New Zealand looks small on the map. Sitting pretty next to neighbouring Australia (which is a mighty sized island) and it’s easy to think that you could tick off all of NZ’s Must Do’s within two weeks.
But there is so much more to see and do here. Speaking as a kiwi, New Zealand is a lifestyle as much as it is an exciting destination. We have an astounding number of high adrenaline activities and breathtakingly gorgeous sights, and hikes to experience, but we also have some wonderfully chill beaches and lazy Sunday towns where you could kick back for months in a state of absolute bliss.
Let’s get the boring part out the way early.
There is a visitor visa, which will allow you to travel around New Zealand for up to nine months. If you have the money, you could slowly traverse the country at your leisure. You are unable to work while on this visa and businesses are extremely strict when it comes to valid working visas also, so if you’re hoping to find work that pays under the table, you’ll struggle.
A working holiday visa is a way to explore New Zealand slowly, top up your bank account as you go, often by working in hospitality, farming and agriculture (but not limited to, of course). It allows you gain some valid experience working in a foreign country, which looks great on your C.V., and to have an adventure while you do it. Perfect for those who have left high school or college and are unsure about their next step in life.
Who can apply
There are limitations for long term visas, of course and some nationalities are more limited than others.
According to NZ immigration, working holiday visas are available to young people, usually aged 18-30, but 18-35 in a select few countries. They let you travel and work in New Zealand for up to 12 months, or 23 months if you’re from the UK or Canada. You need to have a return ticket, or enough money to pay for one, and be coming mainly to holiday, with work being a secondary intention. The nationalities participating in the working holiday scheme can be found here.
There are other visas, like the visiting visa I mentioned above, a study visa and a sponsored work visa, but for those in their twenties, looking to do something different for a while, the working holiday visa is perfect.
You don’t need a job in advance of your flight here, it’s pretty easy to pick up seasonal work as you go, work in one place for a month or two and then catch a bus or drive yourself to your next destination.
You’ll be sleeping in hostels for the most part – which if you’re unfamiliar, are budget accommodation options where you share a dormitory with anywhere from 3 to 20 other travellers. They cost around NZ$20-30 per night (US$13-20) but usually offer discounts for long-term stays and they’re a cheap way of exploring New Zealand and meeting other travellers who are doing the same thing you are.
I always book my hostels through Hostel World and use them every time I travel. If you plan to stay in a place for the long term (6 months or so) you can rent a room in a flat by searching Trade me's online listings.
How to apply for a working holiday visa
While there are third party visa application sites, I’ve found it’s always best to straight to the government’s website and apply online there. Just pick ‘work’ in the first column, ‘nationality’ in the second, and then pick your countries working visa option.
How to find a job picking fruit
Ask the receptionist at your hostel, or check their noticeboard. Because most of the farms and vineyards in the area look for casual staff for a short period of time, they rely heavily on backpackers to fill that gap. Hostels often work closely with local farms as it’s mutually benefitial.
Let’s talk money
This will depend on which country you’re from. For example, it costs €175, or £125 for people from the EU or UK. You will need a valid Visa or MasterCard to submit your application – this is the only way to pay the fee required.
You’ll need to prove you have the sufficient cash (NZ$350 a month or NZ$4200 for a year) and a return ticket or enough money to buy one, but I wouldn’t bring less than that anyway - New Zealand can be an expensive country to travel in.
How much they pay
Minimum wage in New Zealand is currently $16.50 per hour. Some fruit-picking workers are paid by per hour or per piece of fruit. You’d be working from 8 am to 5pm and may earn $28-30 per bin with most pickers aiming for 5 bins a day.
Generally, there is no need of any kind of experience to become fruit picker as it is just general labour, but stamina and physical fitness go a long way.
Always get travel insurance: I go with World Nomads as they cater to adventurous backpackers better than most travel insurance companies.
You’ll need to apply to Inland Revenue tax department for a tax number in advance (or you’ll be taxed at maximum threshold for every week that you work without one - and then have to wait until the end of the tax year to claim back overpaid tax)
You may want to buy a car. Check out the listings on TradeMe to find a vehicle in your area.
A good option for buying a campervan in New Zealand is Travel Cars New Zealand. Located in Auckland city they offer a free mechanical warranty and buy back option to their customers, for more info you can check their listings on the Travel Cars Website
A yearlong itinerary
Planning a big trip like this can seem incredibly daunting. Figuring out which part of the country to visit first and which fruit is in season in which month in which region can be overwhelming.
Well, I recommend arriving early in the year. Your flight will land in either Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch. But you should start in Auckland simply because it’s at the top of the country so there will be less doubling back as you travel, and because most international flights come in or out of Auckland. Spend a few days in Auckland soaking up the sights and from there head up to Northland.
Keep in mind that it may take a week or so to find work, and once you’ve found it, you may decide to stay until the end of the picking season – usually lasts around 3 months depending on the fruit. Despite that, I’ve written a month by month guide as you travel down the country, to give you a guide of where to go and when.
Also, all the hostels I’ve recommended below work to help backpackers find fruit picking jobs and offer long term accommodation at a discounted rate.
March – Northland
Work – pick avocados and citrus fruit in Kerikeri
Play – Visit Russell, dive at Poor Knights Island, drive to Cape Reinga at the top of New Zealand, visit the Waitangi treaty grounds and hike in Waipoua forest.
Stay – at Kericentral in KeriKeri
April – Bay of Plenty
Work – pick kiwifruit
Play – Spend a week exploring the Coromandel, bathe in the thermal pools at Hot Water Beach, spend an afternoon at Cathedral cove, eat NZ’s best pie fresh from the oven at Maketu, check out the thermal pools at Rotorua, Climb to the top of Mt Maunganui and enjoy being right by one of my favourite beaches in New Zealand.
Stay – Pacific Coast Lodge in Mt Maunganui
May, - Hawkes Bay
Work – Apple picking (although coming to end of season and work may be rare, I still recommend visiting this side of the North Island) Alternatively spend a month exploring the North Island from touring Hobbiton, to the glow worm caves in Waitomo.
Stay – Wally’s Backpackers in Napier
June, July, August – Wellington & Wairarapa
Work – Hospitality in central Wellington (bartending/waitressing) or grape picking at a vineyard in the surround countryside. Note that these months are New Zealand’s winter months and better enjoyed indoors. Wellington (New Zealand’s capital) is a wonderful city that deserves a few months of exploration – I lived there for two years and still haven’t explored it thoroughly.
Play – Te Papa National museum, Cape Palliser, explore Zealandia, tour the Weta Cave, take a trip on the cable car, wander down Cuba Street, walk up to Mt Victoria lookout, check out the red rocks at Owhiro Bay.
Stay – Hotel Waterloo have long term dorm beds, but many inner city hostels cater to working backpackers.
As a side note, now is a good time to get into farm work as the calving season runs from July to September in the North Island and August to October in the South Island – the spring months. Having experience in farming will work well in your favour, but even inexperienced workers may be offered menial tasks on a farm, since the more experienced staff will be rushed off their feet.
My partner, Jack, was a dairy farmer for a few years. During the three month calving season he worked 14 hour days at minimum wage (NZ$14 an hour at the time, but currently $16.50 an hour) starting his days at 4am. There are a few perks, such as having accommodation supplied and since you’ll be living in the middle of nowhere you won’t be spending much of the money you’ve made. Great for when you want to spend the year exploring and enjoying NZ instead of working as a fruit picker. If you have your heart set on living and working on an NZ farm, then go for it, because the experience gained outweighs the money made.
For farm work try Taranaki and the Waikato on the North Island, and Canterbury, Otago and Southland on the South Island.
September – Wherever you like.
September is a bit of a dead month as far as fruit picking work goes. There will be farms and Vineyards that pick year round, but as far as my research has gone I can find little options here. You could continue working in hospitality in Wellington, or head down to the South Island on the ferry to visit Abel Tasman National Park, or go head north up to Taranaki to explore Egmont National Park, or do the Tongariro Crossing, all great activities to do before the summer crowds come.
October - Marlborough
Work – Strawberry season is just starting
Play – walk Queen Charlotte track, visit Marlborough Sounds, visit a local vineyard, visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre museum, or head west to Nelson and Abel Tasman.
Stay – Koanui lodge in Blenheim
November – Canterbury
Work – not much in the way of fruit picking, but there’s a large salmon farm at Akaroa harbour that’s worth looking into, or just enjoy your time in and around Christchurch city.
Play – Drive the scenic roads to Mount Cook, check out Lake Tekapo, visit the International Antarctic Centre, photograph the Church of the Good Shepard, go to the Cardboard Cathedral, climb Castle Hill, head over to the gorgeous Twizel
Stay – Haka Lodge in Christchurch
December – Otago
Work – Stone fruit picking (apricots, peaches, plums, cherries and nectarines)
Play – There’s so much to do in Otago, it’s a gorgeous region of New Zealand. Check out ‘that tree’ at Wanaka lake, walk the track to Roy’s Peak, get adrenaline crazy in Queenstown, take a road trip down the gorgeous alpine roads that stretch across this part of the country and pay a visit to student cities Invercargill and Dunedin.
Stay – Purple cow YHA in Wanaka
January & February
Work – well, there’s plenty of work around for seasonal workers, but you’re right in the heart of the summer months now, with just a couple months left on your working visa (unless you’re here under the UK working holiday visa which you can extend up to a total of 23 months) I say just enjoy the time you’ve got left. You could head down to Stewart Island for a visit, or make your way back north, stopping in your favourite places and going to the destinations you missed the first time.
Click to pin to your New Zealand travel board: