18 Apr Our Experience of Travelling in New Zealand
New Zealand was the first stop on our trip and it proved the perfect country to start our new life of travel. Here’s the lowdown on the best places we visited, our overall impressions of the country and some tips for backpacking around New Zealand.
New Zealand Places to Visit – Our Top 5
1) Golden Bay – this was the most beautiful place we came across when visiting New Zealand; green and lush with spectacular mountains. We only stopped there for a couple of days, mainly to skydive over Abel Tasman National Park, but we’d love to go back there to explore the beaches and trek through the National Park.
2) Bay of Islands – the day after we arrived in New Zealand we took an overnight boat trip around the bay. After dark we kayaked out into the ocean to gaze at the stars and see the phosphorescent plankton in the water. The next morning we hiked to the top of one of the islands and took in the view across the bay – incredible.
3) Raglan – we loved the laid-back vibe of this small sea-side town with its independent shops, cafes and restaurants. We lounged on the long sandy beaches and saw one of the most awesome waterfalls while we were there.
4) Queenstown – this was the busiest and liveliest place we visited in New Zealand; even on bank holiday the shops and restaurants were open and the streets were crammed with people. We loved walking by the lake and had great fun racing along the Luge course on top of Ben Lomond. If you visit Queenstown get dinner at FergBurger – their world famous gourmet burgers are well worth the long queues (they have veggie options too).
5) Auckland – although the cities in New Zealand were a bit of a disappointment, we slowly grew to love Auckland. While we were there we took in the view from the top of Mount Eden, caught the ferry and hiked to the top of Rangitoto Island and spent a chilled-out afternoon at the Pasifika festival.
Our Impressions of New Zealand
Just like home?
At times New Zealand looks and feels deceptively English with its rolling fields and farmland. When we visited the museum in Wellington and learned all about New Zealand history we found out why that was. Along with the Maori settlers from the Pacific Islands, Europeans were the next to migrate to New Zealand. In typical colonial fashion the British decided to claim the land as their own and attempted to make it profitable; this involved literally burning huge chunks of the native forest to the ground so that they could plant grass and bring cattle from the UK over for farming. In fact, there are very few animals native to New Zealand; apart from some wingless birds like the Kiwi, everything else has been introduced mainly from Europe – that explains the sheep.
A Whole Different Planet
Scratch beneath the surface though and New Zealand couldn’t be more different from the UK. Along with beautiful beaches, waterfalls, forests, caves and lakes there are dangers lurking; active volcanoes, tsunami threats and frequent earthquakes. We were reminded of this when we visited Wai-O-Tapu with its colourful thermal lakes and geysers and as we hiked the Tongariro Crossing and got up close to an active volcano.
Danger Beneath the Beauty
The most brutal reminder of how different New Zealand really is to the UK was our last stop in Christchurch. We only spent a few hours there before catching a flight out but we were shocked by just how destroyed the city was from the 2011 earthquakes. People had warned us things were bad but that didn’t prepare us for what we saw as we walked the streets: whole sections of the city cordoned off, construction workers everywhere, dozens of empty plots where houses and buildings used to stand and messages and flowers tied to the fence where 115 people died when the CTV building collapsed. The main business district was full of wrecked, abandoned and condemned buildings; in some it looked like the disaster had only just struck – bowls of sugar still sat on the tables in one cafe. It must be awful for the people who lived and still live in Christchurch, we found visiting the city an eerie and sobering experience.
New Zealand Cities
Having lived in London I’m used to the fast pace of city life; bright lights, tall buildings and masses of people. During our month in New Zealand we visited a few cities, including Auckland and the capital, Wellington – none of them came even close to matching London in terms of size or atmosphere. This shouldn’t really have surprised me considering there are more people living in London than there are the whole of New Zealand but I was still left feeling disappointed.
Quality of life
Aside from the destruction in Christchurch, all the places we visited in New Zealand were beautiful and well-cared for. Cities were clean and easy to get around, parks and forests were well-maintained and there were free, clean public toilets and excellent libraries in each town. The weather (particularly in the North Island) allows people to live more of an outdoor lifestyle. We saw people heading to the beach after school and at the weekends, kids playing in waterfalls and families out cycling, picnicking or playing games in the parks. It’s also easy to eat healthily in New Zealand; we found fruit and veg stalls everywhere, particularly while driving in the North Island. Although I don’t eat meat it’s pretty safe to do so in New Zealand as animals are reared ethically.
Before visiting New Zealand I had an idea that the country was pretty wild what with all the extreme sports and the obsession with jumping off and out of things. I was surprised to find that the country actually feels very safe and orderly. Everything is green and clean, people are friendly, helpful and laid back; we frequently stayed in places with no locks on the doors and never felt unsafe. The roads were extremely well maintained and there were signs everywhere reminding you of the speed limits.
New Zealand Travel Advice
We found it pretty easy to travel around New Zealand, even so, here are some tips we picked up from backpacking New Zealand:
- Make use of the i-Site buildings, which you’ll find in every town or city. These provide tourist information, free maps and guidebooks and have staff who can help you find the cheapest hostels and book activities for you.
- Internet can be slow and expensive in New Zealand so look for hostels with free access or visit Public Libraries.
- If you’re on a tight budget don’t eat out. We found food expensive in New Zealand, to save money we cooked our own meals and made sandwiches for lunch.
- Tap water is fine to drink, so refill your water bottles and look for public water fountains which are fairly widespread; we also found free sunscreen on offer at the Pasifika festival in Auckland.
- We had a budget of around £30 per night for accommodation (for two people). We managed to keep to this by researching and comparing hostels online beforehand and staying at Airbnb places – check these out if you’re looking for cheaper options.
- There are so many exciting activities to take on in New Zealand; skydiving, bungee jumping, jet-boating, glacier hiking, boat trips and black water rafting to name a few. None of these come cheap but you can get discount coupons from tourist magazines and leaflets. Check for these at the nearest i-Site before you book any activities and pick up a copy of Arrival magazine at the airport when you land.
- Renting a car will make your stay in New Zealand so much easier, especially in the South Island. Many areas are hard to get to by public transport and you’ll want to stop and take pictures as you drive along.
- If you’re driving check your supermarket receipts as they may give you vouchers to save money on fuel.
- Split your time between the islands; we spent the majority of our trip in the North Island and ended up with only nine days in the South. This meant we had to race around, drive long distances and miss out on visiting many great places.
- Use lots of sunscreen as New Zealand sun is particularly strong. We were also bitten to pieces by mosquitoes and sandflies so use repellent, especially if you’re sat around outside in the evenings.
Our Top 5 Travel Experiences in New Zealand
We did so many new and exciting activities in New Zealand – here are our top five:
1) Skydiving over Abel Tasman National Park
2) Our Rock Boat Cruise of the Bay of Islands
3) Our Heli-Hike on Fox Glacier
4) Visiting the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo
5) Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing