How To Travel Around New Zealand
We just got back from our amazing trip to New Zealand and we thought it would be great to put together a blog post highlighting the different types of traveling we encountered. There really is something for everyone. From backpacking and staying in a tent, to a luxury vacation stay. It is such a gorgeous country and we hope everyone takes the opportunity at some point in their life to visit this magical land.
In putting together this blog we did not consider airfare. For this trip, we were able to cash in our airline miles so that definitely was a big savings. We’re also basing the information in this post on experiences we had and people we talked to. This in no way covers everything but we thought it was a good start to get you on your way to traveling New Zealand. We will also be doing a post about our itinerary and highlighting some gorgeous photographs and video we took as well as breaking down posts and the highlights of our favorite experiences and places. So stay tuned for more!
Keeping It Low Cost
This would include things like backpacking and using a tent and/or occasionally staying at a Holiday Parks (think KOA but even better- and it is advisable to book ahead of time-especially in the busy season). Also camping or staying in one of the group lodges that had bunk beds. There is also specific backpacker inns to stay in that offer both private and group bunk rooms. Another thing people can do when they’re hiking is stay in one the DOC huts. Again, you just need to make sure you reserve your space ahead of time. All of the Holiday Parks had kitchen facilities. These are communal spaces that everybody can share -the majority had 2 kitchens. Most of them you had to have your own dishes and pots and pans. But at some such as the Rainforest Retreat in Franz Joseph everything was supplied and at other places you can rent them (I saw a sign for one place $10). This is a great way to save money by cooking your own meals and then you also meet a lot of awesome people.
This is a great hub for young travelers who often hooked up and decided to do some traveling together and or share ideas of places to go. We met a lot of folks just sitting around in the kitchen cooking together. One of the cool things at the holiday parks is there are specified areas where there are airports (such as Christchurch, Queenstown and Auckland) there are free boxes that travelers have left goods and supplies behind. We were able to pick up salt and pepper, aluminum foil, butter and oil and a great new water bottle. There was also water and spaghetti but of course we had JUST bought those items. Check the Free boxes BEFORE going to the store!! And with the prices of food in New Zealand this is a great help. We in turn left a bunch of items behind in the free box at our last campground in Auckland.
Meet The Naked Bus
When getting around this way often people take the inner city bus or the naked bus to different towns and supplement that with hitchhiking to different areas. Pricing varies so check out their websites. We picked up 2 nice guys outside of Mt. Cook and took them to the same hiking trail we were doing. When picking up hitchhikers use your better judgment and do only what feels comfortable to you! Often people do some kind of stay and work for trade for a couple weeks. For example in Franz Joseph at the Rainforest Retreat Holiday Park they were looking for clean staffing for 2 weeks at a time in exchange for lodging, one meal a day, free laundry and Wi-Fi. Not a bad way to go if you have the time. Some we encountered would stay a couple months in one area and worked at a local café or restaurant to make some money to go to the next destination either in New Zealand or somewhere totally new.
At this level we met a lot younger European travelers. It was a shame we didn’t meet any young Americans (actually we met less than 10 Americans on our whole trip). I know of people who have done study abroad programs but it really would be an awesome experience for more Americans to get out and explore the world this way like Europeans do. When you get out and meet different people from different places and cultures you gain a better insight into people. When you get to know people on an individual basis it is much harder to generalize and discriminate against them.
Traveling at a Slightly Higher Cost
If you have a slightly higher budget you could rent a car or van and still do camping with your tent at the Holiday Parks. Another way to do it is to do Freedom Camping. There is a lot of public lands that folks are able to stay. However there is limited facilities and most of the time none. If you are free camping please be mindful of the environment around you. Do not deposit your human and food waste into nature. Pack it in and Pack it out! Leave the area clean!! We read that there is a lot of problems in certain areas with freedom campers. We made a deliberate decision not to go that route on this trip.
This is the First Gorgeous Location We Spotted Outside Christchurch and Lake Tekapo
This is the category we fit in. This is for folks who have a car and stay at less expensive hotels or cabins at Holiday Parks or even Airbnb. Again, you can choose to stay at the holiday parks to either have a shared room with bunk beds or a private room. It is also the category for folks like us who rented a camper van and stayed at Holiday Parks. These parks cost us anywhere from $42-$55NZ (you pay per person). And I did a lot of research deciding exactly where we were going to stay and booked in advance. We had some set tours planned so we had a pretty set itinerary and knew exactly what area we wanted to stay (of course there was always room for flexibility and spontaneity).
But it was nice already knowing where we would settle in for the night or two. And we met one couple who bought a used van because it was cheaper when you are traveling for a couple of months. Your biggest expensive beside the camper is the gas. Most seem to use diesel fuel which is a bit less per liter (remember it takes 3.78 liters to equal a gallon) and then there is a tax you have to pay per mileage at the end because of a diesel tax they have. It cost us over $6 per 100 meters traveled. That added $175 NZ to our bill at the van rental (we used Apollo).
Sunrise at Glentanner Holiday Park outside Mount Cook
To stay in the mid range you would still buy groceries and cook most of your food. But you could definitely go out a couple times to eat. But be prepared because restaurants there are very expensive. For example at a café in Hokitika, where we weren’t even waited on, for two fish and chips and drinks it cost us $55NZ. But we got the best fish and chips outside the Auckland Fish Market and for that and 2 drinks it only cost is $20NZ. And the fish was totally fresh caught that day. Much better choice!
Travel By Tour Bus Vs. Personalized Travel
While we don’t know the exact cost of folks traveling on tour buses I believe they would also fit in this group. We saw some larger groups and buses at the Holiday Parks that stayed in the various bunk rooms and cabins there. Mostly we saw school groups doing this. Foreign travelers that were on tour buses seem to stay in hotels. If you are staying at one of the holiday parks there is an opportunity again to cook. But otherwise all your meals would be eaten out. The biggest downside to this type of travel to me is there’s just too many people. All you are doing is getting out of the bus at whatever destination you are going to. When in reality all of New Zealand is the next destination.
We stopped so many times on the side of the road or went down smaller roads to explore. We talked to people who were traveling on a tour bus like this and they said they couldn’t believe how most people slept until they got to whatever their destination was supposed to be. And then everyone piles out, takes a couple photos, maybe a short walk and then gets back on the bus. Mostly we saw these kind of buses at the larger tourist attractions. And they mostly seem to be large groups of folks that were from me the same country. A lot of Asian travelers we encountered were traveling this way.
There are so many different types of travel that can fit under luxury travel. You could rent a car and stay at one of the nicer 5 Star hotels, Airbnb or even Bed and Breakfasts. With this level you are eating most of your meals out except maybe breakfast could be included in your lodging. Mostly eating out at nice restaurants. (we did eat at one Fabulous place in Queenstown – Finz. It was great to have a fancy dinner out and in Auckland we ate at Tok Tok which was AMAZING!!) Another option for folks in this category is staying in the cities and then do large, small or private tours for the day or overnight to various destinations.
For an additional cost some may fly between the north and south island or in between Christchurch and Queensland. Otherwise most people take the Interislander Ferry (but it’s a Really nice ferry) where you can either walk-on or even bring your vehicle aboard. Obviously the latter cost a lot more. And this is a gorgeous ride through the Cook Straight From Picton to Wellington or vice versa. Of course the day we were on it, the smooth ride only lasted about the first hour. After that it was definitely a rough ride with over 7 meter waves. Our advice, stay in the middle of the boat once you hit those waters even if you take your Dramamine LOL.
We hope you gained some insight into traveling in New Zealand. And like mentioned, this list in no way your only options. This is just a few things we encountered or observed. Most people we met, including ourselves, seem to do a mixture of all four categories. This is your adventure- you just have to decide what path you’re going to take and do it..