My Ultimate Guide to Travelling New Zealand

Welcome to my ultimate brain dump of all my recommendations in New Zealand (North and South Island).

After visiting both islands of New Zealand twice now I have compressed a recommended itinerary as well as some useful tips into one blog. If you want more info, you can read more of detailed of my blogs of each place (scroll back to March 2015) this is the 2018 no nonsense guide.

This blog aims to tell you:

  • An itinerary for the North Island
  • An itinerary for the South Island
  • My General tips for NZ (things I wish I knew)
  • What you need to pack
  • What you don’t need to pack
  • My thoughts: Kiwi Experience vs Driving

An itinerary for North Island – 2-3 weeks

  • Start by flying in to Auckland, spend a day (if you really want to), but I’d advise hitting the road and heading north to Paihia. On the way there, stop at Mount Victoria to see the view of Auckland, it’s by far the BEST thing you will see in Auckland. If you’re staying in Auckland, I would recommend the area of Ponsonby. Ponsonby has lots of trendy bars and restaurants and a nice park to wander around – feels like a little London!
  • Hit the road and head up to the top of the North Island (Bay of Islands) for 3-4 nights. Start in Paihia (Bay of Islands), and definitely visit the Treaty Ground (book via bookme.co.nz) and do a day trip to Cape Reinga.
  • If you have time, spend a day or two in Ahipara at Endless Summer Lodge. From here it’s a shorter drive to Cape Reinga and has a dreamy local beach.
  • Head down (through Auckland) and East to the Coromandel Peninsula – 2-3 nights. Places to stay include Hot Water Beach, Whitanga but Hahei is the best as it’s in the middle and the whole area is drivable from here. See Cathedral Cove (go between 6am-9am to see no people, check the tide conditions), Hot Water Beach (Go 2 hours before or after low tide), Driving Creek Railway (my number 1 off the beaten track recommendation) and the random pig farm on the 309 road.
  • Drive South to Waitomo and on the way stop at Paeroa (to see the birth place of L&P and walk the Karangahake Gorge Walk). Both of these aren’t my top recommendations but it breaks up the long day drive.
  • Spend 1 night at YHA Waitomo (you get to hang out with orphaned dark animals and hopefully Steph). If you must, see a Glow worm cave (lots of options via Bookme), but also drive to the Mangapohue natural bridge and Marokopa waterfall.
  • Head to Hobbiton on your way to Rotarua.
  • Rotorua – 2 nights. If you didn’t do the Treaty Ground in Paihia (why!??), try to splurge out on the Tamiki Mauri Village, if you did the Treaty Ground save your pennies. It’s a chance to learn about Mauri culture and you’ll get a yummy dinner. Also walk around part of Rotorua Lake, the sulphur park and the existing Mauri Village.
  • Taupo – 1-3 nights (depending on where you plan to do the Crossing from). Take a dip in the hot pools. I personally think Huka Falls is a waste of time.
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing either from National Park OR Taupo. National Park is closer, just do not stay at the YHA. From National Park you can arrange a shuttle which drops you at start and picks you up at the end ($40) or you can arrange a shuttle to meet you at the end (where you drop off your car) and picks you up at the start (from $25/30). From Taupo, pick ups and drop offs start at $75, but you wake up earlier.
  • End in Wellington – 3- 4 nights. In Wellington explore the cool street art (pre find them online before you go out and pin them on Maps.me) – whilst exploring the art, you’ll be amazed at the cool bars and restaurants (for evening meal/cocktail ideas). The Library (bar) looks incredible. Climb Mount Victoria Viewpoint (or drive to the top). Do a day trip the Pinnacles, it’s 1.5 hours windy drive from the city and is worth the drive.

Options for getting across to the other island

I’ve done these opposite ways with the Ferry and Flying. And done the research to save you some time.

Here are your options:

Option 1: Ferry with vehicle 

  • Wellington to Picton one way, fares tend to look like this:
    • 1 x adult (no vehicle): $55 – $75
    • 1 x child (2 – 17): $28 – $38
    • Infant (under 2): Free
    • Seniors (60+): $55 – $65
    • Tertiary: $55 – $65
    • 1 x sedan (includes 1 driver):  $173 – $248
    • 1 x campervan up to 5.5m (includes 1 driver):  $173 – $248
    • 1 x campervan 6m (includes driver): $243 – $328
    • 1 x motorhome 7m (includes driver): $313 – $408
  • Total cost for a car and 2 adults: $228 – 323.

Reasons to choose flying:

  • Ferries are fun
  • You probably have your car/van packed the way you like it.
  • You probably booked your car or van already from Auckland to Christchurch without looking at the cost of the ferry so now you have to get the ferry.

Option 2: Flying

I put in a random date next week to see the cost as well as in February (both not including baggage) are here are the results:

Reasons to choose flying:

  • Cheaper: $28-40 (plus baggage – $10 on Expedia, $29 on Jetstar)
  • Quicker: Flying takes 50 minutes (with 2 hour check in before) and the ferry takes 4 hours.  Please note: From Skyscanner, it shows booking via Jetstar direct is cheapest, BUT if you have baggage, use Expedia. Baggage costs are cheaper at $10 as opposed to $29 on Jetstar, but you don’t get to prebook seats (which is easy when you arrive at airport).
  • The cost of hiring a car by the Island (Auckland to Wellington, then Christchurch to Christchurch), isn’t more expensive. I recommend using Jucy.

Verdict: FLY! Cheaper and faster, travel. Then hire a cheaper car the other side from Jucy.

An itinerary for South Island (Christchurch to Christchurch)

  • 1 night Christchurch, again if you have to. There’s nothing you need to see in Christchurch. If you don’t know where to stay I’d recommend Jucy Snooze which is a 10 minute walk from the airport (you get 10% off the car if you stay there).
  • 2-3 nights Kaikoura. Stay at the Albatross and enjoy just relaxing here – it’s a hostel I could just live in and enjoy baked goods every night. Walk the Peninsula. Swim with Dolphins. Love this place!!!!
  • 2-3 nights Abel Tasman (Marahou or stay in the National Park – you’ll need to google more into this but if I could go back I’d stay in the park).
  • Optional – Arthurs Pass 1-2 night – this is a hike destination and is worth seeing.
  • Franz Josef – 1-2 nights. Helicopter to Glacier and use the hot springs afterwards.
  • Wanaka – 3-4 nights. Roy’s Peak. Mt Iron. That Wanaka Tree. Wanaka Bakpaka hostel. This place is my favourite!!!
  • Queenstown 3-4 nights. Morning trip to Glenorchy (you won’t want to skip this drive). Hike the Queenstown hill, tiki trail to top of Gondola or Ben Lomond. Do something “adventurous” as that’s the thing here. Eat a Fergburger.
  • Mt Cook – 3 nights. Stay at the YHA and relax! Enjoy some easy hikes surrounded by so many beautiful mountains, nature and lakes. Another favourite of mine!
  • Optional – Lake Tekapo – 1 night. If you are short on time leave Mt Cook early, drive an hour, climb up mt John, see the church, take the photo, drive on.
  • Christchurch. Fly to your next destination!

Random (but important) tips for travelling New Zealand cheap and effectively:

  1. As mentioned, have your own vehicle. Why? Because the buses and tours pick you up and take you to each town, but not around the towns. Many great things require driving! The Kiwi Experience/Stray will take you to things, but with limited time and misses out crucial places. We gave a few lifts on our trip because buses were sporadic or people just had no way of getting to hikes without meeting people.
  2. If you follow tip 1, then Book a cheap car via Jucy, their search engine optimisation isn’t great so they don’t appear on the first page of Google and they aren’t on most price comparison sites so people don’t really know about them til they get here and meet people who paid half they did. BONUS: At the time, if we booked a Jucy Snooze (hostel), there was a deal to get 10% off your already cheap hire car. There’s an online chat on their website, use it.
  3. Try to Book all hostel accomodation direct why? It helps when you want to change / move your booking
  4. YHA’s: After about 2-3 YHA’s, we were fans. The service was always good, the kitchen was always well stocked and clean and if we ever had an issue (e.g a smelly room) then we told them and if they can move you, they will. If you are a YHA member (like us) you get 10% off YHA’s. We used this in Canada too, it’s great. It costs $25 to join (via the NZ website – choose overseas adult 1 year) otherwise it’s slightly more via the UK YHA site. This is with the exception of National Park – just no!
  5. You must say ‘hello’ ‘hi’ ‘kia ora’ ‘Gidday’ to everyone you pass on a hike. It becomes very normal and then very weird/rude if someone doesn’t say hi back. Please continue this, don’t be rude.
  6. If you read my blogs then this comes up a lot. Download Maps.Me for offline GPS (I’ve always found it more reliable than Google). Download the maps before you go then in your free time, mark some of your key points on the map.
  7. Best travel card: Revolut. You might have a fabulous travel card already or you might just wing it on your card and realise at the end you’ve spent £50 on fees. You do you. This card is awesome!!
  8. Sleeping bags are not permitted in hostels – but you’ll need one if you’re sleeping in the National Park (but it’s likely you can hire this from somewhere but I did not see this in Marahou)
  9. Many hostels have a WIFI limit (2GB), on occasion some don’t. When you find one that has unlimited WIFI download as many Netflix series and Podcasts as you can. Also consider buying a sim to save money.
  10. Grocery Food is expensive – we recommend buying a lot at Pak n Save rather than buying as you go at each town and stocking up the car. Then having 1-2 bags to bring in to each hostel than bringing it all. Many towns are tiny so their local supermarket won’t be cheap or it won’t have as much stuff.
  11. Tours are expensive, e.g the Franz Josef Glacier is $450 it helps to pre-book on Bookme.nz OR Groupon. E.g We got a Milford Sounds bus trip and cruise from $125 to $53 via Bookme.
  12. If you want to buy alcohol, you’ll need your passport. They don’t accept driving licenses.
  13. If a hostel says no alcohol then listen. We met one girl who got fined $400 ($100 per person in their group) for having alcohol in the room.

What I recommend you need:

  1. Comped plasters
  2. Sandals/Flip Flops (Easy to slip on and off shoes). This sounds like a little random tip but in the winter everyone was in socks and sandals in the hostel!
  3. Lots of hiking appropriate clothes – leggings, socks, layers (some times we did a hike a day, so without doing multiple washes, having more clothes helped)
  4. Just one item of Swimwear – Swim with dolphins, thermal springs in my opinion are must do’s.
  5. Hand Sanitiser – loads of public toilets, many on tracks, many without a sink/soap.
  6. Tupperware – We did a lot of day trips so taking lunch out happened 75% of our trip. Having a lunchbox (which you can buy here obviously) was a winner. Also helped keep some food fresh along the way. Stu and I had 3 boxes between us.
  7. Water Bottle – Standard
  8. A lock – it’s safe most hostels have lockers so this just gives peace of mind for laptops/kindles.
  9. But food seasoning, some hostels don’t have them.

What I recommend you don’t need:

  1. Dresses/going out clothes – if you do the Kiwi Experience you might go out more, if you’re a couple you might have a date night in Auckland, Wellington or CC. But I had no need for any fancy clothing.
  2. SIM card – we didn’t need it
  3. Money belt (it’s sooo safe)

Cheapest Supermarkets (in order):

  1. Pak ’n’ Save
  2. Countdown
  3. New World/
  4. Four Square (I found most 4 squares limited)

What I recommend you eat in NZ

(Please note and apologies, I am a cheap person on a budget and I almost NEVER eat out when I travel but there’s a few little things I found worth mentioning):

  1. It’s what everyone will say, and I hate to be that person, but Fergburger in Queenstown. It was actually super tasty!
  2. New World Supermarket (Wellington) – In the fresh cakes section there is a Orea Salted Caramel brownie – it’s a good size and $3.69. I didn’t see this in every New World, but when I did I grabbed 2 and made them last. They were perfect after a hike with a cup of English Tea.
  3. Streaky Honey Cured Bacon – I found the bacon more delicious than ever here. I came a bit addicted to toasted wraps or sandwiches as I found a lot of hostels had sandwich makers.
  4. Domino’s Pizza (because the value range is $5)
  5. Ferg Bakery – White Chocolate Cheesecake

Thoughts on a Guided Bus Tour vs Driving

I touched upon this in my tips but I thought I’d explain my reasonings further…

In 2015 I did the Kiwi Experience which I still look back on as an awesome trip. Then in 2018 I did a road trip with my boyfriend Stu. If I had to choose between driving and the tour, I’d choose driving.

  • The Kiwi Experience tour I did was the Sheepdog. It was 50% off at the time so $499 (£250) which is great and includes the ferry ($55). To split the cost of renting a car, inc Petrol, inc flight from South to North Island cost the exact same.
  • Car rentals are cheap – Jucy is my recommended and doesn’t come up on price comparison sites. Also note that most of the cheap car companies out here aren’t on page 1 of Google. We spent (for both Islands) a total of $600 on the car for 6 weeks (and most likely could have got cheaper if we’d pre-booked)
  • Better choice of hostels – the Kiwi Bus has their stops, some drivers drop you at a different hostel you pre-booked, some laugh and don’t. The hostels the Kiwi Ex book aren’t my favourite.
  • Having a car made my life so much happier because it meant – Storage!!! It’s so nice to be able to leave stuff in the car e.g walking shoes, food, coat etc.
  • You can stop when you want.
  • Changing a bus route/Calling to stay longer was often an issue on Kiwi. Some times the next bus was fully booked. If you joined a new bus, there were new clicks.

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