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Backpacking New Zealand Travel Guide

Backpacking New Zealand is something that all travellers should do once in their life. There are so many reasons to visit New Zealand, you would be crazy not to!

New Zealand has it all, from cultured cities such as Auckland and Wellington to spectacular scenery and outdoor activities throughout the country.

The contrast in scenery and landscapes across the country is perhaps unmatched anywhere else in the world!

There is no shortage of things to do in New Zealand. It’s a country that I highly recommend visiting, despite its remote location!

Without further ado, let’s get into my backpacker’s guide to New Zealand!

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My New Zealand Backpacking Experience

Tom with friends in Queenstown on the skiing range in the mountains
Me with friends in Queenstown

I spent a year in New Zealand and loved every second. It’s one of the most beautiful countries and there’s so much to do over there.

I was there on a New Zealand working holiday visa and spent most of my time in Christchurch with plenty of travels on weekends and when I wasn’t working.

One of the things that struck me about New Zealand was how many epic views there are no matter where you go. This is true whether you’re in the South Island or the North Island.

The scenery is on another level and it doesn’t matter where you go, you’re guaranteed to encounter beautiful places!

I feel like most people pass on backpacking in New Zealand due to it being so far away from everywhere. Even getting to Australia takes a couple of hours.

This is good in some ways, as it means there are fewer tourists and there’s more of an unspoiled feel to the place. I loved how open and untouched New Zealand felt, especially in the South Island.

Out of the two islands, I preferred the South Island. The snow capped mountains and beautiful spots such as Central Otago, Abel Tasman and many others are incredible!

The North Island is still great with interesting sights such as Mount Taranaki, the Waitomo caves and Rotura with its legendary geothermal activity giving the place a strange smell.

Going to New Zealand is a backpacking trip I can’t recommend enough and out of all my long term trips, it’s the one I enjoyed the most!

I’ve listed a few things I enjoyed about my time in New Zealand and a few other things that weren’t so great!


  • New Zealand is arguably the most beautiful country on the planet. No matter where you go, you’re likely to come across spectacular scenery and breathtaking views!
  • There’s so much to do in New Zealand you’ll never be bored. Off the top of my head, you can do multi day hikes along great trails such as the Kepler track, go skiing in the Remarkables and visit fascinating cities such as Auckland and Christchurch.
  • The people in New Zealand are great and very friendly. If you’re wondering it’s a safe place, I felt it was when I was there. Crime is low and you’re unlikely to encounter trouble. Kiwis are very welcoming and will make you at home in their part of the world.


  • This is a positive and a negative in some ways, but New Zealand being so isolated can be an issue. It’s much further from Australia than you realise and even further from everywhere else. It can feel like you’re at the end of the earth at times. Of course, this is why the country is so beautiful as it’s not overrun with tourists, so there is a good side to it.
  • The weather in New Zealand can be temperamental and you will struggle without a rain jacket. Being English, I wasn’t too bothered about this, as I’m used to dodgy weather. But you’ll need to be prepared as it can rain a lot in certain parts of the country and you will experience bad storms. at some point.
  • While it’s not as expensive as Australia prices in New Zealand aren’t cheap. If you’re there for a year like I was on a working holiday, you’ll need to work. Even a month-long backpacking trip can be pricey if you’re not careful.


New Zealand Map


me standing in a field in New Zealand
At work during my time in New Zealand!

Citizens of most countries can obtain a 3-month tourist visa on or before arrival. British citizens are entitled to a 6-month tourist visa.

A working holiday visa is also available to selected nations, which allows you to live and work in New Zealand for two years.

Before your trip to New Zealand make sure you purchase travel insurance! I made this when I went to Australia and almost paid the price (no pun intended) when I got hit by a car!!

Now, I use World Nomads to keep me insured on the road in case I get hit by a rogue car again!

Backpacking Around New Zealand

Milford Sound

Compared to backpacking through Australia, travelling around New Zealand is relatively easy! Most of the major cities and destinations have an airport, that serves both international and domestic flights.

Travelling between the North and the South Island is either done via a flight, generally from Christchurch <-> Wellington, or by ferry across the Cook Strait. Flying is the quickest method, but the ferry offers a more scenic route!

The size of New Zealand is quite surprising. It may not look big on a map, but New Zealand is a big country. The South Island alone is the same size as Great Britain!

So it can take longer than you may have thought to travel around, but this just gives you more time to take in the sights.

Getting around New Zealand by car is straightforward. Car rental is cheap and it is virtually impossible to get lost, as there are only a few main roads.

Renting a car provides you with more freedom to travel where you choose and I would recommend it over travelling by coach.

Travelling by coach isn’t much fun, that’s why I recommend driving yourself. I would advise you to use

They go through all the suppliers and will give you the cheapest price they can find. This is often cheaper than what you would get if you went direct!

If you wish to travel by coach, several companies offer services. Kiwi Experience is the most popular and offers tickets that take in most of the major spots in the country.

Naked Bus is more like Greyhound in Australia, offering cheap tickets from destination to destination.

How Much Time Will I Need to Travel Around New Zealand?

Mountains covered in snow above Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown

New Zealand is bigger than it appears on the map. This means that travelling around can take longer than you would think. Especially, if you want to see as much as you can!

To see everything on New Zealand’s South Island you would need at least 2 months, with 3 to 4 months being the ideal time to do the island justice.

Likewise, on the North Island, you would need 2 months minimum to see everything.

That gives 5 months in total to cover the whole of the country, including Stewart Island.

If you’re on a backpacking trip, you can see New Zealand in around 2 months, but you will be rushing around.

If you’re planning on visiting for anything under a month, you are wasting your time.

You will see a lot, but you won’t be able to do the country justice.

There is so much to see on both islands, it would be a shame to fly a long way only to rush around trying to backpack New Zealand!

Best Time to Visit New Zealand

View of Lake Wanaka

The best time to visit New Zealand depends upon several factors.

One of those is the weather. New Zealand has distinct seasons, with summer running from November to March and winter from May to August.

It gets cold during the winter, but then this allows you to go skiing and snowboarding on the numerous slopes on the South Island.

If you want good weather, it may be best to visit New Zealand during the high season, summer months.

Otherwise, any time of the year is fine. It will be cheaper to visit during the winter months, it will also be less busy too!

The seasons are more or less constant throughout the country. The North Island is warmer and has a longer summer than the South Island.

While the West Coast of the South Island can receive between 4,000 and 10,000 mm of rainfall during the year!

There are variations across New Zealand and it’s important to know what they are before you go!

Is New Zealand Safe?

Christchurch Travel Guide

According to the Global Peace Index, New Zealand is the 2nd safest country on the planet.

The likelihood of being the victim of crime is low in New Zealand, although that doesn’t mean it should be discounted.

Several biker gangs are operating in New Zealand. If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may be the unfortunate victim of crime.

On the whole, it’s very safe. Take the usual precautions you would in any other country and you will be fine!

The danger in New Zealand comes from nature rather than people. The country is prone to earthquakes and is also at threat from tsunamis.

Earthquakes can be powerful. I experienced a few when I was living in Christchurch. While none were huge, they did make the house shake for a bit.

Landslides can happen as well, especially on the West Coast where there is a lot of rain.

Be aware of these threats before you go, read up on what you should do in these situations and you will be fine!

New Zealand is a safe place and you won’t encounter many issues while backpacking there!

Reasons To Go Backpacking in New Zealand

There are a lot of reasons to visit New Zealand.  From hiking to kayaking and the Lord of the Rings, there are many diverse reasons to visit.

There’s something for everybody in New Zealand, if you want to go hiking you can, while you can also relax at a beach if you so wish!

Visiting New Zealand is an experience I’ll never forget. It can be hard to know what to expect from a trip to New Zealand, but there is plenty to look forward to!


View of Lyttleton Bay

New Zealand has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. No matter what part of the country you are in, there is generally something incredible to see.

Travelling around the South Island, in particular, is incredible! It doesn’t matter whether the weather is awful or great, the scenery never disappoints.

The range of beautiful landscapes is remarkable! In the South Island, you can go from semi-tropical in Nelson to glacial landscapes in Franz Josef, the contrast is crazy!

One thing’s for sure, you won’t get bored with the scenery when backpacking in New Zealand!


Super Rugby action

In contrast to Australia, the culture of the indigenous people, the Maori, is widely embraced in New Zealand. The Maori are great people and eager to teach you about their culture.

Visiting a Maori village on the North Island is highly recommended!

Aside from Maori culture, Kiwi culture is very similar to that of England. I felt very much at home in New Zealand, there are slight differences, such as the fierce love of rugby.

Otherwise, the culture is very similar! The people in New Zealand are very friendly. It makes the experience of backpacking New Zealand all the better!

Lord of The Rings

Hobitton in New Zealand

New Zealand is home to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. So if you are a fan of these films then you are in for a treat.

A visit to Hobbiton is an absolute must to see the set of the Shire. I loved my visit there, and it’s a great place to buy some souvenirs from New Zealand! Plus you get a free drink at the end of the tour at the Green Dragon Inn!

There are also several tours throughout the country, which take in various locations where the movies were filmed, which are worth doing as well!

Lord of the Rings tourism is huge in New Zealand. It’s probably one of the main reasons for people to go backpacking in New Zealand!

If you want to experience Middle-Earth, then a New Zealand trip is something that you should do!


Skiing in Queenstown

New Zealand is not a highly regarded destination for winter sports, the snow covered mountains but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t excellent slopes.

Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt Hutt are three great locations for skiing and snowboarding, that rival any destination in Europe or the Americas!

The only downside to skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand is that it can be quite expensive. This is especially the case if you’re renting the gear.

I paid around $120 sometimes when we skiing in Queenstown! Still, it’s worth doing it once or twice, especially if you’ve never done it before!


The Shire in New Zealand

New Zealand is regarded as the adventure capital of the world and it is for good reason. Any activity that involves elevating your heart rate can be done, from white-water rafting to bungee jumping.

Queenstown is the place to go if you a shot of adrenaline, with skydiving, bungee-jumping and jetting all available!

However, it’s not just Queenstown that has adrenaline activities. You can find these places across the whole of New Zealand.

White-water rafting is popular in both the North and South Islands. While Rotorua in the North Island has its fair share of adrenaline activities as well!

Where to Stay in New Zealand


One of the things I find difficult about backpacking is deciding where to stay. There are so many hostels in New Zealand, it can be hard to know which ones are the best to stay at.

I had this problem when I first got to Christchurch. I ended up staying in four different ones in the city until I was happy with one!

The number of hostels is a good thing. You’ll have a range of choices wherever you go in New Zealand. However, it can be daunting when it comes to making a decision.

The good thing is that if you’re backpacking New Zealand alone, hostels offer a great chance to meet fellow travellers! I met some great people in hostels here, and a few of them have become very good friends!

I’ve compiled a list of some of the best backpackers in New Zealand that I stayed at during my time in the country. These places all come highly recommended, I enjoyed my stay at every one of them!

Product Image Product Name / Description Primary Button
  • Description:

    A newly renovated hostel near the centre of Christchurch. Great facilities and spacious rooms

  • Description:

    This is more like a big house than a backpackers! Brilliant facilities and a cosy environment at this hostel in Greymouth.

  • Description:

    Another hostel that felt more like a home! Located in Nelson, the facilities and staff here are great!

  • Description:

    A great hostel in the centre of Queenstown. facilities were good and the staff were very friendly and helpful.

  • Description:

    Beautiful hostel in Westport, that is more like a home! The facilities here were great and the downstairs social area is fantastic!

  • Description:

    A clean and spacious hostel in Rotorua that is very sociable! Really enjoyed my stay here and would highly recommend it!

  • Description:

    Nice hostel close to the centre of Wellington. Spacious rooms and also has a rooftop terrace!


A newly renovated hostel near the centre of Christchurch. Great facilities and spacious rooms


This is more like a big house than a backpackers! Brilliant facilities and a cosy environment at this hostel in Greymouth.


Another hostel that felt more like a home! Located in Nelson, the facilities and staff here are great!


A great hostel in the centre of Queenstown. facilities were good and the staff were very friendly and helpful.


Beautiful hostel in Westport, that is more like a home! The facilities here were great and the downstairs social area is fantastic!


A hostel with a great location close to Lake Taupo. Facilities are good and the staff were helpful too!


A clean and spacious hostel in Rotorua that is very sociable! Really enjoyed my stay here and would highly recommend it!


Nice hostel close to the centre of Wellington. Spacious rooms and also has a rooftop terrace!

Backpacking New Zealand Routes

These are a few of the routes that I recommend doing while travelling around New Zealand. A road trip in New Zealand is the perfect way to see the country, so it would be a waste not to drive one of these routes.

I would recommend going to New Zealand on a working holiday, but there are other options if that’s not possible. You can travel around the country in less time.

Phenomenal Globe has a great 6 weeks in New Zealand itinerary, which you should check out if you’re backpacking through New Zealand for a short period!

For more info on New Zealand Road trips, check out the Lonely Planet guide here.

West Coast

West Coast of New Zealand road trip

A West Coast of New Zealand Road trip is one of the most spectacular routes to take in New Zealand!

Nelson at the top of the South Island is a beautiful city, near the amazing Golden Bay. There’s also Abel Tasman National Park in this area, which is an incredible spot!

From there you head down through the coastal town of Greymouth, Westport, to the amazing glacier at Franz Josef and on to Wanaka, Mount Aspiring National Park, Queenstown and potentially Milford Sound.

It’s, without a doubt, one of the most scenic routes in New Zealand and a great place to do some freedom camping as the night sky is some of the clearest you’ll find anywhere in the world!

Read more: West Coast of New Zealand road trip

East Coast

Moeraki boulders

Not to be outdone, the East Coast also has spectacular scenery and great cities to visit. Ideally, you would start from Picton and go down, but Christchurch is also a popular starting point.

From Picton down, you can take in the magnificent Marlborough Sounds, the picturesque town of Kaikoura, and then the broken city of Christchurch.

Heading further down, you pass through Timaru and Oamaru, which are close to the wondrous Moeraki Boulders, shown in the above picture!

Then it’s on to the beautiful city of Dunedin, with the potential to head into Southland and visit Balclutha and Invercargill!

Wellington <-> Auckland

Me sitting on a giant gumboot made from metal in Taihape
Me sitting on a giant gumboot in Taihape

There’s a lot to see between the two biggest cities on the North Island. You can head to the Tongariro Crossing from Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and onto the beautiful town of Taupo.

A North Island road trip is not complete without a stop at Rotorua, where there is an abundance of things to do. This route also contains some of the best places to visit on the North Island!

A stop at Hobbiton is an absolute must and from there you can head to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula and visit Hot Water Beach and Mount Maunganui before heading up to visit Auckland in 3 days, which is the minimum you’ll need!

There are various other routes as well, you could head to Napier or New Plymouth and carry on up to Cape Reinga at the tip of the North Island!

Read more: Wellington to Auckland road trip

Christchurch <-> Queenstown

Lake Tekapo

This is an underrated route, but one of the most spectacular! Taking in the incredible Arthur’s Pass, you will see the amazing scenery of New Zealand in full!

There is the option to go straight to Hokitika on the West Coast or turn off Arthur’s Pass towards Queenstown.

If you’re heading to Queenstown for the weekend, turn off here, otherwise, heading towards Hokitika is not a bad idea!

You also have the option of driving around the South Island by car, if you want to see all that this beautiful island has to offer!

Read more: Christchurch to Queenstown road trip

Places to Visit in New Zealand

There are a lot of places to see in New Zealand. I spent a year living in the country and failed to see everything there.

That’s a testament to just how many great places there are to see in the country!

Here’s a selection of some of the places that I enjoyed when I visited the land of the long silver cloud!


Mountains covered in snow above Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown

Your New Zealand backpacking experience isn’t complete if you don’t visit Queenstown and get your fix of adrenaline and partying. Queenstown has it all, from bungee-jumping and skiing to great bars and clubs to unbelievable scenery!

This mix makes Queenstown a great place to visit, as there’s something to do for everyone here!

Another place that you can’t miss in Queenstown is the fantastic FergBurger! I think it’s possibly the best burger I’ve ever had! The diversity of places here makes it a great place to travel to!

You would be stupid to visit New Zealand without seeing Queenstown, it’s the perfect backpacker location and the adrenaline capital of the southern hemisphere!

Read more: Queenstown Travel Guide


View above Christchurch

I visited Christchurch after it was devastated by earthquakes in 2011. If you are on a working holiday visa then it is the perfect place to go, as there will be work for at least the next 10 years!

The city got hit badly by the earthquake, but it’s slowly getting back on its feet! There are plenty of things to do in Christchurch, such as visit Lyttleton and check out the great beaches in the city!

Christchurch is worth visiting, just to see what nature can do to a city! It feels like you have stumbled into a war zone, such was the damage caused by the earthquakes!

Read more: Christchurch Travel Guide: The Broken City

Milford Sound

A wet and grey Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand. Primarily, because of the beauty of the place. The drive through Fiordland to the Sound is spectacular, and then viewing the mighty peaks is a sight to behold.

Exploring the Sound by one of the many boat trips is a must, to grasp the scale of Milford Sound and its beauty! The area also has some of the best New Zealand backpacking trails such as the Milford Track!

One downside, if you can call it a downside, is that it’s often quite wet there. As you can see from the below picture it can be very wet and grey.

The odds are you won’t get to see the surrounding area in all its glory due to the weather in this part of New Zealand. However, it’s still a great sight even when the weather is bad and a brilliant day trip from Queenstown!

Tongariro Crossing

Tongariro Crossing

The Tongariro crossing is one of the best hikes in New Zealand, as you hike across the volcanic terrain.

The views along the 12.1 miles (19.4km) track are spectacular and there is also the opportunity to climb Mt Ngauruhoe. The crossing takes about seven hours and is worth it for the breathtaking views and exercise!

I’d never heard of Tongariro National Park before I visited the North Island. However, it’s a great place to visit, as the hike across active volcanoes is fantastic and one of New Zealand’s great walks!

You’ll need to book a bus there and back unless you have your own vehicle. Despite this, it should be a part of your backpacking New Zealand itinerary, as the landscape here is amazing!


Tree in the water at Lake Wanaka

Wanaka is a stunning location which offers a more relaxed vibe than nearby Queenstown. Lake Wanaka is spectacular and looks like it is straight out of a postcard, while Coronet Peak offers some great skiing.

There is also Puzzling World, which has a great maze and loads of funky illusions!

I’ll admit that there wasn’t an awful lot to do here I felt. I’m sure there are some great hikes around here, but we didn’t have time to do any of them, unfortunately!

The town is also famous for the Wanaka tree, which is perhaps the most photogenic tree in existence!

This was another attraction that I missed, but it’s worth seeking out if you visit Wanaka! It’s one of the best places to visit in the South Island!

Backpacking New Zealand cost

Kayaking in Akaroa

New Zealand can be an expensive country. Especially when you factor in the cost of the numerous tours and adrenaline sports that are available in the country.

However, the good news is that New Zealand budget travel is possible if you are smart!

This part of my New Zealand backpacking blog will give you a flavour of what the prices are like in New Zealand and a few ways you can save money along the way!

The following section sections detail the cost of travel in New Zealand. From accommodation to tours and a few tips on how to save money.


Hostels in New Zealand are cheaper than in Australia, but they can still be expensive depending on where you stay. Accommodation prices are around $20-27 a night for a bed in a hostel. These prices will vary depending on how many people are in your room.

Some hostels also do a weekly deal, which could save you a bit of cash. Unfortunately, the internet in most hostels is not free and you will have to pay about $5 for 500MB of data.

So, don’t go overboard on your internet usage, as it can soon run out!

Food and Drink

Food can be expensive in New Zealand, especially if you eat out, which I recommend you keep to a minimum. However, there are ways to keep some money in your pocket!

Try and stick to backpacker staple foods such as pasta and rice and cook your own food. These two items are relatively cheap in most of the supermarkets here.

Pak N’ Save is possibly the cheapest of the three major supermarkets, so head there for your food. 

Depending on what you buy, you could limit your weekly food spend to $40-50, but this would include a lot of pasta and rice! This is one of the best travel tips in New Zealand and will save you money while you’re there.

Alcohol can be cheap in New Zealand, but I would try to keep this minimum! Beer is cheaper than in Australia, but still pricey, at about $5-7 if you are in a pub!

You can get some good deals at liquor stores on beer, so if you want a beer, head there!


View of the water at Lake Pukaki

Tours are a big part of any backpacking New Zealand itinerary and are an almost unavoidable expenditure.

However, the cost can add up significantly if you do a lot, so consider what is top of your list before you book any!

A bungee jump in Queenstown can cost between $100-250 depending on what extras you purchase. So, you could be left with little cash to do other activities such as skiing or white water rafting.

A tour around Hobbiton costs $80, so if you aren’t a big fan of the Lord of the Rings, (shame on you!!) I would avoid it.

That’s not to say that you should avoid doing as many tours or activities as possible. Just that you should consider what you want to do before you arrive in the country.

Tips for saving money

The cost of backpacking in New Zealand can be expensive, so it pays to know how to save money in the country. Below are some of my favourite New Zealand travel tips that I used to save me a bit of extra cash while I was there!

  • Go to a local library or McDonalds/Burger King when you want to use the internet. The wifi is free and fairly good. Although, it is worth noting that the internet in New Zealand is not as good as in other countries, so don’t be surprised if it’s a little slow!
  • Renting a campervan is a great way to save money travelling New Zealand. You’ll avoid paying to sleep in a hostel, although the cost of petrol will add up. However, as you simply cannot visit New Zealand without doing a road trip, a camper van is a good way to keep costs down.
  • Visiting some of the popular attractions such as Milford Sound and Queenstown during the New Zealand winter from May to August is a good way to save some coin. Most tourists visit during the summer and the price is often discounted as a result. You also get the bonus of smaller crowds in these spots in the off-season!
  • If you’re a Kiwi, these New Zealand travel hacks will help you to save money on your travels. If you’re from abroad, you can apply the same principles to your travels regarding airline carriers from your home country.

Concluding Thoughts

Going to New Zealand is something that you should highly prioritise!

Hopefully, my New Zealand travel blog has given you a few pointers on where to visit and what routes to take during your stay in Middle Earth!

New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. It may be a long journey, but it’s undoubtedly worth it!

Have you been to New Zealand? what do you make of my New Zealand travel guide? Is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!

For more information on backpacking in New Zealand, click here to get the Lonely Planet New Zealand (Travel Guide)

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Wednesday 12th of April 2017

New Zealand looks like it has the best scenic views. I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan and so of course would enjoy any related tours. Seems like the ideal place for backpackers. Hope to explore New Zealand one day soon.


Wednesday 12th of April 2017

Out of the countries I've been to so far, I would say New Zealand has the best scenery. Even when it was wet and miserable it was still incredible! In some ways that made it even better, as everywhere was really moody!

If you love Lord of the Rings then this is the ideal place to go. Lots of tourism related to that here! It's definitely a great place for first time backpackers to go!

Kevin Wagar

Tuesday 11th of April 2017

NZ looks like the perfect backpacking destination. We are hoping that we'll end up there in the next few years.


Tuesday 11th of April 2017

It's definitely the perfect backpacking destination, so much to see and do! Hope you get there sooner rather than later!


Tuesday 11th of April 2017

Would love to visit NZ and although backpacking would not be my first choice for doing it, many of the places you describe and location tips are relevant.


Tuesday 11th of April 2017

Thanks Maria! This guide kind of doubles up for backpacking and travelling. You can apply the information to either one! New Zealand's a great country, you should definitely visit if you get the chance!


Monday 10th of April 2017

Good stuff... I am taking tips from here for my NZ road trip in a motorhome! Thanks a lot!

Amanda Keeley-Thurman

Monday 10th of April 2017

New Zealand looks gorgeous. Even though I am not a huge Lord of the Rings fan, I would love to see the hobbit homes.


Monday 10th of April 2017

It is gorgeous, the scenery around every corner is just breathtaking. The hobbit homes are great, although if you're not a fan of LOTR, then $80 is a bit of a steep price!

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