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How to Travel New Zealand on a Shoestring
New Zealand has a reputation for being expensive, especially when you consider the cost to fly there from North America or Europe. However, with a little bit of imagination, it’s possible to travel New Zealand on a shoestring budget. Follow us on a journey to Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, famous world over for its incredible scenery, unique wildlife, city hotspots, and hobbits. We’ll show you where to stay, what to do, and how to travel across New Zealand on the cheap. Let’s get started!
Hotels in New Zealand can be on the expensive side, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find somewhere to stay while on a budget - it just calls for a little bit of advance planning. Outside of camping grounds, or sleeping in an RV, you’ll find that backpacker’s hostels are the cheapest places to stay in New Zealand. While prices and amenities will differ, you can expect to pay around NZ$20 per night for a shared room. If you’d prefer a little more privacy, your next best bet would be a room in a privately-owned holiday park, or a motel equipped with self-catered kitchenettes. There are still some bargains to be found on AirBnB for short-term stays, however if you’re travelling to a major city such as Auckland, Christchurch, or Wellington, make sure you book well in advance.
The cheapest way to get around New Zealand, outside of renting a campervan, is by bus. Not only are New Zealand’s buses an affordable way to get from A to B when sightseeing, but the cheapest way to cityhop. You can purchase a travel pass which offers discounted entry to local attractions in Auckland and in Wellington, and take advantage of special offers and fare deals when travelling to a new location.
Keep an eye on the Intercity and Mana Bus websites for offers, or consider a hop on/hoff on pass which will help you experience some of the country’s top must-see attractions. At the time of publishing, it was possible to travel from Auckland to Wellington for just NZ$37 (one way), and from Christchurch to Nelson for NZ$83 (one way) on Intercity. There were also bargain NZ$1 fares on offer, on select routes, for those quick enough to take advantage of the May 2020 promotional deal.
If you’d like to take the wheel, consider renting a campervan. It’s cheaper than hiring a car, and doubles up as a place to stay. Camping and caravaning are immensely popular in New Zealand, especially during the summer months, meaning that there are plenty of campsites dotted across the various islands.
Those staying for longer periods of time have even opted to purchase a van and then build a campervan themselves. This is also a great way to save money as you can sell the campervan after your holiday to the next traveller hoping to do the same.
You can find out more about road tripping through New Zealand in our article on driving through the country here, which includes some great ideas on how to plan your itinerary.
Food & Drinks
The price of eating out in New Zealand can come as a shock to tourists from North America, Europe, or Asia. Dinner for two at a decent restaurant can easily cost NZ$50-$100, not including the cost of drinks. Grocery shopping will help you stick to a budget, especially if you’re staying in accommodation that makes it possible to cook your own meals. You should allocate around NZ$60 per person, per week, to cover supermarket-sourced food and drinks, from retailers such as Pak n Save, Countdown, and New World. All three chains run weekly specials, however Pak n Save is generally considered the best priced option by locals. Local or farmers’ markets are also great places to find affordable fruit and veg, and there’s always take-out if you want a quick bite.
If you do decide to rent a campervan, you have the option of buying a portable BBQ, or eating your meals al-fresco. Many of New Zealand’s campsites are located by parkland, lakes, and mountains, so it’s easy to soak up the scenery while enjoying freshly BBQ’d seafood, a picnic spread, or a simple home cooked dinner.
Things to Do & See
If you’ve been dreaming of a New Zealand adventure for some time already, you’ll likely already have a list of activities to try and attractions to experience. However, the cost of tours and outdoor experiences such as skydiving and skiing can quickly add up. Some of the country’s most popular natural wonders - like parts of the Milford Sound and the South Island glaciers, can only be visited via guided boat or helicopter tours.
We suggest choosing tour experiences carefully, and well in advance. It’s also worth keeping your eye out for discount codes and end of season promotions, on websites such as Grabone or Viator. The former functions a little like Groupon, while the second is a great place to find inspiration and cheap New Zealand tours. Outside of paid tour experiences, outdoor experiences such as hiking, surfing, and mountain biking can usually be arranged on short notice, and cost considerably less.
Other Ways to Save
If your travel dates are flexible, consider visiting New Zealand during the shoulder or off-season. This is the time of the year where fewer tourists travel to New Zealand, coinciding with winter in the southern hemisphere (June to August). The shoulder seasons fall between March - May, and then September - November, and these are some of the best times to find cheap plane tickets, accommodation, and low priced activities. Most travellers arrive in New Zealand in the summer months, hoping for favourable weather, but this is the most expensive time to visit.
Head to New Zealand in the winter, and you’ll find that everything from car and campervan rental rates to Kiwi Experience bus passes, backpackers accommodation, and many day trips and adventure tours, are quite a lot cheaper. And there’s plenty to explore during the winter season. New Zealand is home to over 20 different ski resorts, which attract winter sports enthusiasts from all over the world, plus geothermal pools, wintergardens, and wildlife parks.
Another way to save is to stick to one island. New Zealand may be small by North American standards, but it’s not that small. Travelling between the three main islands can be both expensive and time-consuming. If you’re only planning to spend a week or two in the country, it may make more sense to stick to either the North or the South Island. Each would serve as a memorable base to any New Zealand holiday, filled with budget-friendly sights and activities. Stuck for ideas? Why not read more about what to do in Auckland, or the day trips you can take from Wellington?
Do you have any tips or advice for travelling New Zealand on a budget? Perhaps you know a website where you can find cheap travel deals or campervan rentals? You can get in touch with us at The Travelling Souk to let us know, and we’ll gladly add your suggestion to our article.
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