Backpacking Travel Guide

Backpacking is a culture that has swept the tourism industry in the past decade. What does it entail? What is its appeal? A backpack, an open, curious, mind and your own two feet. It’s an eye-opening, low-maintenance endeavor to truly understand another’s culture, with the potential to transform mindsets in such magnitudes. Especially in a country like New Zealand, where there lies magnitude in the landscape, in the culture, in the opportunities, and within people’s hearts.  A generous warm, culture, magnetizing mountains, and alluring waters make for a backpacker’s paradise. 

A backpacker’s first necessity – a backpack. 
Let us review the absolutely requisite characteristics of a good backpack: 

  • An internal frame – making the backpack, lighter to carry, slimmer to traverse in, and aesthetically pleasing to look at 
  • Padding along the shoulder straps, hip belt, and the back is crucial! – This feature evenly distributes the weight along your spine, shoulders, and hips, such that the straps don’t dig into your skin 
  • A Front + Top loading backpack with various compartments – So you can access your backpack from the top, the sides, and the front, which is extremely helpful whilst hiking up a mountain, or burrowing in a shared hostel room. 
  • Water-resistant –A semi-waterproof or water-resistant backpack is a must to prevent damage from incoming drizzles and showers. Nylon fiber is generally decent material for this. Your prime priority is to keep your belongings dry at all times. 

Luggage, check. 

When should I go?

Next, decide when to pack your backpack and book your plane ticket based on New Zealand’s climate and tourist influx 

Lying in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand enjoys glorious summer warmth while Asia and North America endure the winter. 

November through February is summertime and the country's peak travel season, magnetizing tourists from far and wide. June through August mark the frigid winters. While the North Island offers a relatively cool and pleasant climate, the South Island’s peaks are blanketed in snow and swarming in down jackets. 

Despite the cold, the winter season brings in hot, the winter sport enthusiasts, waiting to get their hands on a pair of skis! 

If you wish to dodge the tourist herds, visit New Zealand in the Shoulder season, from February/March to May. The transition between summer and winter is a blissful, inviting climate, favoring a plethora of land and water activities, up on the mountains, or deep within the Pacific Ocean. 

 

Where should I go?

Follow along for some undeniable, yet affordable experiences, deeming your modest New Zealand adventure, your favourite one! 

Strap on your hiking boots

Gear up and hike among the vert canopies and turquoise waters in the South Island’s Abel Tasman National Park or the North Island’s Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Climb the Franz and Fox Glaciers

New Zealand’s gems, these glaciers are some of the only mountable glaciers in the world. The usual Franz and Fox glacier experience involves a heli-hike – a helicopter ride to peaks, followed by a hike through the valleys and ice caves. A more backpacker friendly option is to drive to the site and peruse through the glacier valleys. 

Queeeeeenstown!

Escape the busy, tourist laden streets of Queenstown; Embark upon various hiking trails on the Remarkables, rent a bike and pedal off the beaten track on a mountain biking adventure to Arrowtown - a historical mining town on the outskirts of Queenstown. A short ride away from Arrowtown is the Kawarau Bridge – New Zealand’s iconic bungee jumping destination! 

Dissolve your worries by the Wanaka Lake 

Wanaka is commonly known as Queenstown’s modest, underrated, yet equally ravishing sister. Kayak in the Wanaka Lake’s cyan waters, hike Roys peak or Mt Isthmus, or simply sip a piping cup of coffee by the Lake post sunset, gazing at the dark, glimmering skies 

Lose yourself in Mount Cook National Park

Speaking of glimmering skies, the desolate Tekapo/Mount Cook region boasts one of eight International Dark Sky Reserves in the entire world! After a long day’s hike to Hooker Valley, Sealy Tarns, or Kea Point – the only activity that attracts its visitors - take a walk underneath the night skies or book a unique stargazing tour! 

The city life

Peruse through the street art filled alleys of Auckland, Wellington, and Dunedin, explore multinational cuisines, and taste New Zealand’s finest and strongest coffees. New Zealand’s cities, although cosmopolitan, still preserve the Maori essence in their values, lifestyles, and morals. 

Immerse yourself in Rotorua

Enter Rotorua and the smell of Sulphur permeates the air (although it’s not nearly as unpleasant as people claim!). Rotorua in the North Island is New Zealand’s geothermal hub with hot pools and springs are scattered all over the city. Indulge in nature’s free, very own cure for that post-hike soreness 

Escape the Island for more islands! 

Board a ferry from Auckland in the North Island to the Bay of Islands. Pick from 144 islands in the Bay of Islands, and rejuvenate along aqua emerald bays and soothing sands, participate in a variety of water sports, or explore the area by foot. 

The little gems 

Escape to Waiheke, near Auckland, in the North or Kaikoura, near Christchurch, in the South. While Waiheke is an immersion into New Zealand’s most sensational food and wines, Kaikoura is New Zealand’s marine paradise, offering opportunities to whale watch, snorkel, dive, and migrate alongside dolphins and whales.


How should I travel?

Nestled in a fairly remote part of the Pacific Ocean, air travel from most places in the world lasts 12-16 hours. The journey, however taxing, is incredibly rewarding. Once you and your backpack arrive in New Zealand, pick from the following: 

Campervan – The ultimate road trip! A campervan experience is practically a mini house on wheels. Aboard a campervan and wake up to sunrises that paint mountains crimson and sleep to the sounds of colliding waves; cook on the go and massively save on accommodation costs. However, you must make your peace with potentially uncomfortable spaces, driving long hours, unprecedented vehicle maintenance and lots of DIY! 

Car – Also enabling a fair bit of freedom, with a car you are unencumbered by rigid public transport routes. It’s the best way to touch those off beat, unexplored corners of the country. Keep in mind the accommodation and fuel cost that gradually but substantially will eat away at your wallet. 

Bus – Bus travel is by far the most convenient and hands off, affordable yet flexible way to explore New Zealand. There exist a few prominent bus companies, such as InterCity, with extensive routes, frequent trips, and affordable passes. Bus travel also imparts the opportunity for social interaction, and potentially discover a travel buddy! 

Air travel – As a cohort of travelers that live by the “it’s about the journey, not the destination” philosophy, backpackers shy away from air travel. However, budget airlines in New Zealand permit inexpensive commuting between the two islands or between prominent cities. 


Where should I stay?

Unless you’re in a campervan, you haven’t accounted for a place to sleep yet. New Zealand, being a backpacker friendly country, provides a multitude of options for a cheap night’s rest! 

Hostels – Hostels, a backpacker’s eternal dwelling, are abundant in New Zealand! Ranging from $20 - $60 NZD for a night’s stay in a shared hostel room, hostels encourage social gatherings, meeting fellow travelers, and engaging in events (tours, pub crawls, game nights etc). These multicultural melting pots are adorned with community kitchens, lounge rooms, and dining spaces; it is hard to leave a hostel without having made a few new friends or even travel companions! 

Airbnb – linking homeowners to travelers, Airbnb is also a relatively affordable and culturally enriching way to maneuver your travels. 

CouchSurf – If your specialty is spontaneity, perch yourself on a stranger’s couch or bedroom free of cost through couch surf. Although you mustn’t take your safety for granted, New Zealand is considered a trusting and amiable country, where innovative ideas such as Couch Surf truly thrive. 

WWOOFING – An abbreviation for “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms”, WWOOFING is a globally escalating travel trend. If your visa allows for it, WWOOFING is a barter system of sorts, providing food and accommodation for a few hours of daily work on an organic farm. Agriculture being a prominent industry in New Zealand, WWOOFING is a popular option utilized by many backpackers. 

 

Since food is an expensive affair in most New Zealand destinations; on average, a balanced satisfying meal is $15 NZD. It is most advisable to familiarize yourself with the art of cooking, and to sleep where you can cook, having agency over your own meals. Weekly grocery shopping and meal prepping are a backpacker’s best friend. Subsequently, hostels and Airbnbs are your best bet! 

And lastly, 
No matter what the location, the accommodation, the commute, walk walk everywhere, as much as possible! Absorb the pure air and grasp a mental picture of the scenery. You’re in New Zealand once, you’re in a country where every single sight, tree or mountain, ocean or grassland, is a sight for the soul!

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