New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world. Hiking, skydiving, caving, bungy jumping, skiing — everything here is geared towards getting you outside and doing something incredible. As a popular destination for backpackers and budget travelers, New Zealand is really affordable and offers many ways to save money. I loved my time in New Zealand — the people were friendly, the country was beautiful (I can see why the shot Lord of the Rings there), and you meet a lot of great travelers there. It’s one of the best countries in the world and a place not to be missed. I’ve never heard anyone not love their time in the country. Most people don’t want to leave! I didn’t. You really can’t go wrong with this majestic country. It’s one of my top ten countries in the world! Use this guide to plan the adventure of the lifetime on a budget!
Accommodation – Hostel dorms cost between 20-40 NZD per night, while private rooms begin at 80 NZD. Free Wifi is not offered at every hostel, so if you require an internet connection be sure to double check your booking. Very few hostels include free breakfast, and only some hostels offer self-catering facilities. Budget hotels begin around 70 NZD per night for a double room. Free WiFi is common, though very few hotels include free breakfast. Airbnb is widely available with shared accommodation starting around 27 NZD per night and entire homes starting at 70 NZD per night. There are also a ton of campgrounds throughout the country with rates around 15 NZD per night. Couchsurfing is huge here too.
Food – Eating out is generally expensive here. A restaurant meal with a drink with table service can cost about 35-40 NZD per person. Of course, you can find cheaper meals if you stick to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese restaurants (sushi is actually quite cheap). They cost around 10 – 15 NZD. You can find sandwiches for 8 NZD and fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King will cost between 7-15 NZD. A beer at the bar will cost around 8 NZD. If you choose to cook your food, plan to spend between 65-80 NZD per week for basic food stuffs.
Transportation – Getting around the country is fairly cheap. Local bus fares vary for each city, but prices are generally around 3 NZD for an adult (less if you purchase metrocards). The intercity bus system is quite inexpensive and the Naked Bus (it’s just a name!) has promotional fares for 1 NZD if you book far in advance. Otherwise, most fares are about 20 NZD, though slightly more if you are going long distances. For example, the long Auckland to Wellington trip will cost around 40 NZD. Bike rentals are available in most cities, with daily rentals costing around 15 NZD per person (which generally includes a helmet and lock). Flying can be expensive since there isn’t a lot of competition among airlines here. There are also backpacker hop on/hop off buses. They are expensive and cost between 200 – 800 NZD but include a lot of activities and are a fun way to meet other people.
Activities – Activities run the gambit and can cost between 100-600 NZD. There are a lot of outdoor activities and tourism here is constructed around getting people outside. Budget extra for activities as they will be your biggest expense while you are here. For more specific price information, visit the city-specific guides.
Suggested daily budget – $70-90 NZD / $50-62 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, limiting your adventure activities, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. Remember, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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Money Saving Tips
- Free WiFi – The internet on New Zealand is slow and expensive. McDonalds and libraries offer free wi-fi but don’t expect many places to offer free internet.
- Learn to cook – Since eating out is expensive, the best way to save money is to cook your own food. While the cafes in New Zealand are good, you don’t miss out on first-rate cuisine by cooking your own meals.
- Choose wisely – Tours cost a lot of money in New Zealand. A few of these are enough to bust any budget and send you home before you had planned. Pick the ones you really want to do and save the rest for another trip.
- Hit happy hour – The backpacker bars have cheap happy hours offering 5 NZD drinks. Hit them up and drink for cheap. Otherwise, plan to spend around 8 NZD for a beer at the bar.
- WWOOF it – WWOOFing is a great way to work for your accommodation and food. In return for working on a farm or B&B, you get free food and board. It’s a popular activity with travelers because it lets you stay in a place cheaper and longer. You can do it for a few days or a few months. Keep in mind, most farms will require you to have some experience, as too many inexperienced workers have caused trouble in the past.
- Clean in exchange for your room – Many hostels let you trade a few hours of cleaning and making beds for free accommodation. Ask when you check in if this is possible — it might just save you some money!
- Car share – Car shares are a popular transportation option for travelers looking to lower costs — all you need to do is chip in for gas. You can find rides on websites like Gumtree, Craigslist, or Jayride. Additionally, you’ll see people asking for rides on hostel bulletin boards.
- Couchsurf – While there are not a ton of options available in the country, there are hosts in all of the major cities. If you don’t mind sleeping on a couch or floor, this is a great way to save some money and meet locals (and get a free place to stay).
- Hitchhike – Hitchhiking is common throughout the country and generally safe to do. It’s quite popular with backpackers so if you aren’t interesting in doing a rideshare, this is another option. Just use your head before getting into a car!
- Take a free walking tour – There are a few free walking tours in New Zealand, like Auckland Free Walking Tour in Auckland or WellyWalks Limited in Wellington, that offer visitors (and locals!) insight into each city. If you want to get beneath the surface of New Zealand then this is a great place to start.
Top Things to See and Do in New Zealand
- Stay awhile in Queenstown – The action capital of the country, this is one of the most fun cities I’ve ever visited. There’s a lot of outdoor activities and sports (bungee jumping is the most popular) to do in the area, amazing restaurants, and the best nightlife in New Zealand. Everyone who comes ends up staying longer than planned. Don’t skip Fergburger either — they have the best burgers in the country!
- Hike Franz Josef Glacier – Hiking these glaciers is pretty amazing. Be sure to crawl through the glacier tunnels, they’re pretty cool! Basic hikes can cost as little as 65 NZD, while epic tours that shuttle you via helicopter can cost as much as 550 NZD per person.
- Get your LOTR fix at Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Labeled the best one-day hike in New Zealand, this walk takes you through where they filmed Mordor in Lord of the Rings. You walk through volcanic terrain, near high peaks, and sulfur lakes before finishing off in a dense forest. The walk takes a full day and is actually quite challenging. Your legs will probably be sore for a few days afterward but it will be worth the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing the hike. Expect to pay around 50 NZD per person.
- Relax in the Bay of Islands – North of Auckland, this area has some of the best opportunities for dolphin and whale watching, relaxing on the beach, swimming, boating, and eating seafood. The area is very low key and is a popular summer and weekend getaway destination for Aucklanders. A bus from Auckland to Paihia will cost around 20 NZD.
- Bungy jump – Any adrenaline seeker worth their salt will do the 500 foot Nevis Bungy Jump outside of Queenstown. If that’s too high, there are smaller ones in Auckland and Queenstown. The price of adventure isn’t cheap, however, with a single jump at Nevis costing 250 NZD.
- Skydive – Another popular adventure activity in New Zealand is skydiving. The best place for this is over Lake Taupo. It provides a stunning backdrop as you plunge to Earth from 15,000ft. A jump from 12,000ft will cost you around 300 NZD, while a jump from 15,000ft that includes a video, photos, and t-shirt is 550 NZD.
- Visit Abel Tasman National Park – Located in the south island, this national park looks like something out of Asia with its turquoise blue water, dense jungles, and warm temperatures. There are many multi-day hiking trails and beautiful sea kayaking throughout the park. Entry to the park is free, though you will need to pay 14 NZD for a campsite if you plan on staying over. Huts are also available for 32 NZD per night.
- Hang out in Wellington – New Zealand’s capital has great architecture, character, fantastic nightlife, restaurants, and cultural activities. I found it to be the most “artsy” city in New Zealand. There’s a lot of cultural activities to do here so don’t be like other travelers and rush through — it’s worth a few days!
- Experience the Waitomo Glowworm Caves – Explore these caves in sheer darkness with nothing but the glow of glowworms to guide your way. It’s an exciting activity as you float down rivers and jump over waterfalls and watch the “starry sky” in the cave. You can also tube and rappel through the caves too. It was one of the highlights of my time in the country. Prices will vary depending on what activities you do in the cave and expect to pay at least 150 NZD for the activities.
- Watch a Maori cultural show – Maori culture is important to understanding life in this country. You find Maori symbols and words throughout the country. See a cultural show while you are there to get a better understanding of the life and history of the country’s native population (the most popular ones are in Rotorua). Evening shows that also include dinner cost around 120 NZD per person.
- Go dolphin and whale watching – Whether you go from the Bay of Islands, Auckland, or down in the south island, the country is the migratory route for many of these creatures and you’re bound to see lots of them no matter when you go. Expect to pay between 60-150 NZD per person.
- Go skiing – During the winter months, the south island, especially the are around Queenstown, has snow covered mountains that offer some of the best skiing in the southern hemisphere. Prices will vary depending on where you go, how you get there, what equipment you rent, and how long you go for, but expect to pay a few hundred dollars per person.
- Unwind in Rotorua – Rotorua is famous for its Maori cultural shows and for its sulfur smell. All around the city are sulfur mud pits that give the city a unique odor. But the upside is that there are a tone of thermal spas in the area to relax in!
- Get outdoors in Kaikoura – This is a coastal town several miles north of Christchurch. It is set in a peninsula, which makes it an awesome place to enjoy the mountain scenery while watching for whales or dolphins. Additionally, there are is an interesting museum, a handful of historical sights, and the Maori Leap limestone cave.
- Wander through Wellington Botanic Gardens – Of all the beautiful gardens throughout the country, this is perhaps the most popular. There is a vast tract of native forest, in addition to an international plant collection, a rose garden, and a landscaped area — complete with duck pond, playground, sculptures, a café, and more. Entry is free.
- Ride the gondola – If you are in Christchurch, the gondola ride is highly recommended and a pretty fundamental experience. The ride starts on the Heathcote Valley floor and takes you up the side of Mount Vaendish. There is a nice restaurant at the top that allows you to peer out over the landscape as you eat. Many people cycle back down, but there is also a tram ride available. Adult tickets are 28 NZD, while children pay only 12 NZD.