New Zealand; Maori name: Aotearoa, meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’. Population: 4,430,400
Get your cameras ready… literally every corner you turn is a picture postcard. Natural beauty in its absolute excess, with each spot more exquisite than the last. How can one country be known as the most peaceful place on earth and at the same time be an adventure capital? Hard to comprehend, I know but, even a short visit is sure to capture you and take a piece of your heart forever.
Remote and breath-taking New Zealand is made up of appropriately named North and South Islands, separated by the Cook Straight. With a kaleidoscope of attractions, these small but robust islands are firmly established as a must-see destination amongst backpackers.
Whether you’re seeking to hike up glaciers on world-class tracks, bungee jump head first into a lake or experience the sacred and spirituality of the indigenous culture, this ‘all-in-one’ destination has it covered.
Just a quick flight from most main cities in Australia, transport yourself to a paradise of green, unspoilt landscape, isolated beaches and, of course… hobbits!
Travelling about can be expensive but with many budget options on offer, you won’t have to sacrifice too much of your backpacker dollars.
NAKED BUS: with cheap bus fares and reliable and comprehensive service of both islands, this is a great choice for those travelling alone.
Hiring a campervan through WIKIED CAMPERS is an affordable and fantastic way to tour NZ, with most offering fully equipped beds and kitchens, you will save on accommodation and get to see more of the glorious countryside.
Capital: Wellington, population: 487,000
New Zealand’s capital city is nestled between rolling hills, a stunning harbour and a vibrant and compact downtown area that’s best explored on foot. Wellington, which is located at the most southern tip of the North island, is the gateway to the South. ‘The Windy City’ as its known by the locals is a unique place encompassing arts, culture and fine dining – leave the diet at home! Being NZ’s second largest metropolis, here you’ll discover an amazing range of cafes, art galleries, attractions and a humming nightlife.
Things to do in and around the city
A city tour is the best way to get acquainted quickly with Wellington, with many local companies offering a variety of cheap options. Having a chat with the staff at the I-SITE Visitor Centre in Civic Square is essential for those who want to tackle this city independently by foot.
This city is home to NZ national museum: TE PAPA MUSEUM. Whether you’re a history buff or not, this place deserves a visit as it tells the story of NZ history through bold and interactive exhibits – and best of all it’s free! Worth doing also is taking a trip on the iconic CABLE CAR atop Mt Victoria to enjoy panoramic views of the city and harbour. Lord of the Rings devotees can get their fix of Middle Earth mania with numerous film sites nearby, trying to see these sites without a guide can be pointless but as tours can be expensive it’s best to shop around.
Get out of the city and take a cruise around the rugged southern coast to small beachside towns of Paraparaumu, Otaki and Waikanae. Pass through local villages, blockbuster scenery and stop for a bit of wine tasting at many of the local vineyards for which NZ is famous for.
Places to stay
Wellington Downtown Backpackers, 1 Bunny Street, Pipitea, Wellington. Dorms from NZ$22: Centrally located with major attractions within walking distance, this once historic hotel has been turned into an art-deco flashpackers and is a fantastic place to relax after exploring the city.
YHA Wellington City, 292 Wakefield Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Dorms from NZ$23: Spacious, modern and fun place with a huge variety of rooms, helpful staff will help plan your stay, great place to meet fellow travellers.
Barnacles Seaside Inn, 3 Marine Parade, Paraparaumu Beach. For those wanting to escape the city this relaxed, quirky beachside guesthouse is a great option for people seeking a touch of home and true kiwi hospitality.
Backpacker Favourites #1
Cape Reinga and 90 Mile Beach
At the furthest north-western point of New Zealand, you will find Cape Reinga, an ocean intersection, where you will witness the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide. With waves crashing together, rising to peaks of 10 metres you can experience how powerful mother nature can be. With an eerie vibe, the indigenous believe this place is where the recently departed enter the underworld, with the Maori name for the land meaning, “leaping-off place of spirits”. Leading away from this grandeur is a peninsula known as 90 Mile Beach, a vast stretch of seemingly endless sand with a 1,000-year-old forest backdrop. Take the time to appreciate the untouched beauty that NZ has to offer in this popular backpacker congregation spot.
Things to do
Hire a 4WD and head up the cape to the CAPE REINGA LIGHTHOUSE, with non-obscured views of the tidal race and dense forest… (postcard time) Take your 4WD for a derby along 90 Mile Beach to TE PAKI STREAM where you can try your hand at dune-boarding down massive sand dunes on a boogie-board. To get your nature karma in check plant a NATIVE TREE in the woodlands and help toward protecting this enchanted area.
Places to stay
Other than sleeping in your hired campervan on the beach:
Endless Summer Lodge, 245 Foreshore Road, Ahipara. Dorms from NZ$25: This beachfront retreat offers shared and private rooms, in an 1880 century abode.
Backpacker Favourites #2
Can you smell rotten eggs? Yes? Congratulations you have arrived in the sulphuric city wonderland that is Rotorua. Bubbling mud pools, erupting geysers, thermal hot-springs; with all this geothermic activity going on it may feel like you’ve reached Mordor. Located in the heart of the North Island this thriving tourist and backpacker mecca has a never-ending list of attractions, that could easily occupy you for a week (if you can handle the smell).
Things to do
Where to start… Explore the WAI-O-TAPU THERMAL PARK, the most colourful volcanic area with daily erupting geysers, steaming grounds and huge volcanic craters. Relax and unwind at the WAIKITE VALLEY THERMAL POOLS, soothe away your aches in one of the many hot natural geothermic baths. Take a ride on the famous SKYLINE GONDOLA for fantastic views of the city, getting down is much more exhilarating on THE LUGE, part go-cart, part toboggan, weave down the sidewinding asphalt trail with the Redwood forest flying past.
Places to stay
Base Rotorua Hot Rock, 1286 Awara Street, Rotorua: Overlooking the stunning Kuirau Geothermic Park, this favourite has cheap dorms, NO bunk-beds and even offers a “flex-i-package” which gives you access to stay at any of their other hostels throughout NZ.
Planet Nomad Backpackers Rotorua, 1193 Fenton Street, Rotorua: Centrally located with a mixture of rooms all outward facing the city.
Off The Beaten Track #1
Start with a bunch of cafes, a handful of markets, a sprinkle of fashion and season with a lot of art… you’ve got the hipster-pie that makes up Nelson. Located at the tip of the South Island, unknown Nelson may not yet hold its weight on the tourist trail but sure packs a punch when it comes to showcasing the best of NZ culture and coastline. An epicentre for the creative elite and a thriving sense of community topped off with a multitude of national parks and activities at its doorstep, you’ll soon discover why “Sunny Nelson” as it’s known by the locals should be pencilled into every backpacker’s itinerary.
Things to do and see
Eat, drink and chill with the locals as they buzz about the vibrant SATURDAY NELSON MARKET, also a great place to pick up some hand-crafted souvenirs. Need a mental health day? Then grab a kayak, jump on the water shuttle and head straight to ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK (postcard time) a coastal retreat of blonde voluptuous beaches, turquoise water and native bush lands. For those feeling adventitious take a scenic flight by helicopter to really appreciate the other-worldly beauty of this region.
Places to stay
Paradiso Backpackers Hostel Nelson, 42 Weka Street, Nelson. Dorms from NZ$20: Enjoy the home comforts of this warm and vibrant hostel equipped with spa, pool, sauna, volleyball court… the list goes on.. meet other ‘off the beaten track’ travellers like yourself.
Off The Beaten Track #2
Beach bums are in for a treat! This small beachside getaway is what the Gold Coast is to Australia – except far less devolved or tacky. Sitting at 232 metres tall with a grand peninsula extending out either side, “The Mount” as it is referred to by the locals has hundreds of kilometres of sparkly clean and safe swimming beaches. Although popular with Kiwi tourists this place is only just being discovered by the foreign traveller. With the busy port-side city of Tauranga, only 20 minutes drive away you can also find fresh, cheap seafood and a buzzing waterfront nightlife.
Things to do and see
Learn to surf at one of the dozens of SURF SCHOOLS on offer, you will be hanging-ten in no time for around $50 a day for hire and lesson. Google up at the mountain from below in the intensely relaxing MOUNT MAUNGANUI HOT POOLS. Climb the steep terrain up a 2-hour ascent to the peak of “Mauao; the maori name for Mt Maunganui,” reward your every step where at the summit be greeted with a spectacular sight of the east coastline and surrounding islands.
Places to stay
Pacific Coast Backpackers, 432 Maunganui Road, Mount Maunganui. dorms from NZ$19: Chilled backpacker vibe with clean quiet dorms, located within walking distance to the beach and central downtown, an ideal place to meet other suntanned nomads.
Finding adventure in NZ difficult? You’ve got be joking. Firmly dubbed an ‘adventure hotspot’ you adrenaline junkies won’t have to look far to get your fix. You can be as insane or timid as you want with the buffet of selections on offer.
For the extreme seeker’s journey straight to Middle-earth, QUEENSTOWN. Another backpacker fave located in the deep south, surrounded by immense mountain glaciers and settled on the shores of crystal LAKE WAKATIPU. Just a few of the heart-pumping options here include the iconic SHOTOVER JET: dart through narrow canyons doing 360 degree spins in dramatically shallow water on a Kiwi-designed jet boat. Face your fears at AJ HACKETT BUNGY, the inventor of the bungee jump. Throw yourself off a variety of heights attached only to a bungee cord strapped to your legs, with the utmost height being a dizzying 134metre cable car, rushing to the ground in only 8.4 seconds. If you enjoyed playing on the swingset as a kid try THE LEDGE SWING on for size, be catapulted out 490 metres off the edge of a mountain trying to determine whether you are actually falling or swinging.
Rapid fanatics rejoice, as Queenstown also offers some of the world’s most extremely challenging waters. Travel by road through tight corners and harrowing cliff edges to SKIPPERS CANYON, home of the mighty SHOTOVER RIVER. Paddle through rugged tunnels, treacherous rocks and be shot off cascading waterfalls in these exhilarating grade 3 to 5 rapids.
Fancy jumping out of a plane? Head 70 km out of Queenstown to jaw-dropping WANAKA, situated at the gateway to MOUNT ASPIRING NATIONAL PARK. Strap yourself to a beautiful stranger and free fall at 200 km an hour from 15000ft overlooking towering snow-capped SOUTHERN ALPS and the gorgeous blue water of LAKE WANAKA.
If the skydive gave you a taste for more airborne adventures this breathtaking region also includes flight-seeing tours aboard vintage TIGER MOTHS, step back in time and experience a bit of aviation history.
So all you thrill-seekers out there, New Zealand is the destination to quench your thirst for adventure.
By Jenna Waite