Budgeting in New Zealand

By Nomadic Matt | Published March 3rd, 2010

new zealand currencyWhen I went to New Zealand, my goal was to live within a budget. After paying $15 for lunch I knew New Zealand was going to be more expensive than I had originally thought. While I work and travel and could afford $15 for lunch, I wanted to live within a budget that would be realistic for travelers who don’t work while they travel.

My original budget was $80 NZD per day. How did I do with that goal while backpacking New Zealand? Well, pretty good- I managed to spend $70 NZD per day, $79 NZD if you include the money I lost at the casino.

I came in below my budget but before you congratulate me, there are three reasons why this happened: I stayed with friends for two weeks, Base and Nomads gave me free accommodation, and my bus passes were free.

If it weren’t for these three reasons, I would have spent about $120-140 NZD per day. Why? Because I didn’t cook like I intended and I didn’t drink as little as I hoped I would. I enjoy going to restaurants and eating good meals. I hate cooking in hostels when a million people are bumping into me and no one cleans the dishes. I’m a great cook but I’m very particular about my kitchen.

Despite that, I kept an eye out for costs and prices. Except for fancy meals, I did everything the other travelers did. I lived off groceries for a bit, took advantage of cheap goon and beer, I took the same buses, and overall, tried to get an idea of what New Zealand on a budget would look like, which would be something like this:

Hostel: $27 NZD per night for a 6 bed dorm.
Food: $20-40 NZD per day if you eat out or about $50 per week if you are cooking your food.
Drinking: $5-7 NZD per beer, $7-10 NZD for a mixed drink.
Transportation: $20-40 NZD per trip on the public bus.
Internet: $4 NZD per hour, $15 per day, $150 per month.
Activities: $80-500 NZD.

On a super tight budget, you can expect to spend about $40 NZD per day not counting transportation or activities. Two German girls I knew got by on around $30 NZD per day by Couchsurfing, working on farms in exchange for room and board, and cooking every meal. It is possible to spend very little if you really pick and choose your battles.

However, for most travelers that isn’t realistic. Realistically, you’ll stay in hostels, eat out a few meals, and have a few drinks. A realistic daily budget, including dorm bed, food, drinks, internet, and miscellaneous spending would be about $70, excluding major activities. Depending on your food and drink needs, you could probably do it around $50 NZD per day if you ate the majority of your meals in.

After that, you’ll spend the rest on activities. A bungy jump is between $100-250, a skydive is $500, the Waitomo glowworm caves are $100-200, Fox Glacier trekking is about $100, and the Tonagriro crossing is $50. AND those are just a few of the many activities you can do. The point: these activities are not cheap and can really add up.

Transportation costs vary depending on whether you take the greyhound, backpacker buses, hitch, or hire a car. Hiring a car is the cheapest way to go and great if you can find a group of people. Backpacker buses can also offer good value.

If you are a person who doesn’t want to WWOOF (farm work) or hitchhike your way across New Zealand, I would say your total daily budget with transportation and activities would be around $110 NZD. That’s assuming, like most travelers, you spend a month or more in the country, letting you spread out the cost of everything. That may seem very high but given that people tend to do a lot of activities here, I think it is the most realistic. Even if you live cheap on $35 NZD per day, a few activities and bus passes will shoot your daily average close to a hundred dollars.

The lesson I walked away from New Zealand with was that despite the favorable currency rate, it is simply not a cheap country. Tourism in New Zealand is really built around activities- activities that eat through your budget quickly. If you want to do a lot of them but are on a limited budget, you’ll need to pick them carefully or cut drastically in other areas. Food and drink costs here are extremely high but are also the easiest place to save money. New Zealand is a country where the old adage “pack half and take double the money you expect” really holds true.

For more information, visit my country and city guide to New Zealand travel.

comments 29 Comments

Excellent info, Thanks Matt! Will definitely be using this as a frame of reference when I head to NZ!

That’s great, I do think it’s better to be realistic, something like that may ruin parts of the trip otherwise! For us it’s an expensive flight over there too, so I guess it will not happen in a long time yet that we’re going there. There are so many places we want to see!

Great detail! I had real sticker shock arriving in NZ from Asia. I wound up booking bus and accommodation through the YHA – http://www.yha.org.nz/Travel/NZ+Bus+Tours/

As a resident I think your prices are about right Matt. I personally think it would be a great shame to come all the way to NZ and then spend only $30/day – as you point out there are some truely fantastic experiences to be had – but they do cost $$$ – which is not all bad we do have pretty good safety standards but they cost money.

Having just returned from Western Australia I am finding that food is the same price in NZ$ as it was in A$ in Australia (ie cheaper for the visitor by about 20/30%)

Drinking wise I tend to buy beer/wine in the supermarket – if you are into spirits buy them at duty free inbound (cheaper than in Asia) – and you bring in 3x 1125ml bottle of spitirts /adult (you might not want to though if you don’t have transport!)

Who's Got Room

Fancy I find you here Lis.

I think that you touch on some points about bringing in some of your own (drinks) in order to save.

I can picture that being able to find a couch to crash on would surely help save a lot of money. I plan on pitching a tent in Lissie’s yard if/when I ever make it to that part of the world.

NomadicMatt

I tried to meet up with Lis in Wellington but it didn’t work out! Next time though!

Great info, Matt. Even though for us, we probably have different budget for a family of 4 but this information will help plan our trip. I rarely see blogger who will give out the number while traveling. Thank you for sharing!

Some solid tips here, but I’m just not attracted to NZ right now. Hopefully that will change.

Jessica

I was there for 5 weeks and definitely ended up spending more than I thought I would thanks to the, “What the hell, I’m in NZ! Yes, I’m going to sky dive!” mindset. Although I did eat out every now and then, I cooked for the most part. Your realistic budget seems about right, though.

Re: internet – I took my iphone with me to use wireless. If anyone else is planning to do this, you can buy 30 days of wireless access from IAC for $40 NZD. There’s a 2000MB data limit, but I never went over it since I mainly used my phone for email, fb, twitter, bookings, etc. http://www.internetaccesscompany.co.nz/

Jessica

oh yeah, and you have to check the IAC site for locations…it’s not everywhere, but all the YHAs have it, along with a handful of other places.

NomadicMatt

Vodafone also gives you 10mb per day for free with your phone plan.

I found NZ surprisingly affordable. I maybe spent money on mid-range hotels, plus a rental car and gas, as well as adventure activities, and I spent a total of $500 in one week, which isn’t bad all expenses considered (and I wasn’t even living frugally either!).

You’ve provided really excellent information about the cost of “doing business” (i.e., planning a travel budget) while traveling in NZ, but I think your article does more than that – it provides a blue print that can be used to guide travelers on any trip to anywhere. Good job, Matt! :-)

This will be really useful data when I plan my trip to NZ. I suppose it’s about what I expected, but I hope to offset costs by WWOOFing, couchsurfing, and perhaps renting a place for a month.

G / Operation Backpack Asia.com

As a way to offset the costs and ensure enough money and adequate time to see and do a LOT of what the country has to offer (but still not everything!), the Working Holiday Visa for 12 months for people under 30, possibly 35 I think if you go through an agency, was AWESOME. I worked for three mos (rafting for fun by day in Rotorua and waitressing at night), traveled for three mos, worked for three mos (on the mountain in Queenstown), and traveled for three months. In this case, definitely worth it to buy a car. I’d purchased a decent one and was even able to sell it for what I’d bought it for after 9 mos of trekking it all over the country from top to bottom and back again.

During the travel stints, part of the time was doing stuff on farms, ecovillages, or even in hostels through HelpExchange.net, largely for the unique, incredible and unforgettable experiences. Saving money was just an added bonus. This also gave me the chance to do things like spend a week in a bungalow overlooking the Marlborough Sounds for free – would have cost something like $300 a night!!

Also, while I was waiting for my mountain job to start in (very expensive) Queenstown, I cleaned the hostel for 2 hours a day – 10a-noon, very decent hours! – and that alone paid for an entire night’s accommodation. I did that for about a month and worked just a tiny bit at a local shop for some spending money and lived quite comfortably and happily. Way better than a 9-5 any day! You can do the hostel cleaning all over and it can be a really great gig, even fun (really!).

It was an incredible year and we were able to do all the activities we wanted to do (skydiving, bungy jumping, abseiling, zorbing, luging, snowboarding, canyoning, jumping off the Skytower in Auckland and a dozen other ways to make a big dent in the earth with your body) and had such a blast. If anyone ever wants any additional insider tips or info, I’d be happy to share my knowledge and experience, just drop me a line anytime!

Rob

Awesome insight!

I’m heading to New Zealand in just over two weeks and I’ve got myself a working holiday visa. Doing a stint of working then a stint of travelling sounds great. I’m going to be wwoofing and workawaying as well to keep the costs down, but as you said, it’s all about the incredible experiences!

Em

My cousin and I are planning a 6 month working holiday for 2015 and just in the beginnings of researching – may extend it to a year based on what you did which sounds amazing! We are single in our mid 20s, so I feel as though it’s the perfect time to do this. Would love to talk to you about your experience and get some advice, including how much money you suggest heading over with and if you had a helpexchange in place for when you arrived to ensure transport, etc. :)

becs

In relation to other first world english speaking countries, I found NZ quite reasonable on the day to day stuff. Activities are expensive, but most people aren’t jumping off things and rolling down hills every day.

I think most people are surprised at the cost, because they are coming off of cheap destinations such as S. Asia and yeah, it’s not cheap like that. But compared to Australia, the US, UK/Ireland, it’s a bargin.

NomadicMatt

I didn’t think the day to day stuff was overly expensive. It’s the activities that really add everything up but I still think NZ is more expensive than people believe it is.

I went to NZ for four weeks in 2007 and luckily it was during vacation from work so I didn’t need to worry about what I spent as I knew I could go in debt and quickly repay it.

The country is truly built around amusing travelers in crazy ways. I was able to bungy jump, take a helicopter half way up a glacier for a hike, zorb and a million other once in a life time things.

I felt so lucky that I didn’t have to pick and choose what I wanted to do. It will be much different in a month when I leave for my RTW and have to stick to a budget.

Good summary Matt. And that’s from a local who travels the country a lot. You can get by on less than $40 a day for food, though. I travel in a Sleepervan and, like you, I’m really not that much into cooking under less-than-ideal conditions. I pack a box of cereal for breakfast, and the makings of coffee. Cost $3-4 all in. For lunch I usually grab something from a local bakery – of which there are many and they all sell wholesome, home-made food. A filled roll or a pie will cost $3-4. Sushi is a healthy option at about $6 for six pieces.

I try to avoid buying shop coffee because at $3.50 a shot it can add up. I have a little portable stove in the van so a boil-up for coffee takes no time. However, if you do decide to weaken (and I do), remember NZ-made coffee is amongst the best in the world. Our baristas really do know their stuff . . . that’s why they regularly get podium finishes in world barista championships.

Not being a between-meal snacker that leaves me with nothing but dinner to buy. A take-away chinese meal is $8 to $10. Pub meals start at about $13 for meals like bangers and mash or shepherds pie. Pizzas go for around $11 to $14, though some chains, notably Dominos, often have $6-8 specials during the week. There are a lot of ready-roasts shops which sell a full roast dinner from $9 to $13.

The big advantage of take-away dinners is cheap booze. My preferred beer is Ranfurly Draught – the afficionados would sneer, but what do they know. It’s $1.40 a 440ml can. Or I pick up a bottle of wine from the supermarket – you can buy specials from $6 to $9 a bottle, which I try (not always successfully) to make do two nights.

There are planty of cafes that will give you a main course and a coffee for around $20.

But, as I am always at pains to point out to those who grizzle about alleged high priced food, you can eat high of the hog here for a fraction the price overseas. Go to Wellington’s Logan Brown (http://www.loganbrown.co.nz/), for example – this is regularly rates as one of the top three restaurants in the country. Have a look at their mains prices. $39 to $48. At the best restaurant in the country, for goodness sake! Stick a pound sign or a euro sign in front of it and you still wouldn’t get a meal at an equivalent British or European restaurant for the price.

What’s more if you agree to dine early you can get their bistro menu at $39.50 for three courses.

In summary, I could eat for $20 a day – but with all the fabulous food on offer here, why would you?

Thanks for sharing. I am planning a trip there this fall, and this is very helpful in preparing. I booked my ticket because I got a deal on airfare, and the great currency rate, but now I know I need to start saving a bit more. Thanks for the heads up.

I found that you can get around in NZ pretty cheap, but then if you want to do the “must do” experiences (like a helicopter up onto Fox Glacier, an unreal experience indeed) your budget goes through the roof pretty quickly.

Sam

This is great information Matt. Really useful. Anyone we have wondering on the cost of travel in NZ we’ll certainly be pointing towards this post.

I know Im a bit late posting but thought I would add a few tips to anyone coming to NZ. If you are planning a trip come in summer. You can pick up a cheap 2 man tent for a couple of hundred dollars from the warehouse. DoC camping sites are then either free or a couple of dollars for ones with facilities. You can pick up cheap cars on Trade me (website), which will be cheaper than hiring. Or buy a van and sleep in the back at camping grounds!

Kirstie

I’m a bit late posting too, am travelling to NZ end of Dec for a month, luckily my sister has a house in Napier and I have friends in Auckland who I will be staying with so that should keep my costs down. Really helpful info on what kind of money to take, thanks for the heads up

NomadicMatt

I don’t get what you mean by kind of money? This post will let you know the cost of things. Just times it by 31 days!

We were really surprised to see how expensive everything was in New Zealand – especially on the north island. $45-$50 per person to see glow worms in a cave = ridiculous! We spent 25 days in a camper van all across New Zealand and for two people, our spending was $180/day. We probably could’ve lived cheaper and would’ve saved a lot of we got a cheaper camper van, but the big one our life much better!

Kim Huat

Helo Matt, Tq for the sharing.
I am planning to go NZ during Next year, and recently doing research on its budgets, activities, etc.

So i was trying to save up to a NZD4k, so u think is more then enough? for a month or a month & a half. including the transportation,accomadantion, activities, etc.

Because i was worrying about it, and it got me round n round.

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