It’s usually cheaper to stay in one of the nearby towns, and then commuting to Queenstown for a day of exploring. Wanaka and Arrowtown are your best bets – they’re very closely located and have a few cool things to see and do as well. In Queenstown itself, backpacker hostels will be your cheapest option. Prices for these lodges range between NZ$20 and NZ$40 per night. Sometimes you can get lucky with a few AirBnB finds too – but keep in mind that competition for those rooms is quite fierce. In fact, no matter which accommodation offering you choose, you need to be prepared to book your room at least a year in advance – especially if you’re dead-set on staying in Queenstown (such is the issue of travelling along to a small, but incredibly popular, tourist destination).
Buses are the budget-friendly option for travelling in and around Queenstown. Cash fares start at NZ$4.50, and it costs NZ$12 to get from the airport to downtown. The local coach line, Richies Connectabus, offers 7-day unlimited passes for travellers, which gives you access to popular stopovers like Wanaka, Arrowtown, Arthur’s Point, and the Remarkables Park. By comparison, you can usually expect to pay at least NZ$15 a day for a car rental.
If you’re staying at a backpackers’ hostel, be on the lookout for any special food vouchers they might give out for travellers. When it comes to local cheap eats, Fergburger tends to be the number one choice among the area’s tourists (it’s recommended that you order your meal online to avoid the long waits and queues). For those in a barhopping mood, the Old English style Pig & Whistle Pub serves quite reasonably-priced food and drinks too. Slice Pizza is an underrated gem that offers up plenty of cheap pizzas and sides – and, as a bonus, they do deliveries. Other budget-friendly eateries to try include Joe’s Garage and Caribe Latin Kitchen.
Many New Zealand travellers are taken aback by local alcohol prices. If it helps you budget your night out, expect to pay around NZ$9 for a pint of beer, NZ$10-12 for a glass of wine and NZ$15 for cocktails and spirits. In Queenstown, the aforementioned Pig & Whistle is a popular choice for cheap drinks, while 1876 Bar and Restaurant offers regular drinks deals. The bustling Cowboys bar also has food and drinks specials on a regular basis.
This is where a bit of planning will go a long way. If you can’t forgo the adrenaline-pumping activities, pick a couple that really appeal to your interests. Otherwise, there are plenty of unspoiled landscapes around, which can be experienced without spending a single cent. Head over to the serene Queenstown Gardens, explore the town’s beautiful parks and walking trails, or simply stroll along long coasts of Lake Wakatipu. You don’t need to splurge on the Skyline Gondola to get a post-card worthy panorama of the town – simply traverse the Tiki Trail up to Bob’s Peak and marvel at those exquisite vistas.
Fiordland National Park is your local go-to for hiking. This is where you’ll find some of New Zealand’s Great Walks, including the Routeburn Track and the Milford Track. Intercity buses operate from Queenstown to Milford Sound, with fares usually starting at NZ$30. Alternatively, make this the day to hire a car and drive yourself to this destination. Many of the trails, in their entirety, can take up to 4 days to complete – there are campsites and huts at the park if you want to do the entire loop.
There is so much to do and see in the Otago region. Wineries, ski resorts, natural wonders and scenic roadtrips are right on your doorstep. Again, choosing a few must-dos (like a vineyard that you’re keen to visit) will make the difference. Arrowtown is lovely in the autumn season – there’s even an annual festival to celebrate its picturesque foliage. Wanaka is also a scenic wonder year-round and much cheaper to navigate than its dynamic neighbour. Cromwell, Alexandra, and Bannockburn are a few more towns worth exploring – for their wineries as well as a quaint New Zealand town charm.