I love solo travel. I get to do what I want, when I want. But I also know myself – I’m not that organized and I’d rather have my nose in a real book than a guide book any day. To make the most of my travel time and money, I’ve started to weave in small hiking tours.
When I decided on two weeks in New Zealand, I knew I’d only tackle one of the islands. I chose the South island and split the difference: one week solo and one week with Hiking New Zealand. I recommend it to fellow solo travellers – it was the perfect complement to my week alone.
I’m an introvert. If I don’t have to make small talk, I won’t. That said, part of what I love about travel is ‘comparing notes’ and stories with fellow travellers. Joining a group like Hiking New Zealand builds in this fellow travel component. The people are lovely, I get to compare notes with people who love travel as much as I do, then go our separate ways. Beautiful.
I’ve had friends attempt both the north and south island in just seven nights. No. Thank. You. When I have back-to-back one night stays in different towns, I never remember where I was, or what was amazing about it. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember the hotel – which is not the point of travel (IMO). Hiking New Zealand not only makes multiple-night stops, but with your guide providing an insiders perspective as you go, the pace is just right. They’re taking care of all the details, so your job is simply to enjoy.
Yes, you want your guide to be familiar with the trail, good with a first aid kit, etc. But to me, the real fun of a local guide is having nonstop access to a local’s perspective. You get more of a sense of the customs, have the time to talk politics and other juicy topics and walk away with a better sense of the place.
I contemplated this one for a while. There are lots of U.S.-based companies touring New Zealand. The pros in my mind were the familiarity with booking, not having to transfer funds, etc. Honestly, those seem like weak ‘pros’ in the big picture. One of the biggest pros of going with a local company like Hiking New Zealand is the diversity in the people on the trip. Local companies attract people from all over the world – and already the trip is more interesting. Like-minded people with a perspective that’s not U.S.-based? I’m in.
Plus, there were additional perks that I hadn’t anticipated . . . our guide knowing the local farmers and stopping to chat; knowing just how to get my hiking poles that I’d forgotten in my hotel room to the next destination. I definitely felt like I was in good hands.
Stumbling across things the locals love is the best – and something you sometimes don’t discover travelling on your own. On this trip, my ‘gems’ ranged from a funky roadside bar to a new grab-and-go snack. On our last day, we visited the Cardrona Hotel, an old inn with a huge fireplace, amazing beer garden and just-right music. This just isn’t a place I’d have stopped on my own. The snacks I discovered were a total bonus. Bumper Peanut Butter Fudge Bliss Balls were a NZ staple – very tasty and perfect to throw in your pack. I bought several bags when I was on my own – even brought them back to a couple friends who have gluten and dairy allergies. Yep, I turned Bliss Balls into souvenirs.
I appreciate that Hiking New Zealand has limits on group size. Part of why I prefer smaller groups is undoubtedly related to my earlier admission of being an introvert, but there are so many other positives! The group moves more quickly; a ’10 minute stop’ with a group of even 20 can be near impossible to accomplish. And in terms of getting around, I’ll take the comfort of a van over the impersonal feel of an over-sized bus any day.
You can see some of my trip highlights here. Enjoy your time in New Zealand!
Marsha Heaton is a nonprofit professional by day, solo traveler by days off. She prefers to explore the world one day-hike at a time and and is humbled by the amazing things she's seen and interesting people she's met on her travels.