You’ve just graduated with a bunch of A-Levels in tow. You’ve ripped off your uniform, ceremoniously burned it and flicked school the V as you drive away one last time in your Peugeot 106 with the windows down and your music blaring. You’re free! Free to start thinking about the whole year of your life ahead of you, which, for the first time ever is not predetermined for you. It’s yours for the taking. Use it wisely and this will most definitely be the best year of your existence so far.
What you need now is one hell of an adventure. My suggestion for the starting point? New Zealand. It offers both a 23 month working holiday visa and six month tourist visas, it’s a compact and diverse country of incredible landscapes and adrenalin thrills, and it’s all easily explored.
I was a baby-faced 18 year old when I waved goodbye to my parents at Heathrow Airport and trundled off on my first trip around the world: New Zealand-bound to explore the North and South island in a little bubble car with my best friend Hannah. It quickly became one of my favourite places on earth. Here are my top recommendations of what to do in New Zealand on your gap year:
1. ROAD TRIP
GET YOURSELF A CAR
Head straight to Jucy Rentals. From camper van to (extremely cheap) bubble-mobile like Hannah and I had, these guys are well versed in supplying cars to gap-years. New Zealanders also drive on the left so if you’re from the UK you’re winning. However, the car indicators are on the opposite side to the windscreen wipers from Uk cars, so if you see someone veering off the road with the wipers blazing back and forth… they’re probably British. Anyway, you’ll need your driver’s licence with you. The roads are great, mainly flat and straight, but take the mountain passes easy – you have all the time in the world.
HOP ON, HOP OFF KIWI EXPERIENCE
Kiwi Experience’s big green buses have a legendary status amongst backpackers from around the globe and this year the company is celebrating 25 years in the business. It’s a little more restrictive than driving yourself, but the Kiwi Experience is a great option if you’re travelling solo. The route options are pretty comprehensive with 34 passes to choose from. New this year, Lake Tekapo has been added as an overnight stop so passengers can make the most of the world’s largest dark sky.
2. SLEEP IN AWESOME PLACES
CAMPERFLEX WITH STA TRAVEL
Getting a campervan is a cool way to see New Zealand without needing to pay for accommodation every night. On the other hand, you meet people at the hostels, so I’d definitely make a few overnight stops along the way, especially at the Base hostels around New Zealand, which are awesome. STA Travel have a new exclusive Camperflex pass where you can choose from one of five different ‘Mighty Campervans’ including the new Funky Jackpot van on a 30, 40 or 50 day pass.
TRY WILD CAMPING
For the true nature lovers, The Department of Conservation (DOC) has launched a new weekly campsite pass from £11 per person. This pass is valid for up to a year and gives the flexibility to pay once and stay up to seven nights at 100 different DOC campsites around New Zealand, from the Kapowairua Spirits Bay campsite in Kaitaia to the Kumeti campsite in Hawke’s Bay. Stand out spots include Uretiti in the Whangarei area in the North Island, where you can camp behind sand dunes at Uretiti Beach and explore the nearby Waipu caves.
3. GET ADVENTUROUS
PEDAL YOUR WAY TO A PINT
New Zealand’s wine rightly garners international attention but less well known is its burgeoning craft beer scene. Nelson is establishing itself as somewhat of a Mecca for hop lovers. Gentle Cycling offers guided cycling tours, giving beer lovers the chance to combine eating local produce with a bike tour of craft breweries such as Bays Brewery and Lighthouse Brewery and to taste the likes of Bays Devon Stout, Rhino Ale and Windfall Cider. The beer doesn’t stop flowing in the North Island head to Wellington’s the Garage Project, brewing 24 different beers in 24 days including the famous Cockswain’s Courage brew. For more information on the New Zealand Cycle Trail visit www.nzcycletrail.com.
ZURFING TO ZIPLINING AND SKYDIVING
Zorbing (the Kiwi invention of rolling down a slope in an inflatable hamster ball-like-contraption) was massive when I visited NZ all those years ago. Now however, it’s all about zurfing, the ultimate on-land surfboard-like experience and the latest craze to hit Rotorua. Using a water-filled Zydro zorb, participants use a specially developed body board to surf their way down the slopes and replicate the sensation of surfing. There’s also the Zoom Zipline, a high-speed twin zipline that descends 383 metres down the side of Mount Ngongotaha. Still up for more? Canopy Tours recently launched Creatures of the Night; a guided ziplining tour through the forest where it is not uncommon to see a range of insects unique to New Zealand including Weta, Morepork and glow worms. Oh, and then there’s the must-do skydive from 15,000 feet. You’ll want to head to Taupo for this. I do look forward to seeing your pictures.
SOME OTHER NEW ZEALAND TOP SPOTS TO VISIT:
- Fergberger in Queenstown for best burgers in the world. Don’t forget to pick up a t-shirt.
- The Franz Josef Glacier where you can go ice climbing – or indeed have a helicopter drop you on a glacier should your budget stretch that far
- Lake Wanaka for spectacular views of the mountains reflected in the still waters
- The Tongariro Crossing: described by some as the best day’s walk in the world, scale a volcano and pass bubbling lakes on this spectacular hike