A car (A rental one will do), some walking shoes (or trainers if your ill-prepared like me) some form of map or GPS (or compass if you’re a hard-core traveller) and a massive sense of adventure!! That is all that is needed for an epic road trip in New Zealand. Enough time and a bit of money is also good- but we can worry about that boring stuff later!
So the first brilliant thing you should know about New Zealand making it an absolutely perfect place for a road trip is that it is equally beautiful in both summer and winter! Whether your into week long or day hikes or just scenic lookouts that you can pull up to in the car, it has a diverse and massive amount of incredible scenery that can be admired all year round- in both the glorious summer sunshine and the snowy winter months!
And the second thing that you should know that will hopefully seal the deal on the road tripping status, is that New Zealand really isn’t that big!! Although it is spread across two islands, the travel times and distances between each of the major cities and points of interest is much less then say road tripping across Australia (where, as you probably know, it takes 11 painful hours on the freeway just to get from Melbourne to Sydney) or north central, or south America which you really need a sizeable amount of time to cover. Making NZ the perfect place to try out your first road trip, or for old hands at living on the road a walk in the park…
So let’s give you some ideas, tips (and hopefully, fingers crossed, lots of inspiration) to start your road tripping planning off…
OK Where to begin? ..
Well most people either start their trip up in Auckland in the north island, or Christchurch in the South Island. Both cities are the largest of their islands and have a large influx of backpackers and plenty of hostels to find others who are ready to get cracking and on the move. And what I also found is that unless your planning for a mad few weeks of intense shopping then both these cities don’t have that much that you can’t cover in a few days. Auckland- good for cafes on the waterfront, cute surrounding islands, lots of extinct volcanoes, and pretty parks, and Christchurch with an interesting but unfortunate history of earthquakes to discover but is still very much currently “under construction.” So most people are keen to put their shoes on and get exploring…
Why not just do a “Kiwi experience” or similar bus tour..?
After being treated to the most breathtaking sunsets (I mean serious oranges, reds and pinks) over the mountains whilst we were on route to the hostel for the night, stumbling across beautiful waterfalls at the side of the road and being able to capture all the surrounding beauty by sticking my go pro out of the window whenever I felt like it, the best scenery that I saw in New Zealand was 100% that of the untouched wilderness and rugged coastlines that the roads just happened to wind through. Therefore, to be able to stop whenever we liked take a picture (or three) which happened at least every hour, pull over to pick up the most hilarious hitch hikers (most of which are local New Zealanders), or to just follow a sign to a lake or a viewpoint that will probably have the most understated views ..EVER… structured, organised bus travel just doesn’t cut it when you need freedom to enjoy New Zealands natural beauty.
And without you thinking I’m totally against tours such as the Kiwi experience I did meet a lots of backpackers and travellers in hostels who did these tours, and of course I asked them how they found it, from which I got mixed replies, but the large consensus being if your big into partying and being lazy and hung-over then they are great and super easy. Of course they covered all the main sights, but the authentic off the beaten track viewpoints and natural wonders I asked if they had seen, most had never heard of or were asleep on the bus because they were so hung-over from the night before… disappointing!
How easy are the road to navigate ?…
Other then having epic highway names, such as the “forgotten world highway”, it’s a pretty difficult place to get lost seen as there is only one road going to each place and then the same one going straight through and out the other side. Even the roads in the south island such as “arthurs pass” which chop through the middle of the mountains and dramatically changing landscapes, are in pristine conditions, and in mid winter very rarely get closed.
But In-case you do happen to get lost… not to fear, as kiwis are the politest and most helpful people I have ever met! In the supermarket when I was buying groceries, the checkout lady noticed my Australian travel card and asked me how my adventure had been going so far and where I was from ect..! The guy behind us in the queue (who would normally be so mad for the hold up by now if we were in England) joined in the conversation and exclaimed how pleased he was that we were enjoying our adventure in his country, and even went as far as to offer his number incase we got into any bother as there was snow forecasted for the evening! He was a retired mechanic, with a heart of gold and not only made my day but proved to be a perfect example of the kindness of the Kiwi’s.
Suppose I should get back to the boring stuff and say a few words on how much money you preferably need and approximately the right amount of time to see everything….?
Well heres a good example if nothing else I’ve said yet has inspired you…I spent about $3500 (AU dollars) in 2 months for food, hostels (with a few nights couch surfing), the hire car with another backpacker, and a few boozy nights out. As well as all that my money covered, paragliding in Queenstown, flying in a helicopter on a scenic tour over Milford sound, as well as seeing all the main sights, discovering real middle earth (other than Hobbiton– sorry all disappointed LoTR fans), walking to glaciers, fumbling around the in dark glow worm caves and taking a day trip to an active marine volcano (hands down the best moment of my entire trip).
Travel is all about freedom and spontaneity.