I was never meant to stay here this long. Picking apples in the Hawke’s Bay was meant to be a pit stop to save money on my OE before heading back to the UK – instead, it was the start of the rest of my life. After a hard season of picking in 2009, we embarked on a road trip from Hawkes Bay to Queenstown. That road trip cemented my awe for this country and greatly influenced the decision to make New Zealand my home.
The 1200km journey – not counting the many detours and stops – completely captivated the outdoors-loving, backpacker in me. What other place on the planet can so quickly move from desert-like areas to forest to the coast? And how is it so often you can be the only people on the beach?
More than a decade on, my love for a New Zealand road trip has not faded and having lived all over the country I have done my fair share. We always seem to put domestic travel on the backburner. But now, with New Zealand road trips at the top of everyone’s to-do list and many of us planning our summer holidays, it got me thinking that the best way to experience New Zealand is how tourists and backpackers do. By immersing yourself in any and every experience possible.
Simply hiring a car for three weeks and driving in any direction. Waking up every morning and letting the weather determine what you’ll do that day. Driving at a leisurely pace, stopping to chat with friendly locals you meet along the way, and taking in the vast landscapes, sights and experiences you would have missed if you had jumped on a plane.
Travelling like a backpacker gives you the freedom to experience a country with no regimented schedule. Hiring a car gives you flexibility and enables you to discover all the hidden treasures, pull over to explore beaches and bush walks, support local businesses and take in the scenery we are famous for.
New Zealand is built for road trips – set up perfectly to experience bit by bit. There are national parks with beautiful hikes, quirky bakeries with legendary pies, and charming towns where time slows down as you stroll through the streets.
I always remember my first Kiwi road trip en route to Queenstown. At one stage I was resting in my car outside a friendly local’s house after stopping for directions. They eventually invited me in for tea. I learnt how to ski around the same time and remember being too busy looking out at the view to pay attention to where I was heading most of the time.
At the end of that trip I rolled into Queenstown at a snail’s pace with a burnt-out clutch and a deep love for this country. My experiences in New Zealand have completely changed my life in more ways than one. I found my career in the tourism industry, helping both locals and international visitors properly experience the country that stole my heart and I now have three beautiful children to share it with, seeing the country with fresh eyes all over again.
The international travel restrictions have given us the opportunity to go out and do the touristy activities we often overlook or take for granted. I urge you to get out there and do it – see it all just like a backpacker would.
- Lee Marshall is a keen traveller and General Manager of Operations NZ at Avis Budget Group