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New Zealand landscape | ©  Colin Capelle/Flickr
New Zealand landscape | © Colin Capelle/Flickr
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How to Travel New Zealand on a Budget

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 6 November 2017
Just as New Zealand is adored for its beauty, it’s also notorious for being a bit on the expensive side. But that doesn’t mean budget travel is impossible – it just calls for a bit of extra planning. Here are some tips on how to save some coin while still getting the most out of the country’s finest attractions.

Visit off season

Timing can make or break your travel budget. As with everywhere else in the world, the off-season is when you’ll find the cheapest plane tickets, accommodation and activity costs. In New Zealand, that would mean visiting in spring – which in itself has its perks. Autumn is another great option – temperate, not too crowded, and filled with interesting sights and festivities. Most travellers arrive in the summer months (December-February) due to the favourable weather, but that tends to be the more expensive time to come through.

Select an island

New Zealand may be small, but it’s not that small – travelling to both islands can be quite expensive and incredibly time-consuming. If you’ve only got a few weeks to spare, think about which activities are on top of your bucket list. Both the North and South Islands have their own unique charm, and taking the time to see each individually will make your trip much more memorable. All the main centres will have their fair share of budget-friendly attractions too. For those wanting to travel around the North, opt for landing in either Auckland (the most common route) or Wellington. Queenstown and Christchurch are the main arrival points in the South Island and have plenty of interesting sights and activities in store.

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New Zealand coastline | © Indo_girl2010/Flickr

Similarly, choose your experiences wisely

If you’re an avid thrill-seeker, you’ll likely have a list of New Zealand activities you want to try. Thing is, the cost of experiences like bungy jumping, sky diving and skiing can quickly add up if you’re not sticking to a plan. Also, some of New Zealand’s most popular natural landscapes, like parts of the Milford Sound and the South Island glaciers, can only really be accessed via guided boat or helicopter tours. The best thing to do is choose your adventures in advance, as well as keeping an eye out for discounted packages from tour operators and deal sites like New Zealand’s Grabone or international providers like Viator. Prioritising outdoor experiences like hiking, beach-hopping and cycling might also help reduce costs.

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Cape Reinga landscape | © Rachael/Flickr

Getting around

Buses will be your cheapest travel option – not just around cities, but between them too. Intercity and Mana Bus are some of the main providers, and run regular fare deals for various locations. Cities like Auckland and Wellington will also offer special travel passes with discounted rates on local attractions. For all other places, Intercity offers flexible hop on/hop off passes which will help you experience New Zealand’s top must-sees.

If you’re looking for more of a hands-on approach, consider renting a campervan. It will be cheaper than hiring a car to get around, and will double up as an accommodation option. Camping and caravaning are quite popular in New Zealand (especially in summer) and there are various designated sites for travellers who have opted to go along this route.

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Lake Hauea Campsite, New Zealand | © Flying Kiwi Tours/Flickr

Accommodation

Not everyone can afford to splash out on a fancy mountain lodge or a boutique hotel. And that’s okay.

Besides freedom camping/sleeping in a campervan, backpackers’ hostels will be the cheapest places to stay – and, unless you decide to go completely off-grid, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a town or city that doesn’t have them. Hostels can vary in pricing and sophistication (see this list from Christchurch as an example), but they usually start at around NZ$20 per night. Privately-owned holiday parks and motels equipped with self-catered kitchenettes are the next best alternatives, closely followed by short-term stay options like AirBnB. If you’re dead set on travelling in summer, Bookabach may also help you save on accommodation. Last point to note: if you’re travelling to a bustling hotspot like Queenstown, make sure to book your accommodation well in advance to save costs and – most importantly – to avoid disappointment.

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View from a backpackers’ hostel in Dunedin, New Zealand | © macronix/Flickr

Food

The cost of food in New Zealand can come as quite a shock for travellers. Eat out every night, and you’ll easily find yourself spending between NZ$50-$100 a day on your meals. Grocery shopping, on the other hand, will help you keep costs down to as little as NZ$50 per week. Needless to say, cooking your own food should be your top priority. The cheapest supermarket chain in New Zealand is Pak n Save, though other stores like Countdown and New World will have regular weekly specials you should keep an eye on.

You can even make a fun outing of it: think a picnic by the lakeside in Queenstown, an al-fresco lunch in Christchurch’s lovely gardens, or day’s expedition into Auckland’s diverse parkland. If you’re travelling in a group, and outdoor barbecue will make for memorable Kiwi experience. Farmers’ markets are also great places to find cheap, locally-grown produce, and cities like Wellington also have a nice selction of cheap eats to try.

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Homebaked sourdough | © Gavin Firkser/Flickr