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.