling) down a deep cave, zip lining in the dark, cave tubing and water fall climbing all while seeing the best glow worms. They also provide you with a snack in the cave with some warm drinks and soup and bagels after. The only downside to this, is if you don’t have a car, transportation is very expensive – $100NZD.
- Go on the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour – if you are a Lord of the Rings fan or a Hobbit fan, this is the place to visit. You can do a combined tour with the Waitomo Caves if you wish but you can also just take a tour straight here.
- Try Zorbing (rolling down a hill in a massive plastic type blow up ball).
- Wander through the night market if you are around on a Thursday – located in the center of town, it’s a good place to get food and trinkets.
Located two hours north of Auckland, Waipu is a small little town that has beautiful beaches and lots of farmland. It is a great place to stop for a night on the way to Bay of Islands.
It would be very hard to get around Waipu if you don’t have a car. There are not really any taxis there. It is a great place to stop and visit if headed to the Bay of Islands.
Where to Stay
- Waipu Cove Cottages and Camping
- Waipu Cove Resort
- Private Rentals on Airbnb
What to Do
- Surf at Waipu Cove – the waves here are great and are good for experienced surfers as well as beginners.
- Walk the Mangawhai Coastal Cliff Trek
- Walk the Coastal Walkway that goes from Langs Beach to Waipu, passing through Waipu Cove
- Relax on Langs Beach
- Visit a dairy farm and learn how to milk cows
Where to Eat & Drink
- Pizza Barn
- The Cove (at Waipu Cove)
- The Dune
- The Quay
- Mangawhai Tavern for drinks (pub)