Embark on a Dramatic Solo Travel Adventure in New Zealand

Be the main character of your own epic.

Whether you're communing with nature on an epic trek or realizing your wildest big city dreams, Flying Solo explores what it's like to travel the world as a party of one.

When it comes to what you want in a destination as a solo traveler, New Zealand easily checks all the boxes. Safety? According to the 2022 Global Peace Index, New Zealand is ranked number two in the world, perhaps “peacefully” shaking its fist at Iceland for snagging the top spot. There’s also the fact that there are no big, deadly land animals like lions and tigers and bears to worry about out in the wild. And with the exception of a few local spiders, basically all the creepy crawlies of your nightmares are waiting for you in Australia.

Friendly people? The locals are famously friendly and hospitable. When my car broke down during my own solo travels around New Zealand, not only did a stranger immediately pull over to help me, they even offered to lend me their spare car so I could drive to a nearby city—but that’s a story for another time. Plus, the country is so popular with international backpackers that it’s easy to meet hordes of fellow travelers. Many are also exploring alone, and you can connect with thousands of them in Facebook groups like New Zealand Backpackers and Backpackers New Zealand.

Easily navigable? New Zealand has that on lock too. First off, the country is smaller in size than California, which makes it a whole lot less overwhelming to think about where you want to go and how you can get there. There’s the InterCity buses, ride sharing, campervan rentals like JUCY, even hitchhiking happens quite frequently. The country’s relatively small size in no way means you’ll run out of things to do or places to stay. The extensive tourism infrastructure offers more adventures than you could fit into a full year, and there are loads of local hostels. You can easily find them with the Hostelworld app—Haka Lodges and YHAs are always safe bets.

Whether this is your first time testing the waters by yourself or you’re excited to do another solo trip in a new place, New Zealand is ideal for getting out there on your own. Here’s some inspiration for what to do once you’ve taken the plunge. While not an exhaustive list of everything worth doing in New Zealand, these are some of the best things you can do specifically as a solo traveler.

best hikes new zealand
Getty Images | Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd

Go on unforgettable hikes through unreal landscapes

If we could pick two things that New Zealand is full of, it’d be sheep and incredible hikes. You might be wary of hitting the trail by yourself, but the good news is that some of the country’s most famous hikes are guaranteed to put you in the company of others.

To go big, tackle one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, which is actually the real name for these hikes, no exaggeration. Requiring advanced booking, these 10 world-famous, multi-day hikes include stops at designated huts and campsites so you’ll see the same familiar faces during your trek.

For another challenge, consider the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, pretty much the most famous single-day hike in the country. Literally thousands of hikers are known to come out per day during the busy season, so you’ll find solidarity during the leg-busting climb through the alien-like volcanic landscape.

Another option is a Mount Tarawera Guided Walk. The Māori tribe Ngāti Rangitihi holds the territory rights to and guardianship of the revered mountain, and the only way to access this spectacular, multi-colored volcanic crater is through a Kaitiaki Adventures tour.

boat new zealand
Shutterstock | Magnetic Mcc

Make some memories out on the water

You can’t visit an island country without getting out on the water, can you? Down in the South Island, hop aboard a tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura for an excellent chance to see sperm whales (watching them fluke, when they flip their whole tail into the air, is something special). The coastal town of Kaikōura is called New Zealand’s whale-watching capital, and sperm whales make an appearance close to the shore all throughout the year.

Speaking of capitals… Many people consider Raglan, a town on the west coast of the North Island, to be the surfing capital of the country thanks to its super long left-hand break and year-round waves. One of the best ways to learn to surf here and make friends through every wipeout is to book a package with Green Wave Raglan. You’ll get small group lessons, transport to and from the beach, and accommodation upon request. In town, there’s also Raglan Backpackers, a friendly hostel with surf rentals.

Hobbiton
Hobbiton Movie Set | Hobbiton Movie Set

Explore Middle Earth

Is the real reason you want to visit New Zealand because the Lord of the Rings made a lasting impression on you, and you just might be able to recite the series line for line? This is the time to embrace your inner nerdom. The first stop has to be the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, which is the 12-acre set of The Shire. But that’s just the beginning. From Mordor to Fangorn Forest, you could browse all the film set locations and set up a tour to visit as many as possible.

For a more technical appreciation of the movies, pay a visit to Wētā Cave in Wellington. It’s the visitor outpost for Wētā Workshop, the special effects and prop company behind the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and other hits. On a Wētā Workshop tour, you’ll learn about all kinds of movie effects, costumes, weapons, and more that made not just those films but many others so visually stunning. Afterwards, a good place to rest your head in the area is The Dwellington, which is a more chic backpacker hostel with free breakfast and a comfy cinema room.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Shutterstock | Shaun Jeffers

Delve below ground or soar through the sky

Most people know New Zealand offers next-level natural beauty, but you can appreciate that from some more unexpected angles. Take a tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, which puts you on a quiet boat ride through a dark, subterranean grotto as glow worms provide mystical, blue speckles of luminescent light above you. For a dazzling display of a different sort, go for some 360-degree stargazing with the Summit Experience at Mt John Observatory.

During the daytime, get a birds-eye view with Wanaka Paragliding. Their tandem flights are perfect for solo travelers since it’s just you and your pilot strapped together as you run off the mountain and start soaring. They’ll do all the maneuvering for you, and you can just appreciate this unique perspective on Lake Wanaka, Roys Peak, and the Matukituki Valley. When your adventure is over, rehash all the fun you had with the kind folks at Wanaka Bakpaka Hostel, a welcoming, lakeside stay.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Cindy Brzostowski is a contributor for Thrillist.