This guest post is by Heather Marston.
New Zealand is situated across two islands, each offering different landscapes and experiences. The North Island is green and lush, rich in culture, and home to Auckland and Wellington, the country’s two biggest cities. In contrast, the South Island is rugged and remote, with the Southern Alps running its length, and filled with mountains, fjords, and glaciers to explore.
In my experience, New Zealand is an ideal destination for solo female travelers. Its variety of landscapes, unique natural attractions, and friendly locals will make you want to stay forever. Which is exactly what happened to me. My experiences traveling in New Zealand were so good, I decided to make it my home.
So what exactly can you expect from a solo trip to New Zealand? Read on and find out.
Solo Travel Safety
Safety is one of the biggest factors for solo female travelers, which is why New Zealand is a great country for those just starting out. It is currently ranked the fourth most peaceful country by the Global Peace Index. In fact, it’s common to see people hitchhiking to get around outside of the main cities.
New Zealand has the best of both worlds: vibrant cities filled with amenities, and plenty of wilderness to immerse yourself in. And except for a few remote places, such as Milford Sound, you’ll have good Wi-Fi coverage to keep in touch with friends and family.
Still, it’s important to use precautions when traveling around a new place, no matter the safety rating. As with any location, it’s a good idea to keep copies of your passport. Be aware of your surroundings, and let someone know if you are heading into the wilderness alone.
If you’re going out at night, especially to the bars, it’s best to do so with someone. And of course, don’t leave your drinks unattended. Luckily, New Zealanders (affectionately known as Kiwis) are a friendly bunch and there will be plenty of opportunities to make new friends.
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Getting Around as a Solo Traveler
Most flights arrive at Auckland International Airport. From here you can pick up a rental car or take a bus into the city center, where many hostels and hotels are located. I prefer the Lylo hostels, located in Auckland, Christchurch, and Queenstown. They’re clean and modern and have great communal areas for meeting others. Plus, they have female-only pod rooms for around NZD$65 per night. I stayed in a six-pod female-only room, which was a great experience. I met other solo female travelers without being overwhelmed by a huge dorm room or stinky boys.
I highly recommend renting a camper van to get around the country. It offers the most flexibility for solo travel, including accommodation. With a campervan, you can go where you want and stay for however long you want, perfect for venturing off the beaten path which, trust me, you’ll want to do here. There are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be explored!
Two companies I really like are Spaceship Rentals and JUCY. I used Spaceship Rentals for my first solo trip around the North Island, because the vehicle I chose was small and easy to drive — ideal for my first time driving on the other side, and navigating narrow, winding roads in remote areas. Pickup locations are in Auckland and Christchurch, convenient to the main airports.
JUCY’s vehicles are also compact and have everything you need. I tend to use them for my trips around the South Island. Plus there are pickup locations in Auckland, Christchurch, and Queenstown. You can even grab a relocation hire for as little as NZ$1 per day. It’s a good option for the ulimtate road trip from Auckland to Queenstown.
Both companies offer 24/7 roadside rescue for peace of mind and will hire out campervans to drivers 18 years and older, although JUCY has a surcharge if you’re under 25. Just remember to bring your valid driver’s license or International Driving Permit.
Prices can vary significantly depending on the time of year. I used Camper Van Finder to find the best deals. You just need to fill in the fields based on your travel dates and pickup location, and it will compile a list of campervans that are available and the prices for each.
Although New Zealand has freedom camping (parking somewhere outside of designated parking spots, or in places that are free of charge), there are rules on where you can and can’t park overnight. You’ll need to stay in areas that are designated for freedom camping, and some sites need to be booked in advance, especially during high season (from October to April). The Freedom Camping and Department of Conservation (DOC) websites are useful resources; they have a list of all the campsites around the country, including a Camping NZ App you can download. Bookings can be made on the DOC website.
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Holiday parks are my other go-to option with a campervan. My preferred choice is a Top 10 Holiday Park, with 47 locations around the country. I stayed at several locations and found the facilities to be consistently good.
During my travels, I mostly stayed at a mix of campsites and holiday parks outside of the cities. The holiday parks were great for meeting other travelers and of course a hot shower, while the campsites offer an off-the-beaten-path experience.
New Zealand is divided by the Cook Straight, so you’ll need to book a ferry to cross from the North to South Island with a car. Or you can arrange two separate camper van or car rentals, one for the North Island and one for the South Island, then fly from Auckland or Wellington into Christchurch or Queenstown. (The airfares to Christchurch are generally cheaper to fly into than Queenstown.)
I opted for two separate two-week road trips on each island and flew from Auckland to Christchurch in between. If you are short on time, a point-to-point trip from Auckland to Queenstown would be the better option. You can then fly one-way back to Auckland to catch your flight home.
An alternative is to drive one way from Auckland to Wellington, fly from Wellington to Christurch, then drive from Christchurch to Queenstown. The good thing is, there are several ways to organize your trip to fit into the timeframe you have.
Another good thing is that it’s easy to navigate around New Zealand, especially outside of the bigger cities. The main highways are easy to follow and well covered on Google Maps, and other areas are mostly country roads and more laid-back, so you can take your time navigating. Plus, the rural roads are less busy and better for getting used to driving on the left side of the road if that’s new for you.
So, if your sense of direction is lacking (like mine), New Zealand is the ideal place for a solo road trip. It’s not that big, and you won’t stay lost for long.
If renting a car isn’t in the cards, the Intercity Bus will take you to most of the main cities and towns. It’s a slower method of travel, so you may need to prioritize what you want to see.
Guided coach tours are an option if you want to access remote parts of the country, such as Mount Cook National Park, without a car. There’s a range of operators to choose from, varying in duration and covering most areas.
Solo Traveler Friendliness & How to Meet Others
New Zealand is a popular destination for solo travelers, thanks to its reputation for safety and adventure. Hostels are a great place to meet travel companions, especially in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and Queenstown.
Campgrounds and holiday parks are ideal for meeting others outside the main cities, especially in summer, when everyone congregates around the communal barbecue areas for a yarn (chat) and a feed. While staying at the Top 10 holiday park in Te Anau, I met a lovely couple and a family of four, and we arranged to have a barbecue together. Other people staying there started coming over, and it turned into one of the best social evenings of my whole trip. Everyone shared laughs and road trip stories well into the night.
And given that English is one of the main languages of New Zealand (alongside te reo Māori and NZ Sign Language), it’s comforting to know that communication won’t be an issue.
If you plan on going on hikes, I recommend joining the Tramping in New Zealand Facebook page. It’s a great way not only to learn about the best trails but also to meet fellow hikers. Other travelers will often post on the page looking for hiking buddies.
(Oh, and I should also mention that “tramping” means “hiking” in New Zealand, in case you don’t already know. Had me baffled when I first arrived and someone invited me to “go on a tramp.”)
If you like photography, joining an adventure photography tour is a great way to meet like-minded people. I’ve been on a couple and had fantastic experiences. Most consist of locals and overseas visitors attending as solo travelers.
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In fact, I met my best travel buddy through one of these photography tours. We were paired as roommates, both being solo female travelers. Now we travel together whenever we can.
New Zealand Photography Workshops has a range of tours covering most locations. It’s run by locals who take you to all the best spots, sometimes even secret ones, like the secret waterfall we were taken to on my last trip. It’s not on the map and only identified by a small gap in the trees along the side of a road. We hiked for 30 minutes down a sketchy trail to this massive cascading waterfall. It was an exhilarating experience and a chance to see a secret spot few people have been to.
Things to Do
A road trip around the North and South Islands is the best way to explore the dramatic scenery and top sightseeing spots. New Zealand has roughly the same surface area as the state of Colorado with a long and narrow shape. The amount of time you have will determine your exact itinerary. I recommend at least 1-2 weeks in the North Island and 2- 3 weeks in the South Island. This will give you time to explore the highlights and get off the beaten track. Being able to enjoy the journey and explore the country without feeling rushed is one of the best things about solo travel.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and a good place to start from. But before you head off, be sure to check out some of its top attractions. The iconic Sky Tower stands over 1,000 feet, with expansive views of the city and the harbor from the top. Commercial Bay in downtown is filled with delicious eateries; try Kai Eatery for fresh Taiwanese street food and Burger Burger for the best burgers in Auckland, or Wise Boy Burgers for tasty vegan options.
If you have time, take a day trip to Waiheke Island for a tour of its top wineries. Mudbrick and Cable Bay are two I really enjoyed. One is more rustic and the other contemporary, but both have a range of top varieties to try.
You can catch a ferry from downtown Auckland and travel around the island by car or bus, but I recommend splurging on a tour for this one. I did the Ecozip and vineyard tour and had so much fun. I enjoyed the company, especially at the wineries.
To the north, you’ll travel through lush landscapes with plenty of small towns, waterfalls, and beaches to explore. Cape Reinga sits at the northernmost tip of New Zealand, marked by a picturesque lighthouse. Not only is the scenery spectacular but you can see two oceans colliding, the Tasman Sea from the left and the southern Pacific Ocean from the right.
You can follow the main highway back to Auckland or take the scenic route along the west coast for a more remote experience. Stop at 90 Mile Beach for a look at the pristine white sands. Only 4WD vehicles can drive on the beach, but you can park and wander on foot.
Then visit Tane Mahuta at Waipoua Forest. This 2,000-year-old tree is massive and affectionately referred to as the Lord of Forest. It’s a quick stop, only a five-minute walk from the parking lot.
As you head south of Auckland, be sure to take the short detour to the Coromandel Peninsula, where Hot Water Beach is world famous for the hot mineral water that sits below the surface. At low tide, find a spot that feels warm underneath and start digging to create your own bubbling hot pool right on the beach! I got up at sunrise to find my spot before the crowds — it was bliss.
Lord of the Rings fans won’t want to miss a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set, located in the Waikato region. The attention to detail is truly impressive! Tours start from NZ$90 and will take around 2.5 hours.
Experience a geothermal mud spa at Hell’s Gate in Rotorua. The sulfur-rich area smells like rotten eggs, but the mineral waters are thought to have healing and rejuvenation powers. It’s a unique and relaxing experience, and my skin never felt so soft. For NZ$105, you’ll get access to the mud bath, sulfur spas, and the plunge pool.
For outdoor adventurers, a visit to Tongariro National Park and Mount Taranaki should be on your list. Take your pick from several trails, ranging from short walks to full-day excursions. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is rated one of world’s best hikes, but it’s not for the fainthearted. The 12-mile one-way journey takes around 7-9 hours to complete, but it’s the best way to see absolutely everything that the park has to offer.
For a more relaxing experience, visit the Hawke’s Bay region. It’s a significant wine-producing area and the perfect place to sample some of the food and wine at one of many world-class vineyards. Napier is an Art Deco town located in Hawke’s Bay that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is known for culture and arts. I enjoyed checking out the shops around Cuba Street, which has a great bohemian vibe and is a little bit quirky. I was happy to find Fidel’s Café, which has great coffee — especially good after drinking instant coffee on the road.
In my opinion, a road trip around the South Island is one of the best solo-travel experiences in New Zealand. It’s a journey that will take you to some of the most dramatic landscapes the country has to offer. I suggest spending at least two weeks here, especially if you want to cover the more remote areas of Milford Sound and the West Coast.
Most start their journey from either Christchurch or Queenstown. The latter is the ideal starting point for a South Island road trip. It’s also a great place to meet other travelers.
Located in a stunning alpine paradise, Queenstown is the place for epic adventure experiences, from skydiving to jet boating and so much more. One thing I wish I did there was bungy jump from the Kawarau Bridge, a 140-foot plunge during which you can touch the water if you dare. It’s the world’s first bungy jump actually — definitely on my bucket list for next time.
Lake Moke and Bob’s Cove are two of my favorite spots in Queenstown; both are easy walks in stunning locations, a big reward for minimal effort.
Queenstown also has a vibrant nightlife and bar scene. The Queenstown Bar Crawl is a great way to experience the bars as a solo traveler and meet new people. It’s a guided tour on which you’ll be escorted to five of the top bars along with fellow crawlers. It costs NZ$30, which includes free shots and pizza, plus discounts on drinks for the rest of your stay.
I also recommend you try the famous Fergburger while in town. Like Burger Burger in Auckland, it has a reputation for having the best burgers around. Why not try them both and see which one you think is better? I know my winner, but I’ll keep it under wraps so I don’t ruin the fun. Fergburger will likely have a long line, so if you don’t have the time to wait, or can’t be bothered, Devil Burger is just around corner; it’s also very good — locals might argue it’s even better!
There is so much to see and do in Milford Sound, it’s worth spending a night in the nearby town of Te Anau. Then you can take your time exploring all the great places to stop along the road getting there and enjoy a cruise along the length of the fjord. It’s also a great area to explore on foot, which is easy to do given the variety of hikes in the area. The Lake Marian track is a visually breathtaking trail into the Fiordland wilderness and my personal favorite.
Another walk I enjoyed in the Milford Sound area is the one to Giant Gate Falls. It’s part of the Milford Track, but you can do this section as a day walk from October to May. I booked the water taxi from Milford Sound to the start of the trail at Sandfly Point through Fiordland Outdoors. It was nice to do solo, and there were enough people around to not feel too isolated. Plus, the scenery was breathtaking. The only downside is the sandflies — they are relentless, so be sure to bring bug spray.
In my experience, the drive from Queenstown to Mt. Cook is one of the best road trips on the South Island. This 171-mile journey has so many scenic stops along the way that you can easily turn the three-hour drive into a whole-day affair, and that’s exactly what I did. You’ll get to experience the historic Cardona Hotel, the outdoorsy town of Wanaka, and the otherworldly Lindis Pass, along with some lesser-known but equally beautiful spots.
The Hooker Valley Track in Mt. Cook and the Instagram-famous Roy’s Peak Track in Wanaka are both good for hiking as a solo traveler. Both are easy to navigate and open all year round, unless there’s been heavy snowfall. Plus, you’ll be on the trail with lots of other hikers.
I had such a great experience at Roy’s Peak. It was fun helping each other get the perfect shot after the uphill mission to get to the lookout point.
The Hooker Valley Track was my first solo hike in New Zealand and one of my most memorable. It’s a popular trail and not technically difficult. Other hikers greeted me as I walked past, and the scenery took my breath away. It was a pinch-me moment, and I’m so glad I got to experience it on my own — maybe because I was a little nervous in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, but mainly because I needed my own time and thoughts to absorb the dramatic landscapes all around me.
Doing one of the New Zealand Great Walks is another great way to explore the South Island on foot as a solo traveler. These multiday hikes are seasonal, from October to April, and will require a bit of planning. You’ll need to book huts early via the Department of Conservation (DOC). Or you can pay a bit more and take a guided walk if you’re not keen to go completely solo. This way you’ll be with the same group for the duration, which can be great fun.
As you travel along the west coast, be sure to stop at Hokitika Gorge to experience the bluest water. A couple hours further up is the small but lively village of Franz Josef. From here, you can experience the ultimate heli-hike or ice climbing adventure on the Franz Josef Glacier; you can even take a cold plunge in the icy water. Just be careful, because there are rocks and strong currents, so I suggest doing this only if others are around. After the second swing bridge, there is a small beach where you can enter the icy turquoise water. Just don’t leave your towel in the van like I did. I’m sure you could hear my teeth chattering from the North Island as I ran back to the parking lot. It still gives me goosebumps thinking about how cold that was!
From Kaikoura, whale watching is a popular activity. You can see the majestic sperm whale and dusky dolphins all year round. You might even encounter humpback whales or orcas at certain times of the year, due to their migratory patterns. Whale Watch Kaikoura has a 95% success rate of seeing dolphins and whales. Summer is the most enjoyable time of year to go, but do check weather conditions before you book, as bad weather can cancel your tour.
When to Go and What to Bring
The time of year you visit New Zealand will impact what you’ll be seeing and doing.
Summertime has the best weather and most daylight hours to pack in more activities. Meeting new people will be easy among the influx of visitors during the high season. The warmer weather is also ideal for exploring New Zealand’s landscapes and extensive hiking trails.
However, it’s also the busiest time of year to travel around the country, so expect more crowds and higher prices. It can also be hard to secure accommodation in the popular areas. I recommend booking things like your car rental, accommodation (including campgrounds), tours, and activities as early as possible.
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Winter is a great time to visit if you’re eager to experience the ski fields and a quieter, more relaxed trip. Temperatures range from 35 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit on the South Island and 40 to 60 degrees on the North Island. Although it’s warmer, there is generally higher rainfall on the North Island. However, some hiking trails will be closed, and road conditions can be harder to navigate in certain parts of the country. On the South Island, you’ll need to carry and be able to fit snow chains to your vehicle.
I recommend visiting during spring and fall, however, when you can enjoy most activities with fewer crowds and relatively stable weather. Warmer days and cooler evenings are ideal for hiking and exploring the outdoors.
Spring and fall are also easier to plan, with more availability and cheaper pricing for things like accommodation and car rentals. Most attractions are open, but days and times can vary throughout the shoulder seasons. Be sure to check the opening and closing dates for attractions you don’t want to miss.
The good news is that New Zealand is a great country to visit year-round, with plenty of things to do in every season.
Whenever you decide to visit, make sure to pack accordingly. New Zealand is known to have four seasons in one day. I have experienced this firsthand — it’s wild. I recommend bringing a waterproof jacket and sturdy footwear for exploring. Layers are a good option for spring and fall, so you can adjust them as needed. A warm outer layer and thermals are essential for winter, especially on the South Island. And of course, don’t forget the camera and extra batteries to capture the endless beauty of New Zealand.
If you’re ready for a bucket-list experience as a solo female traveler, New Zealand is an ideal destination. There are plenty of opportunities for adventure in a relaxed, friendly, and safe environment. The country’s beauty will leave you in awe and hungry for more adventures.
Heather Marston travels extensively throughout New Zealand and shares her adventures on her blog, New Zealand Wanderer. She can usually be found exploring hidden gems on the North Island, road-tripping around the South Island, or hiking New Zealand’s vast network of trails. Follow along with Heather’s adventures on Instagram.