One month driving around New Zealand in a van, both islands, all the popular spots from Queenstown to Auckland including some glaciers, wineries, secret hot pools and one very long hike.
Myself and some friends travelled New Zealand for one month in March of 2018 (and I’m only posting a year late, not too bad, not too bad).
We rented a van for most of it and got a DOC camping pass for a mere 75 NZD each for 21 days if I remember correctly. The only catch with that camping pass is that is was only valid in limited campsites. They were always WAY in the middle of nowhere and 9 times out of 10 had absolutely zero amenities at them besides an outhouse. I mean literally, that was it. Sometimes it was just the outhouse building, without even so much as toilet paper. No garbage cans, no running water, no nothin’. Only the queen is allowed to shower in New Zealand. That being said, they were always near a fresh water source like a river or a lake and they were always out-of-this-world gorgeous.
We managed to find a few free or cheap campsites closer to major towns for the times we wanted to be near some amenities or when we wanted to socialize with people other than the four of us and not have to drive 2 hours into the night afterwards.
One such spot was in Moteuka, a town near Abel Tasman National Park. I had to look up the name of it again because for some reason I can never remember it, not even when we were staying in the town. At the visitor centre you are allowed to camp in the parking lot for free but there are quite a few restrictions so you should ask the info centre people. Whatever you do, do not camp there the night before an early morning farmers market and then get drunk and forget to set your alarm and wake up at 9:00 am surrounded by market vendors staring at you like you’re a dirty dumb backpacker (which you are). We heard that happened to someone. Definitely not us.
One travel tip I have for New Zealand is book ahead. Right up until a couple hours before our flight left Sydney we thought we were going to be homeless for the night when we got to Queenstown. Things book up fast there. Also van rentals can be limited, so try and be on the ball with booking those as well. I know it’s hard as a backpacker, but sometimes it must be done.
In the South Island we went to most of the major tourist destinations, Queenstown, Milford sound, Wanaka, Franz Josef Glacier, Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson, the Marlborough wine region and then hopped on the ferry at Picton!
In the Marlborough wine region we stayed at the Rarangi campground on the coast which was by far one of the better campgrounds with actual (cold) showers and drinking water. There’s also some caves nearby where you can see glowworms for free instead of paying the major bucks in Waitomo! I do recommend black water rafting in Waitomo though. Lots of fun, you get to see the glow worms on a tour as well, and they give you soup and let you shower afterwards (major perks if you live in a van in a country with no public showers).
The first place we went to in the North island was the Te Papa museum in Wellington. It’s free!
Our next adventure was to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s basically hiking over a volcano for six to eight hours. The weather wasn’t great and it was a long hike, but so worth it and so fun. You need to get a shuttle either at the start or at the end (or both) to pick you up, but there are lots of companies that arrange that. The company we were with gave us a pamphlet that outlined the hike for us. It had smiley faces for the easy parts and frowny faces for the hard parts. Spoiler: it was almost all frowny faces.
After Tongariro we went to Taupo, Rotorua and Hobbiton and then headed over to the west coast to Raglan by way of Waitomo. In Taupo there are some really amazing (and free!) hot springs in Spa Park. Find them. Seriously. My best advice to find these springs is download the Maps.me app. It has tons of little pins for places all over the world that you might not find otherwise.
After Raglan we stopped in Hamilton to visit some friends who I’d met in Portugal and then we all went to Cathedral Cove for a couple days. After that it was off to Auckland for a couple days and then we all flew home!
I know this is a very condensed summary of my New Zealand trip, but it has been a year and I have a bad memory. If you have any questions about any of the places we went or need some travel tips, message me! I’m very good at finding free/cheap things, which is extra double important in a country as expensive as New Zealand.
Take care pals!