Budget Travel – New Zealand

New Zealand is such a magical place. It is just so unbelievably beautiful! For any self-respecting traveller New Zealand should be a bucket list item. However, before you go, this is a useful summary of how much you should budget for common things such as accommodation, transportation, food and attractions.

Money Matters

Paying for goods and services in New Zealand is super simple. Card payments are accepted pretty much everywhere and as long as you have a credit card which does not charge you for non-local currency transactions this will be the most convenient and budget-friendly way to pay.

We actually went overboard with withdrawing cash in New Zealand. We thought we’d have to pay for campsites or might find some remote coffee shops which do not accept cards but that never really happened. As a matter of fact, the only place we paid in cash was for entering a lavender farm. All the campsites we stayed at were free! Find out more here.

Although you are unlikely to deal with cash, it might be worth keeping in mind the current exchange rate which is £1 = 1.9 NZD.

Tip: If you have some cash left over in the end of your holiday, do not exchange it in New Zealand. Keep the cash until you arrive at your destination. Avoid exchanging money at airports if possible. We almost paid a 20% commission for exchanging NZ dollars to Indonesian Rupiah.

Food and Drink

Eating out is expensive in New Zealand although somewhat less so than Australia. As you all know, we try to save money wherever we can so in these “expensive” countries we eat out only occasionally. If you do decide to indulge into the local cuisine this is what you should expect to pay.

At a restaurant we would have paid $20 NZD or more for salad like this – Photo (and salad!) by Kristina – January 2019

Eating Out

Beer in a bar – 6-10 NZ$
Coffee – 4-6 NZ$
Budget Meal at a restaurant – 15-25 NZ$

Supermarket

Bottle Water – 1 NZ$ / Large bottle
Beer – 2-4 NZ$ / bottle
Bananas – 3 NZ$ / kg
Apples – 3-5 NZ$ /kg
Milk – 2-3 NZ$ / 1L

Tip: Do not buy bottled water if you don’t have to. Instead opt for buying a large 10L tank and top up your reusable bottle as you go. Drinking water points for tank refills are widely available throughout the country. This way you will not only save money but also use less plastic!

Transportation

While I am sure New Zealand has amazing cities, it’s nature is the reason people come here. As a result, the right way of travelling in New Zealand in summer is either by car or a camper van. Distances are much smaller than in Australia so road trips are less tiring and some of the campsites are just too beautiful. Also, while driving you might come across hidden gems that you would have missed otherwise. Lastly, hiring a car or a campervan might work out for the best budget-wise as you could be spending less for accommodation.

KATrippin Road Trip New Zealand South Island
On a bus tour you would be biting your fingers seeing a view like this and being unable to stop and take pictures – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

Car

Car Hire – 20-40 NZ$ (rate per day)
Petrol – 2.2 NZ$ (per litre, Jan 2019)

Tip: Apex car rentals is the company we used in New Zealand and Australia. Pros: Really cheap daily rates, free extra drivers, return car in a different location than pick-up for free. Cons: Cars are older and have more mileage than those from other rental companies.

Self-Contained / Campervan

Self-contained vehicle (sleeps 2 people) – 100 NZ$ (rate per day)
Campervan – 130-200 NZ$ (rate per day)

Note: Campervan or self-contained vehicle rental is likely to include sheets, pillows, a table with chairs, plates and cutlery. Most campervans have fridges and/or freezers and stoves for cooking but it is worth checking with the rental company beforehand. Plan your trip (and what you pack) accordingly if you go for car and not campervan hire.

Flights

Although it might make sense to fly between south and north islands, if you stick to one island the distances are generally manageable without air transport. Flight fares between major airport cities in New Zealand will vary between £20 and £40 (40-75 NZ$).

Bus/Train

There are a number of bus operators in New Zealand, however we have not had a chance to try those as we wanted to have as much flexibility as possible. For this reason we opted for hiring a car. If you are only travelling between cities or can’t drive buses might make sense too.

Single ticket Christchurch to Queenstown – 50-80 NZ$
Tour bus pass for 2 weeks in South Island – 700-900 NZ$

Tip: If you decide to get a bus travel pass you will get the comfort of being driven around, you will have travel commentary and the route is all planned for you (although you decide how long you stay and where). However, if you can drive from budget perspective this seems to me as a poor value decision. For comparison, car rental + fuel for two weeks of travelling covering Christchurch, Mt Cook, Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, Castle Hill and back to Christchurch came out to a total of 750 NZ$. This would not have bought even a single tour bus ticket and even if it did it would not have included a visit to Milford Sound.

Accommodation

Similarly to what I said in my Budget Travel – Australia post, you will need to do some thinking if you want to save some money. We found some reasonably priced Airbnb in Christchurch, but these were pretty basic. Cheap Airbnb rooms are unlikely to be available in small touristy towns though.

Camping is probably the most budget-friendly option, but I appreciate not everybody might be into it. If that is the case you options are the following.

Hotel Room – In smaller towns 160-350 NZ$, cities 80-150 NZ$
Motel Room – Smaller towns 150-200 NZ$, cities 80-120 NZ$
Bed in a Hostel – 20-40 NZ$
Paid government campsites – 0-19 NZ$ depending on whether it is a basic, standard or serviced campground.

5 Best Free Campsites in New Zealand South Island
5 Best Free Campsites in New Zealand South Island – January 2019

Attractions

Bungee Jump in Queenstown – 169 NZ$
Boat tour of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown – From 89 NZ$
Milford Sound Boat Tour – 49-90 NZ$
Franz Joseph Glacier Helicopter Tour – 459 NZ$
Winery Tours – $150+ NZ$

Tip: Pergerine Winery near Queenstown offers free wine tasting. You don’t need to book, just turn up and try their wines. We loved their Pinot Gris.

And the last one:

Unlimited Hiking, Enjoying Nature, Swimming in Lakes and Rivers – Free!

As you can see activities in New Zealand are expensive which makes budget travel in this country slightly more difficult. Luckily, so many stunning lakes, rivers and mountains are completely free for anyone to visit and enjoy. You don’t need to see every single place from the helicopter – just hike!

Conclusion

Similarly to other developed countries New Zealand is particularly expensive if you enjoy going out a lot and are into guided tours or extreme sports or activities. In our case, we spent just over 2500 NZ$ in two weeks and that already includes some activities, a couple of nice dinners and flights from Australia. That’s around 90 NZ$ or £45 per person per day (expensive but not terrible). Let’s have a look at a more standard two-week travel budget for a single person traveling from the UK.

KATrippin Budget Travel New Zealand Graphic
  • Flights – £800 (*Depending on season, airline, etc.)
  • Accommodation – £280 (around 40 NZ$ or £20 per day)
  • Food – £280 (around £20 per day). This would include a budget meal out once every other day, but mainly cooking for yourself.
  • Transportation – £370 (assumed £210 for the car and £160 for fuel which would be enough for 2000km)
  • Entertainment – £250 which would include a couple of tours or activities, and a few nights out.

Total – £1980 or around £140 per day all included.

Visa (if applicable) and Insurance (recommended) are not included in this calculation.

Note: £1980 is a generous allowance for one person. Budget travellers will most likely find someone to share the costs of car rental and fuel. Others might want to sleep in tents or from time to time or avoid nights out drinking completely to save money. Despite that, I would not be comfortable traveling to New Zealand without at least the above mentioned amount of money in my account.

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