A Guide To Solo Travel In New Zealand

The stunning view from the hike to Cathedral Cove overlooks mini islands and the deep blue green ocean

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If you’re looking for the perfect location for solo travel, New Zealand is it!

As a traveller, you’ll never get bored in New Zealand. My home country offers huge variety; from the sub-tropic north right down to the alpine south, there is something to please every traveller. Our culture is unique and travellers can’t help but fall for our friendly Kiwi charm.

Not to mention, New Zealand has a low crime rate and is one of the safest countries in the world, making it one of the best solo travel destinations.

This is my local guide for travelling New Zealand solo. Whether you’re a local or visiting from overseas, you’ll find some useful information on how to best plan your solo trip.

>> Read my ultimate guide on How to Plan a Trip to New Zealand

Solo travel New Zealand: A Guide

When to go

Personally, I think the best time to visit New Zealand if you’re flying solo is in summer. You’ll catch the great weather and you can chill out on the beach with a book while listening to the waves crash into the shore. This is also the most popular time for tourists, so it will be easier making friends with other travellers.

Just remember to always wear sun block- the sun is very harsh in New Zealand and you’ll be lobster red in as little as 20 minutes of being out in the sun unprotected!

Where to go

I’ve been on several solo trips in New Zealand, here are some of my favourite places to go:

Coromandel Peninsula

As I mentioned earlier, my first ever solo travel experience was in New Zealand. I was 20 years old and planned to spend a week in the Coromandel Peninsula with a friend. A few days before the trip, my friend pulled out.

Being the stubborn woman that I am, I declined and prepared to road trip several hours north solo. Even more stubbornly, I decided I would stay at a camping ground. Had I camped before? Not unless school camp counts. Had I ever pitched a tent by myself? Negative.

After a quick tutorial on my parents lawn I discovered setting up an eight-person tent was a trifle more difficult than anticipated. To hell with it, I thought, and shoved the tent in the back of my car, along with my suitcase, and set off.

I ended up staying at a campground near Hot Water Beach [pro tip: always book your accommodation in advance when visiting the Coromandel- it’s a busy place in summer!] and I spent a week of solitude lying on a beach, swimming in the waves and eating a lot of fish and chips. It was the perfect solo trip.

How to get there: The Coromandel Peninsula is just over a 2 hour drive from Auckland. There are also regular buses.

Queenstown

Queenstown is a fantastic place for solo travel in New Zealand as it’s one of the busiest places buzzing with tourists. It’s also the outdoor capital of New Zealand, and there are plenty of things to do such as bungy jumping, paragliding, white water rafting and more!

If you want to meet like-minded travellers on your trip, I recommend coming to Queenstown because as well as friendly kiwis, you’ll meet plenty of tourists and backpackers you can hang out with. It also has a wicked bar and night scene.

For accommodation, Queenstown has a good choice of hostels, as well as a range of hotels on Booking.com.

How to get there: Queenstown has an airport, or if you’re driving from Christchurch or further north, it’s a spectacular drive via Lake Tekapo and Lindis Pass.

Taupo

I have also spent some time in Taupo solo, and just like Queenstown, there are lots of outdoor activities to take part in! Hire a kayak and go kayaking on Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Relax at the DeBretts Hot Springs, or go swimming and find hot pockets of water in Lake Taupo itself.

There are a bunch of lake-front restaurants, and the small but handy town is full of nick-nacky stores.

Rotorua, home to thermal hot pools and hot springs, Maori villages and outdoor adventure activities is also just a one-hour drive away.

How to get there: Taupo also has an airport, but the most popular way to get to Taupo is by driving [if you’re a local] or by bus.

Christchurch

I moved to Christchurch with my boyfriend at the time, but after we broke up I had many solo adventures in Christchurch. I love Christchurch, and if I had the choice to live anywhere in New Zealand, this is the place I’d choose.

Christchurch has great variety; you’ve got the cosmopolitan city, excellent swimming beaches, bush and forest walks inland, and six ski hills located nearby.

Christchurch is also one of my favourite first-time solo female travel destinations.

Christchurch is home to an international airport, so you can fly here and either pick up your hire car at the airport, or catch public transport into the city.

How to get there: Christchurch has an international airport, so flying is probably the easiest way to get here if you’re travelling from the North Island. If you’re already in the South Island, there are regular buses to Christchurch.

Getting around

Travelling around New Zealand is so much easier if you have a car. If you don’t own a car, I recommend hiring one. I recommend Auto Europe, which is a car comparison site [similar to Skyscanner, but for rental cars]. I also recommend booking with Apex or Thrifty.

If you’re in New Zealand for a while it may even be worth buying a car and selling it before you leave- this is a common scenario with travellers to New Zealand. Have a look for cars for sale on Facebook or Trade Me.

The next best option would be to use the bus. New Zealand has a fairly comprehensive network of buses. New Zealand doesn’t have many options for travel via train. Trains are used more for tour purposes, with just a few long-haul journeys.

Things to do in New Zealand

New Zealand is actually larger than it looks on the map; it’s bigger than the United Kingdom. It is 268,021 km² with the United Kingdom being slightly smaller at 242,495 km².

The population is a lot smaller, with over 5 million residents living in New Zealand [compared to 66.6 million in the UK!]. As you can probably guess, there is a lot of free space in New Zealand, making it ideal for hiking and outdoor adventures.

There are some bucket list items you definitely should tick off in New Zealand, whether you’re a local or just visiting. Here are my must-do experiences I recommend you try:

See a kiwi

New Zealand is home to some amazing native birds. Make sure you visit a bird sanctuary and see our namesake bird- the kiwi!

>> Read more: Where to see kiwis in New Zealand

Visit a beach

New Zealand is home to some fantastic swimming beaches. Head up north to the Coromandel Peninsula where there are tons of beaches. My favourites include Hahei Beach, Hot Water Beach and Cooks Beach.

Have fish and chips

I may be biased but, in my opinion, we have the best fish and chips in the world! Make sure you have them with Watties Tomato Sauce. It’s a kiwi staple.

See glow worms

Seeing glow worms will take your breath away. Imagine walking into a dark cave, only to look up and see the walls shimmering with stars- this is what it’s like to enter a glow worm cave. The best place to see glow worms is undoubtedly Waitamo Glow Worm Caves. Book your tickets online so you don’t miss out.

My solo travel experience in the Coromandel

My first ever solo trip was to the Coromandel Peninsula [or ‘the Coromandel’ as we call it in NZ]. When I arrived in the Coromandel it was late in the afternoon. I still hadn’t booked a campsite, so I decided I would stay at the next campsite I passed. The campsite happened to be the Hot Water Beach Campsite.

Naively, I had never heard of Hot Water Beach. I’d done zero research for this trip, so it was damn good luck I ended up in one at one of the best campsites in the area. I paid five nights accommodation, and got to setting up my tent.

I was going to do it all by myself. Girl power and all that.

The family across from my site eyed me dubiously, no doubt waiting for my assistant to appear from the shadows to help me assemble this beast of a tent. I avoided all eye contact and offers of help; I squeezed the poles through thin bits of fabric, I dutifully hammered pegs into the ground. Half an hour later, I had a standing tent. I felt an enormous swell of pride.

Soon it was dark, so I set up the deck chair I had brought with me next to the tent, grabbed some snacks, and gazed at the stars. It was a wonderfully warm and clear night. I felt so close to the universe and I wondered why I hadn’t stared at the stars more often.

I saw two falling stars, and made two wishes.

The next morning I decided to check out Hot Water Beach. It was only a couple of minutes up the road, and I was intent on finding out if there was any hot water at this beach. Turns out, yes there was. You can hire a spade and dig your own hot pool in the sand at low tide.

I stayed there until high tide, watching the waves savagely crushing the shore, taking with them a few metres of sand so the seabed dropped sharply below my feet.

Hahei beach was a ten minute drive up the road. I quickly agreed this was one of my favourite beaches in New Zealand. While wandering in Hahei, I also discovered that there was a two-hour return bush walk that leads you to a wee cove.

This was, of course, Cathedral Cove. It is only accessible by foot, kayak, or boat. Years later Macklemore would film his music video ‘Can’t Hold Us’ here.

It was at Cathedral Cove I almost drowned. The surf was rough that day, and the seabed dipped sharply in some areas. I went from knee height water to shoulder deep water in a matter of metres. There I was, ignorantly swimming along, when a massive wave appeared behind me. It crashed down over me, slamming me into the ground. My hand protected my head from hitting a sharp rock nestled in the sand. Choking on salt water, I desperately tried to find my footing.

Except I couldn’t, because I was being dragged backwards by force that I could only describe as magnetic. I panicked and for a second and thought shit I’m going to drown.

I don’t know what happened next, but I somehow found my footing, and I sprinted back to the beach feeling like a prized idiot. No one knew I was here, no one was looking out for me from the beach. I could have drifted off into the surf and the holidaymakers would have been none the wiser.

This experience opened my eyes to the risks of solo travel. I decided to try a less life-threatening activity, sun bathing.

I’d been a responsible adult and applied my sun block before I went swimming.

“You’re looking a bit red girl,” a man, who looked to be in his fourties, remarked as he walked past.

“I’ve applied sun block,” I responded, wishing he would mind his own business.

I think I lay there for two hours. I say think because I may have fallen asleep, anywho, when I stood up to leave, I noticed my back felt like a thousand cats had scraped their claws down it.

Oh shit. My sun block had washed off when I was  swimming.

Luckily, this incident unfolded on my final day of my holiday. I lathered on the aloe vera, bid my bra au revoir, and carefully put on the loosest, lightest shirt I could find.

On my final night, I had fish and chips on the beach. There were times I wished I’d had someone to share the breathtaking views with. It felt odd hearing my voice when a holiday goer would make a remark or start a conversation with me. On the flip side, travelling by myself gave me a lot of time to reflect on my life and the changes I wanted to make (e.g. applying sunblock correctly). I made a resolution with myself that I would bring someone special back here one day.

Many years later, I would bring my husband here, where we spent 3 days staying at Cooks Beach. We relived all the activities I did on my first trip to the Coromandel.

My first solo trip here was unforgettable- so much so that I had to return! I hope you have the opportunity to spend some time here in solitude as I did- it is truly a magical place.

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ABOUT YVETTE

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Hello, I’m Yvette and I’m from New Zealand. In 2016 I left home to travel the world; I met my husband after hiking the length of Scotland, and now we live in a wee Scottish village with our pup, Angus. I’m a full-time blogger and travel Scotland for a living! Read more about me here.

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