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Walking down to Rock Burn Valley, Mount Aspiring National Park, New Zealand | © Thomas Sobek/Flickr
Walking down to Rock Burn Valley, Mount Aspiring National Park, New Zealand | © Thomas Sobek/Flickr

The Ultimate Backpacker's Guide to New Zealand

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 17 November 2017

New Zealand: a country known for its beauty, adventurous experiences and all-round good nature. A destination that offers a trove of things to do and see, whether you’re on a tight budget or looking to splurge on a special treat. If you’re getting ready for your dream backpacking expedition, this guide to some of the country’s top experiences is guaranteed to make your journey that much more memorable.

Make your way North to South

Both the North and South Islands have their own appeal. But for many, the South Island’s sublime backdrops are the highlight of their journey. Auckland tends to be the main arrival point for many travellers, so tick off all your North Island must-sees before catching an inter-island ferry from Wellington to the picturesque port town of Picton in the South Island.

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Picton, New Zealand | © Madeleine Deaton/Flickr

Consider visiting in the off-season

The summer season (December-February) is when New Zealand experiences its highest influx of visitors. Activities like hiking, camping, surfing and kayaking are at their prime in the warmer months. However, the climate is still temperate enough at the start of autumn to relish these activities in a more peaceful manner. Spring is another good time to visit, and you’ll often find discounted rates for accommodation and attractions.

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The Shotover River in Autumn | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr

Hit the road

Hire a car or camper van and explore your horizons. This is the best way to get up close and personal to some off-grid gems you might miss if you were spending your entire trip on a tour bus. There are many scenic road trips to navigate through, no matter which island you’re headed to. If you rent a camper van, make sure to check out some of the camping options at your disposal.

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En Route to Isthmus Peak, Otago, New Zealand | © Esmée Winnubst/Flickr

Embrace New Zealand’s unique attractions

Where else will you get to experience Maori culture? How else would you come face-to-face with geographically diverse landscapes that have inspired many cinematic feats? From glowworm caves to wondrous mountains and breathtaking waterfalls, New Zealand has a tonne of unique attractions that all travellers should aim to see at least once in their lifetime.

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Hunua Falls, New Zealand | © Todd Shoemake/Flickr

Bungy jump

If you’re going to try any adventure activity, make it this one. Queenstown gets full credit for starting New Zealand’s (and arguably, the world’s) love affair with the bungy, but it’s by no means the only place you can get your adrenaline fix. Other popular leaping destinations include the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Lake Taupo.

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Taupo Bungy Platform | © Pixabay

Explore some of the Great Walks

If you’re an experienced hiker, tackling New Zealand’s nine Great Walks is an absolute must. These multi-day treks are revered for their stunning mix of forests, alpine backdrops, hidden waterfalls, mountain ranges and even the odd coastal treasure. If you aren’t quite ready to venture into these volatile terrains, consider exploring some shorter walks around the national parks that host these incredible expeditions.

A Hiker on the Routeburn Track | © Flying Kiwi Tours/Flickr

Hike a glacier

There aren’t many places in the world where you’ll get to walk on top of a glacier. Access to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers (New Zealand’s most famous) is only possible via guided helicopter tours, but the investment is 100% worthwhile. Upon landing, you’ll be treading on some fascinating snowy terrain that are known for their to be exquisite.

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Fox Glacier, New Zealand | © Pixabay

Get pedalling

Whether you’re an avid mountain biker or a novice rider, New Zealand is dotted with spectacular trails that everyone can enjoy. From multi-day trips to inner-city routes, there’s no excuse not to get those pedals spinning during your stay. If you need a bit of inspiration, just take a look at some the great options around Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

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Biking by the Rakaia River, Canterbury, New Zealand | © Bobby Ketchum/Flickr

Visit a local market

This is a good way to satisfy your inner foodie while keeping your costs low. Night markets in particular, especially in Auckland and Wellington, are known for bringing together a melting pot of treats for all palates and budgets. Weekend farmers’ markets are also great for getting cheap produce and foodstuffs straight from local producers — ideal for those warm days when a picnic is just calling out to you.

Riccarton Markets | © Jocelyn Kinghorn/Flickr

Do a self-guided wine tour

New Zealand’s viticulture is world famous, and visiting the vineyards isn’t something reserved for rich tourists. Just choose your wine destinations wisely and lower your expenses by going on a self-guided tour. If you like your cycling, the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is a good way to see quite a few wine destinations in your own time. Other notable areas to keep on your radar include Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago.

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New Zealand Vineyard | © Pixabay