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Written by Zoe Faulkner on 31 / 10 / 2023

Gap Year Advice

Hi intrepid travellers, Zoë here. I'm ready to share my top secrets on New Zealand and its must see destinations. I spent 3 weeks here and loved it - we did North to South Island and it just got better the further South we went.

The chances are you’ll be flying in from Australia (find our Australia itinerary here) if you find yourself travelling this side of the world. This itinerary will start in Auckland and discover the North Island before getting the ferry over to the South Island and winding your way down to Queenstown. The perfect 3/4 week New Zealand Gap Year Itinerary.

Phase 1: Auckland

Fly into Auckland and spend 3 nights here to settle in. Auckland has a vibrant urban setting with plenty of great places to eat and explore along the harbour front. While here explore the Sky Tower, visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum and even experience your first beach in NZ, the Muriwai Beach. Auckland is a great springboard for exploring nearby areas – from whale spotting to kayaking to Rangitoto Island for sunset and a BBQ on the dormant volcanic site. Also, Hobbiton – you can get there on a day trip from Auckland and even have time to see glow worm caves on your day trip as well. If you book through a tour co., they will send a bus for you and take care of all the logistics.

Phase 2: Rotorua

Next up head down to Rotorua – home of Māori Cultural experiences and the infamous geysers, mud pools and hot springs. The best way to get around is either by doing the Kiwi Experience bus service or using the InterCity bus links – both are good value and you can easily source an monthly pass or flexi pass allowing an amount of trips for example.

3 nights is long enough to stay in Rotorua – get yourself to one of the thermal baths to relax in the geo thermal pools – a lovely way to ease the muscle aches caused by lugging your heavy backpack around the place. For some explosive geysers head to Te Puia for a guided tour. For Māori Culture head to Mitai Māori Village Cultural Experience book here – it is an incredible evening of culture, delicious traditionally made food cooked underground on fires, guided bush walk and getting to see the haka by the tribe. A very impressive experience.

Phase 3: Lake Taupo

This is a stunning place to visit on your travels. Fun fact for you – Lake Taupo is the size of Singapore and is a beautiful destination to base yourself for 3 nights or so. A great hostel is Based By The Lake – an inexpensive way to explore. Take a boat trip around the lake to explore the Māori rock carvings, go and visit the ‘World’s Most Scenic McDonalds’ (yes really) and most importantly get yourself trekking the alpine cross – Tongariro. It’s a challenge and involves an early start and trekking for 6-7 hours over the alpine pass but I promise you some of the best walking you will ever experience. It’s stunning.

Phase 4: Wellington

A fun place to spend your last 3 nights. Think delicious food, funky streets with street food and if you’re of a fan of Lord of The Rings head to WETA workshop – a huge warehouse that showcases many movie props and speak to the skilled guides who are so experienced at talking about the movies and the work that goes into it. For a scenic (and free) walk head to the Botanic Gardens – you can get the cable car up there and walk down which is fun. For a day activity head to the Museum of New Zealand – props here are also made by the WETA workshop and are incredible – this is not your usual museum, this is awesome and interactive – there is even an earthquake simulator.

Time to head to the South Island by ferry. Most likely you will get into Picton where you can make your way to your next destination. Enjoy the stunning views as you enter the Fjord land for the last bit of the journey. This ferry route has been voted the most beautiful ferry journey in the world – enjoy.

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Phase 5: Kaiteriteri/Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman is a stunning National Park with lots of coastal walks and beautiful bays. Imagine the Whitsundays in Australia and you’re on the right lines. Everywhere is accessible by boat and you can do a trip of the bays if you want to sit and admire the views, or you can buy different packages where you can get off and trek the rainforest routes and camp. It is beautiful and I can recommend the fish and chips in Kaiteriteri. Spend 3 nights here to relax and enjoy – sunset on Little Kaiteriteri Beach is a joy. Kaiteriteri Beach Lodge is a great hostel to base yourself at just 50 yards from the beach.

Phase 6: Christchurch

No trip to NZ is complete without a visit to Christchurch . A far contrast to the beauty and nature of Abel Tasman, this is far more urban. A fun and interesting City which conveniently has a tram system to get you around nice and cheaply if you purchase a day card. There isn’t a great deal to do in Christchurch so 2 nights here is enough, and you can use it as your gateway to do tours do Mount Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo – a must. It is one of the most beautiful sites and the walks are epic but not too long if you don’t want it to be.

Phase 7: Queenstown

Ah the gem of New Zealand – opt for 3-4 nights here as there is so much to do and you want to also slow down and soak it all in. This is an alpine resort area that specialises in adrenaline sports year-round – from skiing in winter to sky diving, bungee jumping, and water sports in winter. The home of the original bungee jump AJ Hackett – if you’re going to do a bungee jump anywhere on your travels – this is the big one.
Queenstown also accommodates those wanting more of a chilled experience – disc golf in the park is a fun activity and nice and cheap! If you get the cable car up to the mountain you can watch people go karting the mountain track which is an experience.
Queenstown is also a great place to springboard your day trip tour to Milford Sound – a stunning natural wonder – spend a few hours serenely gliding through the Fiord’s Cliffs, waterfalls and mountain peaks. If you’re lucky you might even see a dolphin or 3…


How long should I spend in New Zealand?

We recommend spending at least 3-4 weeks in New Zealand in order to experience everything.

How much do I need to budget for a gap year in New Zealand?

Expect to budget around £2,000 a month whilst you're in New Zealand. This budget includes food, accommodation, and activities, but there's definitely ways you could save a penny or two whilst you're out there.

Do I need a visa to enter New Zealand on a gap year?

You don't need a visa if you're planning on staying less than six months. You do however need a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA), proof you have a return or onward flight, and proof you have enough money to cover your time in New Zealand.

What's the best way to travel around New Zealand?

Depending on your budget you could either hire a car (very spenny!), or use buses to get around.

Where should I go after New Zealand?

If you're flying there direct then the next obvious choice is Australia. If you've just come from there then head over to South East Asia for a contrasting experience. Find our 3 month SE Asia itinerary here.

Related Articles:

Connecting New Zealand with the rest of your gap year

The perfect Australia backpacker itinerary

Join our backpacking advice hub

Join our independent travel advice hub

Get in touch to speak to Zoë, who recently came back from backpacking around New Zealand and can help you with your own planning. Speak to someone who's been there and done it themselves and can share all of their tips and tricks.

Join the hub

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