Want to travel to New Zealand? Interested to hear our local travel hacks on how to travel New Zealand on a budget? Then you have landed on the right page.
Aotearoa New Zealand, the land of the long white cloud. We call it our bubble, the New Zealand bubble of paradise. A small but beautiful island tucked far away in the south pacific, isolated from the rest of the world.
A land of adventure that will captivate you with its diverse and grand natural beauty. Epic alps, lush rainforests, endless empty beaches, crystal clear lakes, and ancient glaciers, New Zealand literally has the landscape of 100 countries in one! Not to mention, our precious rock at the bottom of the earth is home to some of the friendliest people on earth as well as a rich native culture, the Maori culture.
As a travel destination, if you love nature, you will love New Zealand. However, it is definitely not the first place that comes to mind when you think of budget travel. New Zealand will swiftly empty your pockets, with high prices that will make you gasp! And when we say high prices, we mean literally everything is expensive!
As we travel around the world we meet plenty of fellow travelers who dream of making it to New Zealand and the one thing we warn them about before they commit to the trip is that……New Zealand is EXPENSIVE!
But don’t collapse in anguish just yet, all hope is not lost for budget travelers wanting to visit New Zealand. We have combined all our local knowledge and created this extensive guide to traveling New Zealand on a budget so that you can have an epic New Zealand Adventure, without going broke.
If your trying to work out how to travel New Zealand on a budget, the accommodation is the most important thing to consider. In New Zealand accommodation will cost you an arm and a leg. Even the most basic room won’t be any cheaper than $80NZD/$50USD. But there are ways to sleep for cheap in New Zealand and some alternatives will give you a much richer experience than an average hotel room.
Here are a few tips on finding a cheap bed in New Zealand:
- Doc Campsites
Probably one of the best local tips we can pass on is Doc. Doc stands for ‘Department of Conservation’ and the Doc website will be an incredibly valuable resource for your trip to New Zealand. We use it all the time when we are adventuring around the country.
Doc provides government run campsites across New Zealand, many of which are free or very cheap ranging from $0-15NZD per night. So if you have a vehicle or tent, your accomodation in New Zealand can be completely free! The best thing about these campsites is that they are located in the most stunning natural places. You can search for campsites on the Doc website and filter them by location, you can also add a ‘free’ filter to your search as well.
- Freedom Camping
Freedom camping is also an option, but do be careful as New Zealand has strict rules when it comes to freedom camping. If you freedom camp in a prohibited area then you will get slapped with a hefty $200NZD/$135USD fine. On the Doc website it clearly states that freedom camping is allowed on public conservation land, unless clear signage states otherwise.
Don’t try to freedom camp in Queenstown or any of the major tourist cities, you will get stung! The main reason for the crackdown on freedom campers, was the rubbish that was being left behind, so if you are freedom camping, please be tidy and take all your rubbish with you! The cliche saying runs true, leave only footsteps and take only memories.
Leading on from the camping chat, we would like to mention that many travellers choose to travel to New Zealand in a self contained campervan. This is a great way to see the country and your transport and accommodation is all in one! However renting a campervan in new Zealand is quite expensive. The cheapest rental rate you will find for a very basic camper is about $120NZD/$80USD per day.
If you are planning to travel to New Zealand for a few months then we recommend to jump on Trademe (NZ’s EBAY) and find a second-hand campervan to purchase. You can sell it when you leave the country and you will lose little to no money on it, virtually free camper rental! You can pick up converted second-hand vans for as little as $3000NZD/$2000USD.
Bonus tip: Don’t search ‘campervans’ on Trademe, expensive motorhomes will pop up, instead search ‘converted vans’ or just ‘vans’, to find the budget-friendly vans with beds.
Hostels and dormitories won’t be your cheapest option, but they are much cheaper than private rooms. The good thing is New Zealand has no shortage of quality hostels, so you can find them in almost every town and city. The average price for a hostel bed in New Zealand is around $30NZD/$20USD.
Workaway is actually quite popular in New Zealand, if you haven’t heard of it, it is an online platform where you can find work in exchange for accommodation. We have had many Workaway experiences and I must say they are some of our most treasured travel memories. Not only do you get to save on $$ you also get to interact with locals, make new friends, see off beat places and have a much richer travel experience overall. You can see one of our Workway experiences here, where we discover secret waterfalls in Sri Lanka and even got to feed wild elephants!
Like Workaway, Couchsurfing is quite popular in New Zealand, but there is no work involved in couchsurfing. Just a free bed with friendly locals. We can’t vouch for couchsurfing enough, we have made countless lifelong friends from around the world and to this day have not had a bad experience…touch wood! If you are new to Couchsurfing, we found this helpful guide to Couchsurfing that might shed some more light.
Transport is a money killer in New Zealand with fuel prices crippling tourist and locals alike. Don’t even think about taxis, a short taxi ride in New Zealand will probably cost the equivalent of 3 full days of travel! That might be a slight exaggeration, but heck, kiwis only catch taxis if they are loaded or if works clipping the bill!
Read on for budget traveller tips that will help keep your transport costs down while adventuring across New Zealand.
Hitchhiking is common in New Zealand and it’s fairly easy to catch a ride. Speaking from experience, I once hitchhiked from the very bottom to the very top of New Zealand! However, do proceed with caution especially if you are travelling solo, for more info about hitchhiking in New Zealand and how to keep safe, we found this great guide.
- Buy a Car or Camper
Having your own wheels means you have the freedom to explore every nook and cranny of the country. That small outcrop on the map or that hidden beach, you can explore it! New Zealand roads are also amazing to drive on, they are well maintained and always come with a side serving of beautiful views.
It’s legal to drive in New Zealand with your full drivers license from your home country. However, with rising fuel prices this is not your cheapest mode of transport and expect to payout about $2.30NZD/$1.55USD per litre of fuel. As mentioned earlier, if you are planning to be in New Zealand for over 1 month, we suggest to purchase a cheap car on Trademe and sell it when you leave New Zealand.
Travelling between towns and cities by bus is not exactly cheap in New Zealand, so if you’re planning to use bus services make sure to budget accordingly. A trip from Christchurch to Queenstown (500km) takes about 6 hours and will set you back about $60NZD/$40USD. There use to be more options when it came to bus companies making prices a bit more competitive, but now it seems Intercity Buses rain supreme, there is a second bus option in the North Island called Mana Bus.
However, travelling by public bus within towns and cities is a great affordable way to get around and you can usually find bus prices and timetables online.
If you are into cycling then this is an amazing transport option within New Zealand. Our roads are beautiful to cycle on, and it’s a great way to take in all the sights! New Zealand also has some great cycling trails that you can discover, more info on these here. Perhaps the bests things about cycling around New Zealand is that you emit zero emission and it’s absolutely free.
Yes, walk! I don’t think you’ll find a cheaper way to travel New Zealand on a budget! Many travellers actually do this on a route called Te Araroa Trail, a 3000km walk that takes you from Cape Reinga to Bluff (full length of NZ). It’s a 5 month long adventure and what an epic adventure it would be to walk the entire length of New Zealand!
If you’re not interested in walking the entire country you can do multi day walks along the track or just stick to one island. The walk will take you between 50-80 days per island. We have met many travellers who have completed the hike and we even hosted some treakers at our house as they passed through. This one is definitely for the adventure traveller with lots of time.
Eating out in New Zealand is not cheap, you could easily chew through over $100NZD/$70USD per day if you’re not careful. So below are a few tips to help keep your belly full and your wallet a little less empty.
Our tap water is completely drinkable, so fill up your bottle for free and skip the bottled water.
Drinking in bars is pricey with your average glass of wine selling for $10NZD/$6.8USD and a glass of beer costing you $9NZD/$6.10USD. So it’s easy to see why most kiwis drink before they head out to any bars or pubs, we call it preloading in NZ. Your cheapest alcohol option will be a cheap $8NZD/$5.40USD bottle of wine from the supermarket or a 1litre bottle of MOSKVA Vodka from Liquor King for $13NZD/$8.80USD.
Bonus tip: Beer is pretty much our national drink, so make sure you have some cold beersies on the beach while in NZ. (Beersies=Beer)
Stick to our bakeries for a cheap lunch! New Zealand is known for its local bakeries where you can find a delicious classic kiwi pie or a scrummy fresh sandwich for about $4NZD/$2.7USD. They are in every town, on almost every corner, so you won’t have trouble finding one.
Buying food supplies from the supermarket is going to be much cheaper for you in the long run, so if you want to save $$ then this is the way to do it. PaknSave is our cheapest supermarket and 4Square is our most expensive. Countdown sits in the middle of the range and you can actually go online and check out prices here. Be sure to shop for fresh fruit and veg in season, it will save you so much money.
Bonus Tip: New Zealand has recently banned plastic bags, so much sure you take a tote bag or reusable bag along with you on your supermarket trips.
- Fish n Chips
The classic kiwi fish n chips on the beach is a must if you are wanting to experience kiwi culture. The good thing is fish n chips or ‘fush and chups’ (imagine kiwi accent) are super cheap! You can feed yourself for as little as $5NZD/ $3.4USD.
A little local tip, Subway New Zealand has a 6” Sub of the Day everyday which costs $4.90NZD/$3.3USD.
Attractions & Activities:
New Zealand is known as the land of adventure tourism, we even invented the bungy jump & the zorb! We literally have endless fun and exciting things to see and do from adrenaline pumping jet boat rides, to epic hikes or relaxing thermal hot pools.
You definitely won’t get bored during your time here. However, you will quickly go broke without a bit of foresight and planning, so check out our suggestions below for how to experience New Zealand on a budget without missing out on activities.
Day hikes are plentiful in New Zealand and they are all completely free. Hiking is one of best ways to see some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery and really get in touch with nature.
The great thing about the New Zealand bush is that there are no deadly creatures at all, so you can hike worry free. New Zealand is also home to many multi day hikes including the Great Walks, where you can pay small fees to stay in the bush huts along the tracks. For all New Zealand hiking information visit the Doc Website.
- Enjoying Nature
Most kiwis spend their weekends and holidays outdoors because enjoying New Zealand’s natural beauty is fun and free. Relax on a white sandy beach, swim in crystal blue lakes and rivers or have a picnic at the base of the southern alps, its all free! So save your pennies and embrace the natural surroundings of New Zealand.
- Paid Adventures
New Zealand is home to endless tourist activities and adventure experiences, however, some can be very expensive. If you are on a tight budget, then I recommend choosing your top 1-3 activities and budgeting for them. This way you don’t have to miss out on that epic bungy jump or that whale watching excursion you so desperately wanted to do. Another insider tip which I regularly use myself is to jump on a site called Grabone to find cheap deals on NZ tours and activities.
We are probably going to get scolded by tourism New Zealand for this, but unless you are an avid Lord of the Rings fan, we would skip expensive sites like Hobbiton. It’s very overpriced and sees hordes of tourist everyday. There is a stunning natural river just around the corner that is absolutely free. Psst…the river is called Putaruru Blue Springs, and it’s literally been pulled straight out of a fairy tale.
You can also visit Paradise an area near Queenstown where many of the Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed, and there are zero entrance fees to this area. Just empty roads and stunning nature. In essene what we are saying is that some of the very touristic and expensive activities aren’t worth the money, especially if you are trying to travel New Zealand on budget.
So there you have it, we hope this guide was helpful and we answered all your questions on how to travel New Zealand on a budget. If you still have questions or if you have any other helpful budget travel tips to share with the fellow travellers, then drop a line in the comments section.
About the Author:
We are two kiwi’s from the bottom of the earth, Aotearoa New Zealand who live to travel and love to create. We go by the names of Reti & Bianca and we just completed a one year adventure around Asia! Discovering culture, food and connecting with locals are the things that keep us under the travel bugs thumb! For travel inspiration and guides you can check out our blog & vlog here: Native Travellers