South Island Wonders – And How I Saw Them All For Free!

When you think about New Zealand, probably the first thing that comes to mind is spectacular scenery, glaciers, and Lord of the Rings – not necessarily budget travel. And while yes, activities are expensive, a night in a hostel dorm can set you back 20 USD, and gas costs a bit more than I am used to, I found a very economical way to road trip around.

And no, I’m not talking about #vanlife – camper vans, while extremely popular in NZ, are actually not cheap, and neither are the camp sites or the gas to run them.

I am talking about transfercar. Have you ever rented a car one way? It’s quite common and not only does it leave you as the renter with a whopping one-way rental fee, it leaves the rental car company trying to figure out how to get cars where and when they need them.

Enter transfercar, a website in NZ (Australia has it too) where rental car companies can post cars that they need relocated and willing drivers can pick them up and use them for free. Sometimes they even throw in a free tank of gas!

I put 3,417 kilometers (2,123 miles) on different transfer cars across the north and south islands of NZ, trying my best to see all the things. All without paying a rental fee! It felt good to hit the road, have the flexibility to do what I wanted – and learn to drive on the left!

I spent most of the time on the south island, taking in the wonders of seal colonies, glaciers, whale watching, and misty Milford Sound. Highlights included wine tasting in Marlborough Valley, rafting through a cave under a glow-worm sky, seeing the pancake rocks, and taking a ski plane and helicopter for a snow-covered glacier landing. And Abel Tasman National Park is a can’t miss.

However, if I am being honest, I didn’t love the south island as much as everyone seems to. Maybe it is just an issue I have in managing expectations with reality, but I did not find it to come to the level of what Patagonia has to offer.

The NORTH island, however, is underrated as far as I am concerned. The thermally active area around Rotorua is super cool (or super hot, rather?) Tongariro National Park was easily the most spectacular place I saw in all of NZ. Wellington and Auckland are lovely cities, you can visit Hobbiton, and I got to get my ZORB on! I gave a hard pass to bungee jumping though (you’re welcome, Mom). 

In the end, NZ left me wanting more – so I am definitely adding it to the list of places to return to.


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