If there is one place in the world where you definitely should have been to in your life and that should be on your bucket list, it’s New Zealand. If you have seen New Zealand, technically you have seen the whole world – at least scenically.
The amazement never stops – you have just experienced an awesome landscape and as you drive for another hour you discover a landscape even more beautiful. And that’s the way it goes on for your entire journey. There is just so much to see and to discover, to experience, to hike – at every corner, you could stop and do the craziest and most adventurous things. It really is a country full of superlatives. And yes, it really is as fantastic as everyone says!
Here are some New Zealand travel tips to get the most out of your trip to this country:
From north to south or vice versa?
If you’re traveling north to south, your trip is likely to start in Auckland. The advantage of this itinerary? The views of your road trip become more and more spectacular as you travel. Most of the big highlights are waiting for you on the South Island.
If you start in the south, then it’s very likely that your journey starts in Christchurch. As I think the more scenic destinations are on the South Island, you can take as much time as you need right at the beginning. If you start on the North Island, it may be that you end up being under time pressure.
Recommendation: Make your decision based on the cheaper flights. If you want to travel both islands, book a multi-stop-flight as far ahead in time as possible. If it is going to be a short trip (less than 3 weeks) then you should consider restricting your trip to just one island. In this case, I would give preference to the South Island!
Transportation: Car, Camper or Public Transport?
Your travel-route will also depend on the type of transportation you choose. Renting a car is the most suitable option in most cases because you are constantly flexible and you have no restraints regarding your route. Furthermore, the price of renting a car is cheaper than a camper and it needs less fuel. On the other hand, you need to include costs for hotels/hostels in your calculations.
If you want to stay in the wild, your vehicle needs to be self-contained, which means your vehicle must meet specific requirements, e.g. a toilet. Prices for campers vary greatly. During high season, a camper could cost you up to 1.000 € per week. If your camper is not self-contained, you are only allowed to stay at campsites, for which a small fee is payable. There are countless campsites, which – as far as I can tell – all have looked wonderful and are partly idyllically situated.
Traveling by bus is clearly the cheapest way of transport (if you ignore hitchhiking). Nevertheless, the bus was not an option for me from the beginning. Why? I wanted to be flexible, unrestricted and spontaneous. I would have had to skip a lot of destinations by bus. With car or camper, you can stop whenever you want and enjoy scenic highlights.
Keep in mind that there is left-hand traffic in New Zealand. But you will get used to it faster than you think. The good thing about roads in New Zealand is that they are in good shape and there is not a lot of traffic. Most of the time you will be the only car on the road. There are some graveled roads though, which you have to take if you want to reach certain destinations.
This is the biggest city in New Zealand. I recommend to stay 2-3 nights, to get a good impression of this beautiful city. From here you head north towards Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga.
Bay of Islands / Cape Reinga
You will be surprised by the number of people in this area. Locals and tourists like to spend the summer here because it has the highest temperatures in the country, almost tropical, and the region is well-known for dolphin- and whale-watching.
Cape Reinga is the most northern part and has some pretty spectacular landscape with breathtaking views from the Cape. It is also close to the Ninety Mile Beach which is worth a stop.
The city itself has not a lot of things to offer apart from hot springs and the Skyline Gondola. I would recommend the Hobbiton Movie Set, which is a 45-minute drive away.
Your next stop should be the town of Taupo which lies next to a beautiful lake with views to the Tongariro alpine mountains. You will find some hot springs here as well. Since the entire area is volcanic, you will quickly notice a strong sulfuric smell, which can be annoying.
Another thing I would recommend is the famous Tongariro hike, probably the most spectacular hike in NZ. The hike is very popular and very crowded during high-season. I recommend it anyway, as the landscape is amazing.
New Zealand’s capital has the reputation of being very windy. Although I can confirm this, the city itself is very beautiful. You can easily spend 3 nights here, there are plenty of things to see, especially along the coast.
Take the Wellington ferry to Picton, drive to Nelson and you can explore the Abel Tasman National Park from there, with beautiful forests and lakes.
Fox Glacier/Franz Josef Glacier
There are plenty of free trails you can take to explore the glaciers, I recommend the 1-hour circular route to Lake Matheson, where you might see a beautiful reflection of Mount Cook in the water.
Take the scenic route over Wanaka, where you can see crystal clear lakes and creeks. Wanaka is very beautiful in itself. If you get lucky with the weather you might be able to swim in the lake or take a hike to Roys Peak.
Queenstown remains my favorite place in New Zealand. Here you will meet lots of young people, good vibes and even though the city itself is not very big, there is a lot going on and there are plenty of things to do. It is the so-called world capital of extreme-sports. Skydiving, Paragliding, and the famous Swing are only a few of the breathtaking activities that are possible. The gigantic panorama view from Bob’s Peak is also one of the highlights.
Milford Sound is a spectacular Fjord, which you can visit on a daily boat tour. Definitely recommendable.
The Scottish-shaped town is worth a stay. From here you can explore the Otago Peninsula and Sandfly Bay, an uninhabited island where you can spot Seals. Also worth visiting is Tunnel Beach.
Lake Tekapo/Mount Cook
Crystal clear Lake Tekapo can be your starting point for a hike through Mount Cook National Park. The 3-hour long Hooker Valley Track is very recommendable and is easily doable, even for non-experienced hikers.
The city was badly affected by a strong earthquake in 2011 but has since recovered. You will find lots of cool Cafés and Bars. Very recommendable is also the Christchurch Gondola ride to Mount Cavendish.