I’ve always been curious about New Zealand. I’ve met some people who have been here or people who know someone who has been here and they only have good things to say about it. I also read magazines that focus on the outdoors from time to time, such as Outside, Backpacker, and Runner’s World, and once in a while they will have articles that mention New Zealand. The articles are usually about the best running trails or hiking trails.
I love the outdoors and being around nature. I try to go hiking every weekend as I find myself more relaxed after I do it. It only made sense to me to put New Zealand at the top of my list of places to visit.
I went to New Zealand in mid-September of this year for two and a half weeks and I had an amazing time! I loved everything about it. The laid back atmosphere, the beautiful scenery, watching the sheeps and baby lambs hanging out in big open fields, the food and cafes, the friendly Kiwis, the outdoor activities, etc.
During my stay there, I’ve probably visited at least 12 cities and towns in the North and South islands of New Zealand. I definitely rushed it and only stayed one night in most of them. There were definitely some locations that I would’ve loved to have spent a lot more time in.
To get around, I bought a Magic Bus bus pass for both the North and South islands. The Magic Bus is what they refer to as a “backpacker bus.” The pass is good for one year and you can hop on and off at any of their bus stops. For example, you can hop off in Queenstown, stay there for a month, and hop on the next available bus to take you the next town on their route. The bus usually stops 3 or 4 times a week in each city/town on its route.
If their schedule doesn’t work for you, you can also use other bus companies like Intercity and Nakedbus which have a much more flexible schedule. I used the Nakedbus once from Franz Josef to Queenstown (about a 5 hour ride) because I didn’t want to wait two additional days for the Magic Bus. It cost around $50 NZD, which is cheaper than Intercity’s (the earlier you book with Nakedbus the cheaper the fare).
For accommodation, I stayed in hostels. New Zealand is very backpacker friendly and there are a lot of hostels to choose from. Average rate is about $20 to $25 NZD a night for a dorm room. Most are also very clean. This is the first time I’ve stayed in a hostel and I have to say that I actually much prefer it than a hotel. It’s not only a lot cheaper, but it’s also a great way to meet other travelers. They usually have a common area where the guests hang out and everyone’s very friendly.
If you’re traveling alone, you really won’t be alone for long (unless you want to) as it’s very easy to meet people to hang out with. I met mostly European travelers (a lot from Ireland) and a lot of them are traveling long term. I really enjoyed talking to them and listening to their stories, you always learn something new. The people you meet on the road really makes the experience much more rewarding.
For communication, you can purchase a 2degrees prepaid SIM card if you have a GSM unlocked phone. My unlocked Dell Streak worked great with it. The SIM card itself cost $5 NZD, then you can top up your account. I believe the credit expires after 1 year. Also ask them to try out the SIM card on your phone first just to make sure it will work before you purchase anything. Their SIM also works in the US under T-Mobile’s network.
Wireless internet is widely available in New Zealand but it’s pretty slow and usually not free. If you want free Wi-Fi, my recommendation is to find a McDonald’s as most of them have free Wi-Fi (a few requires you to purchase something first). A few services also offer free 30 minutes. Other than that, though, you’ll have to pay. Typical rate is $5 NZD an hour or $10 NZD for an entire day. There’s also a data limit, usually 50MB for the hour or 500MB for 24 hours.
The Rugby World Cup was also taking place during my stay there. Rugby seems to be the number one sport in New Zealand, everyone there is really into it! New Zealand’s team, the “All Blacks“, won the world cup, by the way. I was already out of the country when the world cup ended so I missed the celebration. We usually go to the bar at night to watch rugby. I actually enjoyed watching it, there’s a lot of action and it’s more fast paced than American football.
As far as activities go, there’s a ton to choose from: zorbing, bungy jumping, blackwater rafting, whitewater rafting, skydiving, kayaking, cruises, hiking, glacier walking, skiing/snowboarding, Lord of the Rings tours, beer tours, etc. I find the activities quite expensive though due to the weak US dollar.
The food also seemed pretty expensive to me. An average meal could easily cost around $15 NZD at a restaurant, but at least you don’t need to tip. What a lot of people do is buy food at the the supermarket and cook them at the hostels. The beef here is really good, but you can find similar quality in the US.
This trip was a really great experience for me that I will always remember. It’s definitely a country I will visit again (and will definitely stay much longer next time)!