New Zealand is your to go country for hitch-hiking. It’s stunningly beautiful, it’s safe and another important reason for choosing this means of transportation – NZ is very expensive. So for a long-term backpacker it could be too pricey to pay for the expensive bus rides. Luckily, most of NZ is interconnected with a good system of highways, people are super friendly and open, and hitch-hiking is definitely known about there!
I was traveling the South Island of NZ for exactly a month, alone, and didn’t take public/ paid transportation a single time. From airport to airport I was catching rides. Here’s my month’s itinerary:
In this article I’m not going in depth about the South Island, rather I’m willing to share some itinerary ideas.
If you have only (only!) one month of traveling in NZ, I urge you not to rush and try visiting both North and South island. Better stick with just the South Island. This was the advice given to me and I’m happy I followed it. There’s so much to do and see, that you’ll be rushing anyways!
So most likely you’ll land in Christchurch. Once – probably – a nice cute city, it was badly destroyed in 2010 by a devastating 7.1 earthquake. Now it’s all construction. Seriously, I met many locals and all ALL of them were builders! Okay, one girl was a painter. One day is enough there: walk around in the center, go to the beautiful botanic garden and that’s it.
CATLINS CONSERVATION PARK
I was still deciding where I should go next and how, when I suddenly get a text from my couchsurfer, saying that his friend was driving down south and could take me along. I was so in! His friend was an indigenous Maori, I was so psyched to learn about the Maori culture. They believe in Mother Earth and Father Sky, and “in between” children spirits, who they appoint to maintain forests and rivers:) Maori have tribal organization. Whenever New Zealanders build bridges or anything, they ask for local Maori chief for blessings…
Catlins conservation park where we drove is in the very south of the South Island. And although the word ‘south’ often sounds reassuring, don’t be misled. There’re penguins there:) We went snorkeling and catching our lunch! Of course I had no wet suit, so I was freezing (in summer time too!)
First I ate some seaweed. Then I caught a bunch of sea urchins with my own hands (okay okay, I had special gloves) and learnt how to open then up. How cool is that?
Then we went to the shallow waters, collected mollusks and fried them. What a great unexpected lunch! About food in general in New Zealand: Like I mention, NZ is pretty pricey. Especially after a few months of backpacking in India and Nepal:) I was mostly going to supermarkets, buying eggs, yogurts, fruits and veggies and carrying it around with me.
After Catlins, my new Maori friend dropped me off on the highway direction Queenstown. Within half hour I caught a ride going almost all the way there, then another one right away, and I was in the legendary youth and extreme sports hub QT!
First things first, I went hiking and soaking to Fiordland for nine days. I did Routeburn and Kepler tracks, went to Milford sound and stayed at a chill town of Te Anau. Here is a detailed report. These were perhaps my most unforgettable days in New Zealand.
Then I came back to QT. If you like parties and doing fun sports – like mountain biking, snowboarding, bungee jumping – that’s your place! In fact, QT is a unique town: its mostly populated by young people from aaaall over the world, who came here for chill and thrill. It has the gorgeous lake and the famous mountains – the Remarkables.
I was lucky – I got to see the famous ‘Run of the Wools’. A run and showcase of the New Zealand sheep. They don’t run so much, as they try to sheepishly:) flock together. Did you know that for 4 million people living in New Zealand, there’re 40 million sheep?!
My biggest luck was meeting amazing people. I stayed with a friend of a friend of a friend from Brazil who I met in India (you get it:) She was the most vibrant girl and showed me around and taught some tricks. Since QT is much about tourists, many of the young people who move here, work in some tourists attractions. Meet them and they can most definitely hook you up with some free stuff, like this awesome ferry ride and champagne.
After Queenstown and Fiordland it was time to explore the gorgeous WEST COAST.
I caught a ride with a girl I met in QT (Queenstown was so much fun that we kept delaying and delaying the departure. Beware:) First stop – the chill and amazing Wanaka. I wish I could stay a little longer there. That basically applies to most of the places in New Zealand!
FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER
The glacier is another famous place to visit. Unless you are hiking it or are ready to cash out and pay for a helicopter tour, it’s nothing particular. Just another reminder of the climate change.
PUNAKAIKI – PANCAKE ROCKS
After that I hit a hitch-hikers jackpot: caught a ride with a guy who was going all the way along the west coast, was ready to take me along, and also he was actually looking for a commercial location that would depict the serenity of the Island’s west coast. So we stopped at every little spot on the west coast, little shores, beaches, towns, pubs… He also told me how he worked at the locations manager for the Lord of the Rings. The one fact I remember though is how daily the crew would eat thousands of eggs on the film set:)
These are pancake rocks: unique formations and a true hidden gem on the west coast.
Drive more north from the Punakaiki rocks and you will find yourself on the Moria Fate Arch Walk, Oparara Valley Track with its beautiful arches and water color.
After Fiordland, this was my favorite place in New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a seemingly unassuming place, where I went by the virtue of a random ride. But that’s the kind of place where you come for a day and stay for however long you can afford.
You can go to the Spit – the very north tail of the South Island – and do horseback riding in the mountains with the view to the sea.
Also in Takaka you can do rock climbing, awesome swimming with a cliff jumping, etc.
ABEL TASMAN GREAK WALK
From Takaka I hitched to the famous Abel Tasman walk. Its one of the nine so called Great Walks of New Zealand, and I understand what the whole fuss is about. Sometimes I had to pinch myself: couldn’t believe hikes like this existed. You hike along the sea shore, in the jungle, in the fields and mountains. Really chill hike.
From Abel Tasman I hitch-hiked back to Takaka, from there to Nelson and back to Christchurch. The month was up and the loop around the South Island was finished.
Like I always say: I’m jealous of people who’ve never been to New Zealand. This means they can discover this country for themselves afresh. My experience of NZ was through the prism of hiking its nature and hitch-hiking its roads, memories to never be forgotten.