The ultimate guide to travel in New Zealand on a budget (10 tips + a bonus!)
YES, New Zealand is expensive, and YES, it is absolutely possible to travel in New Zealand on a budget. I am traveling the country for seven months now, with a monthly budget of 750 euro, but most of the times I spend less.
In this article I will give you 10 straight forward tips (and a bonus),
to travel in New Zealand without having to spend over $20.000.
1) ACCOMMODATION: Buy a self contained vehicle (or buy a van and make it self contained, like I did, not so easy but doable and fun)
If you travel in New Zealand without your own accommodation, this is what will kill your budget. Paying 40 dollars a night to sleep in a hostel with 10 other people in the room, is no exception.
That’s why my first, very important suggestion to travel New Zealand on a budget is (when you’re here for a couple of months), buy a self contained car or van.
In a self contained vehicle, you are allowed to freedom camp everywhere, except for places where there’s a ‘no camping’ sign. This will save you heaps of money.
Being self contained means that you have a water waste and water supply system, a sink and a toilet. If you’d like more details, visit the website of the NZMCA.
Some tips for buying your own accommodation:
- Buy it in winter, sell it in or just before summer (you pay less in winter and get more money for your car in summer. The price difference can be 2000 NZD)
- Buy your car from a local, for example on trademe.co.nz or buy it from another backpacker in one of these Facebook groups:
- When you buy from another backpacker, slim your chance of not buying a lemon (a local expression for a car that sucks/is likely to break down quickly). You can do this by (1) buy a car that has less than 240.000 km (2) buy an asian brand (cheaper to repair when something breaks down) (3) make sure the cambelt doesn’t need to be changed soon (expensive to do) or buy a van without a cambelt, like me (4) ask for papers, receipts, WOF check sheet to check the history (5) DO A PRE PURCHASE CHECK. This last tip is the most important.
- Do a pre purchase check in Christchurch instead of Auckland. My friend payed 280 dollars to check two vehicles (140 dollars each) in Auckland. In Christchurch, you pay 40 dollars (or at least I know a place where they charge only 40 dollars. I can give you contact details if you like).
Where to stay? Use Apps on your phone.
There are a couple of apps to find (freedom or cheap) campsites.
CAMPERMATE | A lot of backpackers use Campermate, but I don’t like it (annoying user interface and not all campsites are on there)
RANKERS/ CAMPING NZ | I guess this one is developed by the government. It’s not user generated and the amount of campsites you find is less than on my favourite app:
WIKICAMPS, the one I use | WikiCamps will cost you about $2 and it’s totally worth it. It’s super user friendly and user generated, which means that us travellers help each other to find the best spots. You can find campsites as well as showers, hostels, dumppoints, water points, day use areas or other points of interest, by using filters. It also works offline (except for the comments, you can only read them when you are online or have checked that site before.
Downside to freedom camping: not all the locals you meet are happy with the freedom campers in their country. I can see why… A lot of backpackers dump their rubbish and their shit (literally) everywhere. And we don’t support the country’s economy the way that the richer travellers do. I would say, if you’re going to do freedom camping, ‘give back’ to New Zealand by behaving well, be good to the environment, don’t dump your shit, buy from locals along the road and donate to DOC every now and then.
2) FOOD: Buy at Pak’nSave, at local markets or from locals along the road. Eat seasonal products. That will save you heaps of $$$$
BUY FROM LOCALS | My most important tip is, to buy as much as you can from locals. You support the local people instead of the rich supermarket owners, the products are mostly spray-free and you pay less. Just pay attention and watch the signs while you are driving, or visit local markets. Local fruit & veggies stores can be cheap as well.
CHEAP SUPERMARKET | Avoid convenient stores or supermarkets like New World. The prices you pay are absolutely insane. Pak’nSave (huge supermarket) will be your best friend in the category supermarket. They’ve got everything and it’s cheap. There’s a Pak’nSave in every big town, buy a lot, save big!
If there’s no Pak’nSave, no local and no market, Countdown is another option. More expensive than the other two options (in general, some products are an exception), but the prices are better than at other stores.
- Locals along the road
- Local markets
- Fruit & veggie stores
EAT SEASONAL | A lot of backpackers live on instant noodles. If you’re happy with that, I would say, enjoy!
I can’t do that…
My tip to eat fresh, healthy food and still being able to travel New Zealand on a budget, is buying seasonal products! In November/December, I payed only $0.90 for an avocado and $2 for a bunch of asparagus. At the moment, I pay $4.50 for an avocado. Shocking, right?
3) WORK & TRAVEL: become a Wwoof– or Workaway member. If you’re to lazy to work, go Housesitting.
The best way to get to know the country, to give back to the locals and to travel New Zealand on a budget, is volunteering. Wwoofing and Workaway are the two most well known communities to find volunteer jobs. You work for 4 hours a day (on average) in exchange of accommodation and food.
In addition to having a great time and getting to know the Kiwi lifestyle, you gain a lot of new skills. I can put gardening, landscaping and making a swing on my CV. Who doesn’t want that? 😛
I love the combination between travelling and volunteering, as I wrote in my article ‘What do you prefer, travelling in a van or work & travel in New Zealand?’
4) TRAVEL: hitchhiking (when you don’t have a car) & car relocation.
HITCHHIKING | If you want to save money while meeting the most awesome (local) people, go hitchhiking.
I have not much experience in hitchhiking myself (except for taking hitchhikers), but I’ve met a lot of people here who do it and it seems to be a very safe and convenient country for it. Everyone I met so far says it’s super easy, I haven’t heard one bad experience, and as a bonus they meet so many awesome people.
CAR RELOCATION | Another cheap option for travelling in New Zealand on a budget, is to relocate a car. When you are lucky, you pay nothing and they even pay for the petrol. The downside is, that you have to travel a certain amount of km’s in a few days, or even a day. you don’t have complete freedom. But it’s definitely one of the cheapest ways to travel the country.
A selection of car relocation companies:
5. Sleeping: Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is awesome. The concept: you stay at someones place for free. You give back by sharing something, like food or just a great time, good stories. You also give back to the community to host surfers when you’re back home.
Members (hosts and surfers) have a profile so you can look for likeminded people to stay with. It’s safe as long as you use it wisely. My tip here: always read references and don’t stay at someone who has less than 8 (positive) references.
The best people I met here, I all met while Couchsurfing. Couchsurfers are way more social than campers. They are all open minded globetrotters and they have great stories to tell. At some places, you are not the only surfer. You meet other travellers, share experiences.
Local people can tell you all about their culture and beautiful places in the area.
If you haven’t yet, try it. Join the community, you won’t regret it!
6) SHOPPING: New Zealand on a budget? Go to the cheap shops!
Do you need anything, from a cheap tent to new shoes to a blanket to an insulated travel mug? Go to one of these shops:
- KMART (camping stuff, outdoor gear, clothes, underwear, home decor, bedding, gadgets and more)
- OPP SHOPS/opportunity shops (these are second hand stores, for example Eco Store, Salvation Army and local second hand shops. These are the place to be when you are building your van. They have mattresses, linnen, towels, kitchenware, mostly in good condition. Go to the OPP shops in the good neighbourhood when you’re looking for quality)
- THE WAREHOUSE (clothes, electronic devices, arts and crafts, camping stuff, kitchenware)
- PANEL BEATERS, CAR WRECKERS, AUTOMOTOR DISMENTLERS (when something happens to the outside of your car)
7) DON’TS: Stay away from alcohol and tobacco
I know, this one is a little tricky for addicts, but if you can, staying away or reducing the use of these two stimulants will save you heaps, because they are super super expensive in New Zealand.
Don’t ask my why I know this, I don’t smoke, but a pack of cigarets costs about 26 NZD. No, I’m not exaggerating. The cheapest bottle of wine will cost you about $7, which isn’t too bad when you don’t drink a bottle a day.
8) WORK: Find seasonal/temporary work
I haven’t worked here yet myself, but everybody else does. And if you want to travel in New Zealand on a budget, you might have to. It’s super easy to find (and quit) seasonal jobs here. You can do farmwork and stay for a week, a month or longer. When you’re done with it, you go to the next place. Mostly they ask you to stay for at least 1 or 2 months, but nobody does and they know it (is what people who did it told me).
Some places to find seasonal work are:
WORKING IN A SKIING AREA | If you would like to work in a skiing area, prepare it to be a bit more difficult. I applied at a few of the most popular ski fields, and haven’t been lucky so far..
When you are travelling in your car and you have space left, let people know where you’re going, share the ride and the costs. You can post rideshares at:
10) FACILITIES: Use cheap or free facilities
This is not rocket science and you could have come up with this yourself,
but I would like to share some places that are cheap or free. This will definitely help you to travel in New Zealand on a budget.
WIFI | Mc’Donald’s (buy a coffee), local library’s (free), café’s (buy a coffee)
SHOWER | Local swimming pools (2$-5$ for a shower), outdoor showers (free, see WikiCamps), and of course the ocean, lakes and springs.
Those were my tips for travelling New Zealand on a budget.. When doing this, everybody is able to travel the country. Oh wait, I promised a bonus…
BONUS TIP: booking activities. Use a website, do it off season and book in advance
Everything is expensive here, especially touristy stuff. If you’d like to do bungee jumping, skydiving, glacier hikes, helicopter tours, kayak tours or anything else, and you don’t want to kill your budget, this is your website:
DISCOUNTS | Bookme
OFF SEASON | When you’re planning on doing expensive activities, try to do them off season. I wanted to do a Heli Hike on Franz Josef Glacier in December. The price was $850. I did the same Heli Hike in April. I payed $410 (through Bookme).
Save money, do the touristy stuff off season.
BOOK HUTS | This hasn’t to do anything with money, but it’s worth mentioning anyway because I’m still sad about this. If you’re planning to do one of the great walks: book your hut months in advance. I wasn’t able to do a multiple day great walk because I didn’t book anything.
Go to the website of the DOC and book now 🙂
As I mentioned, I spend not over 750 euro (1000 NZD) a month since I arrived in New Zealand. And I didn’t even work for money.
So is New Zealand expensive..Yes.
Is travelling in New Zealand on a budget possible? Absolutely.
Travelling in New Zealand on a budget: you will have even more fun than with a big budget.
Why will you have more fun?
- You meet locals trough Couchsurfing, volunteering and hitchhiking. They take you to places where you won’t come as a tourist.
- Through volunteering and Couchsurfing, you will really learn about the culture, the Kiwi Lifestyle.
- You learn new skills while volunteering.
- You meet more travellers (you also meet other backpackers in hostels, but yeah, what can I say. If you come to New Zealand to get drunk and smoke weed all the time, you might like the average hostel. I’m not really the hostel type (or I’m simply too old, help!).
- More fun, for less money… Which means, you will save money for your next trip!
Do you have any questions or anything to add to the list? Please comment below 🙂