New Zealand is, hands-down, my favorite country in the world. I love the landscapes, the people, and the laid-back way of life. But, seeing how the country is located roughly at the end of the world, traveling to this South Pacific nation definitely comes at a price.
Yes, what you've heard is true: New Zealand is not a very budget-friendly destination.
It's basically not close to anywhere (other than Australia). The adventure activities New Zealand is so well-known for all come at a premium price. Hell, you can't even find free wifi in this country!
But, fear not. Having been to New Zealand four times in the past decade, I've come up with some tips to help you save money while traveling in New Zealand.
Travel in the off-season
New Zealand's high season is in the summer (December-February in the Southern Hemisphere), though the top ski spots in the country like Queenstown and Wanaka also have a secondary high season in the winter months when the skiing/snowboarding is good.
If you want to find the best flight deals AND be traveling when transport and accommodation are the cheapest, visit New Zealand in the shoulder season: April-May or October-November. The weather during these seasons is generally pretty good (it's not too hot or too cold), and you usually don't have to compete with people to book rooms, rental cars, or popular activities.
I've traveled in New Zealand in just about every season, and my favorite times to be there were in May when the leaves were changing and November when everything was in bloom (like lupins!).
Rent a camper van
Having your own wheels in New Zealand really is a must if you truly want to explore the country and all its epic landscapes. IF you're down for camping in some of New Zealand's natural wilderness, you may want to consider renting a campervan. The bigger ones are great if you're traveling as a couple or with a friend or two. And the bigger, self-contained campers give you to ability to “freedom camp” — basically camp for free on public land.
Smaller camper vans will require you to overnight in an actual campsite, but this can still save you tons of money when it comes to accommodation.
Look into rental relocations
If renting a set of wheels isn't quite in your budget, look into doing a relocation (or multiple relocations) of a rental car or campervan. Rental car companies constantly need cars and vans driven from one drop-off location to another, and if you are willing to help them out, they basically give you the rental for free.
Popular relocation routes include ones between Auckland and Christchurch, and Christchurch and Queenstown. Most of the time these rentals cost about $1 per day and often come with one free tank of gas. And, if you need to get the car from one island to the other, the company usually throws in a ferry ticket, too.
This isn't the best option if you want a nice leisurely road trip (Christchurch to Auckland transfers, for example, usually have to be completed within 4 or 5 days), but it IS a really cheap way to get from one place to another while still getting to see the scenery along the way.
Take the bus
If driving in New Zealand is not on your to-do list, then I highly recommend taking a bus. Yes, bus rides in New Zealand can be long (allow at least 8 hours to get from Queenstown to Christchurch, for example), but they are comfortable and affordable. Nakedbus often offers $1 fares if you book far enough in advance, as does InterCity. Even if you book last-minute, though, you can often find long-distance bus tickets for $30-$50 — way cheaper than flying.
And I actually LIKE riding buses in New Zealand because it allows you to enjoy the scenery without having to worry about driving yourself.
I used to recommend staying in hostels as a way to save money on accommodation in New Zealand. And they ARE a great way to save money, don't get me wrong. But I've outgrown my hostel days, and now try to find other alternatives to pricey hotels.
My booking site of choice? Airbnb. Whether you're looking for an entire flat or just a room to rent out, you'll find plenty of great options on Airbnb. On my most recent trip to New Zealand, I booked a room in a lovely house in Auckland for 4 days. My host was very friendly, I got to meet some other travelers staying there, and the room came with free breakfast and wifi! And it only cost me $65 NZD per night (as opposed to double or triple that at a hotel nearby).
(And, PS, I want to give you some free credit to use toward your first Airbnb rental!)
Lastly, let me tell you about one of my very favorite sites to use to book activities in New Zealand: bookme.co.nz. This site offers deals on everything from jet boat rides to cocktails at the Ice Bar to Milford Sound cruises. I got great deals on a bungee jump and a seal swim on my last trip to New Zealand by using Bookme.
The site defaults to the Queenstown region because you can usually find the best deals there. But you can change the region at the top of the page, so don't forget to look for deals in other parts of New Zealand, too.
What to Pack for New Zealand
There are definitely a few things you'll want to make sure to bring in order to help you check off these bucket list items. Things like:
- A New Zealand guide book – or how about a Lord of the Rings-themed NZ guidebook?
- A travel adapter so you can easily use your electronics in New Zealand, and a power strip so you don't need multiple travel adapters.
- Good hiking boots so you can navigate the terrain.
- A GoPro so you can capture all the adventures.
And, even though it’s not a tangible item, I also always recommend packing a good travel insurance policy! That way everything from lost luggage to a bad accident is covered – because you just never know! I recommend World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance.
Do you have any other tips for how to save money in New Zealand?