New Zealand is divided in two islands, the North Island (or Te Ika-a-Māui) which is a bit smaller but has 3.5 million of New Zealand's 4.5 million inhabitants, and the South Island which has a more diverse range of natural beauty. People often compare Australia to New Zealand and they indeed have a lot in common. The culture is very similar and people seem to be even more relaxed in NZ as they are in Australia. Still there are two main differences: First New Zealanders play rubgy, and not this weird Australian "footie", and distances are much shorter than in Australia and you don't risk as much with NZ's climate and wildlife. Depending on when you travel, and on which island you should be careful that there can be heavy snow with blocked roads for some days (especially on the West Coast of the South Island). A story says that New Zealand has 20 sheep for one person but this is actually a myth. 1982 NZ indeed had 70 million sheep for 3,5 million people, but this number dropped to only 31 million in 2011. Which is not too bad already.
The Working-Holiday Visa is a great opportunity for all young people of the countries in the convention, and you can soon feel at home surrounded by mainly Germans and Frenchs. You really have to go out of the beaten tracks if you don't like too much taking selfies in front of glaciers.
Now, once this is said, it is really understandable why New Zealand is so visited. It is a safe country with amazing landscapes, in 15 minutes or half an hour the nature changes completely, from yellow sunshining hills to snowy mountains diving into deep blue sea, rivers and tropical forests, huge empty beaches. Even if you don't like to visit touristic places, you can still enjoy New Zealand by taking other roads. A bit of an expensive country though, especially on beer and tobacco, but quite well paid and jobs even not declared are not too dificult to find.
Although it is the dream of every NZ-traveler to see a kiwi, you would be very lucky if you see one elsewhere then on road boards, on the shops, on the banks, in the souvenir shops. If you want it so badly that you cannot come back without having seen one, go to Stewart Island/Rakiura, otherwise you will have to stop dreaming.
- 1 Transport
- 2 By car
- 3 By plane
- 4 Budget bus travel
- 5 By bike or walking
- 6 Travel passes
- 7 Accommodation
- 8 Wild camping
- 9 Spontaneous hospitality
- 10 Food
- 11 Connectivity
- 12 Rainbow Family Gatherings
- 13 Busking
- 14 Visa
- 15 Cities
- 16 Travel destinations
Here again, road organization and price of the fines is pretty much the same as in Australia. One difficulty can be to cross from an island to the other, especially by hitchhiking. NZ have some big restrictions on where you are allowed to camp and authorize in some place only 'self-sufficient' vans, which basically means you have toilets. This can help you chose between when you want to buy or rent a van.
New Zealand is Hitchhiking friendly. It is generally not too difficult to get rides on the main highways but many of the more rural routes have only a small amount of traffic. The drivers are genuine and friendly but still one should take the usual safety precautions. Have a look on Hitchwiki for more tips.
Traveling in the car of other backpackers
There are so many travellers in NZ that it is really easy to find people to travel with by car/van in order to share costs and fun. However, it is not sure you will find like-minded people! In the youth hostels' bulletin boards or on Gumtree you can often find people offering rides from a place to another, for free or asking some money for food/fuel expenses, this really depends on the persons and the length of the trip. If you do not meet the people beforehand, and actually even if you meet them, you can have as much a bad as a good surprise!
Buying a car/van
This is often a favored option when traveller arrive for long-term in New Zealand. It is much cheaper than renting, and you can pretty easily re-sell when leaving. If you try to sell at the same time everybody does, you might not manage to sell it.
If you don't mind a short schedule you can use a rental car relocation company such as Transfercar or Imoova, but there are hundreds of websites offering these kind of relocation services. Because some itineraries are prefered by tourists, a lot of cars can end up in some place and the company needs to bring it back to a big departure city. They offer then to get a car for free or cheap price for a predetermined amount of days, sometimes fuel offered and sometimes you can have an extra day by noticing the agency. It is a good way to cover long distance in a short amount of time with few money, especially if you are more than 2 and that hitchhiking doesn't look like an option to you. However be careful not to be "ethically" fooled: in a way you help the company by driving their car down and making them save a lot of money, so they shouldn't charge you too much for this, if not charging you at all. TransferCar offers free one-way rentals for short-term relocations, e.g. Christchurch to Auckland in 4 days, including ferry pass and a full tank of fuel.
The big name rental cars are fairly expensive, but some comparative websites offer very often good deals. They might charge you more if you are under 25 and only show the normal price until you fill the online form. Be aware of the restrictions such as where you can take the car and drop it and how many kilometers you can do per day (the cheapest cars are usually limited to 100km a day).
A rental camper van with friends is likely to be your cheapest option because you will save on accommodation costs. Consider motorhomes as well, some can fit 6 people and splitting costs can make it affordable. And it gives a nice "grandpa and grandma going on holidays"-feeling! Look at Wicked Campers, they are usually pretty relaxed. They use old vehicles that they paint so the cars and vans are really cool and unique, and they are often the cheapest of all rentals, except when other companies have good deals. As well, if you come and pick your vehicle naked, you get an extra free day, it gives you an idea of the company ;)
Make sure you know the road rules (the "Road Code") as police have been cracking down on tourist drivers recently. You can learn the necessary rules for free at this site. You must carry your licence with you at all times. It must be in English or you will need to have an approved translation or international driving permit.
Jetcost NZ and GrabaSeat offer some pretty good fares. Have a look at How to find cheap flights as well. Unless you have only a small carry-on bag (max 7kg) then be careful to select the Seat+Bag fare option when buying your ticket which allows you one check-in bag up to 23kg.
Budget bus travel
By bike or walking
NZ is full of mountains and elevation differences so if you are fit or want to loose some weight, biking is a pretty awesome option. Landscapes are changing all the time and with a good itinerary, you can find empty roads far from the busy and much less enjoyable ones.
The country has some awesome walking paths as well.
Backpackers (youth hostels) are to be found everywhere but will not be your cheapest option.
bbh.co.nz is a listing of cheap backpacker accommodation in New Zealand, as well as a noticeboard advertising jobs, used cars for sale, people looking for travel buddies and a discussion forum. Invaluable resource while backpacking in NZ.
Backpackerboard also has information on accommodation, events and generally travelling around and staying in New Zealand.
Backcountry huts are amazing - there are about a thousand (1000!) all over the country. They operate on an honesty system and are never locked, and cost either $0, $5 or $15, payable by hut tickets that need to be purchased in advance (but can then be used anywhere). Huts usually have mattresses and a wood burner as well as toilets and drinking water. The exception are some very popular huts and those on the great walks, which must be pre-booked if in season - and go back to regular hut status in off-season. Consider buying a back country hut pass - as of 2015, it's $92 for 6 or $122 or 12 months and includes unlimited use of all $5 and $15 huts. Even when not on an epic tramping trip this can be a great option for overnight stays - lots of huts are just less than 2 hours walk away from the road - take a nice evening walk to your private hut - chances are high the less popular ones will be empty outside the main season weekends ... DOC has a good map to see what's close 
In 2011 the NZ Government passed into law the Freedom Camping Act which allows city and district councils to pass by-laws restricting freedom camping. The law allows for instant fines of $200 per night for freedom camping in prohibited areas. However, this does not apply to Department of Conservation land in the backcountry : "Freedom camping is permitted on public conservation land, except in areas where it is expressly prohibited or restricted to self contained vehicles. This is indicated by signage."  These areas are usually just car parks or other easily accessible entry points. Otherwise as soon as you are on public conservation land (and 30% of the country is), away from the road, you are free to set up your tent and enjoy the great outdoors! Please do not abuse this privilege! Pack it in, pack it out, leave no trace. Bury your waste far away from any water source so we can all keep drinking water directly from the streams.
On council land such as roads, (car)parks, etc however, in general if you pitch a tent basically anywhere that isn't a designated camping spot you can face a NZ$200 fine. This depends on the council, if you want to be certain find the respective bylaws online or call. The main reason behind this is because too many tourists left their rubbish and poop on the ground in traditional free camping spots. Please respect New Zealand and never leave anything, including your defecation, on the ground after camping somewhere. A map with all camping spots including free ones can be found at http://www.rankers.co.nz/respect. But unfortunately a lot of free ones are only available for the rich tourists with fully enclosed camper vans and you might find yourself woken up by a council person giving you a $200 fine if you are found tenting there. So check the rules first.
There are a lot of empty spaces in NZ, so you shouldn't struggle too much to find a place to pitch a tent.
Kiwis are very hospitable and in the countryside, the second house if not the first one will let you pitch your tent in their garden, or even invite you inside. In touristic places such as Picton or Te Anau, you might have to ask 5 to 10 times, or more. In bigger cities, it might be a more difficult and you could try the suburbs.
Look at the Spontaneous hospitality article.
There are many WWOOF opportunities in New Zealand. Be careful, some of them are closer of exploitation than WWOOFing, don't accept everything. Be aware that New Zealand, unlike Australia, considers volunteer work such as WWOOFing paid work and requires you to hold a work visa.  If you do not have one, your host would usually neither mind now know about this, but make sure you don't mention it or give your WWOOF host as your first address on your arrival card.
Food is expensive, but you can reduce your budget by combining these three ways. In NZ a lot of supermarkets are reducing the prices of their products that expire soon, from 10% to 70% or more the closest they get to expiry date so you can easily divide your food budget by two. As well, dumpster diving infos in NZ can be found on Trashwiki. And petrol stations can be a nice rescue solution. By law after midnight products expire, and you can ask for "out of date products". You will definitely not get the first quality, organic, environmental-friendly-produced food but it will be free or very very cheap. Probably the few coins you give are going into the seller's pocket.
In terms of supermarkets, Pak'n'Save tends to be the cheapest of the big brands, but you will often get a better deal on fruit and vegetables at an Asian marketplace. If you can organise yourself to be at one of the larger regional marketplaces, e.g. Avondale Market in Auckland, you will find wholesale prices.
Shoplifting is easy in New Zealand.
Libraries usually offer free wifi and computers.
2015: There are three networks, Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees. 2degrees is available only in urban areas but uses Vodafone where not available through national roaming (no extra charges). Check their sites for packages, the usual is a $19/month with 500MB data, 100 minutes and free texting, with minor variations, promotions and packages to add on to that.
Be aware that Spark has no GSM (2G) network, only 3G. Main frequency is 850Mhz which your phone may not support if it's not coming from the US. 2degrees and Vodafone use 900Mhz/2100Mhz, which again may be a problem with a US bought phone, but also offer regular 2G/GSM on the usual 900/1800Mhz. Check before you buy.
If you get a Spark SIM card there are free wifi hotspots in some cities with up to 1Gb per day allowed - however this only applies if you're on a combo package costing you at least $19 per month.
Rainbow Family Gatherings
New Zealand has a small but active Rainbow Family of Living Light. There are usually 2 month-long Rainbow Gatherings each summer - one on the South Island and one on the North Island. These are held at different times to allow family to attend both Gatherings. Rainbow Family Aotearoa maintains a website and an active Facebook group.
Busking is common throughout New Zealand and can be very rewarding. Regulations vary from place to place - some cities require a permit for busking in public spaces while others don't.