I travel as a solo girl often and there are some aspects of a trip that can make being a girl alone yay or nay.
Some destinations are well known for being female-friendly. Europe and most of South-East Asia are very friendly to solo travelers in general. Others are less known but also a great fit, like the Pacific. Two years ago I spent two months around Solomon, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa and had a great time.
But then there are a host of options that are less obvious. New Zealand is one of them. Although the Middle Earth country has become the latest travel craze it did not seem, at least to me, like an obvious choice for girls alone. To my delight, it is a fantastic place to road trip around solo, boy or girl.
There are three obvious reasons to road trip in new Zealand.
1. It is a very safe country
Like most of Europe, New Zealand is pretty safe provided you use your common sense. But, what sets it apart from its also very popular neighbour, Australia, is that New Zealand is also a safe natural environment. There are no drop bears, death-wishing kangaroos, poisonous spiders, hungry crocs or snakes or killer jellyfish, just the odd possum, lots of sheep and cows. This makes road tripping even better because you do not have to fight with an inhospitable environment. I remember a few years back when a friend of mine went in exchange to Australia that on their road trip they once found a huge spider in their car and, two girls alone, had a really scary time trying to get rid of it. In New Zealand the only threat you need to juggle is that of a nasty mosquito bite. Enough said.
2. Great infrastructure
New Zealand has pretty good infrastructure and, unless you venture out to the less trafficked areas, you are likely to drive through paved and well sign-posted roads that make it easy to located sightseeing places and generally find your bearings. I did occasionally bump into a gravel road but was perfectly fine with my Toyota.
The good infrastructure extends beyond the mere roads. If you are going to spend large amounts of time on the road things like toilets and petrol stations become essential. Pretty much every beach or point of interest on the map had a public toilet, which was, in most of the cases, pretty clean and well stocked of toilet paper. Petrol stations are also very accessible and easy to find. You won’t be driving for long without seeing one and if you are going to go through a route without any for a while, the Lonely Planet guide does mention it so you can plan.
3. Friendly locals
Great roads and safe places are great but what made my trip special is all the great smiley people I met along the way which served me breakfast, lunch, dinner, petrol or helped me locate a place that would sell super glue. Kiwis are friendly in a laid-back easy-going way only they can be. They are open without being nosey; they will offer help without sounding patronizing and will serve you without the “puppy look”, that look you always get when traveling solo as a female which translates as: “So sorry, hon, that you have nobody to travel with”. They kind of got it.
4. Adventure galore
And what makes girls going solo in New Zealand extra cool is all the thrilling and life threatening activities available. If that is what makes you tick, then sign up for white water rafting, surfing, tubbing, bungee jumping, sand surfing, sky walking… and the list goes on. There is plenty to get your cool on and a lot of these activities don’t require a minimum number of people in your group. Just sign up and join the rest of the crazy people.
Now, to make the trip even better, here are a few tips from my experience in the North Island. And for longer road trips in the South Island here is a 10-day itinerary.
5. Load on the sun screen
You are going to be driving for long and the sun is very strong in this part of the world so make sure to use high factor sunscreen and replenish regularly. Alternatively, I found it much easier to wear long sleeves but be sure to still put sunscreen on your hands and on your neck. With the AC on you will forget you are actually frying out and will end up with the construction worker’s tan – take off your t-shirt and it will look as if you are still wearing it!
6. Use the old fashioned air conditioning system
Petrol in New Zealand is extremely expensive and if you are driving 8-10 hours a day like I was you are going to rack up a heart attack inducing bill. But there is a bit of hope. Since you are basically just going around to take in the views you don’t need to be rushing to get anywhere so I suggest that you pull down the windows and up the music!
I found this to be therapeutic to say the least. And as a bonus, it will probably help you save some petrol. Win-win!
7. Make sure to have enough water
I already told you that it is easy to find a toilet anywhere so make sure that you stay hydrated. I found this to be particularly important because, used to living in a tropical country for a decade, I find it hard to put up with extremely dry weather as was the case when I was there in New Zealand at the beginning of summer.
8. Get hooked
I did not rent a GPS but instead used Google maps. This is not just because I like favoring my employer 😉 but also because I found Google maps to be more complete, cheaper and giving me better coverage of everything else than just directions. To make it work, get a SIM card from the airport. Spark had a $55 package with 3Gb of data that is more than enough to use the GPS non-stop for a week and still have data left. That will also give you a phone you can be reached at or use to call should you need assistance or need to call any local business. And, bonus point, you can also use your phone for tethering. New Zealand hotels and self-contained units still offer charged internet so by having your own SIM card you can connect your laptop through your phone and save.
However, if you will use Google maps, there are three things you should consider.
Firstly, in some areas, there was no signal, a problem you would not have with a GPS which works with satellite, available everywhere. To solve that, you can download the maps offline so you can continue even if the signal is off. It is also important to note that this happened in remote areas where it was pretty easy to find your way because you just had to follow the one road.
Secondly, I found Google maps useful because it allows you to save the history of your trips, which is handy if you want to document the trip later on.
Lastly, if you will use your phone and maps you should make sure that the car has a charging USB port and that you carry the cable with you, maps does suck a lot of battery.
9. Bring your own music
I usually prefer to listen to the radio when in a car because there is always that one station that plays happy road trip tunes and the latest hits. Although I found the right station, coverage, like in the case of mobile signal, was sparse in some parts of the country so it is always better to bring your own music and a cable to plug it into the speakers of the car so that you don’t end up in silence when you most need it: in the most remote areas.
10. Respect the speed limits
It seems like a no brainer but I just want to pause on this beyond just simply the legal implications of going above the limit and the risks to your safety. I drove for hours on end and this is quite difficult when you are doing so through windy roads that are unfamiliar. I found that, if I followed the speed limits at every turn I was sure to take them at the right speed without any surprises. So if I saw that a turn had a maximum speed of 25 km/h I knew it was a very closed and tricky one. In New Zealand, whoever decided on the road limits, got them right.