This is part 2 of our Backpackers Guide to New Zealand, we recommend you read part one first.
You are about to exit the plane and set foot on New Zealand ground for the first time in your life. Maybe you did a stopover (which I highly recommend) in some Asian city and already explored the world a little bit. But before you can get started having one Kiwi adventure after another, you need to establish some sort of life in New Zealand.
You will start at Auckland International Airport (unless you had a domestic flight somewhere else but not many people do that) and now you need to get to town. The best option is the 16$ Bus that departs right at the Terminal because Taxi fares are surprisingly expensive. I recommend booking a nice Hostel for about five days. We had seven days but we were really lazy in the beginning so it was too much time to be honest. Take a day off to relax, cure your jet lag and have a walk down Queen Street. I personally did not enjoy Auckland that much but if I had to recommend a place to see, I would send you to Mount Eden for a view at the skyline.
Lets get down to business. If you do Work & Travel now is the time to take care of all the admin stuff. I will not go into detail about bank accounts and tax numbers because there is many resources about that out there but make sure to get the paperwork done as soon as possible. When booking a hostel you should also check if they can give you a proof of address because you will need that to open a bank account. The next days should be used to plan a general route for your trip (although I do not recommend to plan any details because rule number one in NZ is that plans always change). If you plan to buy a car, you should do that as well, which brings us to our next topic.
There is all kinds of ways to get around the two islands that make up New Zealand. Very early we decided to buy a little van for our journey so I can only really go into detail about that, but I will try to cover every possible way of transportation.
One of the most popular ways to get around New Zealand (especially for shorter journeys) is by getting a bus pass. There is basically two kinds of bus journeys. One option is a traditional long distance bus system, where you buy hours or trips and then can go wherever those busses go. Alternatively, companies like Kiwi Experience or Stray offer special bus routes with designated stops and optional activities. The advantage is that you will mostly stay together with the same group and easily get to know the people on there. You do, however, lose a lot of flexibility, although you can decide to stay at a destination longer and then join one of the next busses that come by.
Home on Wheels
Just like us, many people choose to travel in a car or van. If you see an old Honda Odyssey or Toyota Estima chances are high that you find backpackers inside. Traveling by car gives you the great possibility to go wherever you feel like and even on a rainy day I would never trade my sleeping bag in the back for a warm hostel room. Things like going to Hotwater Beach at midnight or exploring the Fenian Caves that were literally at the end of civilization simply wouldn’t be possible. The only thing you need to be aware of is that wild camping is illegal in New Zealand (because of many misbehaving backpackers, please be nice and clean up after yourself) so you always have to stay on a campground.
For a short trip, renting a van or small camper might be the best option, however many people prefer to buy a car or van instead. There is many tricks to save money and also trouble when buying a car. First of all, you need to be aware of how seasonal the car market is. In spring and summer, when most travelers arrive, backpacker cars can be twice their market value, if you find one at all. Watch out for scam or overpriced vehicles. I talked to so many people that had problems with their overpriced cars, everything from broken radiators to serious oil leaks. Make sure have a mechanic check out the car before you buy it (and don’t got to the one recommended by the car dealer of course.
In autumn or winter on the other hand, everybody wants to sell their car but nobody wants to have them. The result is that backpacker cars are super cheap and some people even struggle to sell them. I have heard stories of people presenting their car on a market for a 50$ fee with literally nobody showing up. We were not aware of that cycle and ended up losing about 1500$. What we ended up doing to get a car at all is take a train to get outside of Auckland and go to a regular car dealer. The advantage was that he didn’t have any experience with exploiting backpackers so we bought an empty van for a fair price and then simply put a bed in ourselves. You can check out a video about our van here.
I met many people that traveled all across New Zealand by hitchhiking. Thanks to the incredible friendliness of Kiwis (yes, thats what New Zealanders call themselves) you are actually able to get picked up quite quickly. I had a coworker once (Kiwi guy in his late 30s) that warned me about hitchhiking though. He said that often people get robbed, kidnapped or even raped. You should definitely keep an eye out and especially as a girl I would not recommend doing it alone. Don’t get into a strangers car if the person seems a little shady, no matter how desperate you are to get a ride.
Although I feel like it’s mainly for people during their midlife crisis, you see surprisingly many traveling by bicycle. It is by far the cheapest option and definitely an experience on its own but you would have to love biking for that. Some roads were so steep that even our little van had trouble getting up there and I could not imagine doing that with a bike.
Of course you can also use all of these options. Many people started on a bus, got a bicycle to ride to work in one city and then rented a camper to go on a trip. Feel free to choose whatever suits your needs. In part three of our Backpackers Guide to New Zealand I will give helpful tips about living and working in New Zealand and how Social Media can help you on your journey.