First off, I have to admit my bias. New Zealand is the first country I’ve ever traveled to solo, and I had such a great experience here that I feel compelled to persuade would-be explorers to choose this stunning archipelago as their first stop. I could go on and on about Aotearoa, but I’ll summarize 10 main reasons why that long, long flight would be worth it.
1. iSite Centers
New Zealand realizes that tourism, besides agriculture, is its bread and butter, so they make it as easy as possible to navigate their country. There are over 80 iSite Centers spread throughout the country, and are usually hubs for backpacker bus pick-ups and drop-offs. Inside these centers, you’ll find maps of the town and tons of brochures for tours, accommodation, and activities. The maps are especially useful, since most guidebooks don’t have detailed maps of the smaller towns.
2. Bus Tours/Mass Transit
I have a small obsession with color-coded mass transit, mostly because I appreciate the idiot-proofing for people like me. This aspect made Auckland’s bus system extremely simple to use.
The tourist buses are equally efficient. If you want to explore the country via backpacking bus, you’ll most likely wind up with a pass from Kiwi Experience or InterCity. Kiw Experience offers a number of passes, ranging from around $100 (Auckland to Paihia) to over $1000 (around both islands). I used InterCity, which offers a FlexiPass that allows you to book your own buses along their route. The passes are sold by hours. A 15 Hour Pass will get you from Auckland to Wellington ($109), and a 120 Hour Pass will take you pretty much everywhere in the country ($900). Another plus about InterCity is that you can use your hours to book other tours, like a dolphin cruise in Paihia or the ferry between islands. You can also top off your pass if you’re short a couple hours.
These buses are perfect for the solo traveler. You don’t have to worry about finding your way around, you get to meet other travelers, and the bus drivers are very nice. I even had one offer to drop me off at my hotel after he found out I would have to walk there with my heavy backpack.
3. Diversity of Tours
Ah New Zealand, land of the brochure. Everywhere you go there will be tons of these folded promises of fun stuffed into plastic shelves, lining the walls. Take your time to peruse. The nice thing is that there is something for everyone. There’s fishing, horseback riding, night kayaking, sailing, hiking, historical tours, culture tours, you name it. NZ is the place to splurge on some of these activities.
I’m not much of a tour person, but I couldn’t help myself here. Especially when you’re traveling alone, sometimes it’s easier to just book a tour to major sights, like Waitomo Caves or Hobbiton, than to have to deal with the logistics of it all. Also, there are some things you have to do with a tour group, like riding a boat around the Bay of Islands. If it showcases NZ’s natural beauty, then trust me, it’s worth every penny.
4. English Speaking
You’re reading this article, so I can rightfully assume you have at least a working knowledge of the English language. Going on your first solo trip can be kind of scary. Things will always go wrong while traveling – you’ll lose something, the bus will be late, you won’t be able to find the hotel- and it can get overwhelming when you have no one to rely on but yourself. While surviving all these snafus is part of what makes solo travel so liberating, it might be a good idea to at least speak the language. There’s a learning curve when it comes to solo traveling, and it’s good to be able to actually ask someone for some help.
I’m horrible with directions, and usually rely on my travel partner to get us to our destinations. When I was in NZ by myself I had no one, not even Google, to get me to where I needed to go. It made all the difference to be able to ask people for help. By the end of the trip I was pretty decent at getting places myself, but I think it would have been too overwhelming to even be able to ask people in the beginning.
5. Cheap Accommodation
If you’re on a budget, traveling alone can make finding accommodation very painful. Without anyone to split the cost with, hostels are usually the best choice. You can easily find a decent hostel for about $20-30 a night. Or if hostels aren’t your thing, you can easily find a decent hotel for around $50 a night.
6. Friendly People
New Zealand is a place perpetually just meandering through the day, having a good time and not stressing over the little things. Unlike Americans, who seem to always act like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, Kiwis know how to slow down and take their time. Maybe its being constantly surrounded by such calming scenery, but a Kiwi is never in too much of a rush to help someone out. Not only are Kiwis friendly, but they take a lot of pride in their country, so they’re happy to answer your questions. Plus, the relaxing vibe is a saving grace during a nerve-frazzling first solo journey.
7. Chance to Meet Fellow Solo Travelers (from all over)
People from all over the world are onto the secret that New Zealand is a great place to travel solo. A must-see on the backpacker circuit, this place gets a lot of traveler traffic for such a remote country. Especially if you stay at a hostel or travel on one of the backpacker buses, you’ll meet people from all over the world. I met locals on vacation (or holiday, as they call it), fellow Americans (just a few), Australians, Indonesians, Koreans, and a handful of people from Europe. I even met a couple other super cool chicks traveling by themselves as well.
Although you’ll find mixed opinions on the crime rate, I felt very safe in New Zealand. There were a couple of times I woke up very early to find some Wi-Fi before a morning departure, and I never felt threatened. It blew my mind to be walking through the heart of a city at 5 in the morning and not have to dodge creepers and homeless people. Once you get out of the city, everyone is so relaxed and cool that it’s hard to feel like there’s a threat lurking around the corner. When you’re all by yourself, with no one to even know you’re gone for hours, it’s a huge plus to feel safe.
9. There’s tons of free stuff to do
So you’ve blown all your money on something awesome like bungee jumping, zorbing, or some tour. Don’t worry. Now you get to enjoy NZ’s free outdoors. Go on a hike or hit the beach. You can pick up a map from the iSite Center with all the hikes in the area. If you’re in Auckland, you could hit up Auckland Art Gallery, which has no admission. You could also catch the bus to the black sand beaches of Piha, or have a picnic in Auckland Domain.
10. New Zealand is awesome!
Finally, New Zealand is a great place for a first solo trip because it rocks! The scenery is awe-inspiring, the culture is engaging, the people are chill, and, come on, it’s Middle Earth. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.