Patagonia vs New Zealand: Which One Is Better?
Both Patagonia and New Zealand are amazing in so many ways and I am fortunate enough to have visited both. This blog will try to answer the question: Patagonia vs New Zealand, which one is better and which one should you visit?
I will be upfront, it is not fair to compare New Zealand to Patagonia because New Zealand is an entire country and Patagonia is a region split between two countries, Chile and Argentina.
When someone wants to compare Patagonia vs New Zealand, it is most likely that s/he is thinking about the South Island of New Zealand rather than the entire country. With that said, there are a lot of similarities and differences between the South Island of New Zealand and Patagonia and I will try my best to list all of the ones I can think of in this blog.
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Who This Post is Intended For
If you are interested in landscape or hiking then this New Zealand vs Patagonia comparison is for you. I spent my trip to New Zealand and Patagonia for outdoor experiences mostly so most of my comparison below is based on my own experience doing day hikes (not multi-day ones).
You would also like the comparison if you are trying to decide if you should visit New Zealand/ Patagonia but have already been to the other one. I personally had the biggest dilemma when deciding whether it’s worth going to New Zealand after being so amazed by Patagonia. I’m sure I’m not the only one with that dilemma and hopefully this blog will help you answer the question: Patagonia vs New Zealand, which one is better?
Ease of Getting to New Zealand vs Patagonia
Both New Zealand and Patagonia are very remote. If one factor that can affect deciding whether to visit New Zealand or Patagonia is the length of travel then it’s really dependent on where you are based.
Traveling to New Zealand
Most international flights stop in Auckland in the North Island of New Zealand first before transferring to Christchurch or Queenstown in the South Island.
If you are based in Asia or the west coast of the United States, then you might want to consider New Zealand as there are direct flights to Auckland from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.
The direct flights are still long: you are looking at 12 hours from the west coast and probably longer if you are up in Canada.
Once you fly into Auckland, you still need to transfer to other cities in New Zealand such as Christchurch, Wellington, and Queenstown although Queenstown has direct flights from some cities in Asia.
If you are on the east coast of North America, there is now a direct flight from Chicago to Auckland (15.5 hours) on Air New Zealand 3 times a week. If you are in Europe, then you have to first fly a long haul flight to Asia or Dubai then transfer to Auckland, so you are looking at at least 20-30 hours of travel.
Traveling to Patagonia
Since Patagonia is a region that covers both Chile and Argentina, you have the choice to either fly into Punta Arenas in Chile to visit Torres del Paine or fly into El Calafate in Argentina to visit Perito Moreno Glacier and Mt. Fitz Roy near El Chalten. If you are flying into Chile, then you most likely will have to transfer in Santiago; if you are flying into Argentina, then you probably will transfer in Buenos Aires.
If you are based on the east coast of United States or in South America, then it may be easier to go to Patagonia even though from New York it still took at least 15 hours to get to Punta Arenas for me. If you are in Europe it’s just far either way to New Zealand or Patagonia. If you are in Asia then it’s a super long journey to Patagonia as well.
Fortunately most likely you don’t need visa to visit either Patagonia or New Zealand if you have a US/ Canadian/ EU/ Singapore passport.
Ease of Traveling in New Zealand vs Patagonia
You Need To Rent A Car in New Zealand
There is simply no getting around to driving in New Zealand. If you are visiting New Zealand to hike (which I assume you are, otherwise why bother comparing it to Patagonia), then you will most likely be covering several different regions in the South Island of New Zealand.
I did not see any bus that would take people from one town to the next as each place on the South Island you will most likely to visit are usually at least 2 hours drive away. It is extremely hard to take public transportation to try to go to different towns and different trail heads, the area is simply too big.
Once you are in a major city like Queenstown or Auckland, there are buses that you can take or you can simply walk to places you need to visit assuming you stay somewhere central.
Renting a Car in Patagonia is More Expensive
For 10-11 days of rental in New Zealand in December I paid an average of $55-60 a day. I rented a car for one day in Patagonia in December from the town of Puerto Natales (near Torres del Paine) and it costed about $100 that day.
You Can Take Buses in Patagonia
Unlike New Zealand, if you are visiting the usual hikes or towns in Patagonia, there is a great network of bus services. One reason is that Patagonia is so remote that there are only a few towns that most visitors will stop by (Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine in Chile, El Calafate and El Chalten in Argentina).
You can also rent a car, do an organized hiking tour, or hire a private driver in Patagonia to take you to the popular hikes and back to town.
Driving in New Zealand vs Patagonia
If you are renting a car, driving in New Zealand will be on the left hand side (following UK, Japan, etc). Driving in Patagonia will be on the same side as the US and rest of Europe and Asia.
If you have an English languages driving license, you will be able to use that to rent cars in both New Zealand and Patagonia. The roads in New Zealand were better maintained for the most part since you will actually pass through towns where people live when you drive in New Zealand.
Whereas in Patagonia, there weren’t as many cars while driving between the national parks and some parts of the road were not so well maintained.
Language Spoken in New Zealand vs Patagonia
This should comes at no surprise that the main language spoken in New Zealand is English. HOWEVER, I did notice that at almost any hotels and shops and lots of restaurants, there is Chinese translation.
Many hotels and shops have staff that are fluent in Mandarin and lots of restaurants in touristy towns have Chinese menus. Perhaps this is because there is a large Asian population in New Zealand and due to its proximity to Asia, there are tons of Chinese, Japanese and Singaporean tourists that visit New Zealand.
Spanish is the official language in Patagonia (Chile and Argentina) and I actually found it hard to find people who speak English in Patagonia unless they are front desk hotel staff or souvenir shop owners. Even some of the most popular restaurants in Patagonia I visited have only Spanish menu and only Spanish speaking staff. If you were to visit Patagonia it would be helpful to know basic Spanish.
Landscape in New Zealand vs Patagonia
I know comparing landscape in New Zealand vs Patagonia is probably something you are more interested in than any of the paragraphs I mentioned before. Sorry for keep you waiting and here we are.
Mountains are Bigger and More Epic in Patagonia
Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand has big and beautiful mountains like Mt. Cook but I was totally blown away by the mountains in Patagonia, from the towers of Torres del Paine in Chile to the logo-worthy mountain range of Mt. Fitz Roy in Argentina. There is just no comparison to the granite towers that are unique and iconic to Patagonia. However, when you are in Torres del Paine, the towers are all that you focus your attention on. In New Zealand there are mountains everywhere, close, far, right in your face, etc.
There are Mountains Everywhere in New Zealand
Patagonia may have the bigger and more epic looking mountains, but they are very concentrated together, either in Torres del Paine or in Mt. Fitz Roy range. Besides those main attractions, I did not really notice any other note worthy mountains on our drive from the airport or between Chile and Argentina.
However, in New Zealand, almost everywhere you drive to (that you would stop in), there are mountains. A lot of the times you will be driving in beautiful valleys surrounded by snow capped mountains or you will be driving in a windy pass just to be surprised by an amazing look out point on the top of the mountain. There were so many mountains that we saw while driving in New Zealand that we stopped counting after a while.
New Zealand is Famous For Its Lakes
Almost every town we visited in New Zealand has a lake attached to it, whether it’s Queenstown, Wanaka, Te Anau, Taupo, or Glenorchy. Besides the lakes next to towns, there is the famous Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.
Whenever you see photos of New Zealand, inevitably you will stumble upon a photo of a lupine field in front of Lake Tekapo. Some of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand is easy accessible by car and don’t require a hike.
In addition, Lake Tekapo is in the Dark Reserve and is known to be one of the best places to star gaze. There are accommodation in the towns near Lake Tekapo that you can stay at to fully enjoy New Zealand lakes at their best.
You can see glacier lakes in Patagonia too but the most beautiful ones such as the base of Mirador Las Torres or the one on the Fitz Roy hike require a rather long and difficult hike. If lakes are your thing then definitely consider New Zealand.
You Will Love the Lupines In New Zealand
Although not native to New Zealand and actually considered a pest, lupines are literally my favorite wild flowers and they make such beautiful photo backdrop. If you are visiting the South Island of New Zealand you will see them along the side of the road near Lake Tekapo, on the drive to Wanaka, and on the drive to Milford Sound. There are flowers in Patagonia but they are not as vibrant as the lupines in New Zealand.
Patagonia Has Amazing Glaciers and More Glacier Activities
Those are just 2 out of numerous glaciers in Patagonia (Glacier Upsala is even bigger than Perito Moreno). In New Zealand, the most visited glacier are the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier where you can do helicopter tours and ice walks (weather dependent).
Patagonia Feels More Wild
Patagonia is such a remote and wild region that you totally feel out of this world when you are there. You could drive miles and miles and not see any human or animals, just mountains and lakes. In New Zealand you will pass by towns and farms that you will not see in Patagonia.
Weather in New Zealand vs Patagonia
Weather is unpredictable in both Patagonia and New Zealand and there is no question about that. However having been to both regions in the month of December I can confidently say that the weather in Patagonia is more extreme and crazy.
Due to its geological location, Patagonia’s summer is extremely windy (more so than in the winter). While I was in Torres del Paine in early December, the wind speed was between 40mph to 80mph on a given day.
On the really windy day it took me 30+ minutes to walk to the Salto Grande waterfall when it should take no more than 10 minutes without wind. The gust was so strong that hundreds of pebbles were flying at me and it literally hurt being attacked by them.
Furthermore the windy kept pushing me down hill even when I was crawling on the ground, so yes, the wind is crazy in Patagonia. I also experienced all 4 seasons in 2 hours in Patagonia from sunny to rainy to cloudy to snowing.
This is not to say that the weather was that much milder in New Zealand, it wasn’t. We encountered a storm in Mt. Cook which caused us not being able to finish Hooker Valley Track, the easiest track there is since it’s completely flat.
During one point of the hike in an open area the wind was so strong that I was getting pushed off the boardwalk. But that was the only really bad weather we experienced in New Zealand. There were days that rained all day but overall it did not feel as crazy as Patagonia.
In both regions the summer is relatively mild and it snows in the winter. I did find that the sun is much more brutal in New Zealand than in Patagonia so make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen with you!
Hiking in New Zealand vs Patagonia
New Zealand Has More Well Known Multi-Day Hikes
There are a total of 10 “New Zealand Great Walks” with the 10th one being added in 2019. Most of the multi day hike in New Zealand range from 2-6 days in length. You can book shelters during the trek or bring your own tent and camp in New Zealand (depends on the track).
Patagonia also has many multi day hikes, and the most famous one is the W trek in Torres del Paine that takes about 3-5 days. You can extend the W Trek for a few days to complete the O Circuit and see more in Torres del Paine. Another less known but extremely challenging multi-day hike in Patagonia is the Huemul Circuit Trek in El Chalten, Argentina where you will be hiking to the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, something that most people will never get to see.
As Patagonia is divided into Northern Patagonia and Southern Patagonia, most of the multi-day hikes are actually in Southern Patagonia and many involve seeing glaciers and Southern Patagonia Ice field. There are many multi-day treks in Patagonia that are not as well known but still amazing. If you want to go off the beaten path then consider Patagonia.
Patagonia Day Hike Has Amazing Rewards But Are Longer
There are tons of day hikes in both New Zealand and Patagonia that you can do if you are not into multi-day hikes and camping. I personally am not a multi-day hike person so I opted for the day hikes in both places. What I’ve noticed from hiking these day hikes in New Zealand and Patagonia is that New Zealand offers some shorter and lovely day hikes whereas the most popular day hikes in Patagonia are much much longer but with incredible views at the end.
Both are very long day hikes that takes about 8-10 hours round trip. However even though they were long with very steep parts at the end, I personally thought the view at the end was extremely rewarding. There were other shorter day hikes we did in Patagonia but they were not as amazing as the two I just mentioned.
In New Zealand, I did 7 different day hikes; some were short (3 hours return) and some longer (6-8 hours return). The view were still nice yet very different as I saw alpine lakes, mountains, and volcanoes on these New Zealand day hikes.
One thing to mention is that out of the 7 day hikes I did in New Zealand, only 1 was completely flat and easy (Hooker Valley in Mount Cook) andthe other 6 were pretty much all straight uphill, some very steep, such as Roy’s Peak and Ben Lomond. Even the shorter hikes were mostly uphill or climbing up rocks. Whereas even though the hikes in Patagonia were long, there were a lot of flat parts which made it easier.
The summit view of these two popular Patagonia hikes always involved alpine lakes in front of tower peaks. But honestly, both Patagonia and New Zealand offer amazing day hikes that you simply can’t miss.
Trails Are Well Maintained in Both New Zealand & Patagonia
Based on all the day hikes I’ve done in New Zealand and Patagonia, I do think that the trails are well marked and maintained in both places (except the Lake Marian Hike in New Zealand).
In Patagonia in Argentina, the two most popular day hikes (Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre) have km markers on the trail so you can see your progress (did not see one in Torres del Paine).
In New Zealand, only 1 out of the 7 day hikes (Tongariro Alpine Crossing) had km markers to let you know how far you have hiked, the other 6 day hikes either did not have any km markers during the hike or only had some sort of sign to show distance once you reach a designated view point.
One thing I noticed while hiking in New Zealand and Patagonia is that in New Zealand, all the trail signs show you time instead of distance. These time estimates in New Zealand are fairly accurate for a moderate fit person (I hike pretty slow especially downhill and the time estimates were really accurate).
There are Bathrooms on the Hiking Trails in Both Patagonia and New Zealand
You would be glad to hear that on all the day hikes I’ve done in New Zealand and Patagonia there were bathrooms! In Patagonia, if there are camping sites or refugios on the trail (usually there are), then there are bathrooms that you can use (bring your own toilet paper).
In New Zealand, there usually is always one bathroom at the start of the hike and one near the summit. There were a number of bathrooms on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, the best day hike in New Zealand.
Food in New Zealand vs Patagonia
Food is Cheaper and More Fresh in New Zealand
When I was in Patagonia and tried to buy fruits and bread for our long day hike the next day, I noticed that the fruits at the super market were not of the best quality and there also wasn’t as much variety of groceries that I needed. I guess it’s because the food had to be shipped quite far to Patagonia.
All the hostels in Patagonia also sell packed lunch and they were also extremely expensive and not very tasty. However in New Zealand, we found all the fruits to be very fresh and lots of variety in terms of groceries and other daily necessities that I needed such as sunscreen, bug spray, antihistamine, etc.
More Food Diversity in New Zealand
In Patagonia, most restaurants served either Pizza, Steak, Lamb and burgers depending on the restaurant. Most of the days when we were hiking we would buy bread and ham from the local super market and pack lunch ourselves.
There were a good amount of diversity in terms of restaurants and groceries in New Zealand. Most towns that we stayed at (Wanaka, Te Anau, Queenstown) had different cuisines such as Italian, steak, burgers, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Latin, Japanese and Korean. It was interesting how many Indian and Chinese restaurants there were in New Zealand.
Because of this diversity, we were able to eat quite different food every evening. For lunch, most of the time we bought pies from super market and convenience stores to take with us on the hikes.
Lodging Options in Patagonia vs. New Zealand
More Lodging Options in New Zealand
Again, this should not be a surprise given how remote Patagonia is. Of course in both Patagonia and New Zealand there are luxury hotels, mid-ranged hotels and guest houses and hostels. But because most areas you’d visit in New Zealand have bigger towns, you inevitably have more supply of lodging compare to Patagonia.
However, if you do not want to stay in the towns near the national parks in New Zealand but opt to stay inside the national parks (such as Mt. Cook National Park or Tongariro National Park) then your options are just as limited as in Torres del Paine in Patagonia.
During high season, lodging in both Patagonia and New Zealand get booked up months in advance and price increases drastically. If you are keen to visit either places you should book at least 5 months in advance.
Cellular Connection in Patagonia Vs. New Zealand
New Zealand has better cellular connection hands down. You can buy sim cards when you land in any major airport in New Zealand for a relatively cheap price (or you can use roaming like I did).
Throughout my 2 week road trip in New Zealand I almost always had internet connection except in Milford Sound. Interesting enough on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike in North Island the cellular connection was extremely strong given the hike is in the middle of no where.
In Patagonia I literally had no cellular connection and no wifi (from hotels, restaurants, etc) for days in the town of El Chalten, Argentina. I did occasionally get internet on my phone in Torres del Paine.
Flying a Drone in New Zealand vs Patagonia
Comparatively, New Zealand has more regulation regarding drone usage. Almost every hike I did in New Zealand had a sign that prohibits drones and I actually did not see anyone flying a drone. In Patagonia I never saw any signs but because the wind was so strong it was impossible to fly a drone anyway. If you plan to bring a drone with you be sure to check the regulations in New Zealand, Argentina and Chile first.
Final Words on Comparing New Zealand with Patagonia
All the comparison above are based on my own experience visiting and hiking in Patagonia and New Zealand. I saw many similarities between the two are they are both beautiful, remote and welcoming. I am glad that I got to visit both because they are unique in their own ways.
While I appreciate the amazing view in Patagonia I do enjoy the variety of activities I could do in New Zealand. If you are a hardcore hiker, do Patagonia or the multi-day tracks in New Zealand; if you are more of a leisurely traveler that enjoy a bit of hiking, water sports, extreme sports or city sightseeing and relaxing then you may enjoy New Zealand a little more as it offers literally everything to any type of traveler. But do yourself a favor and visit both at least once in your life time.
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