New Zealand (like my home country of Australia!) doesn’t have the best reputation for budget travel. But like all countries, traveling on a budget here can be done!
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a regular visitor to New Zealand and from each of my visits I’ve learned more and more about saving money when traveling here.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned from visiting New Zealand on a budget:
1. Get yo’ self some cheap flights!
Look, this is easier said than done, but will make a huge difference to your New Zealand budget.
I have a post all about budget travel where I also talk about getting cheap flights. My #1 suggestion for getting cheap flights? Sign up for a sale flight notification service!
My favorite one which I use is Scott’s Cheap Flights, and they’re how I got our cheap flights to New Zealand (which I’ve listed above in my New Zealand travel spend).
If you live further away, this will make an even bigger difference, so make sure you keep a lookout for cheap flights!
2. Get creative when it comes to which city you’ll be flying into
Look, sometimes sale flights aren’t perfect.
But if you come across a really good, rare sale fare, don’t be put off if it’s not flying into your ideal city!
We wanted to visit New Zealand’s South Island, but when we came across sale fares to Wellington (which is located at the bottom of the North Island), we went for it.
We booked early enough that we got some cheap fares flying from Wellington to Christchurch (which is in the South Island) at less than $50 NZD pp.
This more than made up for the fact that the sale fares weren’t to our preferred island.
For my friends visiting from further away (like the US or Canada), this might mean getting a lil’ creative with flights into Australia or South East Asia.
There are also some great sale fares between Australia and New Zealand that are worth looking into!
(Psst: check out Jetstar Australia)
So get a lil’ creative when you’re booking flights, my friends!
3. Renting an RV or Campervan is not always cheaper
When planning our trip to New Zealand, I had dreams of driving around in a campervan.
But once we crunched the numbers, it turned out that this wasn’t necessarily the cheapest option.
Turns out that renting a campervan can get pretty expensive. Especially combined with petrol costs + renting a spot to park your campervan every night.
In many towns, there are many budget-friendly accommodation options that involve a roof over your head and even a kitchen (yes, my friends an actual kitchen!)
So before you go, crunch the numbers.
We found that renting a small budget car coupled with budget accommodation options to be far cheaper than renting a campervan.
Psst: my recommendation for affordable car rental is GoRentals, a trustworthy New Zealand owned car rental company. I’ve used them for every trip to New Zealand and had incredible experiences with them every time.
4. If you’re not taking a campervan, book your accommodation ASAP!
This is advice from someone who was traveling during one of the busiest weeks of the year (over the long Easter weekend where New Zealanders were on holiday too!)
We managed to get good deals by booking in advance, as the cheaper accommodation options book out first.
We opted for budget motels and private rooms in hostels, which are great options for couples who don’t want the backpacker experience.
We also spent one night in a DOC managed hut (more on this later!) which also brought down our costs significantly.
Psst: I’ve put together an itinerary to help you plan your South Island adventure. You can find my 10-day New Zealand South Island itinerary here. It also includes driving times, suggestions on where to stay and things to do!
5. Speaking of accommodation, consider staying at the nearby YHA
YHA or the Youth Hostel Association is a great place to get quality, affordable accommodation.
Even though these are hostels, they’re not the hostels you probably remember from your backpacking days (no party hostels here!)
I’ve seen families, couples and solo travelers all stay at the local YHA.
My favorite YHA in New Zealand was in Mt Cook / Aoraki National Park. At the time, we paid 140 NZD (90 USD) for a private room/night, and had incredible mountain views!
6. If you’re planning on staying at a couple of YHA’s make sure you purchase a membership
If you’re planning on staying in a couple of YHA hostels, make sure you purchase a membership so that you can get 10% off your stay!
You can purchase them directly from New Zealand’s YHA for $25 NZD or from Hostelling International for $10 USD for an e-membership.
Your membership also gives you discounts worldwide. I bought mine for my New Zealand trip, but I’ll be using it when I head to Canada next year too!
7. If you like hiking, spend some nights at the DOC managed huts
DOC or the Department of Conservation is a government body which manages many of New Zealand’s public lands and National Parks.
In some of these locations, they also manage a group of huts, which are basically places you can sleep overnight for a small fee. The fee varies depending on the hut, but is can be around $10 – $30 NZD per person (they’re sometimes more depending on popularity!)
What do you get?
A comfortable mattress in a shared dorm, access to a stovetop to cook your own food and honestly? Some of New Zealand’s most beautiful views.
Psst: if you want to do this, check the DOC website for more information. You can book ahead for some huts (make sure to do this if possible!) and other huts work on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Views from one of New Zealand’s most famous huts, Mueller Hut in Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park!
8. If you’re planning on staying at a couple of DOC’s huts, consider a Backcountry Hut Pass
You can purchase these passes for a 6-month or 12-month period, and they allow you unlimited use of most of the huts and campsites. The 6-month pass costs $92 NZD pp and the 12-month pass costs $122 NZD pp.
There are discounts for Youth, and also discounts for members of the YHA (see number 6 above!)
9. Cook your own food
I know, this seems pretty obvious, but on my first trip to New Zealand I didn’t take this seriously.
I ended up spending similar amounts $ on food and accommodation.
While the food was never downright awful, many times it wasn’t that great either.
We loved eating out in Christchurch and Wellington, but when we were in smaller towns, the food rarely wow-ed us.
And to be honest, we weren’t really in New Zealand for the food anyway!
So if you’re on a strict budget, cook where you can (you can seriously save a lot of $$)
Tips for cooking while road tripping:
- Stock up on essentials in major cities where food will be cheaper
- Tourist towns can have very expensive groceries (i.e. smaller towns like Wanaka are known to be more expensive than Queenstown)
- Affordable supermarket chain stores include Pak ‘n Save, Countdown and New World
- Keep your food fresh by freezing bottles of water and storing them with any food you’re leaving in your car
10. After cheap food? Visit the local bakery!
Bakeries offer some of New Zealand’s budget-friendly snacks and meals.
And if you’re from the US, you need to try a meat pie!
I know this sounds bizarre, but these savory pies are traditionally filled with minced beef or chunks of steak. You can also get them filled with chicken, curry or any assortment of savory fillings.
They make for a great budget-friendly lunch, and honestly, every town has it’s own bakery so they aren’t too difficult to find!
While New Zealand has a reputation as an expensive country, it can definitely be visited on a budget.
I loved my time in New Zealand, and it’s one of those places that regardless of your budget, you’ll have an amazing time!
Are you visiting New Zealand?
What are some of the ways you’ll be saving money on your trip?
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