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New Zealand Travel Guide for Backpackers

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Written by: Sam Jones

This guide is absolutely stuffed with useful information about visiting New Zealand. In it, you can find:

  • A fact file, giving you the basic essentials of location, population and culture, as well as travel and visa requirements
  • Some of the top sights to visit during your trip
  • Advice on preparing for the (highly) variable climate
  • Acceptable ettiquette when participating in a Maori Powhiri
  • Anticipated costs, an overview of Kiwi nightlife and tips for staying in touch with the folks back home
  • A breakdown of all the cities to visit on both islands, along with plenty of reasons to check them out
  • An extensive list of attractions to visit throughout the country, from dolhpin-spotting at Mercury Bay to glacier hiking at Franz Josef
  • Highlights of the best extreme sports activities you can do in NZ, including the compulsory bungy jump and zorb
  • Finally, some pointers on how to find work throughout the year, including agriculture, office and hospitality-related jobs

Fact File

Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: Wellington


Location: Oceania, islands in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of Australia
Climate: temperate with sharp regional contrasts
Terrain: predominately mountainous with some large coastal plains
Lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0m
Highest point: Aoraki-Mount Cook 3,754m


Population: 4,295,000 (January 2009 est.)
Nationality: (n) New Zealander(s); (adj) New Zealand
Ethnic groups: European 67.6%, Maori 14.6%, Asian 9.2%, Pacific peoples 6.9%, other 12.1% (2006 census)
Religions: Christian 56%, other 5%, none 35% (2006 census)
Languages: English (official), Maori (official), Sign Language (official)

Visa requirements

UK passport holders are entitled to a 6-month stay in New Zealand without a visa. However, if you want to stay longer or you want to work or study during your visit, you may need to arrange a visa in advance.

Getting there

International airports: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch
Land borders: Damp.

Ideas and things to do

The best thing about New Zealand is that, despite the sheer number of attractions, sights and activities on offer, it’s still a very small country – less than five million residents in total! Between the North and South Islands, we’re convinced you’ll find plenty of stuff to keep you occupied for months – there’s just so much to do there! We’ve narrowed down some of the main attractions for you, to make things easier when you get round to visiting Middle Earth.
Regardless of what floats your boat, whether it’s hiking, climbing, zorbing, wine-tasting, flower-arranging, dolphin-spotting, white-water rafting, shopping or just kicking back and enjoying the culture of another country, New Zealand will inspire you more than you ever thought possible.

Some top things to see in New Zealand

New Zealand – Milford Sound, Fiordland

  • Tongariro National Park, North Island
  • Queenstown, adrenalin capital of the world!
  • The Agrodome and Zorb site, Rotorua
  • The Cadbury factory and Speight’s brewery, Dunedin
  • The wildlife of the Otago Peninsula, South Island
  • The Tranz-Alpine train, South Island
  • Abel Tasman National Park, South Island
  • Lake Taupo, North Island
  • The Bay of Islands, North Island
  • The Remarkables mountain range, South Island
  • The rugged coastline of Milford Sound, South Island
  • Whales and dolphins at Kaikoura, South Island
  • The Sky Tower of Auckland, North Island
  • Wellington, North Island
  • Loads, loads more…

Climate advice

New Zealand is a mountainous country, surrounded by ocean. The ocean environment provides a mild climate with few extremes and a prevailing westerly wind. The mountains together with the westerlies create marked climatic differences especially in rainfall and temperature. Mean annual temperatures range from 15 Celsius north of Auckland where bananas and other tropical fruit can be grown. In the regions below Christchurch in the South island the mean Temperature is 10 Celsius.
The west coast of the South Island experiences heavy rainfall throughout the year and this provides an ideal environment for the growth of dense rainforests. The summer season is during the months December – February, while the winter season falls during June – August. Winter is the wettest season in the North Island, while you’re more likely to get soaked during spring on the west coast of the South Island. Travellers should be prepared with clothing suitable for all weather conditions, which can occur during any season.
During summer, T-shirts and shorts and sun hat are sufficient; however, it is advisable to carry a windproof jacket and thermal underwear in case the conditions change, especially in the mountain ranges at altitudes higher than 1,200 metres above sea level.

Etiquette and stuff

New Zealand is populated with two main cultures: Maori and European. Europeans are locally referred to as Pakeha, the Maori word for white person. The Maori population have large communities which focus on the Marae (meeting place or village) and Iwi (tribe). When visiting New Zealand it is an extremely rewarding experience to participate in Marae activities. There are important protocols to follow during a Marae visit. Visitors are welcomed onto the Marae in a ceremony called a Powhiri.
The formalities of a Powhiri are as follows: visitors assemble outside the Marae entrance, and a woman from the Marae sings a chant to invite you in. Women enter first, followed by the men. Seating will be provided and the men take the front seats. From this point women are not permitted to speak openly. A male elder of the Tribe will introduce himself; explain about the Marae, its history and his ancestors. After he has spoken, members of his tribe will stand and assemble behind him and sing a wiata (song) to give support to the words he has spoken.
A senior male member of the visitor’s party will be invited to speak. His speech will include details about where he and his party originate from and his genealogy. He will also pay respect to the ancestors from the tribe, and the people living there today. He will also pay respect to the Marae buildings and land. After he has spoken it is expected that other visitors will stand behind him and sing a wiata to support his speech. Following this a member of the visitor’s party will place a koha (gift) on the ground, to be received by their hosts.
The visitors will then be asked to come forward, form a line and walk past the hosts, who will also be in line. As each person walks past the hosts he will be greeted with a ‘hongi’ and a few words. A hongi is the touching of noses and forehead. This symbolises a meeting of minds and the sharing of life breath. Woman, generally, do not hongi; instead a kiss on the cheek is offered. To conclude the ceremony the guests are invited to share a meal with the hosts. This concludes the ceremony and now both visitors and hosts become one people for the duration of the hui (meeting).
Note: this ceremony is spoken in the Maori language and therefore the visitors should enlist the assistance of a male who speaks Maori to accept the welcome.
Finally, when in New Zealand make sure you don’t sit on tables as this is extremely offensive to Maoris although no-one (including Maoris) seems to know why.

Ideas of cost

As a very rough guide, you’ll get by on less than £32 a day if you stay in hostels, drink water, cook pasta and make your own fun. Double this if you plan to eat out, party hard and jump off things. Most backpackers end up somewhere between the two.

Nightlife and going out

Every city has nightclubs; smaller towns will have a pub (public house) where alcohol is served. Police do not allow people to drink alcohol before driving or cycling and severe penalties are in place. To avoid being prosecuted for drinking and driving, walk or hire a taxi for transport.
To drink legally in premises licensed to sell alcohol you must carry photo identity to prove you are 18 or older. A New Zealand Pub Card, current passport or photo driver’s licence are the only accepted identity cards. It is against the law for the owners of licensed premises to serve intoxicated people (although the New Zealand law is not clear as to what defines intoxication).
During winter, the ski fields and associated accommodations provide exciting daytime and evening events for visitors to those areas. Queenstown in the South Island and Taupo, Thames, Tauranga and Rotorua in the North Island abound with nightclubs and activities specifically designed to create a friendly party atmosphere for tourists.

Staying healthy

There are no vaccinations required for travellers and the same rules for food and drink apply as in the UK. Just avoid drinking untreated water when you’re out hiking, especially on the North Island. Use your common sense and you’re laughing.

Staying in touch

Internet access is readily available in New Zealand. Internet cafes and most hostels have computers available for their guests; minimal charges may apply.
Cell phones are also commonplace in New Zealand; choose either a prepay or monthly contract. The two main service providers are Vodafone and NZ Telecom. Off the main highways and in remote areas service coverage may be out of range.
Telecom NZ operates a landline service throughout New Zealand. Public telephones are available in larger towns and cities; payment is made using coins or pre-pay phone cards. Cards for landline or mobile cell phones can be purchased from supermarkets and service stations (Petrol/fuel stations)
Towns and cities have a good postal service which includes post offices and public mail boxes. You can arrange for mail to be redirected to a post office of your choice when travelling. A letter will be delivered anywhere in New Zealand within 3 days, with an additional fast post option for urgent mail.

The New Zealand Islands

The North Island

Go there because… it’s slightly warmer than its southern counterpart, and plays host to the larger communities of Auckland and Wellington. There are some fantastic attractions on the North Island, some only a couple of hours from the cities – make sure to visit the Waitomo caves, and to take the time to travel north from Auckland to see the Bay of Islands. The large townships of Rotorua and Taupo are a good half-way point between Auckland and the capital, and don’t miss the opportunity to check out the Tongariro National Park for some of the most astounding scenery you’ll ever see.


The South Island

Go there because… it’s more rugged than the sub-tropical North, and was ranked (by National Geographic Magazine, no less) as the second most amazing place on Earth – only the Norwegian Fiords came higher. The communities of Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin are the big tourist spots to visit, but taking the time to see the spectacular west coast – especially the glaciers – should be so high on your agenda that it’s falling off the top. There’s definitely a slower pace of life on South Island (so Queenstown’s reputation as ‘adrenalin capital of the world’ is a little unusual), but that could easily be put down to the remote nature of the townships – and the 50 million sheep.
As far as activities go, you’re able to enjoy nearly everything you can think of on both islands. Zorbing, however, will only be found in Rotorua on the North Island, while the glacier hiking is only available on the west coast of the South Island.

Towns and Cities in New Zealand

North Island

It’s New Zealand’s largest city with a diverse landscape of volcanic hills, bays, beaches and islands. Also, visiting the Auckland Harbour Bridge and the Sky Tower are both musts.
This is the most easterly city in the world, close to miles of untouched beaches. Catch some waves or just chill out on New Zealand’s top surf beach, Wainui Beach.
Mount Maunganui
This seaside town is well-known for its awesome beaches and surf culture. Participate in the $8 challenge which involves climbing Mt Maunganui, boogie boarding and a swim in the local hot pools…
Napier has been affectionately dubbed as the Art Deco jewel of the world due to the abundance of buildings that have a funky style architecture.
Paihia (Bay of Islands)
It’s home to the real and raw Ngawha Mineral Hot Springs. It also boasts 144 islands, huge kauri forests, clear waters and a unique chance to experience the Maori culture.
It’s the geothermal and cultural centre of New Zealand. Try luging, zorbing or take a dip in a hot spring. Close to Rotorua, visit Karangahake Scenic Reserve for awesome views, two swing bridges and a native bush-clad gorge.
It’s the action capital of the north. Go bungy jumping, skydiving or walk the Tongariro crossing. Also check out the awesome views of surrounding volcanoes from Tongariro National Park – including Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.
It’s home to New Zealand’s third largest waterfall, the Natural Bridge and Ruakuri reserve. Also visit its exceptional limestone caves, home to hundreds of glow worms, and try out adventurous caving activities and black-water rafting.
New Zealand’s capital city. Nestled between a beautiful harbour and forested hills, Wellington is home to NZ’s largest cultural attraction, the Te Papa Museum (which is free to visit). Plus, you’ll find some of the best nightlife on the North Island.

South Island

You can take a hot air balloon ride or go for a spot of whale-watching. Celebrated as ‘The Garden City’ for its many floral parkways, there are aren’t many prettier places in NZ than Christchurch…
This is NZ’s most famous student town, well-known for its Scottish heritage, Speight’s brewery, chocolate factory and trips out to the Otago Peninsula for penguin and albatross viewing.
Franz Josef
You can hike the fastest moving glacier in the world, Franz Josef, which is rated in the top three activities by Kiwi Experience passengers.
New Zealand’s southernmost city is a friendly place, and the starting point for flights or ferries to Stewart Island.
It’s the best coastal wildlife region in the world. Go swimming with dolphins, whale watching or seal spotting whilst munching on Kaikoura’s famous fish and chips.
You can indulge in a complementary wine tasting experience in New Zealand’s finest wine region. You can also explore the Abel Tasman National Park on foot or by kayak.
It’s the adventure capital of the world! Skydive over Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps, do the Kawarau Bridge bungy or hit the slopes for snowboarding and skiing. If it’s adrenalin-fuelled, it’s in Queenstown…
Wanaka boasts snowy mountains, beautiful lakes, trekking and water sports.
You can experience horse trekking or jet boating on the scenic Buller Gorge. Other local highlights include Cape Foulwind seal colony, rugged beach walks and the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki.

Attractions to visit in New Zealand

North Island

Bridge Climb and Bungy, Auckland
It’s one of the few bridges in the world you can climb all the way up before jumping off again. The climb and bungy run as two separate tours, so the less thrill-inclined can still take the 90-minute journey up the bridge and back. Choose between looking at the view and your own feet.
Hot springs, Ngawha / Rotorua
Nothing beats lying in the warmth of a thermally heated spa, especially in the chilly New Zealand winter. Whether you’re in the warmer Northland region near Ngawha or over the sulphur-scented thermal activity of Rotorua, the hot springs are a great place to relax, to recoup, and to socialise before planning your next bungy or skydive.
Maori cultural experiences, Paihia / Cape Reinga
This is the closest you’ll ever get to a real live haka. With the food laid on and authentic Maori entertainment provided, the Maori cultural experiences are a world away from traditional British fare. If you’ve got time, the day trip to Cape Reinga is a must-do, as it’s an area very sacred to the Maoris.
Dolphin Spotting, Mercury Bay
Rather than going out on a packed tourist ship of other dolphin-hunters, you can hire a kayak to commune peacefully with the dolphins in the natural habitat of a marine reserve. The reserve is also well-suited for swimmers, divers and hikers – it’s an area of outstanding natural beauty and is well worth a visit!
Sandboarding, Cape Reinga
Surfing on water is so last summer. All the cool kids are skimming down 85m dunes on glorified planks of wood – it’s dryer, it’s faster and it’s easier to pick up, so you’ve got no excuse to try it out! It’s quite a lot like snowboarding, apparently – except there’s substantially less risk of frostbite. More chafing, mind you – that sand gets everywhere.
Zorbing, Rotorua
Even though there are zorb sites in the US, the UK and Australia, this is the original spot where it all started. For those of you who still don’t know, zorbing is the act of climbing into a giant inflatable ball and rolling down a hill. Choose between a dry and a soaking wet ride. Either way, you come out with a new perception of reality. And you feel quite dizzy.
Luging, Rotorua
Go there because… for cheap and cheerful fun, there isn’t much that beats climbing into a tiny plastic soapbox on wheels before racing your friends along a choice of three steep downhill tracks. What’s more, there’s even a chairlift to get you back to the top of the track, so there’s none of that boring walking stuff to slow you down.
Agrodome, Rotorua
It’s a farmyard theme park! Seriously! Have your photo taken in front of Titan, the giant fibreglass sheep, or attend a sheep beauty pageant – it’s up to you! There are some exciting attractions for the adrenalin junkies, mind you: the Bungy and Freefall Xtreme are all good diversions while your Gran is looking through the countless baskets of wool.
Black-water Rafting, Waitomo
Instead of walking or crawling through the world-class glow-worm caves at Waitomo, why not hop in an inner tube and leap into an underground river instead? Begin by floating serenely along limestone tunnels, glow-worms pulsing softly overhead, before plunging down rapids and underground waterfalls – it’s a surprising rush and well worth the extra cash.
Caving, Waitomo
The Waitomo caves were featured in two David Attenborough series: Life in the Undergrowth and the spectacular Planet Earth. Nothing compares to walking under a glow-worm studded cavern ceiling – it’s like being stood a metre away from the night sky. Choose between caving and guided walking tours – both are great and offer tons of glow-wormy goodness.
Horse-trekking, Taupo / Rangitukia
Rangitukia is the first place on the planet to see the sun each day. Stay in an isolated farmhouse before horse-trekking across beaches, through hills and up mountains. While in Taupo you can explore the ‘Craters of the Moon’: an amazing area of geothermal activity full of bubbling craters, mud pools and steam vents.
Skydiving, Taupo
The skydiving over Lake Taupo offers the most incredible views of the Tongariro National Park (arguably one of the most dramatic and beautiful areas of the North Island) and New Zealand’s widest lake. Choose between 12,000 and 15,000ft for the ultimate adrenalin rush, then pay extra to have a private cameraman follow you all the way!
Hiking, Tongariro National Park
Some believe the Tongariro Crossing is the best one-day hike in New Zealand, and some argue it’s the best in the world. Either way, the 17km trip past mountains, volcanoes and alpine lakes is one of the most rewarding and beautiful experiences you can have in NZ.
Art Deco architecture, Napier
Napier vies with Miami for the title of World’s Most Art Deco City, and with good reason. With many of Napier’s buildings constructed in the ’30s, the town has a unique style and form – it’s definitely one to visit if you’re an architecture buff or urban photographer, and for those who’re less interested, there’s a great beach and bustling town centre.
Surfing, Gisborne
It’s been one of the NZ surf centres since the 1960s, and there are various spots nearby that offer a challenge to surfers of all abilities. Waikanae is a great beach for learners, while Wainui beach is an ideal location for all surfers. Makorori Point, 8km from Gisborne, is a perfect surf hangout – there’s a shallow reef system and two- to three-metre waves. Perfect!
Lodge on the beach, Te Kaha
You won’t find a more hospitable place to stop at than Te Kaha Lodge, thanks to the kindness of the O’Brien family and friends. Take the dogs for a walk on the beach, go fishing and enjoy a fantastic home-cooked dinner (usually with fresh seafood caught that day). Spend the evening relaxing in the hot tub with a beer watching the sun set. Why would you ever want to leave?
White-water rafting, River Valley
White-water rafting is great fun wherever you are, but rafting on the Grade 4/5 Rangitikei River is something special. The River Valley company are the only group on the river, so it’ll never be overcrowded, and they own the River Valley lodge a little downstream. It’s easily the most fun you can have on the river!
Capital Culture and Nightlife, Wellington
New Zealand’s capital city (although not the biggest) has a fantasically relaxed feel to it. With great restaurants, fantastic clubs and plenty of stuff to keep you busy with during the day, Wellington is one of the best cities to spend time in. You can plan for a couple of days, but it’s quite easy to spend a fortnight in Wellington and still have tons to do!
Lord of the Rings, Wellington / Matamata
If you consider yourself a fan, you can’t go to New Zealand without visiting at least one of the film sets. Fortunately, Wellington is home to plenty of spots, including Rivendell and Minas Tirith, while Matamata, further north, was the location for the filming of Hobbiton – the hobbit holes are still in the hillside if you fancy checking out Bag End!

South Island

Wine tasting, Nelson
Nelson is one of NZ’s premier winemaking regions, having won multiple international accolades and awards. Winemaking isn’t just business in Nelson – it’s art. You’re also right next to the Abel Tasman National Park, so go and indulge in some awesome hiking or kayaking. We recommend trying the outdoor activities before the wine, mind you.
Seal-spotting, Westport / Kaikoura
Seeing seals in the wild is much more dramatic and beautiful than caged in a zoo. Both Westport (west coast) and Kaikoura (east) have fantastic seal-spotting opportunities close to the road (in fact, the Tranz-Coastal train passes Kaikoura, and you’ll find seals slumped on rocks next to the railway line!). A great opportunity that’s not to be missed!
Poo Pub, Lake Mahinapua
Well, it’s called the Poo Pub. Surely you’ve got to check out a place with a name like that! Frequently running fancy dress nights and very fond of Kiwi Experience passengers, the Poo Pub is one of those novelty places that always looks good on a traveller’s itinerary. A traditional west coast pub with plenty of food and alcohol to keep backpackers running.
Kayaking, Lake Mahinapua
Nothing beats kayaking on a New Zealand lake when surrounded by thick rainforest and snow-capped mountains. Once you’ve finished, you can return to the beach for a barbeque with the rest of your mates, courtesy of the local west coast tavern – the Poo Pub!
Glacier Hiking, Franz Josef / Fox
It’s been consistently rated one of the top activities in New Zealand, as the NZ glaciers are uniquely set amongst rainforest-covered mountains. Franz Josef is the more popular glacier, as it’s steeper and has more dramatic icefalls. The community of Fox, however, is much smaller, and the Fox Glacier trek is a gentler hike.
Skiing, Wanaka / Queenstown
New Zealand’s South Island, mid-winter, has skiing at an international level and quality. Whether it’s the less popular sites near Lake Wanaka or the busy slopes of the Remarkables overlooking Queenstown, there are ski sites available for all ages and abilities. Just make sure you get insurance – backpacking with a broken leg isn’t as easy as it sounds!
Bungy Jump, Queenstown
The AJ Hackett bungy site near Queenstown was the World’s first ever bungy spot. The Kawarau Bridge spans one of the several river gorges around the town, and you’ve got the options of a regular jump, dunking your head in the river or being fully immersed. It’s the classic New Zealand experience, so it’s not a question of if you want to do it – it’s when.
White-water Rafting, Queenstown
The Shotover river is home to some of the most infamous rafting in New Zealand, including the 170m pitch black Oxenbridge tunnel. Other memorable rapids include the Rocks Garden, Sharks Fin, Pinball and Cascade Rapid. They’ve all got such peaceful names, haven’t they?
Skydiving, Queenstown
Whilst skydiving on the North Island offers views of Lake Taupo and the Tongariro Park, skydiving over Queenstown lets you see the alpine resort in all its glory, nestled on the shore of Lake Wakatipu (NZ’s deepest) and set by the stunning ski-slopes of the Remarkables mountain range. If you’ve got the cash, it’s not an opportunity you want to miss.
Nature treks, Otago
You might be lucky enough to see an albatross in flight – it’s the only place on inhabited land that albatross nest, and there’s nothing more inspirational than a 3.5m wingspan swooping overhead. Other wildlife includes penguins, fur seals and sea lions in their natural habitat.
Speight’s and Cadbury’s, Dunedin
It’s a city with both a brewery and a chocolate factory – how could things get any better? Speight’s Brewery (the ‘Pride of the South’) and the Cadbury factory, responsible for supplying New Zealand (and much of Australia), run daily tours, so if you buy tickets for the two of them you’ll get a discount. Yum!
Hostel on the beach, Curio Bay
You can’t really go any further south than this unless you really like the cold. Expect to see dolphins, sea lions, penguins, fur seals and plenty of other local wildlife.
Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park
It’s been described by countless guests as the most beautiful part of New Zealand – and that’s saying something! Although it’s likely you’ll be seeing it in the rain (they get rather a lot of it), the sight of sheer mountains crashing down into the Tasman Sea is a beautiful and haunting sight that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Whale-watching, Christchurch / Kaikoura
Both Christchurch and Kaikoura regularly play host to whales, occasionally even managing to attract 20m sperm whales. The coastline is particularly rich in nutrients, and as a result the east coast of South Island is packed with marine life. You can also expect to see dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins and fur seals.
Dolphin-watching / swimming, Kaikoura
Swimming with dolphins is rated one of the most-wanted activities on plenty of backpacker itineraries, and Kaikoura is the best spot in NZ to take advantage of this opportunity. Bear in mind, however, that dolphins are more interested in boats than swimmers, so you’ll probably get a better view if you stay out of the water!
Hot Air Ballooning, Christchurch
The Canterbury plains are a fantastic location for ballooning – they’ve got both the perfect geography and the ideal climate. You’ll have views stretching from the eastern Canterbury coast to the peaks of the Southern Alps in the west, and it’s the most peaceful way of seeing New Zealand from the air.

Extreme sports and adventurous activities in New Zealand

New Zealand is, without a doubt, the extreme sports capital of the world. They invented bungy jumping, zorbing, and plenty of other risky, dangerous, and plain suicidal past-times. We think it’s because they’ve got so many mountains – once you’ve climbed all the way up them, the only real option left is to jump off them. The real question is – where are the sites, and can they be fitted into your trip?
1. Bungy jump – Queenstown
The appeal of bungy jumping is a constant mystery to most folks. It’s a fancy rubber band and a very long way to fall. The AJ Hacketts jump site near Queenstown was the world’s first bungy site, and has been in business for almost 20 years. At 43 metres it isn’t the tallest, but it’s a piece of history you can’t miss out on. (NZ$165/£63 per jump)
2. Zorbing – Rotorua
This is where the latest New Zealand phenomenon began. With sites in Britain, Australia and the States, the desire to roll down a hill in a ball has clearly been a long-buried facet of the human psyche just waiting to break free. Wet and dry rides available to those who enjoy a little variety. (Depending on ride type and number of participants, prices begin NZ$49 / £20 for the first ride, $40 / £16 for a second)
3. Jetboating – Queenstown
Queenstown hosts plenty of high-speed sports that don’t involve falling from things – one of their most popular is a jetboat trip up the Shotover canyon , including their trademark 360 spin to put your adrenaline levels through the roof. (NZ$109/£43 per ride)
4. Scuba diving – Marlborough Sound
On the northern coast of the south island, Marlborough Sound is considered New Zealand’s best dive sites. With cave systems near Nelson and wreck diving in the Sound, it’s the total opposite of the Barrier Reef of nearby Australia. Great diving can also be found at Kaikoura, north of Christchurch. (Prices from NZ$225/£89 for a one-day guided dive tour)
5. Skydiving – Nelson / Taupo
Regardless of which island you’re exploring, there’s always somewhere a little bit higher to jump from. Various tour operators offer both solo and tandem skydiving, and the Nelson and Taupo sites offer the best of each island. At Nelson you’re granted unbelievable views of the Southern Alps and of the Abel Tasman National Park, while Taupo allows you the vista of the Tongariro National Park, complete with Mount Doom, and an unprecedented view of Lake Taupo, NZ’s largest lake. (Prices at Taupo start at NZ$249 / £98 for a 12,000ft jump; NZ$339 / £132 for 15,000ft)
6. Rock Climbing – Auckland / Arthur’s Pass
As you’d expect from a country with more mountains than common sense, there are rock-climbing sites abound all over the country. Auckland will be easily accessible to most backpackers, while Arthur’s Pass, although a little more tricky to get to, offers a higher altitude and the substantially better scenery of the Southern Alps. What better way to get high down under? (Climbing trips usually need to be self-organised; Arthur’s Pass in particular is recommended for experienced climbers only)
7. Caving – Nelson / Waitomo
It’s been mentioned already, but it must be stressed that the caving in New Zealand is fantastic. Whether it’s black-water rafting or regular caving/canyoning at Waitomo, the glow-worms will provide you with a memory you’ll never forget, while the Takaka cave systems at Nelson are among the longest and deepest in the world – perfect for the budding explorers out there. (Waitomo – NZ$95 / £37 for the Black Labyrinth Tour; Nelson trips are self-organised)
8. Mountain Biking – Auckland / Rotorua / Queenstown
An alternative to descending a mountain that doesn’t involve a terminal velocity or a parachute (for a change), NZ offers unparalleled mountain biking in the exotic forests of Auckland, the challenge circuits of Rotorua or the alpine ridges of Queenstown. Whatever style pushes your pedal, there’ll be something there for you. (NZ$75 / £29 for 3-day mountain bike hire; NZ$120 / £47 for 3-day ‘performance’ bike hire)
9. Hiking – Everywhere
If you don’t tramp a single route while you’re in New Zealand, you can pretty much consider it a wasted trip. Even going down to the shops in a rural area feels like the beginning of a great expedition, and the fantastic thing about this country is that everywhere has something to offer, not just the national parks. The real hikers out there should be taking the multiple-day trips in Milford or Tongariro, but there are plenty of day trips and tours to secluded spots that’ll still allow you get as close to nature as you feel necessary. Toilets not necessarily included.

Find a job in New Zealand

Because New Zealand is a natural half-way stopping point for those backpackers making their way round the world, it follows that quite a few travellers are running low on cash by the time they get there!
Working when you’re backpacking, however, isn’t just about earning enough cash to buy a ticket to your next destination. It’s an experience to work in another country, whether you’re helping to harvest berries near Taupo (ideally between September and December) or assisting on a sheep farm on the Canterbury plains, you’ll be able to go home and bore all your friends senseless with countless tales of what New Zealand is really like (those casual backpackers just don’t have a clue, do they?). It’s exciting, it’s different, and it can earn you money! What are you waiting for?

Harvest hilarity

There are crops growing in NZ all year round, so you’ll never find yourself with nowhere to earn. Particularly popular are Blenheim, 30k south of Picton, and Tauranga, found near Taupo on the North Island. Tauranga is well known for the quality of its Kiwi fruit, while Blenheim has some of the most prestigious vineyards in the country. We highly recommend fruit-picking as summer work, as you are paid in proportion to the amount you pick, while in winter the weather is a lot worse and the pay less lucrative.
Another great spot to visit is Hastings – between the months of October and June there are approximately 80,000 job vacancies that need filling. The peak time for seasonal work is mid-Feburary to early May; it’s the apple-picking season, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a job, since there a projected 50,000 extra workers needed. The work will be hot and tough, but a good work ethic could see you earning a fair bit of cash. In the winter months of June to September, jobs are available, although they’re harder to locate, and you’ll probably be required to stay until the end of winter. Rather than picking, you’ll be pruning and weeding, so don’t expect anything too glamorous.
Harvest work does, of course, depend on the weather. As a general rule, Kiwi summers are hot and pleasant, but always be prepared for a sharp downturn in the number of available jobs if the weather gets worse.

Help a hostel

It might not be the most glamorous way to pass your time, but you’ll often find hostels offering a free bed for the night for anybody willing to muck in with the cleaning and day-to-day running of the establishment. It’s a great way to operate – you mop some floors, or answer the phone a few times, and you get a free night (saving you anything from NZ$20 upwards)! No need to do anything unnecessary, like working too hard or actually having to leave the building to earn something.
If you’re looking to get some free nights at a hostel, it’s often the smaller, family-run businesses that are more willing and flexible – some of the chain hostels can have stricter regulations about who does what, so find yourself a small and cosy hostel without too many staff, have a chat with them at the front desk and see what comes of it!

Hospitality on holiday

“Working in a hotel is very rewarding and for someone like me who has never worked in hospitality before, you will be surprised how quickly you pick up skills, confidence and knowledge in the hectic industry. Many of my work experiences from New Zealand have also been valuable in post-university job applications since I have been home.” Nina Chell
Restaurant, hotel and bar work are fairly standard the world over. Whether it’s a local pub in Queenstown or a four-star hotel in Auckland, there are jobs aplenty in the hospitality industry. Experience always helps when applying for these, since employers are often looking for staff willing to start yesterday and if you can jump in at the deep end you’ll have the edge on any other applicants – why not get yourself a part-time bar job in the UK in order to learn the ropes?

Farmyard frolics

We know that sounds like a porn title, and we don’t care, so you can stop sniggering. One of the best ways to experience genuine Kiwi life is to stay with an NZ family on a farmstay. Available to organize through the WWoOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) or FHiNZ (Farm Helpers in New Zealand), it’s easy to sort out staying a week or more on a Kiwi farm, assisting with livestock, harvest and construction work. The positions are generally unpaid, but in return for your assistance, your host will supply, at minimum, food and a bed, so it’s a great way to massively reduce the cost of your living expenses as you move round.

Office options

This is only a practical option when you’re in one of the larger cities of Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch. Although positions will be available in smaller communities, it’ll be tough to track them down and much harder to get them. However, office temp work can frequently pay more than bar work, so it’s definitely worth a look if you’re going to be in the cities for a while. One of the easiest ways of nailing a position is to apply through an office temping agency – once you’ve left your details with them, city businesses will ask the agency for the names of applicants suitable for roles like data-entry or call-centre work. Ensure the agency knows who you are by chasing them up and calling them regularly.
It isn’t really recommended to bank on finding a job in the extreme sports industry – although it’s big business in New Zealand, there’s a lot more competition than in most fields. Even off-peak, it’s very difficult to find a job in Queenstown – one story in the local paper followed a woman that had previously managed two international five-star hotels, yet was still unable to find a job working in hospitality in the resort in mid-winter! If you’re desperate to work in Queenstown, get there early and off-peak – spring and autumn are the best times. Be keen – follow up applications with phone calls, but avoid being plain pushy.
Don’t get too downhearted if you can’t find a job in your first 24 hours of searching – there will be plenty of other people in your situation – vacancies will come and go daily, so be sure to keep on top of the local jobseekers office and all the noticeboards you can find on the Internet. The city hostels, like Auckland Central, actually have an NZ Job Search centre inside the building, so you’ve really got no excuse not to be completely up-to-date with all the latest offers. Whatever happens, don’t forget that you’re in New Zealand to have fun, not to work – if you find yourself working your third thirty-hour week in a month, you need to get out and start bungy-jumping from bridges as soon as possible.

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