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A Backpacker’s Guide to New Zealand

New Zealand is an amazing place to visit. The scenery is like something from Lord of the Rings. In fact, the scenery can be exactly that from Lord of the Rings. The country itself is a bit of a contradiction. You can either spend your days hiking through the mountains and staying sleepy towns, or you can keep your adrenaline pumping by throwing yourself off a variety of different high-up objects. It’s one extreme or the other.

Each town I visited in New Zealand always seemed to have one or two must-dos, so with that in mind I thought I would put together my guide to New Zealand, what to do and where.

Auckland:

Mt Eden and bus tour

I have to admit, I can’t really think of too much to recommend specifically in the city. I did some shopping on the quirky Karangahape Road and then at Victoria Park Market, before embarking on a fantastic bar crawl with Nomads Hostel. Getting out of the city and going to somewhere like Mt. Eden, where you can get views of the city from a distance, is worth doing but, ultimately, Auckland is the place to start a tour of New Zealand. It was here I flew into and where I caught my bus with the Kiwi Experience, before making my way south.

Auckland

Blogs

New Zealand Part One: setting off from Auckland
Weekly Photo Challenge: on top

Rotorua:

Maori village visit and geothermal park

This was one of the places I most enjoyed. You can spend a cultural evening visiting a Maori village and learning about the culture and spend an afternoon visiting a geothermal park to see the geysers spouting steam out of the ground. I did my skydive here and it was very scenic, diving over the lakes, but I’ll recommend the place to do this later.

Rotorua- geysers

Blogs

New Zealand Part Two: Maori, geysers and sky diving 
One Word Photo Challenge: Brown
Travel Photo: Geysers, Rotorua
And then I jumped: extreme sports in New Zealand

Waitomo:

Glow-worm cave

Arriving in Waitomo, I wasn’t really sure why we were there. There didn’t seem much to do, and indeed there wasn’t. We were told to go to the local cave and so we did, somewhat skeptically. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photos, so I can’t illustrate how cool it was to see hundred of glow-worms stuck to the ceiling, glittering away like stars in the dark. You’ll have to go to the glow-worm cave and see for yourself.

Blogs

New Zealand Part Three: worms, bin bags and glaciers 

Taupo:

Skydiving and Tongariro Crossing

Taupo was where the majority of my bus group did their skydive as. apparently, it is the best place to do it on a backpacker budget (note, I do not mean cheap and unsafe, just relatively wallet-friendly). At several of the places the Kiwi bus stopped off at, the driver would hand round a list of activities available, we’d sign up and they’d book us in. I didn’t know this, hence I’d already booked my skydive in Rotoura (which, to be fair, I don’t regret doing- it was fantastic). The other activity to do in Taupo is the Tongariro Crossing. This eight hour hike is unpleasant but the views are stunning and you’ll go right past Mount Doom, so it is pretty much essential for any fellow LOTR fans.

Tongariro national park- Mount Doom

Blogs

Travel Photo: Mount Ngauruhoe aka Mount Doom in New Zealand
Travel Photo: Tongariro National Park
Travel Photo: Tongariro National Park 2
New Zealand: the real Middle Earth
My Seven Wonders of the World
My UNESCO list
And then I jumped: extreme sports in New Zealand
New Zealand Part Three: worms, bin bags and glaciers 

River Valley:

White water rafting

This was a mandatory stop on the Kiwi bus tour but sadly there was not much to do. The offered activity was white water rafting but sadly this wasn’t until the morning after we arrived, by which point we wanted to leave for Wellington as we only had limited time there. I kind of wish we’d done it though because I didn’t get another chance on my tight timeframe.

River Valley- communal bunks

Blogs

New Zealand Part Three: worms, bin bags and glaciers 

Wellington:

Cuba Street and South Island crossing

I didn’t really have too much time in Wellington but if you’re looking for a good place to wander in and out of some shops then head to the bohemian Cuba Street. Also, this is the place to cross from the North to the South Island.

Wellington

Blogs

New Zealand Part Three: worms, bin bags and glaciers 

Nelson:

Nelson National Lake

If you’re keen to see some of New Zealand’s scenic highlights, then a trip out of town to Nelson National Lake is a good bet. Not only will you get some good shots but there’s always the option of jumping off the end of the little pier into the cold water (which I didn’t do but this was probably a mistake in hindsight).

Lake Nelson

Blogs

New Zealand Part Three: worms, bin bags and glaciers
Weekly Photo Challenge: reflections

Westport-Greymouth:

Pancake Rocks

We didn’t get up to much in either of these towns. In Westport, our bus embarked on a three-legged bar crawl. If you’re on the Kiwi bus, then this is something to look forward to (if they’re still doing it that is). In Greymouth, we stocked up on fancy dress outfits (stay tuned for more on this). Driving between the two, we came to another scenic spot of the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki, which are basically rocks that look like they are made up of layers. The thing with New Zealand is that just looking out the window at the views is an activity in itself and stopping off between destinations affords some fantastic sights.

DSC01509

Blogs

New Zealand Part Three: worms, bin bags and glaciers 

Lake Mahinapua:

Poo pub fancy dress

Whilst the sunset over the lake was something to behold, the Poo Pub was the highlight. If this is still part of the Kiwi bus tour, then anyone on it is in for a treat. Here we spent the night having a fancy dress party, with a bin bag theme. Basically, we had to make a costume using bin bags. My group went as ninjas. Whilst I think we did pretty good, we even accessorised with crepe paper and plastic swords,  it was sweltering hot and we had to shed some layers.

DSC01540
Blogs

Travel Photo: a New Zealand sunset
5 places to find a great sunset
New Zealand Part Three: worms, bin bags and glaciers 

Franz Josef:

Glacier hike and skydiving

This thing to do here is hike over the Franz Josef glacier. Sadly, this involved having an extra day here which I couldn’t afford to do, thanks to my impending flight, so I skydived over it instead. If you’re skydiving in the South Island then there is nowhere more scenic, although our photos weren’t nearly as good. I really regret not staying for the hike, in fact I’d go back to NZ just to do it.

DSC01639

Blogs

New Zealand Part Three: worms, bin bags and glaciers 

Wanaka:

Cinema and Puzzle World

If you go to Wanaka, you have to go to the cinema. It had one screen, filled with a mish-mash of chairs, including a sofas, armchairs and a VW Beetle.The projectionist seemed to have a slip during the film and the image went but really that just added to the experience. There was also an interval, where fresh cookies were baked for our enjoyment- obviously not for free but man were they good. In the morning, the bus took us to Puzzle World. I can’t say we were thrilled with this but it actually turned out to be a laugh, complete with a maze.

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Blogs

New Zealand Part Four: burgers, teapot and swings 

Queenstown:

Nevis bungee jump, canyon swing, Fergburger and nightlife

This is undoubtedly the highlight of New Zealand. You can participate in an array of extreme sports but the must-do is the bungee. I’d already done one in Taupo (whilst everyone else was doing their skydive) but this is where you can find (1) the highest bungee in NZ, the Nevis, and (2) the bungee you do wearing a harness, so you can run and jump as opposed to just fall, the Ledge. I chose to do the Nevis canyon swing instead and if you’re not into bungee jumping this is a great alternative. You feel more secure sitting in your harness and there is less plummeting involved. Despite all of this, the number one thing to do in this great town is visit Fergburger, for the best burger you will ever had. Now I know I said I’d go back to NZ for the Franz Josef Glacier hike but the truth is that is a cover, I’d go back for the burger. Lastly, I had the best night out here, starting at Base Hostel’s bar and moving onto teapot cocktails at World Bar. Have fun!

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Blogs

Ode to a Fergburger
Review: Fergburger @ Queenstown
And then I jumped: extreme sports in New Zealand
Travel Photo: mountain views from Queenstown
My four best burgers ever
5 places I’d love to revisit
New Zealand Part Four: burgers, teapot and swings 

Christchurch:

Ending the journey

Again this is another example of us not doing much. I went to an Art Gallery and were overjoyed to see a Wagamama, but ultimately, this is where our journey ended and we moved on to Australia. It’s a good place to just chill and wander about before getting on the plane.

Christchurch

Blogs

New Zealand Part Four: burgers, teapot and swings 

…and the rest of the blogs

For your iPod: Guns N’ Roses
For your iPod: Lord of the Rings soundtrack
Travel Photo: a New Zealand view
Travel Photo: snow capped mountains and reflections in New Zealand
Weekly Photo Challenge: on the move

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16 Comments

  1. Wow nice to see the Christchurch cathedral in one piece! When were you here? The tower and front of it all fell off in our earthquake a few years ago. Sadly it’s future is still undecided…

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      • No not yet, there are still lots of buildings in the CBD to come down. They can’t decide on what to do with the cathedral. The Anglican Bishop wants it demolished, but there are lots of people who want it to be saved. I think it’s in the too hard basket right now! They have got a temporary cardboard cathedral at the moment which is quite cool!

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  2. This is a great guide! Did you make it down to Fiordland? My highlights from New Zealand were White Island on the North Island and Doubtful Sound on the South Island.

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    • Thank you! Sadly I didn’t make it to any of those places, I underestimated how much time I would need in New Zealand- guess I’m just going to have to go back!

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  3. These places are nice, though very touristy (imagine a couple of kiwi explorer buses and similar tours rolling in every day). They are also quite expensive. In fact, New Zealand is one of those places where you can actually get around quite easily yourself, either by bus or by rented car. That way you’ll get to see some of the country’s REAL treasures, off the beaten bus tour path. For example, we definitely recommend you visit the Southern city of Dunedin. There you’ll find the country’s oldest university (campus), world’s steepest street, and can get on a tour with the magnificent Elm Wildlife Tours, getting you close to Albatross birds (world’s largest), penguins, sea lions, and the sort – all in their natural habitat. Check http://greentraveljourneys.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/elm-wildlife-tours-dunedin-new-zealand/ for some impressions!

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    • That is true, the buses are a great way of meeting people and the tour was a lot of fun- I certainly wouldn’t change it- but if I were to go again I would probably do that. Dunedin does sound pretty great! Thanks for the link 🙂

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  4. I did the kiwi bus too. So much fun!! Quick question (and not post related 😉 ) how do you get a picture to the top of your post so it shows on the home page? Thanks 🙂

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!

      When you’re writing a new post, there should be a box on the right that says “set featured image”. If you click on that link and choose a picture, it should appear at the top of the post/on the homepage once you’ve published. Let me know if that doesn’t work!

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    • NZ wasn’t as expensive as Australia, it’s not the cheapest place I’ve been to- that title goes to Southeast Asia- but it is a cheaper option if you want to visit Oceania, from what I remember anyway!

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