There are few places on this planet whose beauty is as remarkable and landscape as diverse as the south island of New Zealand. So, it should come as no surprise that it is widely regarded as one the world’s top backpacking destinations. A bucket-list adventure for many, New Zealand offers endless hiking, camping, kayaking, and climbing; it is both the adventure epicenter and home to the most accommodating and hospitable people anywhere.
While tourism is the spearhead of New Zealand’s economy, the majority of travelers in the country are budget backpackers out to immerse themselves in the local wilderness. Upon arrival in the country, via ferry from the north island, it’s immediately clear that the south island is a place like nowhere else. The fog laden fjords are bound by expansive forests and bush that are at once untamed and perfectly safe.
There are no natural predators or poisonous insects, and one look at a campground and woodland-trek riddled map makes it clear that there is more to be seen and experienced here than one could ever accomplish.
The northwest of the island offers the Abel Tasman National Park and the gentle, scenic four-day coastal track, which runs alongside epic rock formations, lush tropical forest, and the famed golden sand beaches. A couple days in Abel Tasman can be spent kayaking with dolphins, observing the once nearly extinct kekeno fur seals, and swimming in Cleopatra’s Pool and natural waterslide.
The further south you progress down the island, the more rugged and untamed the landscape becomes around you. The densely rainforested west coast offers a number of glacial hikes and glowworm viewing. However, the relentlessly damp weather isn’t ideal for long distance backpacking or camping. That is—until you get further south towards Lake Wanaka. Fed by glacial streams, it lays alongside the Mount Aspiring National Park. The ancient forests and jagged mountain ranges here are home to some of the world's most iconic views, beautiful campsites, and scenic trails. There is an isolation, and purity in the air, that is only comparable to that of the famed Milford Sound, which lies on the other side of Mount Aspiring, in the Fjordland National Park.
The Milford Sound is actually a fjord, home to one of the most revered and coveted hiking trails in existence. The Milford Track—one of New Zealand’s 9 “Great Walks”—requires about a year advance booking, but there are near-equally majestic and lesser ventured trails all over the area, such as the centuries old trails around the cloistered Doubtful Sound.
While the greatest adventures of the region are hundreds of miles apart—and having a car is ideal—hitch-hiking goes a long way in this country. It’s possible to travel coast to coast, just thumbing it, provided you’re alone. The influence of tourism is taking an obvious toll, however much of its spread is easily avoided, and the efforts to preserve the local wilderness are seemingly unparalleled.
By Nicholas Della Morte
Music, art, travel, and wine dominate the life and writing of Nicholas Della Morte. A Boston native, he is currently based out of Nashville, where he pursues an endless list of creative endeavors and wishes he was French.