To this day, New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Jaw-dropping mountains, glaciers, beaches, New Zealand has it all. But its beauty comes with a price. Make one wrong turn and you will be surrounded by tour buses, screaming babies, and hordes of tripod cameras. Here are my tips for planning the best outdoors trip to New Zealand without feeling like a mega tourist.
1. Prepare an Itinerary
And don't be afraid to break it. Making a plan was the most important thing for our 6 week trip to New Zealand, but we left buffer days in between big activities. Our White Island Volcano Tour for example was cancelled because of bad weather. Luckily we had no plans the day after, so we were able to go on the tour then!
If you want to do a lot of the popular overnight hikes, it's really hard to play it by ear and be spontaneous. Abel Tasman, Milford Track, and Routeburn Track campsites book out months in advance. Sometimes there are last minute cancellations, but the norm is to book these campsites 3 or even 6 months out.
2. Wake Up at Sunrise and Stay Up Past Midnight
There are so many beautiful scenic attractions in New Zealand, but it's likely that if you found it in a Lonely Planet guide or TripAdvisor, it will be overcrowded and a zoo. The best times to visit these places are at sunrise or very late at night when the stars are out. We went to a few of the popular spots like Hokitika Gorge in the middle of the day and found it to be just an 'ok' experience because of the crowds. But when we visited the famous Wanaka Tree at 2AM, it was completely empty.
3. Don't Be Afraid to Skip Things
There is a lot of pressure to see everything when you go to New Zealand. In the end, a lot of it is gorgeous and you only have time for so much. Choose what matters to you and not other people. During our 6 weeks there, we never ended up going to the Milford area. A lot of people were shocked to hear this and told us we missed out, but I don't feel any FOMO at all. I had such a wonderful time at the things we decided to do and see, that I wouldn't trade it for hordes of crowds and tour buses. Everyone is different, so everyone's ideal traveling situation is different. Not everyone wants to go to mega tourist attractions, and that's fine!
4. Respect the Locals
New Zealand is well known for its freedom camping rules that applies to campervans as well. When traveling around, be sure to respect the local laws. There has been a lot of discussion around freedom camping in certain areas like Lake Tekapo because of rude tourists disrespecting the place by using the bathroom in public parks and not cleaning up after themselves. Different regions will have different laws around freedom camping, like having a self-contained toilet.
5. Read Local Bloggers, Search Instagram, and Download an App
I found a lot of our destinations through local New Zealand bloggers and Instagram because I wanted to avoid the massive crowds of TripAdvisor travelers and families with crying babies. When we arrived in a new town, I searched up local finds on Rankerz, which you can download on your phone too. It's a little time consuming and takes some patience to sort out the good from the bad, but I think the time spent is worth the effort.