So, you wanna go to New Zealand. It’s your dream, right? You’ve been dedicated to saving and planning the adventure of a lifetime until out of the blue your friend drops out. ‘Not enough money saved’ they say, or ‘the missus won’t let me’. It happens all the time. Breakups, promotions, poor planning and budgeting all get in the way of turning travel dreams into a reality.
But now you're left wondering if you were the only one serious about going to New Zealand in the first place.
Well, fuck ‘em, you think, I’m going to do this on my own and have a fantastic time. And you will! However, you may have to make a few adjustments to your plans. (Unless, of course, you were always planning to travel New Zealand solo, in which case – go you!)
NZ is the perfect solo destination:
There are several reasons why New Zealand is a great location for solo travellers:
First of all, it’s a pretty safe place. I've lived here for thirty years and never suffered any harm from another person, nor had anything stolen (outside of school, that is), I leave the windows open on my ground level home, sometimes I leave the car unlocked on the street. However, others haven't been as lucky as I have and you should always take precautions.
Solo travellers are everywhere in New Zealand, so you can meet up with others easily enough. I find that the best ways to meet others are to stay at Hostels and strike up a conversation with others in your dorm.
It’s a small country, easy to get around. There are well paved and signed road to all major cities. No driving through the night to reach your destination.
No language barrier for English language speakers. Kiwis, however, aren’t as multilingual as other countries are, so you’ll be relying on English to get around once you’re there.
Here I wrote out six types of budgets for travelling New Zealand. I won’t go into it too much here, but you can - if you're careful - travel New Zealand on as little as NZ$30/US$20 a day by hitchhiking, eating a basic diet and couch surfing, although you'd be forgoing some pretty incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences. More comfortable budgets are around NZ$80/US$60 per person, per day. As always, it's better to bring more money to really do and see everything that you want while you're there.
Travel is almost always more expensive for one person than it would be for two people splitting costs. If you’re travelling solo and nervous about it, consider joining a tour group.
Rent a car:
The most popular way to travel NZ is your own wheels. It allows complete independence when you travel - want to pull over and photograph that waterfall? Do it. Want to get off onto unpaved roads and explore offbeat NZ? You can. There's no schedule, unlike tour groups. No set path, unlike bus rides.
There are cons, of course. Know that while looking at a map, New Zealand might seem small and each stop on your itinerary is only a few hundred kilometres apart. But the highways are pretty windy, country-like roads. They’re not straight or flat, and all the locals prefer it if you drove 5kms over the speed limit everywhere. So driving can be utterly exhausting if you're doing it alone. You can’t just put the cruise control on and zone out to the music, you have to focus. Kiwis drive on the left, by the way. If you’re used to driving on the right side of the road, it’ll seem a little daunting at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly enough. Just follow the car in front and take it easy.
If you have your heart set on it, I suggest staying in a sociable hostel in your landing city (either Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch) and asking around the common room to see if anyone wants to share a ride. Often you’ll find a group of two or three travellers who are driving across NZ and have an extra seat or two and will be happy to accept a share of the gas money.
New Zealand Roads:
Know how long your drive will take, some parts of New Zealand are lacking in petrol stations (it’s rare and often you’ll see a sign saying something like ‘100kms to next gas pump’, but be wary so you don’t get caught out.
Your GPS route may be incorrect. I’ve been directed along 50kms of unpaved road (a pretty bumpy and uncomfortable hour) because my GPS said it was the shortest route – well yes, it was, but you have to drive pretty slow and the longer route on regular roads would have been much quicker. Other times GPS is a lifesaver in parts of the country where there aren’t many street signs. If your GPS directs you in a different direction than the road signs, follow the road signs.
Something I’ve done myself on occasion both as a hitchhiker and a driver picking one up, and I think NZ is one of the few places in the world that is easy and safe for hitchhikers – although I’d understand if you are hesitant. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, there are many, many more ways to get about in New Zealand. If you want to give it a go, remember to look presentable, smile and hold a board with your destination written on it in big clear letters.
(photo of a sheep because I have none of NZ buses)
Easiest option here for a solo backpacker who also wants the independence of going where they like, when they like. Great if you're sticking to the tourist trail and want to hit New Zealand's highlights. Intercity is NZ's most popular company - the one the locals use. They have flexibus pass that you can top up as you go (includes the Interislander ferry between North and South Island). A four week trip around New Zealand would probably cost in the vicinity of NZ$700/US$500.
Hostels are a fantastic way to meet other travellers. A dorm bed in a New Zealand hostel costs around NZ$25/US$18 a night, but if you don’t like sharing a room with a potential snorer, you can get a single bed in a private room for about NZ$60/US$45 and still have access to a common room, group hostel activities like quiz nights, and the general inclusive vibe you don’t find at a hotel – a type of accommodation which I always find rather impersonal in comparison to a hostel.
I wrote a guide to New Zealand’s most unique hostels right here.
If you’re going to be hiking solo, let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be returning. Even if it’s just letting your mum know back home. Some of NZ's hikes can be treacherous, be out of range of a cell phone signal, or the weather can change within an hour. If you’re inexperienced, I recommend sticking to day hikes like The Tongariro crossing or a day hike within of Abel Tasman, both of which are popular with plenty of people about – and absolutely stunning.
Where to go:
I’m sure you already have an idea of where you want to travel to in New Zealand. The highlights are Auckland, Rotorua, Coromandel, Hobbiton, Tongariro, Wellington, Abel Tasman, Christchurch and Queenstown – all popular for a reason.
But I highly suggest getting off the beaten path (or the money trail, as kiwis call it) and head on over to my personal favourites - Taranaki, Lake Waikeremoana, Russell, and Mount Maunganui.
Tips for Women travelling New Zealand alone:
Female only dorms. Less about safety (male backpackers are a friendly bunch), more about building bonds with other solo female travellers, - plus there’s always someone around willing to lend a hair straightener for a night out in Wellington.
Follow your gut instinct, if something or someone makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
Don’t be paranoid either. Some two million women live their lives out in New Zealand, travel to and from work alone, go out and get drunk in the evenings and generally go about their day without suffering any great misfortune. The odd incident happens, as it could anywhere in the world, but you don’t need me to tell you there's no such thing as unconditional safety.
If you’re umming and ahhing about whether to actually go ahead with your plans to travel New Zealand solo, I’m telling you to absolutely go ahead with it. If you don’t, you’ll regret it. Travelling solo encourages personal growth, inspires self-confidence and esteem, and allows for a trip that caters entirely to you and what you want to do. No potential conflicts amongst friends and partners that put a damper on your trip and no compromising on activities. It is an opportunity for you to be unapologetically selfish and have some well-deserved me-time.
Click to pin it to your New Zealand travel board: