I visited New Zealand from 29th November 2015 until 21st February 2016 with a usual visitor visa. I travelled the North Island between 29th Nov 2015 and 5th Jan 2016. The rest of the time I spent on the South Island, but three days on Stewart Island.
New Zealand is easy to travel by hitchhiking and that is the way I preferred after my experience to drive around by scooter. Most of the Kiwis (New Zealand’s citizen) and also tourists will happily give you a ride if they have space in their car and driving in the direction you want to go. Female drivers prefer female hitchhikers. Drivers, who usually not take hitchhikers can make an exception for female hitchhikers. Remember that it is always easier to get a ride as a single person. Many drivers do not have space for two persons and their luggage. To be a little older, especially 60+ makes it more easy to get a ride. Expect the unexpected! You can get a ride with anyone on the road: Locals, tourists, truck drivers etc. Even the age of the drivers vary all the time.
I bought a used 125 cc scooter, but most of the time I could not drive 100 km/h. Therefore I often was a hindrance for the local drivers, who drive as often as possible almost with the allowed maximum speed. To be overtaken by a truck on the often narrow roads is dangerous. With the open helmet I chose it was even worse to drive fast, because I always had the feeling, the wind will lift the helmet off my head. The many winding and often steep roads made me to drive more slowly. I used every bay for slow vehicles, what made my travel time longer. It rains in New Zealand even during the summer, because my open helmet and my glasses I could not go further when it was raining. In addition to that, there are many unsealed roads, partly also on beaten tracks. These roads are adventurous on only two wheels. If you cannot afford and drive a really big motorcycle and do not have the leather clothing as well as a closed helmet, so you can drive 100 km/h where it is allowed, a scooter or motorcycle is not a good idea. By the way, you can buy a cheap car for the price of a used scooter or motorcycle. At the backpacker’s notice boards you often can find offers. Anyway the petrol is expensive (around 2 NZD/l).
I used the Intercity bus as well as the train, when I had sold my scooter, but the bus you have to book by Internet (that is the same also for the other bus operators) to be sure to get a seat. There is often only one bus a day. When you have to change bus for coming to the destination you want to go, it is not always possible at the same day. Furthermore are the buses not going to all the places you may wish to go. The day I was going by bus, the first bus was one hour late. I had to change bus and was in good time for the change, because there were three hours between both buses, but the second bus was 45 minutes late. The train is expensive as well as the advertising promises more to see as possible. There are not so many routes left for passengers. The most routes are just “scenic routes”. That were the other reasons why I continued hitchhiking. In addition to that hitchhiking became a kind of competition for me – to see what is possible. Will it work out all the way? How long have I to wait for a ride? It worked very well and the longest time I hade to wait was for three (3) hours. This happened only once! Often I got a ride by 15 minutes, a few times my waiting time was around an hour.
The most interesting places are the homes locals invite you to, because you can learn about the culture of the area. For this reason I used the Internet sites “couchsurfing” and “BeWelcome”. On the North Island it was easiest to get a host, but that depended mostly on the time of the year I was asking for. During the summer holidays Kiwis are often travelling by their own. Even this kind of accommodation is not totally for free, because you should make them a meal or invite them to a restaurant if you cannot have a special gift from home for them. With other words: You should follow the unwritten rules of hospitality.
The next cheapest way would be camping, but you have to carry a lot of extra stuff with you and you should be a “camper by heart”. I am not and I am not longer able to carry heavy backpacks.
Therefore a good option are backpacker’s hostels. They are quite cheap here, that means between 25 and 30 NZD for a bed in a dorm per night. Depending on the season you have to book in advance, but that is not different from looking for a host. There are two big organisations on New Zealand, the BBH and the YHA (including another Kiwi organisation). Furthermore there are som hostels not belonging to any organisation at all. Which you prefer you have to find out by your own. The BBH are a little cheaper and the hostels are generally more cosy than those from the YHA. You can save money with a member card. In none of the hostels you can buy breakfast, but in some is breakfast included in the price. The type of breakfast differs heavily from hostel to hostel as well as cleanliness and organisation. Overall there are only a few one should avoid. Most of them, were I have been, I can recommend – and I always booked a bed in a dorm!
I cannot tell you anything about hotels, motels and holiday parks. If you will use that kind of accommodation, you have to make your own research.
If you are under 30 you can be a “wwoofer” or become a helpx-helper. You will get free accommodation and food and have time enough to explore the surroundings.
New Zealand has lots of activities to offer. Some are for free, some are very expensive and you have all in between. When I was travelling the country, 1 NZD was about 0,65 EUR / 0,70 USD / 6 SEK.
To walk heritage trails or nature tracks without guide is for free. Many museums are for free too, but not all. Often are visitors of the museums asked to donate some money.
Cruises and helicopter flights have high prices, so have other activities like bungy jump etc. To go by coach to a special destination has not to be very expensive – I made a combined trip with coach and cruise for 99 NZD from Te Anau to Milford sound, that was the cheapest I could find and it was a good one. There are often more than one operator and prices can differ a lot. At some places you can get great offers from locals, who are not connected with a big company, for sightseeing. I did one of them by lack of time. For only 20 NZD for two hours I learned all about Te Anau and surroundings, fed an alpaca and made a guided bushwalk.
I bought my breakfast at supermarkets (“Pak’n Save” is the cheapest one followed by “New World”. “Countdown” is another one, but in some cities you only can find “Fresh Choice” or “Four Square”), that means, I bought cereals, yogurt, instant coffee and milk. I also bought my evening meals at supermarkets, e.g. bread and spreads. That means you need an isolating bag for carrying around your food. I usually ate lunch in cafés or restaurants. Depending on where I have been and which kind of meal I bought, I spent between 10 and 20 NZD for a meal. It is common to get tap water for free and you have not to order any other drink. I also cooked my own meals a couple of times, but I had to find spices and fat. Furthermore I could only get “family packs”, that means e.g. I had to eat Hamburger four days in a row. If you like chocolate it might be better not to buy it, because a 100g bar costs around 4 NZD. I really love ice cream and on sunny and warm days I could not resist to buy one. I had to pay almost 3 NZD for one scope in a cone, but the scopes are unusual big.
New Zealand has left hand traffic! Think about it, when you cross the streets. Be on the right side of the road, when you will hitchhike. When driving never forget which side you have to drive on.
You can wash your clothes at the backpacker’s. One load of a washing machine as well as of a dryer is between 3 and 4 NZD, often you have to pay for washing powder, too – between 20 cents and 2 NZD = one washing can cost you 10 NZD. In New Zealand washing usually is done in cold water. The detergents are made for it.
Sun protection is necessary. Even NZ-summers has not only sunshine hours, you have to use sun protection very often. NZ suffers of an ozone hole, though the sun burns more than on the most places in Europe. The temperature has been between +10°C and +20°C on the North Island, when I have been there and between +18°C and +23°C on the South Island and Stewart Island during my visit, but +23°C feels really hot. I was surprised, that the thermometer did not show more degrees. Please bear in mind, that this summer was not as warm/hot as usual.
NZ has lots of public toilets in touristic areas, even the toilets in the pubs are public – you can use all of them for free.
Earthquakes are not unusual in New Zealand, because the geological situation. There has been earthquakes on the North Island, but they are more usual on the South Island, especially around Christchurch. Wooden houses are saver than houses build of bricks. Buildings of concrete are safest. All public buildings, who are a risk by earthquakes have a notice about it on their doors. In areas, where earthquakes are common you will find information about, how to behave in such a situation. Remember that not every earthquake destroys houses etc. Only heavy earthquakes are dangerous. During the three months I was visiting NZ, I have not felt anyone.
Remember: Meet not only Kiwis, meet Maori, too!