When we set off on our year away and New Zealand adventure, so many of our friends all said to us “well this will make or break you”. In some ways, I guess this is true. However after a decade of being in a relationship together... I’d like to think we could last just short of a year without murdering each other! We bloody did it! Not only did we do it... We did so without a single bust-up, or major disagreement on our New Zealand road trip adventure. This is why couples who travel together stay together!
Backpacking as a couple really is a great thing to do together. One of my favourite sociological elements of backpacking was being surrounded by like-minded people majority of the time. This was such a nice change from knowing the 50% of our nation vehemently disagreed with our viewpoint on the EU back home (we voted to remain). Being in this intensely social environment enabled us both to take a break from each other if needed.
If one of us (usually Kelly) needed an early night or a night of Netflix, she was able to do so knowing I’d be occupied by a great company (and Beer). It’s definitely one of the things I miss the most about travelling. Especially when you remove the places and activities from the equation. That semi-forced social cohesion really is as much of the appeal as the trip itself looking back. It's definitely a huge part of the memories.
"Backpacking as a couple is a really great thing to do together"
Two distinct periods during our year away make this really resonate with me. Being removed entirely from the statutes quo of society... And being flung into a situation where you meet new people would scare many people. Until Koh Rong Samloem; a tiny, almost deserted island off the Southern coast of Cambodia had us living with total strangers for a week. This led both of us to form friendships that are as strong now as they were when we were there together.
Removing societal norms entirely from the equation like mobile technology, social media, power, even SHOES! This meant that we all went back to the basics of friendship, namely, talking to each other and sharing knowledge, thoughts, and experiences. Situations like this will live with us for a lifetime, and I just wish we had longer in this kind of situation.
"Not only did we survive, but we thrived as a couple"
We arrived in New Zealand, where we’d be living in a box and driving the length and breadth of the country together. Just the two of us for pretty much the whole 6-week duration. I think it’s safe to say neither of us really knew how we’d cope! This is something that neither of us had really considered before leaving Thailand. Whilst we’d spent every day together for the previous 100+ days, we had in some cases had time apart. New Zealand, if anywhere, would have been the place where we broke. But I’m so glad to say that not only did we survive, but we thrived as a couple.
Getting around New Zealand
When we started looking into our New Zealand leg of the trip. A coach tour called Kiwi Experience came very highly recommended. From what I gathered, the social side of this is absolutely fantastic and the extensive journeys on the coaches are a proper laugh. For us, however, the desire to be totally free was way more appealing! Sleeping, stopping and doing what we want, where we want, was far more appealing than the 5-10 hour bus journeys, stopping at the ‘main’ sights. As with anywhere, you go, once you go off the beaten track a bit, you can discover some wonderful sights.
We hired a motorhome for our New Zealand adventure
Our trusty steed named Leeroy would house and transport us for the full 6 weeks. I feel like we really lucked out with him in all honesty. He was roomy, comfortable, with mod-cons you’d hope for, and some idiosyncrasies too that just added to our love. Not once did he let us down in the full 6 weeks.
We rented from one of the less-well-known companies, Wenderkreisen Travel. There are a number of big suppliers in New Zealand for campers, but firstly, they charge an arm and a leg. Secondly, they aren’t always treated that well. Leeroy was a custom build home and never let us down. We paid significantly less than others we met and Leeroy didn’t scream that we were a couple of youngens on a ‘Gap Yaah’.
Another little nugget of gold we found, was Okay2Stay. We wanted to try and camp in some unique spots, not surrounded by millions of other campers. Okay2Stay is a cooperative society in New Zealand. You pay a $45 NZD for a years membership and you get access to a list of companies that’ll let you camp on their site. We stayed at a craft beer bar/restaurant, a few STUNNING vineyards and a few bars in secluded parts of the country... For FREE! Obviously, it’s common courtesy to buy a product or two that the vendors produce and sell. I was more than happy to purchase a bottle of Pinot Noir to stay on a vineyard! To top it off, in a few cases, we ended up spending our evenings with the owners, which just added to the magic.
New Zealand Trip: Driving 7000km in 6 weeks...
Many would say that this level of driving could only be described as a fairly mundane and monotonous experience. Normally I’d agree as my daily commute in the UK is anything between 50-120 miles on average. Normally resulting in ungodly queueing on motorways, a lack of anything to really look at, road rage and anger. But in New Zealand, it’s totally the opposite (apart from in Auckland, that was pretty crap). I know I keep going on about it, but the landscapes, the sights, and the scenery are just so breath-taking! It’ll be impossible to not enjoy every minute of it. Perhaps what got me so much was the incredible diversity we experienced. There are just so many beautiful places to visit in New Zealand.
"We drove through mountain ranges, rainforests, national parks, along beaches and on dirt roads"
We had points where in one day we’d effectively be driving through a rainforest, up to a mountain and back down again. Between huge mountain ranges, along beaches, dirt roads, national parks and in many cases we'd barely see another human being. It’s safe to say that New Zealand is pretty stark, and the population density is LOW. That just added to the charm in all honesty. There were points we really did feel like we were totally secluded, with a big ol’ pile of incredible in front of us.
It’s safe to say, campers rule the roads here. Unlike any other country I’ve been to, campers are totally accepted and enjoyed by people. The culture seems to thrive on driving around on weekends and experiencing new wonders of this great nation! In the UK, campers are stereotypically associated with old people, and gipsies, but in New Zealand, they are for proper adventure! In the South Island, I reckon 90% of the other vehicles we saw were campers of all shapes and sizes. At every campsite, you’ll see such a weird and wonderful array of vehicles parked up. It’s great to chat to people who’ve taken such pride in building and customising their own vehicles. There were some beasts out there!
The Kiwi Culture
Out of the 12 countries on our year away, I’d say the Kiwi culture was certainly one of my favourites. Across Asia, the hospitality is second to none, but in NZ, you have the creature comforts of Western nations everywhere you look, with the unbelievable friendliness of the Kiwi people. One of my favourite things about this place is how celebrated the Māori culture is! Firstly, it’s absolutely fascinating. I loved learning about the tribal history, how the nation was formed, the warrior culture, tribal artwork, religion, tattoos, everything! So many of the things we’ve experienced in other western countries, like the ostracising of Aboriginals in many parts of Australia couldn’t be further from how it is in NZ.
"The Kiwi's take huge pride in their nation"
The culture is endemic through every part of the country! The Kiwis take huge pride in their nation, their food and drink, their landscapes, and their history, and that shows everywhere you look. One thing that can’t be missed out in mentioning, is these guys are just so chilled out!
Fortunately enough we were able to make it to Waitangi for Waitangi Day (a celebration a bit like the Declaration of Independence in the USA). We got to witness many celebrations of the Kiwi history and culture. We had been warned that this area would be ‘carnage’ on Waitangi, because of protests from both the indigenous and colonial sides. I’ll say now, if that’s the extent of protest and racism in New Zealand, I’m sold! A few people walking around with flags but being very open to chatting about their thoughts and believes. No fighting, no malice, no chanting, no bad blood, it was a great experience!
Thinking about getting another tattoo Whilst in #newzealand. I'd love to get something #maori as the designs are beautiful but you've got to be so careful to not get something with tribal significance that could cause insult or upset. If anyone has any recommendations for good parlours in #nz🇳🇿 who can give advice but also unique designs that would be great! Needless to say I probably won't be getting anything this big done!👆👆
New Zealanders LOVE their Rugby!
Obviously, there’s the Rugby. Every nation has their national sport. Now as Rugby is my game of choice, I knew I was going to love it here. This runs through the blood of the nation more than I’ve ever experienced. You can literally feel the pride of the All Blacks oozing from every pore of every Kiwi you speak to. We were fortunate enough to get to a Super Rugby match in Dunedin, and the quality of the game was unbelievable. Unlike Football in the UK, fans from all teams are just mixed in together. I really felt that everyone was just there to have a good time, not get drunk and start a fight about ‘who’s team is better’. Just enjoy the beautiful game, have a good night out, and support their team. If you’re a Rugby fan, I can’t stress enough, GO TO A SUPER RUGBY MATCH!
The North/South Experience in New Zealand
Whenever you speak to someone who’s been to New Zealand, you’ll be hard pushed to find someone who didn’t fall in love from the moment they stepped off the plane. Basically, everyone I spoke to who’d been previously couldn’t stop talking about how incredible this country is, but the common theme was always ‘wait till you get to the South Island’. I should start by saying the North island is absolutely stunning!
In my first blog about New Zealand, I found it really tough to cram in all the awesome stuff we did, as it felt like every day we were doing something totally new. Apart from the incredibly picturesque landscapes that confront you on almost every turn, the country itself is filled with unique wonders. From the breath-taking mountain ranges covered in monstrous flora and fauna to the untouched beauty of Abel Tasman National Park. The geothermal and volcanic oddities such as hot water beach, all of Rotorua and the sand dunes of 90-mile beach. Just to add to the fun, New Zealand is an adrenaline junkie promised land, especially Queenstown in winter. With opportunities to fling yourself off/out of/down any moving vehicle or mountain range you can imagine, this really does have something for everyone!
"New Zealand is an adrenaline junkie promised land"
Drove 300km today from #Auckland to nearly #90milebeach but stopped to see #tanemahuta, one of the oldest and biggest trees in the world. With a trunk radius of 7m, over 51m tall and over 2000 years old it's quite a beast! This tree holds a lot of importance in Maori culture and I can see why. #newzealand #newzealandbeauty #maori
The North Island of New Zealand was filled with these sites and experiences, but if I had to put my name down on a favourite experience, it would have to be the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
If you’ve watched Lord of the Rings, you’ll know all about Mount Doom. Well, this is it! The Tongiriro Alpine Crossing is one hell of a day out! Crossing baron volcanic landscapes. Taking on steep covered inclines, followed by mind-blowing hills covered in vegetation for as far as the eye can see. This was a full-scale assault on the senses that’s for sure! Doing this as a couple was a great thing to too. I’m a long-distance runner in my free time, so taking on hills over long distance doesn’t phase me much. Kelly on the other hand, lets just say, isn’t such a fan. Being there to support each other throughout the 6 ½ hour excursion pulled us closer together. These kinds of experiences make an experience together. Especially when one of you takes on something you never thought you’d be able to do.
"My favourite experience would have to be the Tongariro Alpine Crossing"
And then you to get to the South Island….
From the moment you get the Wellington to Picton ferry, you’ll be blown away time after time by the sights on the crossing. Seriously, it’s Jurassic Park level stuff. The cliff edges and micro-islands around the crossing are utterly breath-taking! We were unlucky with the weather so didn’t have the best crossing, but the experience was still unforgettable (not bad for a simple boat crossing I’d say).
"The cliff edges and micro-islands around the New Zealand North to South crossing are utterly breath-taking"
When I wrote my original blog on the south island, I described it as the land of exponential beauty. This still stands 100%, even after travelling through 6 more countries. It’s absolutely up there as one of my favourite places ever and really is just non-stop 'WOW'. Looking back through the GoPro footage I shot from a dashcam on our drive around is rather amusing as we had to find different words to use rather than ‘wow’..
The first place we stopped was Nelson, a town (maybe a city by NZ standards), synonymous with the production of superb wines. One of the main attractions here is the wine tours, that I’d highly recommend doing yourself. Loads of places hire out bikes and have very clearly marked routes to each vineyard, which there’s plenty of! Just don’t have too many glasses if you’re cycling. Nelson was a quality place, great places to eat and drink, a market filled with high-quality products and fantastic street performers. As a welcome to the South Island, this was a very good start!
"Things just got better and better!"
And things just got better and better! It’s a massive place to drive around, but it’s absolutely filled with wonder! From the glaciers Fox and Franz Josef, to the Fjords, Doubtful Sound and the incredible Milford track, the black sand beaches and beach art in Hokitika. Stars like you’ve never seen before around Tekapo. The beauty of Queenstown and Wanaka, the hipster-chic rebuild of Christchurch and the natural spectacles experienced in Kaikoura. The South Island well and truly took all our emotions, threw them around a bit, and spat them back out. It’s safe to say, I fell in love with New Zealand even more after experiencing the South Island. Perhaps one of the great things about this place that also needs a mention is it’s so quiet! I should also point out that this list is in no way exhaustive, there is far too much awesomeness to mention here, just go!
To top it off, you will have the opportunity to see some very unique wildlife whilst you’re here, like the Kiwi, the Royal Albatross, dolphins, and Blue/Sperm whales. We were super fortunate to see all of these!
Travelling New Zealand On A Budget
For all the great things about this country, one thing I will say is it’s definitely not the cheapest! If you’re coming from the UK or Australia, you’ll probably still feel the pinch. Coming from 4 months in Asia, we DEFINITELY felt the pinch! However, we did manage to do our 6 weeks in New Zealand under our budget of £5000 for 2 people.
Where To Save Money On Your New Zealand Trip
The real stinger and something you really do need to monitor is the activities. They really do add up very quickly! We were incredibly conservative with the activities we did, both through budget pragmatism, the weather impacting our activity, and just doing it ourselves. For example, we didn’t do a bungee jump in Queenstown (over £200), we didn’t do the Heli Hike in Franz (over £300 each). We didn’t do Tongariro as part of a tour but opted to do ourselves (saving probably £100 for the two of us). But perhaps one of the best bits of advice I can give is somewhat surprisingly, to get a camper! Whilst the initial outlay is high, if you have a self-contained, you can park in national parks; considerably cheaper than normal campsites. This is something that really stung us in Oz, where you’re limited to campsites only.
The other benefit of being self-contained is you’re more likely to cook your own food! We made full use of the stalls on the side of the road to get our fruit and veggies. I didn’t have a bad meal in New Zealand when we ate out, but to have a meal for 2 with a drink could easily be between $80-100NZD, whilst a home cooked meal would be closer to $10 (if not less).
And of course, making use of things like Okay2Stay as I mentioned earlier saved us a good chunk of change in the long run. I had no issue spending $20 on a sublime bottle of Pinot Noir if it meant we could stay in a stunning and secluded location.
So did we kill each other on our New Zealand adventure?
Short answer; no! I can honestly say that throughout the whole time in NZ, we didn’t have a single argument, and absolutely loved spending the intense time with each other. It was actually a really nice reset from the social escapades that surrounded us throughout SE Asia. It reminded me daily how lucky I am to travel with the lady I’m going to marry, and to share so many immense experiences together is something we are both incredibly grateful for.
All good things must come to an end...
Sadly, I’m now writing this from my home office desk, back in my old job, missing everything about my year away more and more as time passes. Going from such a life-changing experience of a year backpacking across Asia and Oceania, to the day to day monotony of taking the bins out on a Tuesday morning and sorting out Pension contributions is a daily battle, but vicariously living through the social sharing of so many people we met traveling is certainly keeping the dream alive!
New Zealand will always have a special place in my heart. It’s absolutely up there as one of my favourite places from this year away, and I must say out of all the places we visited, it’s right up the top for me as a place I’d like to move to permanently. It’s inspired us to look into buying a camper, and continuing our travel experience in a few years across Europe too (maybe after the wedding though).
"Google Maps are liars"
One final piece of advice. We spent 6 weeks driving the length and breadth of this country. We drove over 7000 miles. Google Maps WILL BE LYING to you on the journey. Especially when you consider how many times you’ll be stopping to take yet ANOTHER photo of the sheer beauty. Try to plan a route, and think about the places you’re really going to want to spend time. Whilst we didn’t necessarily get it wrong, there were occasions we wished we had more time to spend somewhere. The constant moving, and in some cases driving for 10 hours a day is tiring, and you’ll want to factor that in. And expect the unexpected. Obviously, with the earthquakes that occurred in 2015, our route to Kaikoura was totally closed. Resulting in venturing inland on a 10-hour journey. Whilst this was beautiful it did scupper a number of plans.
If you want more info, inspiration, and advice, make sure you check out our Instagram profiles @mdleast and @kelly_sweenz! Keep up to date with our adventures over at our travel blog Done With Adulting and our Pinterest board filled with inspiration. If you want to read more about our New Zealand adventure click here!
Author Bio: Done With Adulting
Matt and Kelly are a couple from the UK. They recently got engaged in New York on their 10 year anniversary. They have been together since their first year of University in Cambridge! Matt and Kelly decided to pack in their successful careers in the UK to fulfill their lifelong dream of seeing the world. Over a year, they covered 12 countries from India to Fiji, living the life of a backpacker on a minuscule budget. Fully emerging themselves in local culture, food, and life, they loved it! Their blog ‘Done with Adulting’ details in depth a beautifully descriptive narrative of their journey through all their experiences and countries covering a variety of excursions, experiences, cultural shocks, and the occasional unexpected mishap.