In no particular order, a few things I wished I had known before going to New Zealand. The tips probably aren’t groundbreaking but might help you plan better.
1. South Island is better than the North – it’s more beautiful, there is more to do, there are fewer people. If nature is what you love and you only have two weeks…go South and go to Queenstown.
2. New Zealand has no wifi – OK it does have some, probably, somewhere… but you have to pay for it, without exception. And when you do pay, it’s not fast. So I would recommend you plan as much as your trip as possible before you come – even if it is just to get ideas of what to do, and then embrace getting off the radar for a bit. If this is a key issue, then you can always pick up a local sim card at the airport and save on roaming charges.
3. Extra days – For Sheepdog Pass, Kiwi Experience recommends a minimum of 19 days. I would say you should do a minimum of 21 days. I wish I had had two months by the time I had left, but I would prioritise at least one extra day each in Rotorua and Wellington in the North Island. Abel Tasman/ Kaiteriteri and Queenstown in the South are also worthy of more than the day the company allocate. I would do at least one extra day in Abel Tasman and then four to five days in Queenstown. Don’t rush it if you don’t have to.
4. What to pack – If you do Kiwi Experience, don’t even attempt this without a neck pillow! It’s probably more than 100 hours of being a passenger over the three weeks so I really really recommend you get one. The Kiwi Experience app is good for telling you what to pack each day for the day stops and also the weather forecast, so it’s worth downloading that for a full and detailed itinerary.
5. Budget – Whatever you’ve budgeted…throw an extra £500 on top for good measure. There is so much to do here, and if you want decent food and some big nights out then you’ll burn through your budget in no time. New Zealand is one of the most expensive places to backpack and is much more pricey than Australia for dorm rooms and activities. As a guide, me and the people I was with, burnt through around £2,000 each in three weeks, not including the international flights, and by any standards we did not do anywhere near all the activities on offer or go to the pub every night. So budget big so you can get the most out of your time here.
6. Don’t let the reputation put you off – Kiwi Experience is a fantastic way to see the country as a solo traveller. It is luck of the draw who is on your bus and what they want from the trip, but if you don’t like them – get off and catch the one the next day. Every bus I took had a whole mix of nationalities and ages, it was stress-free and perfect if you have limited time, want to meet people and hiring your own car doesn’t make financial sense.
7. Say yes – NZ is a place to be outdoors, embrace your fears and see nature up close. It might be raining but I would recommend you go on that walk anyway. So many of my fellow passengers refused and instead sat in a coffee shop for an hour. NZ is so rewarding if you see it properly and throw yourself into it. So bring a raincoat, bring your crappiest trainers, leave your make-up at home. Set your alarm and go surfing in a NZ winter storm swell at 8am! Get on a helicopter and climb a glacier before lunch time. Whatever you think you might look back on and regret not doing, do it. Meg taught me that one!