I spent more than a year in this country – living in Auckland, walking a fair amount of the Te Araroa (walking trail through the entire country) mostly in the North Island, then living in Christchurch and hitchhiking a lot around the South Island. It’s been almost a month that I’ve left, about time to become a bit nostalgic by finishing off this post that I hope will provide some interested people with information and insider tips in case you’re planning on travelling down down under. While I did see quite a bit I didn’t see all and there are probably a lot more wonderful places you could discover for yourself (e.g. unfortunately I didn’t get to do the Tongariro crossing, see Franz Josef Glacier, or visit Napier, Hastings and the Nelson area).
The Dollar (NZD) will not only make everything look more expensive, but New Zealand actually is quite pricey. Back in the UK, Manuka honey seems to be cheaper here than in NZ (where it comes from). Expect to spend around 60+ NZD/week on food. Rent varies greatly, depending on which city you live in etc you can expect to pay around 160 NZD/week. The norm in Auckland would probably be around 200 NZD/week.
First off, New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere so the season-month correspondence differs (July is in winter, January in summer…). Temperatures are generally mild, rain is common in winter and it can get quite hot and dry at times in various areas during summer. Snow is usually only found in the South Island. No matter where in NZ and what season, the sun is very strong and can make a cold windy winter day seem rather hot! I got my first sunburn pretty much right after my arrival in July (winter), so keep sunscreen handy.
For the most part, I lived in Auckland. In my first semester in university accommodation (overpriced and really not great), in my second semester in privately arranged accommodation (‘homestay‘ – much cheaper and you can find whatever you’re looking for!). At first, I really didn’t like Auckland. I’m not a fan of ‘big cities’. You get used to everything though and at this point, I don’t mind it that much anymore. Of course, like in most bigger places, people can be rather cold, but you can find whatever you need in town. Winter is mild (10-15°C I’d say), you do get quite a bit of rain throughout the year, summers are warm with temperatures above 20°C.
Tbh, I’m quite stingy so didn’t go/eat out very often. A few places I can recommend:
Devonport – it’s only around 11 NZD for a return ferry ticket (15 minutes one way) to Devonport, a cute little ‘village’ on the North Shore. It has nice shops, cafes (I recommend café Manuka), beautiful beaches and two hills you can go up and have a great view on the surroundings.
Waiheke Island – if you’re a fan of wine or just have money left to spend. It doesn’t really feel like you’re on an island since it’s quite big and inhabited. I’d advice to bring your own food as it’s all rather pricey there.
Still in the Auckland region and about an hour’s drive from the city is Matakana. I have fond memories of Matakana due to lovely people I met there. Must do here is go to MMK (Matakana Market Kitchen), they serve the best breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bricks Bay is a wee little beach not far off in Sandspit, remote which means you may find yourself having the beach all to yourself.
About an hour’s drive to the west along windy roads lies Piha, well known to surfers for its waves. Beautiful black sand and really nice location. Watch out for the rip tides though, I had my first near-drowning experience there.
Cape Reinge – beautiful and remote (very much so). There are wild horses in the forests near 90-mile beach. Kaitaia is the first bigger ‘township’ if you’re heading south from Cape Reinge. Like every other ordinary NZ township (see ‘general’). Same accounts for Kerikeri. You can walk from Kerikeri to the Bay of Islands in around 4 hours – it’s an easy walk mostly through flat forest.
Bay of Islands – usually quite touristy. Beautiful beaches, lots of islands but you’ve gotta have money to actually get on one of them. I spent New Year’s on the Island Urupukapuka. Very nice but not everyone’s cup of tea to be stuck on a piece of land for a few days as all you can do is really just chill out, swim, fish, ‘hike’, sleep, relax, eat and drink. Russel is supposedly a nice spot which I didn’t have the chance to visit. I did hike through Russel Forrest though which was pretty adventurous and exhausting 🙂
Heading further south along the coast lies Sandy Bay (by Matapouri) – very nice beach! (Tbh though, most beaches in NZ are pretty ace)
Mangawhai Heads – one of my favourite spots. Nice walks, amazing views, great coast, lovely beach.
Skipping Auckland’s region…
Rotorua – smells, and you have to pay to get into any of the well known springs (sulfur mainly). Thus not necessarily on my you-should-check-this-place-out-list. Taupo – pretty township, very touristy, by the very big Lake Taupo. Personally I’m not so much into towns and cities and prefer the outdoors, so again, landscape-wise probably not in my top 10.
Mount Taranaki (or Egmont) is pretty sweet! You can hike around the park for hours or even days, whatever suits you best. If you’re lucky with the weather you’ll be rewarded with some stunning views!
Whanganui River – one of the Great Walks. We didn’t do just the 3-day-Great-Walk-Section (so you’d kayak/canoe on the river for three days spending the nights in huts (organised by DOC, pretty sweet thing). but 7 days all the way from Taumarunui to Wanganui. Great experience, esp at the beginning some good rafts, and lovely scenery.
On the way to Wellington it gets a bit more populated, most townships are very similar to another. I kinda liked Palmerston North for some reason. Don’t go to Foxton – that’s what my friends from Foxton told me and after seeing it myself, I’d say the same. The beach really is no good and the town is pretty sad.
Wellington – the capital, doesn’t seem very capital-like. You should check out the famous Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Nice cafes, interesting stores, and whatnot. A city with quite a European vibe.
Take a ferry from Wellington to Picton and you find yourself in the South Island. Picton is a ‘sleepy’ sweet township. Not far from it is Havelock, centre for much of the NZ green-lipped mussel industry.
Marlborough Sounds – a nice 3-day hike is the Queen Charlotte Track. We saw dolphins taking the boat from Picton to the start of the trail, what an amazing experience!
Kaikoura – in summer, very touristy. But a very nice spot, lovely views on the sea, and just a nice ride along the coast just getting there from either north or south.
Close by is Hanmer Springs, which is lovely if you just want to chill out in spas for a day. We went in winter so it was really nice to sit in a hot spa whilst it was rather chilly outdoors (i.e. your face would be freezing off while your body was overheating ;P). I especially enjoyed the sulfur spa!
Christchurch – well well, good old Christchurch was unfortunately hit by a big earthquake a couple of years ago. The city is working hard on making it a beautiful place (again!?) and I’m sure that in maybe 10 years, if not hit by another earthquake by then, that may be the case, but at the moment it still looks rather… destroyed. So if you’re a guy looking for a job, you’ll find one in the labour industry within a day!
Greymouth – a beautiful 3-4 hour drive, or if you can afford the scenic train journey, from Christchurch on the West Coast. The town is not spectacular but once you hit the coast (I only went northwards), be prepared to have your eyes wide open, a lot.Recommended
Wanaka – less touristy than Queenstown but just as nice. A quiet town surrounded by beautiful landscapes. Great for hiking, cycling, or having a wee dip in the (ice) cold lake. A nice cafe to visit here is Kai Whaka Pai – yum food!
Queenstown – definitely one of the most well-known places in NZ, and of the the cutest towns also. There’s a nice atmosphere, I’d call it a ‘romantic’ place. A BUNCH of things you can do here. I don’t even know what else to say. No good to go to in winter if you want to avoid massive crowds of tourists that come here for the ski fields.
Te Anau – small little township, nice location. Head here to head to Milford Sound. A nice drive up there. A cruise costs about 50+ NZD/pp and takes around an hour. If it’s raining (which it does there a lot), you’ll see hundreds of waterfalls and even get to be taken so close to one you can stand under the spray (unforgettable!)
Dunedin – again on the east side of the South Island. Relatively ‘big’ (in terms of NZ cities), great student population due to Otago University. Otago Peninsula is definitely worth a visit! Very pretty, good for hikes and discovering some wild life.
Invercargill I’m only mentioning here to warn you. Most depressing place I’ve been to in NZ, and I don’t think it was just the gloomy weather. My boyfriend felt the same way and he visited some other time. I felt similarly about Bluff, seemed like I only went there to take a photo like at Cape Reinga (see below) and that was that.
Well, I covered quite a few places here, it would take a book to tell you about each spot I went to, so I hope this gives you a bit of an idea…