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New Zealand Backpacking

It's better than you've heard, and closer than you think. Here's how to see it all in 10 perfect days.

New Zealand Trip Planner

Getting There: Air New Zealand now flies direct from L.A. to Christchurch. The flights arrive early in the morning, so there’s time to stop in Christchurch for maps and still be in Queenstown by dinner. Roundtrips range from $1,000 to $1,800. (800) 369-6867; www.airnewzealand.com/usa

Getting Around: The South Island’s extensive bus and shuttle services make it easy to skip a rental car. For details on buses, go to www.newzealand.com. For trailhead shuttles, go to www.infotrack.co.nz; a Queenstown/Routeburn roundtrip costs NZ$60.

Season: October through April, with summer in the middle and fewer crowds on the ends.

Weather: Be prepared for fantastic amounts of rain, but pack lots of sunscreen, too, as the UV index is fearsome.

Gear: Pack quality raingear, waterproof boots and gaiters, and a storm-worthy tent (if you plan to camp). Pick up fuel canisters in Queenstown or Christchurch. Before leaving home, clean all your gear, especially boot soles. New Zealand strictly enforces customs rules to keep out exotic pests.

Huts: Amenities vary greatly, so ask the Department of Conservation what to expect. Routeburn huts cost NZ$40 per night; reserve well in advance in high season (below). Caples huts cost NZ$10 per night (no reservations required).

Department of Conservation: These one-stop shops for hikers are refreshingly unbureaucratic affairs where you can pick up maps, hut tickets, and current trail beta. They’re everywhere, but you’ll want the DOC offices in Queenstown and Glenorchy. Before you go, surf www.doc.govt.nz, which has answers to every question.

Fishing Permits: Get yours from the Fish and Game Department at https://fishandgame.eyede.com/public/; a day costs NZ$18, a season is NZ$88. Or go through a local outfitter like Queenstown Fishing Guides (www.wakatipu.co.nz).

Helicopters: Kiwis use helis like New Yorkers use taxis-all the time. Consider adding a heli-hike or heli-bike experience to your vacation just for the thrill of it. A 3-hour heli-mountain biking tour with great views of Mt. Cook and a stop at a traditional sheep station costs NZ$170 (www.discoverytours.co.nz/).

MapWorld: Do not leave Christchurch without visiting this topographic paradise, located on the corner of Manchester and Gloucester streets (www.mapworld.co.nz).

Accommodations: Queenstown: Shack up in down-home comfort at Skyview, a sprawling lodge set on 168 acres with a hiking track, heated pool, and full kitchen. The house is best for groups (NZ$400/night for two, $75 per adult after that; www.skyview.co.nz).

Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park: Camp at the trailhead for NZ$5/night, or splurge on a room at the historic Hermitage. A four-person chalet costs NZ$55 per person and includes breakfast. A deluxe room with huge views starts at NZ$590/night for two, and includes a lavish dinner and breakfast (www.mount-cook.com).

Lake Tekapo: If you’re doing Ball Pass (p. 74), stay at the Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort (NZ$150/night for two; www.laketekapo.com).

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