Planning a trip to New Zealand? Sweet as! There is loads to read about NZ here on Backpackingmatt.com. When you’re done, head on over to my new independent New Zealand travel guide – PlanitNZ.com. There is a wealth of regional information, travel planning advice and a user-based section called Your Planit NZ where you can connect with other travelers in New Zealand.
New Zealand. The Land of the Long White Cloud. Aoteroa. Whatever you call it, NZ is a country that heaps of backpackers flock to each year.
And for well deserved reasons.
New Zealand is easy to travel around, offers up fascinating landscapes in a compact sized area (think glaciers, rainforests, and beaches within a twenty minute drive of each other), and is home to a variety of thrilling adventure sports (think skydiving, bungy jumping, river sledding, and jetboating). If your idea of adventure isn’t jumping out of airplanes or off bridges, New Zealand will win you over with its world famous wine or scenic drives.
So you want to come on a backpacking trip or a gap year to New Zealand. I don’t blame you. Yet where should you go? What should you see?
If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, these are 5 places I don’t think you can miss.
1) Bay of Islands (North Island)
The Bay of Islands north of Auckland are a must see on your backpacking trip to New Zealand. Think blue-green waters, white sand beaches, sun, and (you guessed it) tropical islands.
The main town in the Bay of Islands is Paihia and is an ideal spot to base yourself for your time in the Northland. Paihia is a busy little town with plenty of hostels, heaps of bars, and sits directly on the bay. You’re within a days drive of 90 Mile Beach and can escape the resort like feel of Paihia with a quick ferry ride across the bay to historic Russell.
While you’re here you’ll have no shortage of things to do – spend your days sailing around the islands, dolphin watching, diving, kayaking, or simply soaking up the sun on the Paihia beachfront. To get a taste of everything the Bay has to offer, consider an overnight cruise on The Rock.
2) Coromandel Peninsula (North Island
Coromandel offers up a varying combination of beaches, quaint fishing villages, and has great hiking options with the mountainous spine splitting the peninsula in half. A visit here isn’t complete without sampling Coromandel town’s famous smoked mussels, soaking the day away in your own private and personally dug spa at Hot Water Beach, or getting a real taste for Kiwi ingenuity at the Driving Creek Railway.
3) Lake Taupo (North Island)
Smack dab in the center of the North Island is New Zealand’s (and Oceania’s) largest freshwater lake. Lake Taupo formed thousands of years ago after a massive volcanic eruption and is simply a crater filled with water. A very deep crater with its deepest point being over 600 feet deep. On the North Shore of the lake is the town of Taupo – a busy little town rightly worn onto New Zealand’s backpacker trail.
Lake Taupo presents plenty of opportunities for the backpacker. It’s the most famous spot in New Zealand to skydive and you can only imagine the view of Lake Taupo from 15,000 feet. If you’re still keen to defy gravity, consider the Taupo Bungy which at 47 meters is the highest water touch bungy in New Zealand. Your visit to Taupo arguably wouldn’t be complete without a go at trout fishing. Lake Taupo and the rivers feeding into are home to the best trout fishing in the world.
With heaps of hostels, plenty of outdoor activities, and a busy nightlife scene, chances are you might spend a bit longer in Taupo than you originally anticipated.
4) Kaikoura (South Island)
Kaikoura sits in an absolutely epic spot at the base of the Seaward Kaikoura Range. While the town itself leaves quite a bit to be desired, its picturesque location and the nearby marine wildlife make up for anything the town itself is lacking.
Thanks to a combination of ocean currents and a unique continental shelf found offshore, Kaikora’s coast is home a a huge variety of marine mammals – think bus sized Sperm Whales and playful Dusky Dolphins. Whale Watch Kaikoura guarantees you’ll spot a whale on their whale watch tours (otherwise they’ll give you a hefty refund) and a couple companies will take you swimming with the dolphins.
The main street in Kaikoura offers up a couple decent bars for you to spend your evening in and the bakery does a bloody good Kiwi meat pie for your breaky the next morning.
5) Queenstown (South Island)
Queenstown sits in a unbeatable location on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and offers up stunning views of The Remarkables mountain range. This small resort town offers up something to please even the most dedicated of thrill-seekers – you can do it all in Queenstown, just make sure you bring enough cash.
You’ll want to add bungy jumping at one of AJ Hacketts three bungy jump sites to your list as well as a trip on the famous Shotover Jet. If you’re keen to relax, consider a scenic hike up Queenstown Hill or go for a drive to sample some of the famous Otago Pinot Noir from nearby wineries.
The nightlife scene in Queentown is sure to satisfy the backpacker looking for a good night out. With new bars and clubs popping up monthly, don’t be surprised if you’re coming home at 5am after drinking and dancing the night away.
New Zealand is bound to impress you regardless of where you travel. It’s a country with fascinating landscapes everywhere you turn, friendly locals, and is extremely backpacker friendly.
Have you traveled to New Zealand? Add your favorite destination in the comments section below.