New Zealand has upsides and downsides. While the upsides went above and beyond my dreams and expectations, there are a few things you should consider before planning a trip to the Adventure Capital of the World. A trip to New Zealand requires a significant investment in time and money so here are ten tips to keep in mind when deciding if New Zealand should be the next place you visit.
New Zealand Tip #1: Attractions are Few and Far Between
One downside to New Zealand is that experiences are few and far between. Literally speaking that is. It takes a long time to get from point A to point B in New Zealand especially on the South Island. In retrospect, I realize that we should not have tried to drive all the way down the North Island to the bottom of South Island and back to Auckland in only one month. Hence the 3-week itinerary that I will post next week that starts in Auckland and ends in Christ Church.
New Zealand Tip #2: Tourism is Booming, in a kind of a bad way
In only the last few years, New Zealand has grown from an off-the-beaten-path, nature-rich, free camping haven to a country with a booming tourism industry, selling adventure with a price tag, and turning even the most unadventurous tourist into vanlifers.
Related Blog: Find out why we are Vanlifers Trapped In An RV
What drew us to New Zealand was one thing: real adventure. But the problem was that when New Zealand added the word adventure to its tourism campaigns, the adventure was taken away. Adventures should have to be found, worked for, earned. Adventure is the state of mind that pushes you to go searching for experiences and self discovery and shouldn’t be sold on every tour company’s brochure and delivered in a tour van. Sorry, just our opinion!
The good thing is that the booming tourism is creating a lot of opportunities for those in the tourism business, is allowing many student travelers to get work visas, and great job security for road workers (seriously, there was so much road construction going on). I tell my kids that I’m glad I brought them here now while it was so raw because I’m sure ten years from now a lot of the places we saw will be built up. And that is certainly a worthwhile reason to visit now. There is so much raw, untouched nature that you can see, but a lot of it isn’t accessible.
New Zealand Tip #3: Lack of Trails (considering)
New Zealand is ahead of a lot of countries in some ways but in other ways, the country is lacking. New Zealand has infrastructure, nature, high tourism, accessible nature—but that is also where it lacks. The country has some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world yet among a dozen beautiful peaks, very few have trails to the top of them. (Maybe I should move there and become a trail builder ... it’s one of my dream jobs ya’ know?!)
New Zealand Tip #4: It’s Expensive
Luckily, we are not very touristy travelers. New Zealand is expensive. If you want to do the adrenaline filled activities like bungee jumping, swing bridges, white water rafting, canyoneering, Hobbiton, etc it’s going to cost quite a bit. The average price for a burger and a beer is $30NZD and the adrenaline activities will run about $200NZD per person.
That’s not to say you can’t do it on a budget. We’ve been traveling for three years by staying on a food budget of $100 USD for seven of us! Not an easy feat especially in NZ, but we feel the sacrifice has been worth the memories we’ve created. We rarely spend money on attractions and usually spend our days hiking, biking, or surfing. Likewise, we don’t eat our way through our travels. We shop at grocery stores, cook our own meals, and our occasional splurges are on ice cream or a brew on tap.
Related Blog: How Much Does One Month of Travel in New Zealand Cost (coming soon)
Don’t forget fuel. I totally underestimated our fuel budget. Gas is about $2NZD per liter and diesel only $1.40NZD. Therefore, when you rent a car or caravan, it will save you in the long run to have one that runs on diesel.
New Zealand Tip #5: Adventure & Nature Can Be Found In Many Other Places
New Zealand is not the only place to get these experiences. Yes, it’s gorgeous! Yes, there’s a lot of nature. Yes, the people are super friendly. But so are a lot of other places in the world. We found a lot of great adventures in New Zealand but we were quick to compare them to other places we’ve visited. Overall the North Island reminded us a lot of Ireland while the South Island reminded us more of Norway. And while there’s no exact comparable to our favorite hike in New Zealand, the Routeburn Track, there are plenty of gorgeous mountains to hike that will take you to glaciers, waterfalls, and alpine lakes.
Related Blog: 20 Mind-Blowing Hikes Around the World (also coming soon)
New Zealand Tip #6: How Much Time Can You Reasonably Commit?
If it’s 1 week or less stick with one corner of one island. If it’s one month, you could do the majority of 1 island. Which means to really see all of what New Zealand has to offer, you need 2-4 months and that would only be lightly immersing yourself in each area.
New Zealand Tip #7: Do You Really Need To See All Of It?
The forest and jungle ecosystems, while absolutely stunning, repeat themselves frequently throughout both islands. How many beaches do you need to see before they all start to feel all the same? Narrow down what and where you really really want to see. I personally think no more than 2 hours of driving per day if you are traveling with kids. An occasional long stretch is fine but don’t try to cover 4 to 6 hours of driving on back to back days.
New Zealand Tip #8: How Much Money Do You Have To Spend?
Know ahead of time what your expectations are and if you have properly budgeted for everything. Choose activities based on what you like and not based on who is best at marketing. For instance, everyone knows Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of NZ. I love adrenaline but I did not like Queenstown at all. Way too touristy and crowded for my taste. Wanaka, lesser known, was one of my favorite places.
Related Blog: 5 Reasons Why You’ll Love Wanaka (yep, coming soon when we get WiFi again)
New Zealand Tip #9: What Mode of Transportation Is Best For You? Car, Motorhome/Van, or Airbnb?
One reason I regret not renting a caravan is that since we booked a few Airbnb’s ahead of time in order to have a place to shower, do laundry, and recover, it put us on a schedule (which I hate when we travel). Consider how much flexibility in travel you want?
I like to have an outline of the places I’d like to see and things I want to do, but be able to skip it if I don’t like it, such as Queenstown, and stay longer in places I like, such as Raglan, Wanaka, and Mt Cook.
Also, it rains A LOT and sometimes you just want to stay put a few days to wait out the storm or be able to outrun it.
New Zealand Tip #10: Are you Going to New Zealand For Nature and Adventure?
Personally, if I had only a week to visit New Zealand, I would just go backpack one of the Great Walks.
What New Zealand lacks in day hikes, it makes up for in their Great Walks such as the Routeburn Track, the Kepler Track, Abel Tasman Coast Track, Tongariro Northern Circuit, and Heaphey Track which really let you explore some spectacular untouched land.
If you do many of New Zealand’s Great Walks, you don’t need to see the more the touristy areas. These tracks go above and beyond any of the touristy excursions in Queenstown or even the free camping you’d be missing out on. You can easily save money by skipping a car rental as there are plenty of shuttle services specifically for taking backpackers to and from trailheads. And if you’re comfortable with hitchhiking, it is a common and very acceptable form of transportation in New Zealand, particularly in the South Island (but not something we could do with a family as large as ours!).