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Backpacker’s New Zealand: Adventure, Kiwis, Middle-earth, and more

When deciding to visit the South Pacific, many backpackers choose to visit Australia. However, if you’re looking for adventure on a budget, don’t count out Australia’s friendly neighbor to the east, New Zealand.

New Zealand has no shortage of adventure activities to participate in, making it an adrenaline junkie’s paradise. But, even if you’re not keen on throwing yourself from a plane, there are many other reasons to visit. New Zealanders (also known as Kiwis) are among the friendliest people on earth, and the country is widely considered to be one of the safest places to travel. Backpackers can enjoy world-class cities like Auckland and Wellington, as well as natural wonders such as volcanoes and fjords. And, the country can be explored for prices much lower than you’d expect, thanks in part to a favorable exchange rate with the dollar. (At press time, 1 USD was equivalent to about 1.43 NZD.)

When to go

Located in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand’s seasons are the reverse of the north. During the country’s summer high season, you’ll encounter expensive airfare and find it challenging to book affordable accommodations, as this is when many Kiwis do their traveling.

Finding a cheap place to stay during the winter low season (our summer) in certain destinations can also be tricky. Flights to the country are cheaper, but if you’re traveling to any area where the skiing is good, you’ll pay top dollar for a place to stay. It’s also possible to run into problems outside top tourist spots because locals may decide to close up shop for a couple weeks while business is slow. Spring and fall are the best times to visit, when it’s possible to take advantage of lower shoulder-season airfares, cheap lodging, and decent weather.


Many student travel agencies are running specials for the upcoming months. Travel CUTS, for example, currently has student fares from Los Angeles to Auckland for $749 to $799 plus tax (prices vary depending on your length of stay) for departures through mid-March. STA and StudentUniverse also have competitive rates for this season. Rates from the East Coast are running around $1,300 plus taxes.


Hosteling is the way to go in New Zealand, where rates typically range from $11 to $36 per person, per night. Consider purchasing a membership to a New Zealand hosteling network that will allow you to stay at hostels across the country for discounted rates. Organizations worth checking out include BBH (over 350 hostels), YHA (over 60 hostels), and VIP Backpackers (over 70 hostels). If you prefer to camp, you’ll find that you can go almost anywhere.

Getting around

The Kiwi Experience, a hop-on, hop-off bus network, is one of the best ways for students and budget travelers to see the sights. Cheap, flexible, and fun, Kiwi Experience offers a variety of passes covering different routes through the country. Passes allow you to get on or off at any stop you like and stay in one spot for as little or as long as you like (passes are good for up to a year after you first use them). Cover the entire country with the Full Monty pass (minimum 38 days to complete) for $1,212. Or, choose a more limited tour, such as a circular trip around the Southern Island, for $334 (minimum 11 days).

Magic Bus is a similar bus company geared toward the backpacker demographic. Passes start at $328.

Adventure activities

Chances are you’ll want to participate in at least one adventure on your trip, such as skydiving, hang gliding, or bungee jumping. Even those who normally shy away from adventure find themselves caught up in the excitement and getting talked into things they’d never imagine doing before.

If adrenaline’s your thing, then go big and jump from a height of 630 feet off Auckland’s Sky Tower (higher than the Statue of Liberty and Sydney Harbour Bridge) with Sky Jump. The cost for this thrill is $139. If you watched “Road Rules: South Pacific,” you may remember the Roadies doing this as part of one mission.

If you’re a “Lord of the Rings” fan, chances are you already know that you can find Middle-earth in the stunning landscapes of New Zealand, which served as a backdrop for this trilogy. You can now walk in the footsteps of Frodo with a number of companies that have created tours centering on the locations and stories of the trilogy. Some can be quite expensive, so it’s best to check with a local travel agent to see if any deals are available. However, you can tour the site of the Hobbits’ Shire for a mere $36 USD. You can also pick up a copy of Ian Brodie’s Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook to create your own itinerary.

So whether you get your kicks by living on the edge or prefer to follow your fantasy of being a Hobbit, you’ll find a way to fulfill those dreams in New Zealand. Check out the Tourism New Zealand website for more ideas.

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