It’s one of the main things that often puts people off about travelling to New Zealand, and something I always get asked about. Yes, I’m talking the cost of travel in New Zealand. Here are a few money saving tips I’ve gathered from my trips over there, all with varying budgets, which have given me quite the insight into what the real New Zealand travel costs are!
We all like to save a bit of cash, and people are often surprised to hear that you can quite easily travel in New Zealand on a budget. Let’s kick off with a few New Zealand budget travel tips to help you start planning your New Zealand trip and answer the question of whether New Zealand is expensive to visit.
New Zealand Travel Budget Tips
Outline your Budget – Before you go gallivanting off around Middle Earth, it’s worth thinking about your New Zealand travel budget from beginning to end, and what you’ll be spending money on. That includes flights, insurance, accommodation, transport, activities, food, souvenirs, and anything else you might want to purchase.
When to visit New Zealand – Any time! It’s beautiful and welcoming in all seasons, however you’ll notice costs rise around peak times in summer (December – February) and the winter ski season (June – August) when top locations are at their busiest. Visit in the mid or bridge seasons (such as May or September) for a little more flexibility in accommodation, and slightly lowers prices.
How much does a New Zealand trip cost – That’s really up to you! As for many of us, NZ is pretty darn far away so the biggest chunk of cost is likely to be flights. Overall I would recommend budgeting £1,500 – £2,500 for a 3 week reasonable-budget trip including flights, transport, accommodation, food, and activities.
How much should I budget for a New Zealand trip – This too depends on a number of factors that only you can control. Overall, for my backpacking trip to New Zealand I budgeted $2,000 (NZD) per month: roughly £1,000 (this excludes flights and the bus tour booking costs). This was rather ambitious at times, and it wasn’t always met, and other times I was well within budget – there really is no rule! When travelling to New Zealand for a South Island road trip, I budgeted £1,500 for 2 weeks covering flights, accommodation, food, and activities (excluding car hire).
How much are New Zealand dollars worth – Of course this depends on your currency being converted! I roughly take a 1:2 ratio for GBP to NZD, but this can fluctuate and it’s always worth checking before you embark on what you think is the bargain of a lifetime. A quick Google search can tell you just how much you’re spending in a currency that’s familiar. Keeping in the mind the exchange rate will help you estimate if your purchase is comparatively expensive one or not. Would you really spend £3 on an avocado at home? Didn’t think so!
Do I need cash in New Zealand – You can almost always pay by card in New Zealand. The EFTPOS machines offer a choice of paying with credit, savings, or cheque. You’ll most likely want to select savings, however don’t panic too much if you accidentally choose credit – it’s less of an issue for foreign bank cards. Despite the high use of card payments, it’s worth keeping a small amount of cash on you in case of emergencies. Consider registering for a cash card (available from STA Travel), or a multi-currency bank card such as from Monzo to get the best exchange rates and avoid nasty fees with your bank card. It may only be a couple of pounds here and there but it would soon add up!
Upfront & Daily New Zealand Travel Costs
On my first trip to NZ as a backpacker, these were the upfront costs we covered before even setting foot in the country. This does have the advantage of being paid-for and forgotten, but can mean covering several hefty expenses all in one go!
Car rentals – We spent around £750-800 on our 2 week car rentals in New Zealand from Snap Rentals. This was inclusive of full coverage insurance, a GPS, and a USB extension, plus the economy sized car of course! The price we got from Snap was among the cheapest we could find for a decent car, which served its purpose well.
Bus tour – The cost of a Kiwi Experience bus pass (the Sheepdog route took me from Auckland to Christchurch) was £220 on a special offer (around 50% off!). Kiwi Experience often have flash sales or similar longer promotions, so be sure to keep an eye out and plan ahead to get the best deals. Other companies like Contiki and Stray New Zealand both offer similar bus tours for low costs, so see what suits your plans and budget best.
Flights – Flight costs can vary hugely. On average, a return London – Christchurch flight I’ve booked has cost around £700-£800. When booking a plane ticket to New Zealand from nearby countries, consider more budget airlines such as Jet Star, as you can often find cheap flights to New Zealand this way.
Insurance – Through STA Travel, I booked travel insurance with Allianz for £155 covering a 6 month trip. Travel insurance costs can be found on pretty much any comparison site, and it’s really personal preference if you’re comfortable with the cheapest options or would rather prefer premium coverage. One thing’s for sure though, it’s extremely crucial to purchase insurance as you never know when you might need it! For such a low cost you’ve certainly got more to risk by not signing up.
If you’ve got a lot of expenses out the way prior to your trip to New Zealand, you can keep a relatively low daily budget during your stay. I budgeted $50 NZD (or £25) per day, including accommodation, food, and small activities over a 12 week trip. This was pretty tight but certainly doable!
Hostels – On average, my hostels cost around $30 (£15) per night, which is already a large chunk of my daily budget spent, but well worth it to have a warm bed and bathroom facilities!
Food – Buying food in bulk from the supermarket helped to bring down costs, and at times activities cost me nothing so I could roll over any saved cash for another, more expensive, day.
Activities – I added an additional $1000 (£500) for big activities that were once in a lifetime experiences, as it was important to me to not only be in New Zealand, but to experience New Zealand.
Booking Cheap Flights To New Zealand
Yes, flying to New Zealand can be costly. But, planning ahead and being flexible is definitely a good way to cut costs. Here are a few sites to consider to find the best flight deals!
STA Travel – The go-to for many budget backpackers and gap year travellers. In-store they can offer advice and assistance, particularly for more complicated trips to multiple destinations. Their website is also one of the first places I’ll look at for flight price comparisons, and thanks to their young person (under 31s) discounts I’m often pleasantly surprised with a decent bargain.
SkyScanner – Every travellers best friend. I filter by cheapest month to see when is most realistic for me to go. Being flexible with dates also helps, if you’re not tied to any timeframe then you can certainly get to New Zealand for less than you think!
Direct With Airline – We all know there are money-saving hacks for flying. Credit cards that offer airmiles, flight price trackers, and so on are all available. Booking directly with an airline can sometimes be a pricer route to take, because you don’t get the flexibility of comparison sites. Having said that, if you are enrolled in a loyalty scheme or frequent flyer programme, you might get yourself a good deal or at the very least a few bonus benefits for your journey!
Cheap Accommodation In New Zealand
Stay with friends and family – If you happen to know any kind Kiwi’s who’d be willing to house a poor traveller for a couple of nights, then you might be in luck! A friendly email ahead of your trip won’t hurt, the worst they can say is no and if you’re polite and willing to chip in with chores, cook a thank-you meal, or even babysit, then what have you got to lose? After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get and you’d be surprised how generous the Kiwi people can be. Plus staying with people you already know might ease you into a trip away from home, and offer a few comforts before you embark on the rest of your travels.
WWOOFing – This is my personal favourite out of the budget accommodation in New Zealand options. WWOOFing (or willing workers on organic farms) is a work-for-board system allowing a free place to stay and food in exchange for a few hours work each day. The WWOOFing NZ site allows you to register for £18 and you can access a dashboard of advice and tips, and get in touch with potential hosts.
An alternative to the traditional WWOOFing process is to get in touch with hostels and accommodation providers for a similar exchange of services. You’d be surprised how many hostel staff are simply WWOOFing, temporarily working to save a bit of cash and stay in a destination for a little longer. Sending out emails to hostels in the place you’d like to stay is a great way to begin your search, and their website might offer info on any schemes they currently have in place. That’s how I ended up WWOOFing in Franz Josef and loved it!
Freedom Camping – Freedom camping, or camping of any kind, is not only considered a cost-efficient way of travelling in New Zealand, it’s also very popular. With lots of campsites and freedom camping areas available, you can easily travel the length and breadth of New Zealand this way.
As we opted against a camper van, we slept with the seats down in our rented car with a thick blanket covering the windows and ourselves! For just a few nights, this was perfectly fine. My travel partner and I are not especially tall, so the small car was a decent size bed, and we alternated evenings of freedom camping and hostels to make use of the good facilities!
Take care to note that freedom camping should comes with a high level of social and environmental responsibility. You can’t just park up and sleep, and least of all do so on someone’s property. Respect the areas, follow leave no trace practices, do your research on where to stay, and stay safe. It’s recommended to use the Camper Mate app which shows you all the campsite locations, facilities, and prices, plus local ISites also have this information. There’s really no excuse!
Couch Surfing – An ideal way to make local friends and save money, couch surfing is an online community where strangers offer to host travellers in some way (I slept on someone’s living room floor in Auckland!). There’s no formal reciprocation, but a nice meal or small gift of thanks would go a long way. Spending time with your host not only means you’ll show your appreciation, but also get great local knowledge and tips about the area!
Hostels – Arguably the most popular backpacking option for accommodation, New Zealand has plenty of hostels for visitors looking to sleep somewhere on a budget. With self-catering facilities you’re likely to save a few bucks on food too! Some of the most popular chain hostels in New Zealand are: Base, Nomads (part of the same company as Base), and BBH. Base and Nomads offer a multi-night card at a discount, meaning you can purchase up to 10 nights in one go and save a couple of dollars on your dorm room.
If you’re looking for more independent hostels, Hostel World have a great number of listings at a range of prices. You might find cheaper deals this way, I did so in Auckland as the popular hotels were already full and prices were getting higher in the peak season. Hostels in New Zealand cost around £15 per night at least, but you can get lucky with better offers with a bit of research.
Airbnb – Like hostels, Airbnb’s can be as cheap or as expensive as your budget allows. For a 1 bedroom private room you can expect costs of between £50-£80 in total, however, prices will vary significantly depending on demand and season. If you’re travelling in a group or pair, this might be a more cost-effective way of travelling as you can split the costs. Combined with a self-drive option, you can stay a little further from the centre of towns and likely have somewhere safe to park your vehicle over night for free too!
Cheapest Way To Travel Around New Zealand
Any way you can think to travel around New Zealand, I’ve done it all. I’ve hitched a ride, I’ve hired a car, I’ve taken the Naked and Intercity buses, and the Kiwi Experience tour bus. Ultimately, there is no best way to travel, but I do have favourites and the most cost effective methods from my own experiences.
Hitch Hike – by far the cheapest. But also the one with the highest risk. I was fortunate to make a few friends during my WWOOFing days and managed to hitch a ride with a couple of awesome girls, and we camped out in their teeny tent on our road trip from the West Coast to Queenstown. It’s not for everyone, but in the spirit of giving back I’ve also had a couple of hitchers for a ride and it’s a great way to make friends. In a generally safe environment and tourist heavy destinations such as NZ, you can easily make your way around at little to no cost. Bear in mind that although hitch hiking is common, be cautious and ensure you are alert and sensible.
Self-Drive – During my first visit to NZ my travel companion and I hired a cheap and cheerful car from Snap Rentals. They were great, and for 2 weeks it was extremely cost efficient for us to explore from Christchurch to Auckland. As well as the price, having the freedom to go at our own pace was enormously beneficial when we were tight for time and money.
The cons of self-driving in New Zealand are the parking costs, and petrol. Both of these commodities are at a higher price than other destinations, so be sure to factor these expenses into your budget. To fill our economy sized car cost around $40-$50, or about £25. We filled up every other day or so, as we didn’t want to be caught out with low petrol! As for parking costs, kindly ask your accommodation where you can park cheaply or for free, it’s amazing what the locals will know! For example, our hostel in Wellington told us we could park for free about a 10 minute walk from the building between certain hours. We were lucky enough to find a spot and it meant we didn’t pay a single cent for parking in the capital city!
Tour Bus – A backpacker pilgrimage is often including the (in)famous bus tours. I took the Kiwi Experience (the best and most popular in my opinion), driving me around the country in that big, green, hardly inconspicuous bus. The benefits of the bus are plentiful; you meet fellow likeminded travellers, you have a hassle-free way of seeing the country, they provide a route for you so you don’t have to plan so much, you have an expert Kiwi driver who knows the country better than anyone, you get tips and advice and so much more. A key monetary benefit of the Kiwi Experience is that you can get discounts on activities when you sign up through the bus driver, so sign up!
Where To Buy Cheap Food In New Zealand
Groceries – Food, glorious food. We need it to survive, and in New Zealand the price of groceries can seem a little shocking. That’s because prices of fresh produce like fruit and veg is based on the seasonality. Reduce your food spend by buying in-season items, and cut down on luxuries.
Free Food – Are there any sweeter words than free food? Make the most of free food available in hostel kitchens, or choose accommodation that includes breakfast. It might be simple, but for the money-conscious traveller it makes all the difference.
Sharing Is Caring – Buddy up and put your ingredients together to make a bomb dinner! It’s a great way to bond with fellow budget travellers, and it means you can help each other out.
Eating Out – I hate to say it, but Domino’s Pizza and McDonalds are super cheap. $5 Domino’s was the ultimate backpacker treat in NZ, and I regret nothing. Of course, the occasional splurge meal is heavenly, but for a quick fix and instant (but greasy) satisfaction, it’s easy to get your hands on some junk food.*
*I am by no means endorsing an all junk food diet, but a little bit of what you fancy does you good, right?!
Affordable Activities In New Zealand
New Zealand is the adrenaline capital of the world. Heck, bungee jumping was invented here! As a result, the price of some adventure activities can be rather high. Plan ahead what you might want to do, that will help you figure out the priciest activities on your list, and what you can realistically achieve.
I looked at the top suggested activities plus a few extras that piqued my interest, and chose based on the weather, budgets, time, and transport. I wanted to include adrenaline, nature, and culture in my activities so I wasn’t spending all my budget and time on the same types of excursions.
I chose 3 “big” activities to do on my trip, they were:
- Sky diving in Franz Josef plus photos – £200
- Blackwater Rafting through Waitomo Glowworm Caves – £120
- Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua – £65
I then chose “medium” activites:
- Dolphin Watching in Kaikoura – £50
- Hobbiton in Matamata – £42
- Weta Caves Workshop tour – £15
- TSS Earnslaw ride in Queenstown – £35
- Sky Tower in Auckland – £10
- Puzzling World, Wanaka – £11
Finally, I thought about free or very low cost activities that were must-dos such as hiking, historical sites, and museums.
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Taupo
- Roy’s Peak in Wanaka
- Glenorchy boat shed in Queenstown
- Cathedral Cove in Coromandel
- Te Papa museum in Wellington
Thankfully, lots of outdoorsy nature activities are free in NZ, and there are plenty of them. There are loads more high, medium, and low cost activities in New Zealand, these are just the ones I happen to choose and of course I did just a handful of the awesome things one can experience there. The advice is simple: do your research ahead of your trip! Stay tuned for my next visit where I’ll hopefully tick off a few more of my dream activities…
This guide goes through all the major costs of a trip to New Zealand, and how to be budget-friendly on your adventure. The most crucial thing to remember with budget travel in New Zealand is to respect the land and the people. Although getting a deal is always great, locals and services can’t always allow it (they’re running a business after all!), so be sure to always be polite and understand their right to say no. Be conscious of how you treat the land (don’t litter, y’all) and remember leave no trace practices. The price to pay for destroying a beautiful landscape would be more than you know.
When travelling on a budget it can be easy to let money worries overwhelm your mind and stop you from maximising your experiences. But that shouldn’t be the case. Even budget travellers can have the trip of a lifetime and discover this wonderful country without breaking the bank, you just have to do a little bit of planning! Remember that experiences are much more precious than cash – so have fun, learn a lot, and enjoy the ride!
Is there anything I’ve missed out? Let me know your New Zealand budget-saving tips!
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