The Backpacker's Guide on How to Explore the Best of New Zealand

New Zealand is a country filled with glaciers and beaches, amazing cities, and striking national parks. This guide shows all the different ways New Zealand can be discovered.


A walking tour is a great way to really take in the stunning New Zealand landscapes while covering some ground. Joining guided walking trails like the Queen Charlotte Track and the Lake Waikaremoana Trail gives you the chance to meet both Kiwis and backpackers, learn more about the area, and have the experience of sleeping in huts and lodges. And let’s not forget how incredible your legs will look by the end of it! Walking may not be the fastest way to get about, but it’s a great way to break up your days, get out in that fresh New Zealand air, and appreciate the striking scenery.

On a bus

Travelling by bus is one of the easiest and most sociable ways to make your way across New Zealand. Bus companies like Stray NZ and Kiwi Experience allow you to hop on and off the coach on selected days, giving you time to explore New Zealand in your own time. Days that you can’t hop off are usually long driving days which are filled with stopovers to top locations, and offer the chance to do some awesome activities.

On a train

Travelling by train is probably the most relaxing way to get around New Zealand. Without the worry of petrol, or whose turn it is to drive, all you have to do is sit back and take in the sights. The TranzAlpine Railway takes you through mesmerising landscapes which feature dense forests, the Waimakariri River and the Alps, all from the comfort of a cushioned seat.

The other great thing about travelling by train is that you can choose to jump off at any stop. Of course you’ll need to make sure that your ticket permits it, and be aware that you may have to buy another ticket to ccontinue your journey if it doesn't.

In a campervan

One of the most popular choices of travel is the good old campervan. With transport, a kitchen, and accommodation in one, you’re bound to cut costs.

There is a misconception that you can indulge in ‘free camping' in New Zealand, and even though there are some areas where you can park up for free, there are many more that you can't. It’s important to look out for ‘No Camping’ zones, as well as making sure that you’re not on private land. Of course, the easiest option is to stay at a campsite, which will still be cheaper than a hostel in most places and will give you a chance to socialise with other campers.  

Getting a decent campervan that won't break down can be a tricky business, but as long as you take your time you'll be fine. An easier and more reliable option is to hire one: Jucy Campervans gives you the option to hire before you go, so that you can have more time to check out New Zealand rather than waste time haggling prices.

On a tour

Of course, if you want the most stress-free trip around New Zealand, joining a tour is the ideal choice. Tours are great for first-time backpackers, anyone who doesn’t want to travel alone, or people who just want to make sure they see and do everything in New Zealand.

A tour group not only covers transport, but also accommodation and activities as well as a guide, who know all the best places to go, see and eat. Tours are also great for all time-frames. If you’re short on time you can just focus on just one of the two islands, with tours like the Northern Explorer and the Southern Explorer, or you can choose a trek that includes your interests, like the Pure Adrenaline tour, which is basically 10 days of wild excursions. If you really want to go all out then an all-rounder tour, like NZ Encompassed, is perfect for covering more or less the whole of New Zealand with lots of activities along the way.

Hostels and accomodation

You can’t cover the length of New Zealand in one day, so unless you’re going by tour or campervan, you’re going to need somewhere to stay. New Zealand is used to backpackers and lots of hostels will expect people to just turn up and see if there are any beds available. Alternatively, you could find an internet cafe and book in advance before you arrive at the new place.

Another option is to get a hostel pass, which will allow you to stay at a hostel chain in different cities, with all of the nights paid for upfront so all you have to do is turn up, and get exploring.