New Zealand… a.k.a….. Aotearoa… a.k.a…. Land of the Long White Cloud…

Whatever you want to call it, this country has it all: mountains, rivers, cities, lakes, vineyards, culture, and damn good coffee! If any of these sounds appealing to you, then book your flight right now for your Kiwi adventure.

Ready to take on the kiwi adventure?

Before you go though, you might want to take a look at the following tips on how to backpack New Zealand. Let me make your life a little easier!

Tip 1: Get a working holiday visa..

Unless you are staying for only a few weeks, a working holiday visa gives you the option of making some money for when the travel funds inevitable get low. Let’s be honest, traveling for more than a month without income can make that bank account look a tad scarce…

Enter… the working holiday visa!

This visa is for those under the age of 35, and allows the holder to work any job as longs as it is not permanent… and of course, legal. The process to obtain one is quite easy. Check out this blog post on how I got my working holiday visa. One additional thing to note, in order to legally work in New Zealand, you are also going to need an IRD number (think social security number for New Zealand). This can also be easily obtained at a local post office in New Zealand or online.

Tip 2: Buy yourself a car/campervan..

New Zealand doesn’t seem like it is a big place, but trust me, one can’t truly see this country without a car. In all honesty, you should get a campervan. Hostels aren’t crazy expensive, but camping is the way to go. You can choose between a self-contained or non-self-contained van.Non Self-Contained Campervan

What is the difference, one might ask?

Well, let me tell you… A self-contained vehicle must have the ability to contain water waste for 3 days and must be certified. Basically, this means that your van has to at least have a 12L container of clean water, and one for the “gray water”, as well as a toilet (portable or fixed).

Why do I need this?

Again, thanks for asking! A self-contained van will give you the option to freedom camp, i.e. pulling over and camping wherever you’d like on the side of the road. Guess what?! This is FREE, and therefore, will save you heaps of money on accommodation.

Even non-self-contained vans have many camping options with the help of CamperMate (see tip 3 below).

Either way, your van will be equipped with everything you need from a kitchen to bedroom to a lounge. As a bonus, you tend to meet the most interesting people at campsites and will be looking up at the stars as you go to sleep each night.

Tip 3: Download CamperMate..

Campermate LogoThis app is PRIME for traveling around New Zealand. Take it from me, the app is free and is going to be your BEST friend in this country. Make sure to download the offline maps, so to be able to use it when service is scarce.

This map gives you campsites (for self and non-self-contained vehicles), other accommodation, free WiFi, public toilets, things to do, and all sorts of other things.

I can honestly say it was my most used app while traveling around. On a daily basis, Audrey and I were able to filter CamperMate for non-self-contained vehicles and find where we were sleeping each night. The app also includes reviews of the campsites, activities, etc., by its users, which can save you from staying at a campsite with roaches in the showers and mice in the kitchens.

Unless you’re into that sort of thing…

Tip 4: Take advantage of free activities..

While I recommend spending a bit of money to do some of the unique things that New Zealand has to offer (i.e. bungee jump in Queenstown or Hobbiton in Matamata), there are heaps of free activities. This country is filled with national parks. Pretty much every city you go to has some sort of tramp. DO THEM, they are free, and not to mention, the views are usually incredible!

New Zealand has also found a way to make almost everything a tourist attraction. Want to see weird round boulders that look like eggs? Yep, check out the Moeraki Boulders on your way from Dunedin to Mount Cook. Interested in additional random sights? Use CamperMate to find em!

If this hasn’t convinced you, check out some of my hiking photos…

Tip 5: Driving in New Zealand..

First off, you may have noticed that driving in New Zealand occurs on the left side of the road, and right side of the car. While this is a bit overwhelming at first, I promise after a couple days, it feels natural.

Another thing to keep in mind, many roads in New Zealand start out paved, but soon transition to gravel or “unsealed”. Don’t just assume that because you are driving on a state highway, it won’t turn to gravel at a moments notice… Make sure you choose a car that can handle steep inclines as well as unsealed roads… you’ll need it.

Also, to keep in mind, passing is allowed in most places, be safe, and be considerate! That means you, GIANT Jucy campervans. If your van can’t go over 60kms driving up hills or on windy roads, pull over to let the line of cars behind you pass.

One Lane Bridge SignAdditionally, when traveling through small towns, or big towns, be vigilant of “stock stops“. If you are so lucky, slow down and get yourself ready for cows, or sheep, lots and lots of sheep…

The signs around new Zealand crack me up. There are many logical ones, as well as heaps that just seem ridiculous and unnecessary. However, be sure you are familiar with the single lane bridge signs. If you have the big black arrow, then you have the right of way, but if you have the small red arrow, yield that bitch.

Lastly, and I’ll finish my tangent on driving in New Zealand, make sure you google maps your routes. A city may look like it is only 10 or 20 miles away, but due to the lack of direct routes, it ends up taking 4 hours… Annoying, but no way around it.

Tip 6: WIFI? Do we have that here..

New Zealand, while beautiful in its scenery, leaves much to be desired as far as its free WiFi goes. Even when WiFi is available for purchase, most of the time it is horrendously slow or doesn’t even work.

Embrace the fact that WIFI is limited. Get disconnected.

Look beyond the phone screen…

However, if you’re starting to “get the shakes” from lack of social media contact, and feel the need for connect with the rest of the world, I’ve found that the most consistent free public WiFi can be found at McDonald’s or public libraries. McDonald’s, or Maccas as it is lovingly referred to here, is in most large cities, and typically has good WiFi. I was able to stream South Carolina football games, (Go Gamecocks!!) if that tells you anything.

One small note on public libraries, they are closed on Sunday’s. Though, if you are lucky, you might be able to sit outside of one and access the WiFi…. which I totally haven’t… well only a few times…

Tip 7: Ask for help/interact with local’s

In New Zealand, everyone knows someone, who knows another person, that can help you with a problem. While taking in New Zealand’s glorious scenery, don’t forget about its people. They are truly lovely.

So talk to the person sitting next to you on a bus, at the bar, or while out shopping.

Ask for directions, or hiking recommendations!

Honestly, you never know what will come out of one conversation

For me, it was a lovely gentleman fixing a wiper blade on my car, which led to coffee and spending a morning getting to know him and his partner!

Tip 8: Want a cold one? Don’t forget your passport..

New Zealand has strict liquor laws. If you look under the age of 25, you are probably going to get ID’d at some point in your travels.US Passport

What do you do then? Whip out your foreign state drivers license, right?


Legally, establishments can only accept three forms of ID: New Zealand drivers license, New Zealand 18+ card, or a passport.

If you are like me and don’t want to carry your passport around constantly, head to an AA store and get an 18+ card.

Tip 9: Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track..

Yes, I get it, when in the South Island, you must see Mount Cook and Queenstown. Remember though, it is not always about the destination, but the journey.

Don’t be in such a hurry to get to the next place. Instead of just driving the 4 hours from Queenstown to Milford Sound, consider checking out Doubtful Sounds or hiking to the Key Summit.

Key Summit Hike

Heading to Wellington, try a detour to Martinborough and rent bikes to vineyard hop! While there, head to Cape Palliser or Castle Point.

This is why CamperMate can be your best friend, check out the “Things to do” filter, to give you ideas for a pit stop!

Tip 10: Need anything? Try Facebook…

Facebook has groups for everything you could possibly need!Facebook Logo

Looking for a flat in Wellington?

Oh wait, there is a “Flats and Rooms for Rent in Wellington” group! This is how I found my campervan, more commonly referred to as Glen Rodger, in Auckland. There are hiking groups, general groups for cities which post anything from city events to someone looking for a haircut, even work/accommodation exchange groups.

You never know what you will find, therefore, give them a chance!

Now that you are an expert, go forth…

There are basically a million things I could tell you to help on your journey. However, where is the fun in traveling if you don’t figure a few out for yourself?

Embrace your journey, and see where it takes you!

Most importantly, feel free to share, ask questions, or comment with your own tips! I’d love to know what you think others should know before backpacking in New Zealand!

As always,

The Mad Hattress Logo - Black


CJ · April 12, 2018 at 4:20 am

Good advice, In terms of camping, are there a lot of free sites? Or are they mostly paid sites?

    admin · April 12, 2018 at 4:52 am

    There are a decent amount of free sites, depending on you location. Though keep in mind, the free sites are basic, i.e. drop toilet and not much else. The paid campsites tend to have better amenities!

Emily · April 12, 2018 at 6:07 am

Great tips you got here. Do I need special driving license to drive a camper van?

    admin · April 12, 2018 at 6:29 am

    Not at all, just any drivers license will do! Thanks for reading!

Ileana Villasmil · April 12, 2018 at 11:06 am

This was lovely! It makes me want to go to NZ to explore the whole country, i think i’ll start saving from now on. What do you think are the most important places to know in NZ? and what kind of traditional food do you recommend we should try?

    The Mad Hattress · April 12, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    Lovely! I’m glad you enjoyed it! If you are interested in hiking and beautiful places, I would go to the South Island cities of Queenstown, Wanaka, and Mount Cook. They are truly incredible. As far as traditional food goes, there are not heaps of food that New Zealand is known for, but you ought to try whitebait patties, meat pies, and Whittaker’s chocolate. Though on the drink side, make sure to try a flat white and local beer/wine!

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