Finding the right accommodation can sometimes make or break a trip. When you’re presented with so many options, it’s hard to know where to start! For any budget traveller, it’s often about keeping costs as low as possible, so here are a few ideas on where to stay in New Zealand for maximum enjoyment without breaking the bank!
With so many options available for budget travellers, deciding on the best budget accommodation in New Zealand can be a tough one! Here are a few things to consider, and the benefits and disadvantages of places to stay in New Zealand.
Where to stay in New Zealand
Towns & Cities – Like many destinations, staying in the heart of the action in central accommodation comes at a higher price. The cost can sometimes be justified by less transport or parking charges required to get into the town, but this is all relative to your desired activities, modes of transport, and time restrictions. As a backpacker, staying in the town centre is often preferable as you can’t easily get around by foot from further-afield places. On the other hand, self-drive transport makes central accommodation difficult when you can’t find a parking spot!
Rural Areas – staying a little out of town is definitely a good way to cut down on accommodation spend. Areas like Queenstown are extremely pricey, but staying a little further out around Lake Hayes or Arrowtown can massively reduce costs. Having said that, it does require a little more autonomy with regards to getting into the centre of town.
The choice is yours depending on a number of factors, but in a country like New Zealand both urban and rural areas will be beautiful and full of activities. I’d recommend trying a bit of both as each will provide different experiences, and you can see which you might prefer!
Accommodation Options in New Zealand
WWOOFing – $0: gratitude
WWOOFing, or Willing Workers On Organic Farms, is a great way to save on accommodation costs in New Zealand. The scheme that you can sign up for £18 allows you to search for potential hosts in your chosen area, who require a hand around their farm, garden, or other outdoor space. In exchange for your working a few hours each day, they will provide you with accommodation and food during your stay. It’s a simple mutually beneficial system which helps bring responsible travellers and locals together. Many WWOOFers I know swear by the rewarding experiences and are grateful to have done so, regardless of the money-saving aspect!
WWOOFing has now become a term used to describe Other ways to work for accommodation, often through hostels or small hotels. Instead of assisting with farming or outdoor work, many urban WWOOFers will assist with housekeeping, maintenance, cleaning, or clerical duties. WWOOFing this way is a great way to find somewhere to stay (and occupy your time!) if you’re travelling slowly from each destination, and allows the comfort of very little daily expenses. Furthermore, WWOOfers in hostels are often given slightly better dorms with fewer roommates, plus free food means it’s a decent deal to get for a couple hours of work!
Sending out emails to hostels in the place you’d like to stay is a great way to begin your search for the most affordable accommodation in New Zealand, and their website might offer info on any schemes they currently have in place for workers.
Do watch out for the hostels’ terms, as they might require a deposit, a minimum period of stay, or reserve the right to terminate the deal at any time. As this is a common system in New Zealand for budget travellers, bear in mind the place you’d like to stay might have received multiple requests already but have limited spaces. Particularly in popular spots like Queenstown, WWOOFing is a competitive sport and you’ll likely have to ask way ahead or have some really unique skills up your sleeve to offer (previous experience might help!). Alternative places such as the small villages on the West Coast (I WWOOFed in Franz Josef and loved it!) and Christchurch are less likely to be as competitive, and are just as amazing!
Pros of WWOOFing in New Zealand:
- Earn your keep
- Often added benefits such as food and drinks offered
- Chance to meet other willing workers
- Stay in one location for an extended period of time
- Unusual and memorable experience
- Can be in rural and urban areas
- May help get permanent work
Cons of WWOOFing in New Zealand:
- Part of the day taken up by working
- Some busier hostels/towns are booked up fast
- Some hostels require a minimum length of stay
- Work will often be manual labour or housekeeping
Couch Surfing – $0: gratitude
Couch Surfing is much like WWOOFing, in that you essentially are using an online platform to find a host who lets you sleep in their home for an agreed time. Based on a trust system community, Couch Surfing works almost like a dating site, with hosts and surfers stating their availability, location, and a small bio on their profile.
In my experience of Couch Surfing, I was on the lookout for a friendly female or couple who could host me for just a few days in Auckland. Fortunately, I found my host who offered me her living room to sleep in, and even showed me a few of her hobbies such as martial arts and acrobatics. The experience is certainly a unique one, and it’s really personal preference as to whether you feel comfortable in another person’s home to enjoy it or not.
I’d recommend starting your search early to avoid missing out – a couple of other hosts I contacted were not able to house guests but did offer to meet up for a drink instead. It’s worth bearing in mind the area you’re looking to be hosted, as it’s much more likely you’ll find hosts in the city than out in the small towns with fewer residents! I’d also recommend taking unsolicited offers with a pinch of salt. As a solo traveller, the offer of your own room in the centre of town with only one other bloke who owns the flat might sound a bit dodgy. If it’s too good to be true, be wary enough to think that it probably is!
Pros of Couch Surfing in New Zealand:
- You’ll likely meet experienced travellers
- You’ll benefit from expert local knowledge
- You can either stay with or meet other travellers
- You’ll be able to stay somewhere for free
- You can give back to the community by hosting yourself
Cons of Couch Surfing in New Zealand:
- You won’t be guaranteed the facilities meet your standards
- You’ll be staying with strangers
- You may be required to fit your schedule around your host
- There may be other guests staying at the same time
- Unpredictability of hosts until you meet and personality clashes
- Some hosts may be further from the centre of town
Camping – $0-20 per night
Camping is one of the most affordable ways to travel New Zealand with minimal accommodation costs. Combined with the the freedom of self-driving your way around the country, those that camp in New Zealand argue there is no better way to experience the landscape. Using the CamperMate app, check for camp sites near your destinations so you can be prepared with knowing the facilities and costs of this spot.
Freedom camp sites are also popular in New Zealand – areas that don’t require payment and are unofficially available to visitors looking to set up camp for the night. Be mindful that just because some tourists are camping in a spot, it doesn’t mean it’s a freedom campground. Illegally camping can incur fines, so use the app and stick to the designated spaces. Signs are clearly marked where you can’t stay, so there’s really no excuse. And not to mention you wouldn’t want to upset the locals!
Pros of camping in New Zealand:
- Very low cost or free
- Experience the beautiful outdoors and stay close to wildlife
- Peace and quiet
- Wide choice of camp grounds
- Stay in more unusual settings
Cons of camping in New Zealand:
- Basic or no facilities
- Some camp grounds have rules such as curfews
- Requires additional equipment such as tents, stove, etc., or camper van
- Much colder in winter months
- Requires preparation of location and price
Hostels – $30-40 per night
The globally recognised budget-friendly accommodation: hostels are most backpackers go-to choice, and New Zealand is no different. Pretty much every major town and city has a choice of very low cost options, stretching towards the more boutique and expensive hostels. The key chains of hostels include Base & Nomads, YHA, YMCA, BBH, and Top 10 Holiday Parks. You’ll be almost guaranteed to find at least one of these in each of the destinations you’re visiting in New Zealand, which makes things easier if you prefer to stick to the chains for reliability of facilities and costs. These chains of hostels and more are available to book through Hostel World, a great platform to find and book your New Zealand accommodation along the way.
Base and Nomads are likely the most popular hostels in New Zealand. Covering the entire country from Auckland to Invercargill (and even stretching to Australia!), they truly dominate the New Zealand backpacker landscape. Furthermore, you can have the option to book a package of the Bed Hopper Pass (formerly a Base Jump card) – where you can purchase up to 60 nights of accommodation in one go for a slightly discounted price. Perfect if you’re worried about sticking to a daily budget!
Pros of staying in hostels in New Zealand:
- Often in a central location near amenities and attractions
- A chance to meet other like-minded travellers in the community
- Deals and beneficial offers on trips, tours, food, and bars
- Low and very affordable prices
- Many offer free breakfast
- Self-catering facilities for cooking (and more budget saving!)
Cons of staying in hostels in New Zealand:
- Shared facilities such as bathrooms
- Facilities standards can occasionally be lower (reflected in the price)
- Unpredictability of other guests behaviour and standards
- Restricted parking if it’s in the town
- Less privacy in shared facilities and dorms
Airbnb – $80+ per night
Like many places in New Zealand, and indeed the world, Airbnb’s are a great accommodation option for a relatively low price. Rooms often come with familiar home comforts which add an extra touch of attention to detail that make them so appealing.
For example, during our time in Wanaka after a long hike a self-contained Airbnb studio unit was the perfect way to unwind! We stayed a 10 minute drive from the centre of Wanaka, and the friendly and helpful hosts provided us with plenty of instructions on how to reach their home. We stayed in a separate unit adjacent to their garage – meaning we were far enough away for peace and quiet from each other, but nearby enough in case of any problems. The set-up was so good in fact we didn’t even meet until the morning we departed! With gorgeous mountain views and everything we needed for our stay, it made our time in Wanaka even more lovely.
This type of Airbnb is not unusual in New Zealand, many offer great perks such as a spa, views, private bathroom, free parking, and much more. You certainly get what you pay for with the additions to cheaper accommodation, such as hostels where you have to pay for WiFi and towels!
Pros of staying at an Airbnb in New Zealand:
- Comfort of homely atmosphere and facilities (free WiFi!), often reflected in the price
- Cleanliness is of a high standard
- Very private with own room and little-no shared kitchen or bathroom
- Ideal for couples looking for more personal space
- Parking is much easier particularly if the host is a little further from town
- Local tips from your host on things to do and where to go
Cons of staying at an Airbnb in New Zealand:
- Slightly more expensive than budget backpacker accommodation
- Can be further afield meaning a car is often essential
- Facilities, prices, and options vary depending on location and hosts
Motels & Hotels – $80+ per night
In some parts of New Zealand, the cost of budget accommodation isn’t far off the cost of the mid-range priced accommodation, so why not treat yo’ self? In Aoraki/Mount Cook Village for example, the cost of a hostel is almost the same as a comfortable, private motel room just up the road. In these situations, if you’re sharing with friends or in a couple it’s probably worth splitting the cost and enjoying your stay in a little more luxury.
Sites such as booking.com are a great way to find the best deals, and you might find that on the odd occasion you can save some money when you least expect it. It’s worth keeping an eye out so don’t rule out what you think is the pricier option!
Pros of staying in hotels and motels in New Zealand:
- Facilities are often of a higher standard
- You’ll find yourself with significantly more privacy
- You can split the costs between those staying in the room
- Some hotels offer breakfast included in the price
- Often will be close to amenities and attractions
- Accommodation can be more comfortable and peaceful
- May have a wealth of character and charm
Cons of staying in hotels and motels in New Zealand:
- They are often more expensive than reliably budget-friendly options
- Bookings are more expensive nearer the time so last minute plans are less flexible
- Booking fees may apply, as well as cancellation fees
- More research is needed to find the best deals
- Less likely to meet other travellers
Top Choice of Accommodation In New Zealand
Overall, I’d most likely choose an Airbnb as my top choice of accommodation in New Zealand and would definitely be staying at an Airbnb again in the future. This is due to the great experiences I’ve had so far with them during my trips, and find that they best suit my recent travel style. Hostels are great and I’ve had many wonderful experiences with them, however for a couple’s trip I’d always prefer a little more privacy provided by an Airbnb!
WWOOFing takes the top spot as my favourite budget travel accommodation option as a backpacker, however having since upgraded to a part-time traveller, the homely additions are much appreciated on shorter trips!
What’s your favourite accommodation to stay in? Any top tips for budget accommodation in New Zealand? Share your thoughts below!
Pin it for later!