A Guide to Accommodation & Getting Around New Zealand

Whether on foot on on wheels, our insider Marijane shares her top tips to help you choose the right transport and accommodation for your adventure.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, by [PhillipC].

i-Sites

Nearly every town in New Zealand has an information center called the i-Site. Stop by to pick up brochures, maps, or get advice from staff. Plus, booking tours through the i-Site will get you discounts.

Eco-Friendly Ways to Explore New Zealand

Tourism New Zealand uses an environmental labelling badge called Qualmark to help you identify sustainable businesses. Keep your eye out for the green “Enviro Award” fern when booking accommodation and tours.

DOCs Campsites

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) manages over 200 campsites. Book your sites in advance if you’re traveling during peak season (October–April).

You can save up to 50% on fees if you buy a weekly campervan pass. Some remote sites operate on a trust-system collection box, but don’t skip out on the fees – your money keeps DOC funded!

For a complete list of options, download the CamperMate app. It shows you all the camping sites in a selected map area, organized by Free, Low-Cost, or Paid campgrounds.

Camping at White Horse Hill campground, the starting point for the famous Hooker Valley Track. Photo credit: Marijane Soilis

Hut to Hut Hiking

DOC maintains a network of over 950 backcountry huts throughout New Zealand’s 13 National Parks, and all eight of the Great Walks. The huts vary in amenities, but most have a big bunk bed and a wood-burning stove. DOC huts are perfect for getting off the beaten path.

Don’t skip the park visitor center. You need to book your nights in advance between October–April. Plus, DOC officials are there to help you prep for your adventure.

Weather forecasts, trail conditions, and other information could be critical to your safety. If you’re taking more difficult, remote routes, consider renting a safety beacon before leaving.

Hiking to Speargrass in Nelson Lakes National Park. Photo credit: Marijane Soilis

Hostels and Hotels

If you’re interested in finding a conveniently located hotel instead of a remote hut, booking.com is popular in New Zealand. For a tighter budget, check hostelworld.com. If you’re looking for a deal, consider buying a backpacker’s network membership:

  • The Youth Hostel Association (YHA): A US $ 27 (NZ $39) annual membership from Hostelling International, will get you 10% off all of your YHA bookings worldwide.
  • BBH World Travelers Accommodation: For US $31 (NZ $45), you get guaranteed fixed prices and at least US $2.80 (NZ $4) off per person per night at any BBH hostel. You also get a one-time US $ 10.40 (NZ $15) refund off an online booking.
  • BASE Jumping Pass: A 10-night flexible accommodation voucher for US $ 193 (NZ $279) that you can use at any BASE hostel in New Zealand or Australia. BASE is geared towards younger, adrenaline-seeking backpackers, with an in-house Travel Desk that can get you great deals for local activities. You can only stay for a maximum of 2 nights at any one location, but you can also use your pass at any Nomads hostel.
  • Nomads Bed Hopper Pass: Put 10-15 nights on your pass and save up to US $5.50 (NZ $8) per night at any Nomads hostel in New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand. Max 2 nights at any one location. They also offer a Bed Hopper Bonus, which gets you a free rental (bike, surf board, etc.), free internet access, or free meals and drinks!

AirBnB and Couchsurfing

Kiwis are some of the most hospitable, generous people in the world. Couchsurfing or WWOOFing are great ways to hang out with locals.

AirBnB also offers options for authentic Kiwi living. Stay on an estate in the wine vineyards of Marlborough, or in a glass-walled home in the suburbs of Queenstown. Look for the ones with outdoor hot tubs – New Zealand is great for stargazing!

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Travel by Plane

If you’re short on time, catching a flight from Auckland to Christchurch is the best way for you to see both islands. However, it’s not cheap and you’ll miss the landscapes. If that’s a deal breaker for you, opting for a hire car or traveling by coach might be better.

Which Hire Car is Right for You?

New Zealand is easily explored with a rental car. Many points of interest are difficult to get to without your own vehicle.

JUCY is New Zealand’s iconic rental company. Their purple and green rentals can be picked up and dropped off at any airport in New Zealand. They offer a diverse fleet of vehicles, notably the backpacker’s basic “el cheapo” option. You can also get deals from partner tour companies in New Zealand just by flashing your JUCY keychain! There are other rental options too, so shop around online!

Maui and Britz are the most popular options for larger sized campers. Take care when navigating New Zealand’s narrow roads in these big buddies. They’re more expensive than smaller options, but opting for a self-contained vehicle may end up saving you money on accommodation.

Stopping for a rest on a road trip across New Zealand. Photo credit: Marijane Soilis

Travel by Coach

Getting around New Zealand on a bus is a safe and enjoyable way to take in the dramatic landscapes without the responsibilities of self-driving. It’s cheap, which means it’s also a great way to meet other backpackers!

The Kiwi Experience and Stray coaches are popular buses to travel with. Their smaller buses allow them to take the smaller, scenic routes. There are many options, so shop around for a company that suits your itinerary and budget.

Travel by Train

New Zealand has three options for rail travel, the effortless way to enjoy New Zealand’s breathtaking scenery:

  • Northern Explorer: Straight through the North Island from Auckland to Wellington.
  • Coastal Pacific: Down the east coast of the South Island from Picton to Christchurch. Currently out-of-service, but expected to return mid-2018.
  • TranzAlpine: One of the most scenic train routes in the world, connecting Christchurch and Greymouth by traversing the South Island’s Southern Alps mountain range.

Travel by Boat

The Interislander Ferry offers five daily departure times to get between Wellington on the North Island, and Picton on the South. Bundle up and spend a few minutes on the top deck while cruising through the Picton’s Marlborough Sounds – there’s a good chance you’ll see some wildlife!

New Zealand’s prized Fiordland National Park holds even more opportunities to marvel at native wildlife. You can choose from Milford, Doubtful, or Dusky Sound. Depending on what type of adventure you’re after, booking a full-day or overnight cruise is the best way to fully experience the magic of the fiords.

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