This is an article I wrote as part of my application Bootsnall. Bootsnall, for those who don’t know, is a great company located in my hometown and it would have been a pretty dream job. They chose another writer (must be Yeti-haters) but the flip side is that now we can post our advice here. These tips are culled from my months of backpacking there and augmented by tips from Rachel, who is herself from Aotearoa.
1. There are three great islands to see.
Actually there are an uncountable amount of islands, but while most trampers stick to the south island, it’s well worth remembering that Stewart Island has a lot going for it. The Rakiura Track (one of the Great Walks) is renown for Kiwi spotting and it’s fun to be in a capital city of less than 400 people. Then there is the North Island. Many travelers see Auckland, but the south of the North Island has one of the coolest cities in the world—Wellington. Wellington has some great museums, fantastic coffee, funky fashions, upcoming microbrews, colorful street people, and (for the anti-tourists among you) one of the ugliest buildings in the world.
2. Camping is not roughing it.
Kiwi campgrounds are loaded: you will likely have access to kitchens, bathrooms, showers, tvs, pool tables, internet and even herb gardens. The campgrounds themselves often have great views of lakes, mountains or the sea. It doesn’t cost a lot to pitch your tent and still have many amenities available. Cooking in the camp kitchen is a good way to save money considering the high price of dining out in New Zealand. And you don’t have to be tramping; there are places to pitch your tent (or rent a cabin) in the city centers of places like Queenstown, Nelson, and New Plymouth.
3. Avoid the obvious tourist spots.
Though Queenstown and its relatively thumping nightlife draws many backpackers in, you don’t have to drink every teapot in the World Bar. The nearby towns of Wanaka and Arrowtown are worthy destinations themselves. Arrowtown has a very pleasant autumn festival; while Wanaka has great camping along its picturesque lake. Both have nice shops, cafes, and views of the southern alps. Likewise, the Bay of Islands is magnificent, but Coromandel Peninsula is closer to Auckland and arguably even more beautiful.
4. You don’t have to walk the Great Walks during the peak season.
It can be difficult to get the timing just right, but if you can hike the Milford or Keplar during the first couple of weeks of the off-season you will have the same great views, but at much less expense and far fewer people. (Hiking in the off-season will require carrying a portable stove and if you wait too long they will take bridges down, so going as soon as the peak season ends is ideal.)
5. Go your own way.
Although the Kiwi Experience, Naked Bus, Black Sheep, and other tour buses promise everything from drink specials to amorous companions, this is not the place to allow others to dictate your schedule. Renting a car is an affordable option for a couple of people; larger groups can hire vans (see Wicked) or even buy vehicles and sell them back. New Zealand is a place where you will continually want to stop—to take photographs, to visit that small town bakery, or to have lunch in one of the many picnic areas. You need to have the freedom to stop when and where you want, and the buses just don’t allow that. Also, keep your eye out for hitchhikers—they’re probably 20-something Europeans who have been on the road for years and have some great stories.