The Ultimate Guide to Your NZ Summer Holiday

Dec 03, 2018

Universities cram in two semesters of learning per academic year, plus Summer School. While some of your friends and classmates are, presumably, about to dive back into summer school shenanigans, most of New Zealand’s student body passes on the chance in any given year and instead get almost four months off. So what kind of New Zealand holiday do you want? A summer in the city, or an epic road trip around the South Island?

There are plenty of things to do with a summer break – and some people you know will be preparing to travel the world, filling your Instagram feeds with pictures of India and South-East Asia. Others will have sorted out internships or summer scholarships, and so are already accounted for in this way.

Me, I’ve spent my last few university breaks in very different ways. A few years ago, when I was studying in Auckland, I stayed in town and took a landscaping job. I was able to get away for Christmas and New Year’s, and have a lot of “microadventures” on days off (more on that later.)

For the next couple of years, I worked in the industry of my study (essentially an internship.) Then, last summer, I thought ‘screw it all’ and went out of town to work in a restaurant and surf all summer in a small Coromandel town – call it a working “staycation.” This included a month of hitchhiking and backpacking around the North Island.

I strongly recommend the humble New Zealand staycation – backpacking or road tripping around our very own international summer tourist destination is an opportunity many don’t realise or don’t consider as an option, and yet it’s super easy and very cheap. Picture yourself cruising down the South Island’s West Coast, parking up at the lakes in Central Otago or kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds. Who’d want to be stuck in the city?

Counting Coins

There are heaps of ways to take a staycation around New Zealand with not much money. First up is the importance of sorting out your flat -  if you can find someone, then sublease your flat is a great way to keep costs down. While this is not always an easy task, considering everyone’s trying to do it this time of year, good photos and a well-worded ad go a long way on Vic Deals or Auckland Flatmates Wanted. With a subletter you can cut your expenses down to almost nil while travelling.


Transport is a big cost, but hitchhiking is free. It is legal and relatively safe to hitchhike in New Zealand, and it’s a way to meet people. You’ll get invited to parties, and to stay at people’s houses. A German guy who picked me up once shared a book he had about secret spots in New Zealand, and together we visited a waterfall I had no idea was there.  It’s a rewarding way to “staycate”. Refer to Hitchwiki for safety advice specific advice on different towns – where to wait and what to expect. It’s an incredible resource that will help you hitching no matter where you are in the world. And if that’s not for you, Intercity has affordable coach fares to a variety of destinations. Lastly is the option to use a car - fuel is more expensive, but with it you get flexibility and freedom. And you’ll still work out far ahead of plane tickets.

A Working Holiday

New Zealand has plenty of resources for backpackers to have working holidays, and you can take full advantage. Check out fruit picking jobs on Backpackerboard and you can get temporary work in places like Hawke’s Bay, Coromandel and Marlborough – gorgeous locations with endless bush, sand and surf. We are stacked with youth hostels, with over 500 nationwide. Gems like the Beach House in Tairua and The Fountain in Nelson are mixed in with longstanding institutions like the Raglan Backpackers which offer surf hire and lessons, a hot tub and sauna, and free kayaks.

Some hostels allow long-term stays for those doing backpacker work around the area, while others are more suited to temporary stays. It’s easy to string together a few hostels in a few towns for a quick two-week holiday. If you want to reduce costs, try getting on WWOOF or Workaway for a volunteer opportunity. You’ll work half-days for your hosts in exchange for free food and accommodation. I used WWOOF in Taranaki and spent a week gardening, relaxing by the river and on the beach and having a few beers in New Plymouth.

milford sound

Staying in the City

However, staying in the city affords other opportunities. It allows you to keep a good flat for next year, maintain and expand your social circles and networks, and save money. Hospitality, retail and labouring jobs are plentiful in the main centres for anyone with any experience. Industry-specific jobs are also available, and many organisations offer internships over this period, from government and NGOs to private industry.


If you’re staying in the city, but still want to take advantage of the weather, you can start a habit of “microadventuring.” Whether you have a couple of days off work or just an afternoon, you can have a cheap, simple, local adventure. New Zealand cities are world-class for having access to nature areas directly from downtown.

In Auckland, Fullers ferries can take you out to Hauraki Gulf islands like Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe and Tiritiri Matangi. It’s that remote outer island experience, but just a boat ride away from downtown.

In Wellington, you can drive round the coast to Eastbourne and rent bikes from The Bike Shed (psst, if you book online you get a discount.) Then ride around to Pencarrow lighthouse to see some spectacular wild coast.

At an even cheaper rate of absolutely-scot-free are the wonderful and numerous parks and reserves of New Zealand cities. In Wellington is the iconic Town Belt reserves. My favourite is Polhill Reserve - it’s full of walking and mountain biking tracks and backs down onto Aro St, ten minutes from downtown. In Auckland, many parks are currently closed to prevent the spread of Kauri Dieback. But, many parts of the Waitakere ranges are still open, including the spectacular section from Karekare beach to Pararaha Valley.

mountain nz

Mix It Up

Of course, you can mix and match staying in the city and holidaying around the country. You’re the driver of your own summer. It’s relatively easy to negotiate a couple of weeks off from work and there are a whole bunch of good holidays you can fit in to that time. Try one of DoC’s Great Walks, 4 to 5 night walks through our most scenic countryside.

A South Island road trip, doing the West Coast-East Coast loop, crossing through Queenstown Lakes to Dunedin in the South and through Nelson in the North is a good two-weeker. If you’re coming from the North Island, Bluebridge  and Interislander are typically about the same price.

A good North Island road trip, handy to Aucklanders, is to head up North to the Hokianga. Diverge from SH1 at Brynderwyn to SH12 and head up through the Kauri forests, containing New Zealand’s largest trees. Cross the harbour on the ferry from Rawene and continue North to see Cape Reinga, where according to Maori mythology the spirits of the dead leap off the headland and climb the roots of an 800-year old Pohutukawa tree into the underworld to make the journey home to Hawaiki.

Make the Most Out Of Summer

Enjoy New Zealand over the summer! Whether you take microadventures, a short holiday or spend four months freewheeling, the days you have are there to be seized. Remember that we live in one of the world’s premier tourism destinations and thousands come from halfway across the world every year to enjoy it with us. Just remember to slip, slop, slap and wrap so you don’t burn under that hot Aotearoa sun.


By Jack Buckley, Wellington, New Zealand


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