18 Apr Our Experience of Travelling in New Zealand
New Zealand was the first stop on our trip and it proved the perfect country to start our new life of travel. Here’s the lowdown on the best places we visited, our overall impressions of the country and some tips for backpacking around New Zealand.
New Zealand Places to Visit – Our Top 5
1) Golden Bay – this was the most beautiful place we came across when visiting New Zealand; green and lush with spectacular mountains. We only stopped there for a couple of days, mainly to skydive over Abel Tasman National Park, but we’d love to go back there to explore the beaches and trek through the National Park.
2) Bay of Islands – the day after we arrived in New Zealand we took an overnight boat trip around the bay. After dark we kayaked out into the ocean to gaze at the stars and see the phosphorescent plankton in the water. The next morning we hiked to the top of one of the islands and took in the view across the bay – incredible.
3) Raglan – we loved the laid-back vibe of this small sea-side town with its independent shops, cafes and restaurants. We lounged on the long sandy beaches and saw one of the most awesome waterfalls while we were there.
4) Queenstown – this was the busiest and liveliest place we visited in New Zealand; even on bank holiday the shops and restaurants were open and the streets were crammed with people. We loved walking by the lake and had great fun racing along the Luge course on top of Ben Lomond. If you visit Queenstown get dinner at FergBurger – their world famous gourmet burgers are well worth the long queues (they have veggie options too).
5) Auckland – although the cities in New Zealand were a bit of a disappointment, we slowly grew to love Auckland. While we were there we took in the view from the top of Mount Eden, caught the ferry and hiked to the top of Rangitoto Island and spent a chilled-out afternoon at the Pasifika festival.
Our Impressions of New Zealand
Just like home?
At times New Zealand looks and feels deceptively English with its rolling fields and farmland. When we visited the museum in Wellington and learned all about New Zealand history we found out why that was. Along with the Maori settlers from the Pacific Islands, Europeans were the next to migrate to New Zealand. In typical colonial fashion the British decided to claim the land as their own and attempted to make it profitable; this involved literally burning huge chunks of the native forest to the ground so that they could plant grass and bring cattle from the UK over for farming. In fact, there are very few animals native to New Zealand; apart from some wingless birds like the Kiwi, everything else has been introduced mainly from Europe – that explains the sheep.
A Whole Different Planet
Scratch beneath the surface though and New Zealand couldn’t be more different from the UK. Along with beautiful beaches, waterfalls, forests, caves and lakes there are dangers lurking; active volcanoes, tsunami threats and frequent earthquakes. We were reminded of this when we visited Wai-O-Tapu with its colourful thermal lakes and geysers and as we hiked the Tongariro Crossing and got up close to an active volcano.
Danger Beneath the Beauty
The most brutal reminder of how different New Zealand really is to the UK was our last stop in Christchurch. We only spent a few hours there before catching a flight out but we were shocked by just how destroyed the city was from the 2011 earthquakes. People had warned us things were bad but that didn’t prepare us for what we saw as we walked the streets: whole sections of the city cordoned off, construction workers everywhere, dozens of empty plots where houses and buildings used to stand and messages and flowers tied to the fence where 115 people died when the CTV building collapsed. The main business district was full of wrecked, abandoned and condemned buildings; in some it looked like the disaster had only just struck – bowls of sugar still sat on the tables in one cafe. It must be awful for the people who lived and still live in Christchurch, we found visiting the city an eerie and sobering experience.
New Zealand Cities
Having lived in London I’m used to the fast pace of city life; bright lights, tall buildings and masses of people. During our month in New Zealand we visited a few cities, including Auckland and the capital, Wellington – none of them came even close to matching London in terms of size or atmosphere. This shouldn’t really have surprised me considering there are more people living in London than there are the whole of New Zealand but I was still left feeling disappointed.
Quality of life
Aside from the destruction in Christchurch, all the places we visited in New Zealand were beautiful and well-cared for. Cities were clean and easy to get around, parks and forests were well-maintained and there were free, clean public toilets and excellent libraries in each town. The weather (particularly in the North Island) allows people to live more of an outdoor lifestyle. We saw people heading to the beach after school and at the weekends, kids playing in waterfalls and families out cycling, picnicking or playing games in the parks. It’s also easy to eat healthily in New Zealand; we found fruit and veg stalls everywhere, particularly while driving in the North Island. Although I don’t eat meat it’s pretty safe to do so in New Zealand as animals are reared ethically.
Before visiting New Zealand I had an idea that the country was pretty wild what with all the extreme sports and the obsession with jumping off and out of things. I was surprised to find that the country actually feels very safe and orderly. Everything is green and clean, people are friendly, helpful and laid back; we frequently stayed in places with no locks on the doors and never felt unsafe. The roads were extremely well maintained and there were signs everywhere reminding you of the speed limits.
New Zealand Travel Advice
We found it pretty easy to travel around New Zealand, even so, here are some tips we picked up from backpacking New Zealand:
- Make use of the i-Site buildings, which you’ll find in every town or city. These provide tourist information, free maps and guidebooks and have staff who can help you find the cheapest hostels and book activities for you.
- Internet can be slow and expensive in New Zealand so look for hostels with free access or visit Public Libraries.
- If you’re on a tight budget don’t eat out. We found food expensive in New Zealand, to save money we cooked our own meals and made sandwiches for lunch.
- Tap water is fine to drink, so refill your water bottles and look for public water fountains which are fairly widespread; we also found free sunscreen on offer at the Pasifika festival in Auckland.
- We had a budget of around £30 per night for accommodation (for two people). We managed to keep to this by researching and comparing hostels online beforehand and staying at Airbnb places – check these out if you’re looking for cheaper options.
- There are so many exciting activities to take on in New Zealand; skydiving, bungee jumping, jet-boating, glacier hiking, boat trips and black water rafting to name a few. None of these come cheap but you can get discount coupons from tourist magazines and leaflets. Check for these at the nearest i-Site before you book any activities and pick up a copy of Arrival magazine at the airport when you land.
- Renting a car will make your stay in New Zealand so much easier, especially in the South Island. Many areas are hard to get to by public transport and you’ll want to stop and take pictures as you drive along.
- If you’re driving check your supermarket receipts as they may give you vouchers to save money on fuel.
- Split your time between the islands; we spent the majority of our trip in the North Island and ended up with only nine days in the South. This meant we had to race around, drive long distances and miss out on visiting many great places.
- Use lots of sunscreen as New Zealand sun is particularly strong. We were also bitten to pieces by mosquitoes and sandflies so use repellent, especially if you’re sat around outside in the evenings.
Our Top 5 Travel Experiences in New Zealand
We did so many new and exciting activities in New Zealand – here are our top five:
1) Skydiving over Abel Tasman National Park
2) Our Rock Boat Cruise of the Bay of Islands
3) Our Heli-Hike on Fox Glacier
4) Visiting the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo
5) Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
PattiPosted at 04:06h, 19 April
You’re off to a great start! It’s fun to see a photo of Mt. Tongariro because I have a similar photo, but my favorite photo is the one of Andrew drinking the waterfall! Stay safe ~
AmyPosted at 20:45h, 19 April
Thanks Patti – that is a pretty good picture of Andrew!
BeastPosted at 21:04h, 19 April
Great post, Thanks for sharing. I will probably never visit New Zealand but feel I have experienced it through your amazing photos, videos and wonderful descriptions. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Australia. Xx
AmyPosted at 21:13h, 19 April
Thanks Beast – never say never, you might get to New Zealand one day yourself (I’m sure you guys wouldn’t say no if there was rugby involved!).
Chris StocktonPosted at 10:19h, 20 April
This makes me feel homesick for a country that isn’t home, but feels like it. We too only spent a short time in the south island….just ran out of time. And we spent 6 weeks first visit and 3 months second! I know we’re prejudiced, but we just love Raglan and its laid back people. Do hope the rest of your travels are just as interesting and enjoyable.
AmyPosted at 11:54h, 20 April
Hi Chris, I don’t blame you for loving Raglan, we loved it too and are already hoping to go back there in future. We’d also like to spend more time in the South Island – New Zealand is a very addictive country!
DebbiePosted at 16:56h, 28 April
Would love to visit New Zealand. Thanks for taking us on a virtual trip. 🙂
AndrewPosted at 07:57h, 29 April
It’s definitely worth visiting Debbie – we loved it there.
Deb OliverPosted at 05:05h, 10 October
I’m a volunteer at BAWA and have lived in Bali for 2 years. Let me say what a joy it was to peruse your blog and see your beautiful pictures and comments on my home country New Zealand. It’s often difficult to describe what NZ is like when people ask me- it has it’s own unique culture and energy. I am privileged to have grown up there- having made me an extremely down-to-earth person with a love for the environment. Thankyou so much for casting NZ in such a glowing, positive light! I’ve been nearly 10 years gone from there but do hope to get back for a visit some day but now I’m so so far away! Enjoy your next trip there and tell everyone Deb says “hi!”.
AmyPosted at 11:02h, 10 October
Hi Deb, thanks so much for your lovely comment. You are definitely privileged to have grown up in New Zealand, it’s a beautiful country and we hope to return there one day; we were recently tempted by a 4-month house-sit in Taupo! Great work you’re doing at the BAWA by the way, must be great living near Ubud (that was our fave place in Indonesia!).
Louisa KlimentosPosted at 01:55h, 09 November
I recently read a travel blog called Overrated New Zealand by a UK couple ,who did the North and South Island of New Zealand .They said it was beautiful but not as beautiful as they thought it would be.The problem is that they trecked across the Rockey Mountains in Canada and found it to be more epic plus their mountains tower over 6000 metres above sea level. New Zealand is alot smaller than Canada However ,for such a small country there is almost everyone elses beauty except for colourful deserts ,but do have some areas close to a desert .It actually shocked me and it is usually poor Australia that gets a hard bashing,due to lack of history and when driving up the East coast of Australia from Byron Bay or Cairns ,the coastal hwy is not really on the coast .it is inland and runs through the agricultural regions and you must take turn offs to do a scenic drive and tourists haven’t seen the best part of Queensland ,which is Cape York Peninsular,Quite a wild wilderness region.IT is roughly the size of the UK.Well back to New Zealand,To me it has so much to offer ,for such a small country,when it comes to wilderness ,especially The wld west coast of the South Island ,which is New Zealand at it’s best .The east coast consists of mainlyflat plains which is a contrast to the dramatic West coast.I hope to make it there one day and i am sure I am going to love it.You see ,every country has it’s own beauty and who cares if somewhere else is better,just enjoy the moment with out judging too much .Then your holiday will certainly be worth it.
AmyPosted at 02:17h, 09 November
Wow, I certainly didn’t think New Zealand was overrated, but then it was the very first country we visited on our big trip and I haven’t seen Canada so I can’t really compare it to that. I would love to return to Australia one day and take your recommendations on the most scenic routes as I don’t think we saw the best of it when we visited, although we still had an amazing time there. You’re right, every country does have its own beauty and we should try not to make comparisons.
Louisa KlimentosPosted at 02:07h, 10 November
Love you guys so much,because you see and do a variety of different tourist attractions and you spend the time to correspond with others .You allow us people to tell you of nice places to see..Atleast You have been to Cape tribulation which is apparently simular to A place somewhere in Cambodia.If you do go to Cape York ,Shelburne bay has beautiful rainforests ,white sand beaches and towering pure white silics a sand dunes ,up to 200m high and is almost inaccessable .If you can’t drive a 4WD car then there are saffari tours .Hopefully ,they are not too expensive. Underra lava tubes in the outback of far North Queensland is the worlds biggest larva tubes.All the vocanoes are extinct in Australia. see MT Warning in Nothern NSW.Australia is the oldest land mass on Eath.When you return to the UK and when you have a chance look up Travel Blog called Y Travel on Australia and the two couple are Caz and Craig .They have seen 90 percent of Australia.Well for New Zealand ,it is a most beautiful country and i will definately be overwhelmed by it .I am sure you will love to see the rest of New Zealand.i love to see you both return to New Zealand and Australia.I think you and Andrew make the most beautful couple and hope to see you travel to the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia where you can do the sea to Sky Highway.I haven’t done it but everone tells me that it is breathtaking.PS New Zealand Rocks
AmyPosted at 15:43h, 10 November
Wow, I hadn’t heard of larva tubes before, sounds cool. I will definitely look up that blog you mentioned, it sounds really interesting. Thanks for your kind words and take care 🙂
Louisa KlimentosPosted at 06:55h, 23 November
Also the travel blog called the young adventurer which is a young lady called liz who is living in New Zealand ,went to Underra lava tubes in far north Queensland.God bless you and keep enjoying the US
AmyPosted at 15:13h, 23 November
Yes, I love that blog! Liz has had some amazing adventures in New Zealand, I hope we can go back there one day.
Louisa KlimentosPosted at 05:11h, 07 December
Sorry Correct spelling is Undara lava tubes far north Queensland
JackPosted at 05:00h, 06 April
Hi Amy! Have you had any experiences with rental car relocations? Seems like a great alternative to having a campervan and still getting the benefit of having your own bed on wheels! rentalcarrelocation.co.nz seems like a good place to start if any of your other readers are interested! Love to hear your thoughts!
AmyPosted at 10:21h, 06 April
Hi Jack, we did look into this actually, but it didn’t quite work out for our dates/places. We would be open to trying it again one day though.