Travel Planning to New Zealand Advice
February 17, 2012 12:30 AM   Subscribe

Need an information dump on backpacking through New Zealand!

Will be traveling to New Zealand in July/August and spending about a month there backpacking around. Need some help and suggestions for planning the trip.

If you don't mind sharing, what was your budget? How did you cut some corners/save? Places you really enjoyed, places you didn't.. how to get off the beaten track a bit?

I'll hopefully have a travel partner -- for now I'm solo though. Camping, cooking for myself, hoping to rent a campervan or a car. Walking on the Franz Josef Glacier, a skydive and/or bungy. Anything else I should add to the list to look into?
posted by melizabeth to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It will be ski season. I have zero ideas about that. Sorry.

- Take a lesson on glacier climbing. When will you get to do this again?

- The weather will be shite. You will be wet. Have gear that dries quickly, wrap spares in plastic bag. Think WATERPROOF.

- DOC huts are the bomb. You will not need a tent, only sleeping bag, food, and cooking gear.

- Carry duct tape. Your feet will be wet, you WILL get blisters. Avoid blisters by putting duct tape over on "hot spots" the SECOND you feel one coming on.

- Hot Water Beach. If you can sleep on the beach in a bag only (doubtful, but you might get a break in the weather - DO IT:)

- Music in NZ is amazing. Soak up all the DJ events and bands that you can.

- Kayak camping rocks (top of the South Island), but I don't know that you can do it in July/August.

- The Farm Stay at the very tip of the Coromandel was one of the highlights of my life. The trip out there on a skinny cliff-side road in the rain with crazee kiwi drivers whipping around blind corners and nearly forcing our car off the cliff every few miles? Not so much.

- Speaking of which, drunk driving is a bit of a problem there. Drive accordingly.

- AHHH. The Cadrona Hotel and horseback riding with these guys! But horseback riding and camping anywhere in NZ is pretty sweet!

- Pinot noir wines from the South Island. I'm going to assume you already familiar with their superior Sauvignon Blancs.

- There is a protected Kauri Tree forest somewhere above Franz Josef as I remember. Go find it. Yes, they are that Big!

- Carved Punga.

-VOLCANO HIKES! I want to say I hiked Mt Ruapehu, but I honestly don't remember. It was an overnight trek, if that's the one. I think that's the one. I think there is skiing there, too. Also, I accidentally ended up hiking Rangitoto in Auckland Harbor when I boarded a $5 morning ferry "coffee cruise." So apparently "coffee cruise" = "Volcano Hike" in NZ. There's a lot of this, always be dressed appropriately. Sunscreen is your friend. As is waterproof clothing:)

- I think I skipped Lake Taupo and still regret it. And I lived there for a while, so there ya go.

- Tongariro! I'm SURE now that Volcano Hike I LOVED the most was The Tongariro Crossing! Craters! Skree hills! Sulfur lakes! Thanks, google maps!

- The food everywhere will be better than you imagine.

- It's cheap, you can afford to stay at really nice hotel/spa type places once in a while. Do that. Especially after you've gotten wet, cold, and dirty for a few days out in the bush.

- You can meet up with folks as you travel about. I often ran into the same travelers multiple times. You WILL find traveling companions, if you want to. Make friends with New Zealanders, some of the nicest people on the planet. I kid you not.

- There are sacred Maori hills, mountains, and springs all over that you may not enter - please be respectful and do not enter.

- Is there room for me in your luggage?

Kia Ora!
posted by jbenben at 1:34 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're foolish, maybe, with the camper van. You'll meet more people at the backpackers, which are usually really nice and will have private rooms readily available at that time of year. Stay at the backpackers and make new friends!

posted by jbenben at 1:37 AM on February 17, 2012

Oh, dip!

You need not fly blind in NZ. In every town there is a friendly tourist bureau (I forget what they are called, but pretty sure the gov't runs them.) Through these guys you pick your next destination, they will phone and make reservations, and basically facilitate everything from lodging to activities.

You can go with a loose plan and then make decisions on the ground based on weather and the like.

It's that simple.
posted by jbenben at 1:41 AM on February 17, 2012

If you are looking for other travellers to rideshare with, gumtree is more active in NZ than Craigslist.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:37 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd rent a car, vs. camper. I stayed mostly at hostels, and they were all quite nice. I picked up hotchhiking backpackers, which turned out alright, and I'm still in touch with some years later.

I don't imagine you'll have trouble getting rooms at hostels, but it was busy when i was doing it in the summer, so I booked ahead a day or two.

I think you need to be with a guide for the glacier, but I may be wrong. There were a couple of shops in town that did them.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:18 AM on February 17, 2012

If your pack and budget allow it, consider purchasing a rail pass.

The South Island spoke to me more than the North Island. The hostels were quite pleasant and full of friendly people. I wish I'd had more time to spend around Milford Sound, but if you get there and the weather is good enough, try for a boat tour; the scenery is magnificent.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:36 AM on February 17, 2012

I'm going to address some practical stuff:

Rail is probably the worst way to get around New Zealand. If you have oodles of time and money, yes, but the bus networks are fantastic and well priced. A bus + hostel tour (either packaged, or organised yourself) would be a fantastic way to get around the country with ease, as well as meet new people. Check out Naked Bus for fares.

The tourism bureaus are called i-sites and they're in most towns (90 around the country).

As for pretty/off the beaten track - the West Coast of the North Island is beautiful in a wild sort of way. Driving around New Plymouth is one of my favourites - craggy gorges, forests, rivers, then the beach. West is also best at Auckland/Raglan (surf, hippies, food), and in the far North where you can visit the gorgeous Hokianga Harbour.
posted by teststrip at 5:23 AM on February 17, 2012

If you are American, mentally prepare to drive on the "wrong" side of the road and car. :-)
It is tricky at first.
That ferry from Wellington to Picton is a pretty cool way to get to the South Island.
Do the Jet boats on the Shotover River! It is a MUST!

Have fun!
It's among the coolest places in the world...
posted by StUdIoGeEk at 6:09 AM on February 17, 2012

Renting a car or camper van will be really expensive. Two alternatives, if this is not an expense you want: ride around on one of those bus services that people are talking about. I never did this and can't vouch for it, but it's very popular among backpackers. Also, there's sort of a certain demographic that skews toward using the buses, and I guess only you'll know whether the savings are worth spending hours on a bus with these people. Alternative two: buy a beater car when you arrive and sell it when you leave. You can look for cars on TradeMe, New Zealand's alternative to ebay.

Basically everything you can possibly do in NZ is cool. But you only have so much time and money, so in the spirit of prioritizing:

Spend more time in the South Island than the North Island. If I were planning this trip, I'd fly into Auckland, do the North Island first, and then fly out of Christchurch.

In the North Island, with a month and a limited budget, I'd just head out of Auckland right away. There are five or six things I'd consider in the North Island: Tongariro Crossing, the hike jbenben talked about, except I doubt it will be open in August. I recall going in mid-October, and I think it was the first week it was open for the season. Blackwater rafting, in the Waikato--we went to a place called Raft, Rock, and Roll--you abseiled down into a cavern, got into tubes, floated in an underground river, saw a bunch of glow worms, then did some caving. All for like $100NZ. If you like wine, check out Hawke's Bay, especially the town of Napier, and the Wairarapa, the town of Martinborough. Do stay in Wellington. It's a wonderful city. The national museum, Te Papa, is worth checking out. Seconding the recommendation to see live music. There is always something going in Wellington, especially on Cuba Street. Get kebabs at Abra-Kebabra on Manners Mall. See a movie at the Embassy Theatre. If it's nice, walk along the waterfront down to Oriental Bay. Walk through the botanical gardens up to the cable car, then take the cable car back down to the city. Man, I miss Wellington.

In the South Island, definitely go to Nelson and Abel Tasman. It will be uncrowded in August, but it still might be tough to arrange for a DOC cabin. The Abel Tasman Coastal Walk is highly recommended, and takes about four days if you do the whole thing. But if you're not up fo that, you can catch a bus from Nelson and do a big chunk of it in one day. We did both, and both were good experiences.

The two best hostels we stayed at were on the South Island. One was in Oamaru, north of Moeraki. It wasn't downtown, but a short drive. I want to say it was called Coastal Backpackers? The second was in Lake Tekapo, and Lake Tekapo is gorgeous.

I'm not sure what the tourist experience in Christchurch is right now :( . But we were not huge fans of Chch, anyway, and it was better to get out of town. Dunedin is a cooler town, I think. There's a train you can ride from Dunedin to Queenstown.

Queenstown will blow through your money in a hurry. Seconding jetboating. There are several bungees. I did the one over the Kawarau Gorge, and it was pretty great. But the coolest thing we did in that area was in Wanaka (which is otherwise kind of precious, but they did have this cool, local movie theatre that I'd check out)--canyoning. Canyoning was awesome, and I highly recommend it.

If you're going to Milford Sound, consider staying overnight on a boat. The smaller the boat, the better. It's worth the extra time and money to spend more time in the Sound. We did the "short" tour of the Doubtful Sound, as well, and it was just okay compared to the Milford Sound. It will be great to be there if it rains, as hundreds of waterfalls just sort of appear.

I honestly would consider skipping the glaciers if you're having a hard time making choices. We found them really underwhelming. Same goes with skydiving--you can pretty much skydive anywhere.

The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide are excellent resources. We relied on them time and time again, and they were almost always spot on.

Oh! You're going to be there during the Tri-nations rugby, so see if you can score tickets to see the All Blacks play. Try, I think they sell the tickets. If you can't see a test in person, be sure to go to a pub and watch.

Also consider posting another question later as you get closer to refining your itinerary--knowing what specific places you're going to be would be really helpful.

In the South Island
posted by MoonOrb at 7:17 AM on February 17, 2012

Plenty of good advice above. While I think others have hinted at it, keep in mind that July/August is winter, so a number of the outdoorsy activities will be cold, if not closed. Don't be discouraged - it's not like the whole country is covered in ice and snow. And seeing the snow-capped mountains in the southern alps is absolutely breathtaking. It just might mean that lodging in ski areas gets booked on weekends, though, where other activities (like the Tongariro Crossing mentioned above) will be not be open. Also, as mentioned, each town will have an i-Site where you can get information on the local scene. Good news is that you shouldn't need to book things too far in advance during the off-season!

Enjoy your trip!
posted by Metro Gnome at 8:19 PM on February 19, 2012

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