When 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.