Travel

Embark on a Dramatic Solo Travel Adventure in New Zealand

Be the main character of your own epic.

Jakkree Thampitakkull / EyeEm
Jakkree Thampitakkull / EyeEm
Jakkree Thampitakkull / EyeEm

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.

Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd
Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd
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.

Magnetic Mcc
Magnetic Mcc
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 Movie Set
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.

Shaun Jeffers
Shaun Jeffers
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.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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