Off-The-Grid Across New Zealand: A Slow Travel Adventure


Slow travel aficionado, Enrico Belcore from One Planet Journey, goes off-the-grid for a few months in New Zealand. His adventure has him sleeping in a caravan in the wilderness of Kahurangi National Park, sanding an old Mongolian wooden hut in a remote eco-village in the north, and hiking epic trails together with a group of travellers road tripping across the south. 


My trip through New Zealand, or Aotearoa in the Māori language, was slow and aimed at creating connections and understanding  – a form of deep travel. I slowly passed from one landscape to another, from snowy picks to rain forests and surf beaches.

With 30% of its land mass designated as a natural park, it’s no wonder that New Zealand is known as a hikers’ paradise. From the sandy beaches of Northland to the mountains that host the land of Mordor in Tongariro National Park, the glaciers in the South Island and the majestic fiords, the country is a playground for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Snowy peaks and grass
Epic nature of New Zealand


New Zealand and Sustainable Tourism 

Regardless of its remote position – arguably one of the reasons why the country is so appealing – New Zealand has developed a unique model of eco-tourism, based on outdoor activities, natural sightseeing and responsible camping. While long-haul flights will always pose a challenge to sustainability, opting for a longer stay and travelling in an eco-friendly way can be a good compromise to fully experience the destination.

New Zealand is trying to turn its challenges into its greatest strengths, investing in new technologies for lower emissions, as well as proposing several carbon offsetting campaigns. They view sustainability as a link between people and nature, coming directly from Maori culture. Tangata whenua (people of this land) see nature as something intrinsically intertwined with their own lives. It’s a matter of respect, and looking after beautiful Aoterora is taken very seriously by the Kiwis. They recognise how fortunate they are to live in such a magical place and are not shy about going out of their way to protect and value it as best they can.

Green water with mountainous background
Boating in New Zealand


How and where do you start exploring New Zealand? I went in order. North to south, it’s hard to get it wrong. Hike, ask for a ride, bike or get a second-hand camper van from a traveller leaving the country (some vans have been around for years and still hold on pretty well.) 

I did a mix of the above. Here are some of the highlights of the trip.



The north of the country is the only subtropical area of New Zealand, with a multitude of breathtaking beaches, rainforests, and alpine vegetation. It’s a unique place, where nature encompasses everything. On my way to Matapouri, I passed through the main city of the region, Whangarei, and arrived at the white-sand coast spotted with sleepy sea villages. After some asking around, and a ride from an old man living nearby, I eventually reached the ecovillage, perfectly nestled in the hills, just a few kilometres from the coast.

The entire region is a hot spot of spirituality and alternative lifestyle. Whether it’s the warmer weather or the easygoing and relaxed attitude, Northland is home to an outstanding number of retreats, ashrams, and alternative communities.

Pigeon perched on wooden banister with tree in background.
Kererū, the New Zealand pigeon – abundant in the land around the eco-village


My stay in an eco-village 

During the days spent sanding the old Mongolian hut we were working on at the eco-village, I discussed with the couple who hosted me and a few other volunteers about their life in the village, where they had stayed for the last 30 years.

The truth is that their life was pretty ordinary, almost predictable in fact. They had jobs, children and a handful of close friends, the only difference was that they lived in a wonderful place surrounded by nature. They bought the land together with 8 other people. Everyone built their own house, picking different locations in the vast property. The communal aspect of it was mostly limited to spontaneous gatherings during the weekend. More than a comune it felt like a very well-functioning neighbourhood, with no paved roads or zoning regulations. 

The other three volunteers and I, all tired hikers in need of a couple of weeks of rest, would spend our free days down at the beach of Whale Bay. We would then hitchhike to town to get ice cream and borrow new books from the book booth in the main square. 

Beach surrounded by forest
Whale Bay, New Zealand


It was the end of summer and the sun was still reddening my neck when we finished sanding the one hundred poles that composed the hut. On my last day in the village, we went for a hike to Tane Moana (the largest Kauri tree in the area), where I picked up a shed piece of amber bark that accompanied me for the rest of the trip. 


Golden Bay

Golden Bay is at the top of the South Island, squeezed between the Abel Tasman National Park and Kahurangi National Park. Many travellers head there for the abundant nature, the numerous campsites and the generally relaxed (very relaxed) atmosphere. In Takaka and Motueka you can see the backpackers’ station wagons parked along the roadsides. They stay in front of cafes or in overnight rest areas, hanging out with the people stationed in their vans. They are easily recognisable by the double mattresses in the backseats, and the worn-out look of their two-decade-old cars. Knowing how to recognise them turned out to be a great resource for finding easy rides and moving around the country. It was in one of these same station wagons, lying face up on the mattress, just barely fitting against the roof of the car, that I reached J’s place in the heart of Kahurangi National Park. 

Rock formation in the sea
Golden Bay, New Zealand


Off the grid in Kahurangi National Park

J lived off-grid in a wooden gypsy caravan. She doesn’t move anymore, not much, she explained to me. A friend let her stay in a small plot of land that belonged to him, where she built an open-air kitchen and grew a beautiful vegetable garden. While I was there, I helped her prepare it for the winter. We laid a mix of seaweed, shells and compost on the garden’s beds to protect them from parasites and the upcoming cold. It was the beginning of winter, and the morning chill would make me get up early to escape the freezing caravan. I would go outside to rest for an hour, waiting for the sun to rise.

During my time off I explored every corner of the trails that venture up the valley, deep into Kahurangi Regional Park. J wasn’t around much at all. She was very reserved and always busy with something else. Most of the time, it was just me and another young guy who was staying on the property, supposedly helping around the place. He was a talented sculptor. Sometimes I would spend hours watching him carve anonymous pieces of wood and turn them into animals and small plants. He was very quiet too, almost zen-like. I would often see him leaving the property early in the morning, with no shoes or shirt on, only with his wood carving knife in his hand. He would then come back at sundown, saying he went looking for wood but couldn’t find anything he liked, so he just lay down in the grass for a couple of hours.

Woodcarved cat
Woodcarved cat


Towards Fiordland

When I arrived in the Southern Alps the picks were already dusted in snow. My first hike in Arthur’s Pass was memorable. The landscape was a mix of alpine pine trees and subtropical ferns. As soon as I passed the bush line, where the forest gradually turns into rocky terrain, a thin layer of snow creaked under my hiking boots. I rushed to the top, where I had one of the best views of the trip. Striped green and white mountains were all around, under a deep blue sky overly saturated. Up there, I met a group of travellers who had started their road trip around the south. They met through a post on the backpacker’s Facebook page (one of the largest resources for solo travellers in NZ) and decided to split the cost of a car for a few weeks. We talked about our travel plans – not many, mostly vague ideas. They were heading south, which just happened to be the same direction I was going. Later that day, I ended up cancelling my accommodation for the night and joining them on their drive to Fiordlands. 

Snow covered grass amid mountains
View of Arthur’s Pass Valley


Hiking around Te Anu

June in New Zealand marks the beginning of winter. Clouds are long, swirling low around the fiords. Te Anu, a small village close to the starting point of several trails in the region, turned out to be a lovely base for the time we spent in the area. It wasn’t overly touristic and everyone there seemed to have the same objective: hiking. The rainy and wet season didn’t stop us from walking part of Milford track, one of the greatest walks in NZ, going through glaciers, waterfalls, and rainforests. Another popular hike is the Kepler track, which runs for over 50 km around lakes, mountains and fiords, of which we only had time to explore a small section. 

Lake with a sea plane parked near the shore
Lake Te Anu under a layer of fog


The misty weather accompanied us for most of our stay in Fiordlands, and I didn’t mind it at all. It gave a certain beauty to those prehistoric-looking forests, as if we had arrived in a freshly discovered land. We got lucky enough to have a clear day when we went on a boat tour around the fiords. The sun was bright and being out on the boat felt refreshing. Thanks to the wet season, springs and rivers were in full flow, creating breathtaking waterfalls that poured directly into the sea. The tour lasted for a couple of hours, leaving us with a handful of scenic pictures and an even greater desire to explore the area.

Fiord seen from boat
The Fiords seen from the boat


Exploring New Zealand my way

When I planned my trip to New Zealand, I was worried about missing out and not seeing all the ‘must-sees’ advertised in travel guides and online. After staying in the country for several months, and missing several of these places, as well as seeing many others, I’m very confident in stating that you can’t miss out in New Zealand. All the famous spots and walks of the country are surely beautiful, but the same beauty abounds everywhere else in Aoterora. My personal advice would be to take the time to slowly discover the country, get to know your surroundings, and find your own favourite spots – in one word, travel deep.


My Top picks for Off-Grid travel in New Zealand

  • Biking is a great way to discover New Zealand. There are plenty of cycle trails across the country, of any length and difficulty. Some of the wilder ones include Motu Trails, Old Ghost Road Cycle Trail and West Coast Wilderness Trail.
  • If biking is not for you, you can see the biodiversity of NZ by hiking the Te Araroa ( or parts of it), a 3000 km trail crossing the country north-south.
  • The Coromandel peninsula often goes under the radar of most tourist guides. The area is very wild and barely developed, making it the perfect place to explore on your own.
  • Golden Bay is more than the Abel Tasman great walk. It’s the epicentre of travellers coming from all over the world, where culture and stunning nature meet. Stay in the area for alternative music gigs and workshops, and taste the feeling of being part of an alternative rural community.


Have you travelled to New Zealand? Did you prefer the North or South Island? Let us know in the comment section! Subscribe to our newsletter and benefit from travel guides, sustainable tourism and luxury travel tips, insightful interviews, and inspirational places to visit. One Planet Journey – The World’s First Deep Travel Magazine.


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