Posts filed as 'New Zealand'
Why I Went There?
One of the top 5 (maybe top 3) countries I wanted to visit during this trip. It was originally my first destination on this long trip, but I later chose to start in South America instead to coincide with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Where Did I Go?
The trip revolved around hiking eight of the Great Walks. These are hiking trails known for their beautiful locations and great trail conditions. Aside from that, I had little time to visit other popular tourist destinations in the country. I did manage to go to Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, do bungee jumping in Queenstown, and ride on a couple of scenic trains including the Tranzalpine.
You can find almost 40 posts that I wrote on my travels through NZ in my 8 New Zealand Great Walks in 8 Weeks Journal.
Total Days: 69
Total Expenses: 4,838 USD
Average: 70 USD/day
New Zealand is an expensive country, but having done so much hiking while there saved me some money. A dorm bed in a hostel ranges from 25-35 NZD (1 NZD was equal to 0.75 USD when I was there), any simple meal will be at least 15 NZD, and transportation is expensive, especially shuttles to more remote places. Food prices in supermarkets are also high, and you do have to pay for wi-fi in many hostels.
But while on the Great Walks, some huts were only 32 NZD per might, and with an estimate of about 20 NZD of food per day in my backpack, the money spent each day in the wilderdness was relatively low. There was nowhere else to spent money on. If I wasn’t doing so much hiking, my average would have been easily over 100 USD/day, provided that I visited at least one attraction per day, and not just sit in the hostel doing nothing. If you do many of the extreme activities (rafting, bungee jumping, skydiving, etc), it can get very expensive very quick.
On the plus side, all National Parks were free to enter.
How Is It to Backpack in New Zealand?
This was the country with the best tourism infrastructure I had ever visited. The excellent Department of Conservation website provides information on hundreds of hikes and every single backpacking hut. You can also get updates on trail conditions, and book huts.
There are also i-sites (information centers) at every city or town that is close to a tourist attraction. They offer free maps and information. You can also book hostels, shuttles, or tours for a small fee. They come in really handy, and I believe you could travel in NZ for months without a guidebook.
New Zealand is also very safe. Most hostels don’t even have lockers inside the rooms. After South America, it was refreshing being able to walk around everywhere with the DSLR camera in my hand, without being paranoid. The hostels are clean and the facilities are great, but I wished more of them had free wifi.
Buses, shuttles, and trains are all very efficient and on time. Look at the bus schedules, I would wonder if 15 minutes would be enough to transfer between two buses, but every one I took was on time.
Overall, this was the easiest country I had ever traveled in. That does however takes away a bit of the unpredictability and sense of adventure that I sometimes seek. To get that, you could choose to hitchhike (more on this below).
I bought an Intercity Bus Pass that gave me 60 hours of travel for 449 NZD. On their website you can book and find out the number of hours for each segment. I was able to reach most of the gateway cities for the Great Walks.
Having said that, I did meet many travelers who were hitchhiking. Apparently this is a safe thing to do in NZ, and many locals are more than willing to give you a ride. You do need a more flexible schedule, since sometimes you might have to wait a while for someone to pick you up, or you might not always get to your intended destination right away. I did hitchhike once just for fun and out of curiosity, and enjoyed the experience very much.
While the bus pass was reasonably priced, I found the private shuttles to the trail heads to be very expensive. They were usually in the 60-80 NZD range for a one-way trip.
Since the trains are scenic, you don’t take them for efficiency or to save money.
My Ranking of Great Walks
- Milford Track
- Tongariro Northern Circuit
- Kepler Track
- Abel Tasman Coast Track
- Routeburn Track
- Heaphy Track
- Rakiura Track
- Lake Waikaremoana
I enjoyed all of them, but Milford takes the prize for its uniqueness in landscape. Tongariro and Kepler are probably tied for second. And Routeburn might be lower than on most people’s lists, but I did get crappy weather which affected visibility.
Favorites And Not So Favorites
Favorite Moment: Day 4 on the Milford Track, when I hiked through a rain storm and water was raging all around me.
Favorite City: Wellington.
Favorite Small Town: Te Anau.
Least Favorite Thing: I found the food expensive and below average.
With beauty around every corner, New Zealand is relatively compact and very easy to travel. The Great Walks exceeded all my expectations. In so many instances I arrived at a spot with wonderful views, smiled, and said to myself “Are you kidding me?”.
I saw a lot in ten weeks. But I also know there’s a lot left to discover. I know it’ll be back to New Zealand in the future.
My Favorite Pictures
To wrap up this incredible trip in New Zealand, I wanted to take the world famous Tranzalpine Train that goes from coast to coast, from Greymouth to Christchurch in the South Island. Touted as one of the best scenic train rides in the world, it was a must-do for me. I bought the ticket one week before the travel date, at 121 NZD for a one-way journey.
After I finished the Heaphy Track, I stayed one night in Karamea before taking the bus back to Nelson, where I relaxed for a few days. On a Saturday morning I took the early Intercity bus to Greymouth. It made a stop at Punakaiki and we had about 45 minutes to go check out the Pancake Rocks, which were very impresive. Another proof that in New Zealand, beautiful places are around every corner.
The bus stops right outside the train station in Greymouth. They time the arrival with Tranzalpine passengers in mind: bus gets there at 1:15pm, and the train leaves at 1:45pm. I checked in and requested a window seat. This ended up being unnecessary since the train was not even half full. My carriage was particularly empty. With about 60 seats available, there were only six passengers. Other carriages were not as empty.
Everything on board was exactly as on the Coastal Pacific train I had taken earlier. The seats don’t recline much, but it’s not that important in a short 4.5-hour ride. The windows are big and clean. There are monitors hanging from the roof showing the current location of the train on a map. They provide headphones for the audio commentary. There’s an attendant who you can order food from. Or, you can walk to the café car yourself. Options include light meals, drinks (including alcoholic ones), desserts, and snacks. All the way at the back, an open-air carriage (it has no seats) allows you to take photographs without a glass window between your camera and the landscape. Overall, the carriages are comfortable and modern.
The ride goes through the beautiful Southern Alps, stopping at Arthurs Pass Station, where we were able to get off the train for a short break. As far scenery, I’ll let the pictures speak for it.
I enjoyed the scenery very much, but after seeing so much of New Zealand’s beauty over the previous two months, I’m sure it didn’t impress me as much as it should have. As to whether it is one of my best train rides in the world, I’d have to reserve judgement until I ride a few other famous ones.
It was already dark by the time the train arrived in Christchurch. This was my third time in the city, the two previous times had been short 1-night stays to connect to other destinations.
Two days later I would board a plane to Sydney, Australia, ending this unforgettable trip to New Zealand.
Journal entry for May 11, 2015
Distance hiked: 16.2 km
I was the first one out of bed at 7am, and was able to enjoy an amazing sunrise. This is truly a great spot for a hut. There were lots of weka birds around the area, and you could hear them go off on shouting matches throughout the night.
Just like the previous day, it rained around 8am but cleared up afterwards, just in time to hit the trail.
I hiked the entire last day with the Callum, Timo, and Mervin. This was supposedly the most beautiful section of the Heaphy Track, and I would have to agree with that. You alternate between forests, beaches, and very long bridges. A really fun day.
Out of habit, I usually hike with very short socks, but given the large amounts of sand flies in the area, I wore long socks this day. This helped to fend them away. As long as there’s no exposed skin, they won’t bite, even if the socks are thin.
I had to wait until my last day of hiking in NZ to see one of its rare birds. I never encountered the famous and elusive kiwi, but while crossing a bridge on this day, I spotted a blue duck in the distance. With under 3,000 of them left (all in NZ), they are harder to find than kiwis (around 70,000 left). The one I saw was far away, and I couldn’t take any decent pictures of it.
Crayfish Point is an area that cannot be crossed 2 hours either side of high tide, which for this day was 3:30pm. We had plenty of time to go through that section before 1:30pm.
We reached the end of the trail at the mouth of the Kohaihai River after 4.5 hours, with short breaks in between.
We were very lucky that we got very nice weather. Out of the four days on the Heaphy Track I only had to hike about three hours in light drizzle. Reading the forecast before the start, I thought I would have four miserable days of wet weather hiking. Looking back, I was extremely fortunate with weather throughout my entire time in New Zealand. Of the thirty days I spent on the trial, it only really rained for two days: Day 2 on the Routeburn Track, and Day 4 on the Milford Track.
I had just finished 8 Great Walks in 8 weeks. About 400 km or 250 miles. I was very happy that everything went according to plan, despite injuring my knee on the first Great Walk. I would later find out that I did all these treks with a torn ACL and meniscus.
The walks had exceeded my very high expectations, and New Zealand became the most beautiful country I had visited in my life. The great landscapes are almost too much to take in and digest in such a short time.
My ratings for the Heaphy Track:
Scenery: 7 – Unremarkable the first 2 days. Very beautiful and unique the last 2 days.
Difficulty: 3.5 – Despite elevation changes, it feels pretty flat the entire way.
Trail Condition: 9 – Another excellent Great Walk track. Fit for mountain biking, so pretty easy to do it on foot.
Part of the New Zealand Great Walks Journal