New Zealand Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Get Exploring!

New Zealand is the perfect destination for the budget adventurer. In one day, you can be surfing on a black sand beach or jumping into crystal-blue waterfalls and a few hours later, you can be skydiving over a snow-capped mountain or hiking around a volcano. There are natural hot springs, bio-luminescent algae that make the ocean glow at night, glow worm caves that look like the night sky underground. And, at night, you can see falling meteors burning up in the atmosphere every few minutes with the milky way in the background.

New Zealand Travel Guide Mt Maunganui
The view from Mount Maunganui.

Hostel Prices:

Perhaps the best thing about New Zealand is its abundance of affordable accommodation. The average price for a hostel in New Zealand is NZ$20-$30 per night for a dorm room. However, the classic way to see New Zealand is driving cross country in a camper van and freedom camping. There are plenty of free campgrounds near national parks that provide toilets which are perfect for avoiding light pollution and getting a beautiful view of the milky way.

Food Prices:

The average meal eating out is between $20-$45 depending on the town and restaurant. Drinks are on average $6-$9. An average meal eating in is probably around $5.

Transportation Costs:

Public transportation is available in major cities in the form of trains and buses for usually $2-$4 per ticket, plus student discounts up to 40%. Some buses are also available for intercity transportation at varied rates; usually between $10-$30 for a four-hour bus ride.

The best way to travel, though, is definitely to rent your own car. The steering wheel is on the right and cars drive on the left, but as soon as you get used to that, you will have the most flexibility to see sites and do activities on your own schedule. However, petrol is expensive, with 91 unleaded selling for $1.80 per liter on average. Because of this, carpooling is a great option to split the cost of gas, otherwise Facebook groups like Backpackers New Zealand are full of travelers offering lifts and even people selling their cars.

Hitchhiking is also popular in this country, which is full of adventurers and backpackers. I have seen many people do it, though Ive never tried this myself. If you do decide to hitchhike, I advise being smart and cautious and traveling with a buddy.

For travel between the North and South Island, cheap domestic flights are available from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, and more through Grab a Seat and Jetstar. You can also find deals frequently from Air New Zealand.

Money Saving Tips:

A great deal of money can be saved by buying food from Pak ’N Save, Asian Supermarkets and farmers markets. Op shops, or second hand stores, sell great clothes for as little as NZD$2. Sites like TradeMe also sell new and used items for very cheap. And, of course, participating in free activities such as live music festivals in parks or art galleries and museums will save a lot of money. Opting for free accommodation and outdoor activities like camping and hiking not only saves you money, but will keep you away from the tourist traps. More money saving tips can be found here.

Best Destinations:

  • Tongariro Crossing: A 19.4km hike around volcanoes, emerald green lakes, and Mount Doom, from the Lord of the Rings.
  • Mount Maunganui: A perfect 360 degree view of the city of Tauranga and its coast, with lots of beach activities. 
New Zealand Travel Guide Sand Dunes
The Te Paki Sand Dunes.

Look Out For:

  1. Black Sand Beaches: Almost all the west coast beaches of have wild waves and black sand. Some favorites are: Piha, Muriwai, Bethels Beach which are perfect for surfing or catching some giant waves.
  2. Waterfalls:Dont go chasing waterfallsis a lyric ignored by all travelers in New Zealand. There are waterfalls everywhere, but some of my favorites are Hunua Falls, KiteKite Falls, and Rainbow Falls.
  3. Glow Worm Caves: Waitomo Caves are the most popular of all the caves in New Zealand since they are offered on the same tour as the on to Hobbiton, the set of the famous Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. However, smaller caves can be explored for free and are worth the visit. Check out Waipu Caves, Kawiti Caves, and Nikau Caves.  
  4. Volcanoes:  New Zealand is dotted with both active and dormant volcanoes. Many short day hikes around the cities are actually dormant volcanoes including Mount Eden and Mount Wellington. More exciting volcanoes like White Island are active and can be explored via tours.  
  5. Islands: Bay of Islands is a popular place to watch dolphins and whales pass by. However, smaller islands like Rangitoto, Rotoroa, Tiritiri Matangi, and many others are accessible from all over the country.
  6. Natural Hot Springs: Warm water locations in the form of the hot beaches in Coromandel as well as hot streams such as Kerosene Creek are common throughout the North Island. The best way to enjoy this luxury, in my opinion, is to find some free hot springs where you can bathe and cleanse your skin with mud. Rotorua is home to many commercial (as well as hidden) gems.
New Zealand Travel Guide Emerald Lakes
Emerald Lakes at Tongariro Crossing. So beautiful!

Must Try:

Like every other country, New Zealand has tastes that are unique to it. The one fruit you must try is called feijoa. Apple and feijoa smoothies and juices are popular too if you come when feijoa is off season. Marmite is the classic spread that comes to mind when people think of New Zealand. It is a dark brown salty spread that can be eaten in a variety of ways, but I personally like it with a little bit of butter on toast.

Pavlova is a meringue based dessert that is very popular with New Zealanders. Other classic sweet treats that you can pick up from any local supermarket are Tim Tams and Jelly Tip or Hokey Pokey ice cream. Tim Tams are a chocolate biscuit while Jelly Tip ice cream is vanilla with chocolate and raspberry jelly. Hokey Pokey is vanilla ice cream with lumps of honeycomb toffee.

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Morgan is studying at the University of Auckland during the spring of 2017. Follow her adventures as she crosses oceans to spend five months in New Zealand!

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