Backpacking In New Zealand - Tips!

Planning - 

Like for any other trip, booking flights at least two months in advance is always a good idea. Some countries do have visa on arrival in NZ. You could also plan for a work visa if you intend to stay there for an year. For Indians, the tourist visa process is simple. Specially, if you are traveling alone. I have recorded the process Here . My Visa and flight tickets were the only planning I did before traveling to NZ. Oh yes, also the backpack and the trekking gears. You shall find all those details in the link above.

I bought a Lonely Planet guide for this travel, but I hardly referred to it. I only browsed through it before to identify places of interest.  I did occasionally refer to the attractions when I arrived in a new town but you really don’t need it. Your hostel reception can give you a lot of inputs and if you need specific info you could walk into an i-Site or DOC (Department of Conservation) offices that exist in almost every town. I saw some travellers use Rough Guide to NZ  and somehow, I think its a better guide than Lonely planet because it covers the treks in detail while, Lonely planet has a separate book for tramping and trekking. 

First thing to do When you land - 

I draw local currency from the ATM directly. I seldom carry it from India. For safety, I always keep some US dollars with me, in case my card does not work. The very next thing I do - Buy a SIM card. You could either buy it at the airport or in some countries it is better to buy it in the city for cheaper deals. In NZ there are limited options and you can really buy any one. I bought $29 plan of Spark NZ that had some free international call time.

Accommodation - 

There are plenty of hostels almost everywhere in NZ. They are the most economic option you have. Hostel dorms can cost you anywhere from $25 to $40. During summer (Dec-Feb) it is advisable to book hostel dorms at least one or two days in advance, specially in smaller towns that have limited options. I used the app called "Hostelworld" to book hostels and its great. If you do not have data or wifi to do so, walk into an i-site office int he town, they shall do it for you. 

One thing to be aware of is that some hostels have agreement with backpacker buses like Kiwi experience and Stray. They hold the beds for the passengers of the bus. So, in places with limited option (Like Mt cook village, Stewart Island) it is better to book hostels much in advance. 

One more thing to note is that the receptions at many hostels are not open 24 hours. So, if you are going to check-in late for whatever reason, make sure to call them to discuss options. Otherwise, you might be locked out.

I only stayed once in a motel because the dorms were not available. That was at Mt Cook Village and it cost me $140 for a night. Really expensive! Anyways, that is your next best option if you do not find dorms.

If you have camper vans you can find several camp sites which are free or are for a nominal fee. Many motels and lodges rent out their parking lot for camper vans. 

Transport - 

You can rent a car, travel by local buses or take backpacker buses. Car rental or camper van rentals are very common in NZ. you will see a lot of travellers do that. You may want to browse for cheaper overnight parking places for your car. Specially in bigger cities. 

If you are using buses then there are two options for you - A regular long distance bus service like Intercity or Naked Bus or Mana etc or you could ride in a backpacker bus like Kiwi Experience or Stray. Intercity is a A to B bus. They only take you from one stop to another. On the other hand, Backpacker buses take a designated route and you can hop on or hop off where ever you want for however long you desire. In both cases, you can buy bus passes. If you buy a full package, then remember you are stuck with the transport. A mix of Intercity and Stray or kiwi can be a good option. I traveled mostly on Intercity bus. At times they seemed very expensive. I took three day pass on Stray backpacker bus and I enjoyed that too but it would have been boring to stick with same bus and travellers for longer duration. Backpacker buses can be noisy too. Either ways, it is better to buy the passes. Like intercity has passes by hours of travel that works really cheap as compared to booking rides as you go. 

If you have less time and want to make most of it and do not want to worry about booking hostels in advance, then Backpacker buses are probably a good option for you. You can stay longer at one place and then catch the next bus any day you want to continue your journey on. I personally liked the mix. I think a small tour in backpacker bus and mostly by intercity would be good to get a feel of all kinds of experience.  What I liked about intercity is that I was alone and I had full control of what I was doing. Backpacker bus makes you dependent on the companies plan. 

In some places ferry and cruises are must. Like ferry to Stewart island and cruise from Picton to Wellington to cross from South island to the North.

To save time, I flew directly from Auckland to Christchurch. Flying one way could be the best way to save some time if you are on a tight schedule. You can find flights for $150 or cheaper if you book earlier. 

Hitchhiking they say is common in NZ but I only tried doing it once. While going to Roy's peak trail from Wanaka. I had not luck while going but during my return I befriend a trekker who dropped me back. But many people I met told me that they had hitch-hiked and yes, it is not as simple as it may sound. 

Food - 

NZ has no dearth of great restaurants serving cuisines from around the globe. You can find all dishes form Italian to Mexican, burgers to burritos. Almost every cafe or restaurant have a vegetarian options and in case they do not, you can ask them to make one for you. They are also flexible enough to change the ingredients of a dish to suit your request. Every town I visited, no matter how small it was, had an Indian restaurant. So, if you love Indian food or you are an Indian who wants to only try Indian food, then you will have at least one favourite restaurant in most of the towns. 

The best thing to do though is to carry your grocery as you travel and cook your meal in the hostels you are staying in. All hostel kitchens are fully equipped and you can store your food as soon as you check in. Many people carry a picnic bag full of grocery. Four square is one of the most commonly found grocery stores in the country. There is also Night and Day that is open 24 hours.

Tipping is not a common practice in NZ. But it is perfectly okay to leave a tip if you really like the service. 

Communication - 

Free Wifi is available in most of the hostels. The best being at YHA. Some hostels provide limited data and other expect payment. Some of the routes on Intercity buses have free wifi. So do backpacker buses. Spark NZ sim that I had turned out to be very expensive when it comes to Data. For a $20 re-charge, it would give me 10MB download limit per day which was useless. So, better research some good plan on-road data.

Tramping in NZ - 

If you are a trekker, then NZ is a paradise for you. During summer, the great walks are all crowded. Some long walks mandates you to stay in huts overnight. You need to book them in advance. Some are booked at least two months in advance by travellers from around the world. A certain amount of planing would be required if you want to do multi day treks. You need to book huts on DOC website. You could also visit them to do so. 

When I booked my Routeburn trek, a day before the trek itself, I did not get two of four huts as they were booked two months in advance. As a result, I had to walk 22kms on the second day. There are plenty of transports that can drop and pick you from trail ends. You can check about them at your hostel or in a local i-site office. Trekking equipments can also be rented. Some huts have a kitchen so you can carry utensils and grocery. So you may want to check accordingly and plan your food. DOC website has all details about every trek in NZ and the facility available. I would highly recommend a multi day trek as staying in the middle of the mountains and forests, in a small hut full of travellers from around the world is an experience you would not want to miss. 

Lonely planet has a book just on tramping and trekking. Out of the treks I did, I would highly recommend - Routeburn, Tongariro Alpine crossing, Roy’s peak at Wanaka and trekking around Mt Cook.

Culture - 

NZ has mostly western culture. People are very kind and tourist friendly as tourism is one of the three most important sources of income for the country. Māori traditions only remain for cultural shows. People are very laid back and relaxed. It is always fun to  have a chat with the locals during a Sunday market in the towns that you are in.

Places to See  - 

You could follow the link below to all the posts related to NZ. My personal favourites are - Mt cook village, Lake Tekapo, Stewart Island, Wanaka, Routeburn track and Tongariro Alpine crossing. Also, Lybrnyth Black water rafting at Waitomo caves.

Places To See In NZ 

What to buy - 

Kiwi fruits and Mountain jade jewellery for sure. Make sure to buy Gold Kiwi. There are two types of kiwi fruits - Green and Gold. The latter has a much smoother texture and according to me tastes much better than the former. 

For Mountain jade, I would recommend you to buy in any town where you find a good collection. Do not wait until you head back from Auckland. Auckland mostly has shops selling expensive international brands. I think Rotorua or South Island would be best place to buy these jewellery. I also normally buy a nice magnet and a T-shirt for myself from any country I visit. I would recommend Sunday markets for souvenirs. Locals artists would have custom made artefacts on display that will stand out from the crowd of similar souvenirs found in a shop.  Here is all that I brought back.

My Route - 

Christchurch-> Lake Tekapo-> Queenstown-> Routeburn Track-> Wanaka-> Queenstown -> Milford Sound -> Gunn’s Camp -> Bluff -> Stewart Island-> Queenstown -> Mount Cook Village-> Christchurch-> Nelson -> Picton -> Wellington -> Taupo -> Tongariro Alpine Crossing -> Rotorua -> Waitomo Caves -> Rotorua -> Auckland -> Bay Of Island -> Auckland

My Expenses -  

I spent Rs 70,000 on a return flight via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific/Dragon Air and Rs 10,000 on Flight to Christchurch. You may find cheaper options. However, I deliberately chose to fly via Hong Kong. Another area where I could have saved some money was in food; by cooking every single meal in the hostel. But, occasionally I pamper myself with local delicacies, in a good restaurants. If you are sticking to Intercity or backpacker buses, it is much cheaper to buy passes. I could have saved some money there as well, had I known earlier that I would be traveling mostly with Intercity.  Other than that I think pretty much everything is standard expense. I spent about Rs 1.9 Lakhs for 23 days. That excludes the flight charges.