The cost of living in NZ is typically higher than other “Western” countries, and Auckland is the 38th most expensive city in the world to live in*. Plus, it isn’t exactly cheap to get to NZ (even on a budget flight!) since its so far away from everywhere else – its closest neighbour, Australia, is a minimum 3 hour flight away!
I was a little apprehensive about the cost of doing a working holiday in New Zealand before arriving: Would I run out of funds before I got the chance to see the whole country? Would I have to go home early? Would I manage to find a job and actually save any money?
After four months travelling the entire country I can say it IS possible to see New Zealand on a budget – here’s how!
I spent $4,500 NZD in 120 days travelling in New Zealand. This comes to about $37.50 per day, but for the purpose of this post, let’s call it $40 NZD. This equates to about £20 GBP, $28 USD or 25€ at the time of writing.
There are a few things that will make travel in New Zealand much more budget-friendly from the outset. These are:
I travelled New Zealand in a campervan with an ex-boyfriend. $40NZD per person per day included:
This amount does not include the cost of the campervan. We bought a van which was kitted out with a mattress but had no equipment, bedding, cooking utensils etc. included. I’ve not included the cost of it because we actually made the money back that we spent on it (plus an extra $1k!) when we sold it!
If you’re interested in buying a campervan in New Zealand, read my guide to buying a campervan in New Zealand here.
The “best” time to travel is during the shoulder seasons (September to November and March to May). Ski resorts across NZ (e.g. the Remarkables, Coronet Peak) are hugely popular during the winter months (June to August) while tourists and locals alike flock to the coasts during the summer holidays (December to February).
Not only is travelling during the high season more expensive, there are also many more tourists, meaning accommodation books up quickly and room rates are generally higher, so it pays (mind the pun) to book ahead.
If you’re planning on camping in New Zealand, bear in mind that the winter months can get really, really cold – particularly on the South Island.You might not want to pitch your tent in minus temperatures and pouring rain. This could mean unexpected nights in hostels to escape the weather, which in turn means spending more money. Likewise, in the summer, the humidity and high temperatures are sometimes unbearable!
The most important factor in your finances will be how you travel around New Zealand to see all of the incredible scenery and sights it has to offer. Travellers in NZ have a range of affordable options available to them.
After your initial flight into New Zealand (which probably terminated in Auckland, let’s face it), you might not consider flying to be a cheap option during your trip. Although it’s not the most environmentally friendly option, travelling plane is in fact very easy and also quite cheap!
New Zealand has two main flight providers: Air New Zealand and Jetstar. Think of them as the equivalents of British Airways and Easyjet; one a bit nicer than the other. By booking in advance, you can sometimes get flights for just $19 NZD (£10GBP) one way!
You can book your entire New Zealand travels by bus if you want: KiwiExperience and Stray are two tour providers that travel all over the country and offer different packages depending on where you want to go. KiwiExperience is aimed at a younger audience, but I’ve heard good things about both – if you’re travelling solo they are a great way to meet new people.
InterCity, Manabus and Nakedbus are also recommended bus companies for travel between the major cities.
Top tip: Manabus/ Nakedbus often have seats for sale for just $1 if you book far enough in advance! Even booking just a few days in advance, you can still get a good deal.
If you’re only going to be in NZ for a short time, but want the freedom of exploring the country with your own wheels, renting a vehicle is probably your best option.
The cost of renting a small budget car starts at around $25 NZD per day, but discounts are often offered for a longer trip. You can rent cars or camper vans, giving you the freedom to ponder your accommodation options too!
A few rental cars we saw while on the road included Jucy and Avis, though rental campervans were much more popular: Jucy, Escape, Spaceships, Affordable Rentals, and Hippie Campers. For a bit more luxe, check out motor homes like Kea, Maui & Apollo – though these are more pricey!
Top Tip: You can relocate rental campervans for a small cost, or sometimes for free! It’s easiest to find relocation vehicles which need to be taken north to Auckland. I haven’t relocated a vehicle myself, but have trawled through options on transfercar.co.nz.
If you will be in New Zealand for three months or more, I recommend buying your own vehicle. If you rent a vehicle for a longer period, you won’t be able to get that money back, but if you buy a vehicle you may be able to regain your money or even make money when you sell it.
I haven’t included the cost of our vehicle in our daily budget because we paid for it in a lump sum at the start of our travels, and made back the money we spent on it (and then some!) We bought a Honda Odyssey for $2,500 in Christchurch in the shoulder season – it was cheap because it had no equipment with it besides a mattress and two camping chairs. We ripped out the two back seats to make more storage space and completely decked it out with pots and pans, a stove, a camping table – the works. We sold it for $3,500 four months later in Auckland in the high season. Read my guide to buying a campervan in New Zealand here.
Top Tip: Scour Facebook groups and Trade Me for vehicles for sale, and always take it for a test drive before you buy.
Top Tip: Grab yourself a free AA Smartfuel Card from any BP garage. You accumulate cents off per litre, which you can then redeem and save heaps of money. Our biggest saving was 42c off per litre!
Accommodation is the expense that can quickly add up to a LOT of money in New Zealand; even if you stay in a budget hostel, you’ll still be spending way more than you would in South East Asia, South America or even Europe!
There are a range of options available, from high-end hotels to budget hostels offering nothing more than a dorm bed. For an idea on pricing, check booking.com.
At the higher end of the budget, you can are hotels and motels, which often have their own kitchenette, across the country. These normally start at over $100NZD per night so aren’t really a “budget” option.
Be weary of what’s included in your booking; we stayed in a motel in Te Anau and were surprised to find that bed linen wasn’t included in the standard room rate.
Dorm beds usually start at around $22-25NZD per night, while a double private room starts at around $60-$70NZD per night. Hostels sometimes offer a weekly or fortnightly rate if you hang around a while.
Prices fluctuate depending on the season, as does the availability – sometimes it’s well worth booking in advance, particularly in popular places like Queenstown.
Another great option is AirBnb, especially if you are sticking around for a bit longer, as there are often weekly discounts available. Prices are competitive and many listings book up quickly because you pay less for a bigger, better, and more private space.
Free accommodation options are harder to come by. Couch surfing is something I can’t recommend as I’ve never done it, and I have no idea what that scene is like in NZ. That said, kiwis are the most hospitable people, so it would probably be great.
You may have heard of the huge, internationally acclaimed organisation called WWOOFing which originates as volunteers working on farms in exchange for free accommodation costs.
There are three big organisations like this in NZ: WWOOF, HelpX and Work Away. All of them require a cost to register, but it isn’t much, especially if you do a few different ones! Note that legally you will require a Work Visa (or Working Holiday Visa) to be able to work in exchange for accommodation, even if you won’t be getting paid.
We stayed at a HelpX in Riverton on the South Coast for two weeks. In exchange for a few hours “work” each day, we had a gorgeous bedroom (with heated blankets!) and the most delicious food from the restaurant she worked in. Work consisted of helping out in the restaurant to cleaning her house and upkeeping her garden. We had the best couple of weeks with her and spent next to nothing!
DoC: The cheapest (and in my opinion the best) accommodation option while in New Zealand is camping in one of the hundreds of fantastic campsites or holiday parks across the country. The Department of Conservation maintains a network of campsites in the most beautiful settings: by lakes, rivers, beaches, mountains… These cost between $8 and $15 per person per night for an unpowered site, or a bit more for a powered site, although many of them are completely free.
Privately owned holiday parks: These normally have a number of facilities and are often located close to townships; these are therefore more expensive and their prices fluctuate with the seasons. Another factor to consider is whether your vehicle is powered or unpowered (see this post if you don’t know what that means) – powered sites understandably cost more than unpowered/tent sites. With this in mind, the most we ever paid for an unpowered site was $21pp at Frankton Motor Camp in Queenstown in November, though more often than not, we stayed at free campsites.
Everyone says that food and drink are expensive in New Zealand, and yes they are probably right, but there are still places you can buy your food and drink cheaper than others!
Convenience stores, which are more commonly known as dairies in NZ, can be found in the larger towns as well as the smaller ones, and in rural areas they can sometimes be the only shop for miles! They are generally more expensive than supermarkets, though the ‘chains’ like Four Square and Fix sometimes run promotions. A small bottle of water can set you back $4 so I would avoid shopping in convenience stores regularly.
Top tip: Sign up for free supermarket loyalty cards to save money; they often offer exclusive discounts to cardholders.
The best place to buy fruit and vegetables is at local farmers markets which are highlighted in the Lonely Planet Guidebook. They usually take place at the weekend.
In rural areas, you may spot a stall selling fruit, veg, eggs etc outside someone’s home with an honesty box for donations. It goes without saying that buying seasonal produce will be cheaper than buying produce that’s been shipped in from exotic countries overseas.
Cooking your own meals is SO much cheaper than eating out at restaurants. Most hostels have a fully equipped kitchen, and most motels have a kitchenette, so you have the chance to cook your own meals instead of eating out.
Stock up on the basics like pasta, rice, beans, chopped tomatoes and spices so you aren’t having to incorporate a supermarket shop into your itinerary everyday. It’s amazing what you can cook on a camping stove when you put your mind to it!
Main dishes usually cost around $20, starters or desserts around $10, and drinks around $10 each, so you can easily spend your daily budget on a meal if you don’t want to cook. If you are planning to eat out, there are generally more deals at lunchtime than in the evening.
Whilst it’s home to some of the best craft beer and wineries in the world, New Zealand is a country that doesn’t serve cheap alcohol.
Supermarkets occasionally have half-decent offers on crates of beer or bottles of wine, but spirits are only sold in liquor stores.
Drinks prices in bars or pubs fluctuate dependant on their location; a “pint” in a bar in Auckland can easily set you back $10, whilst the exact same pint in a local pub in a small town can cost more in the region of $8. Also, a “pint” in NZ isn’t actually a British pint; it’s about 3/4 of a pint.
Water can be found for free very easily; there is usually a tap or water fountain in each township where you can, refill your multiple water bottles free of charge.
The activities are one of the main reasons for visiting New Zealand but they can be really pricey.
New Zealand is the adrenaline capital of the world, with so many incredible experiences to try that you just cannot do elsewhere.
There are all sorts of activities to choose from: zorbing in Rotorua, helicopter rides in Wanaka, kayaking in Doubtful Sound, bungee-jumping in Queenstown, skydiving in Taupo, dirt-biking, snorkelling and diving, Glacier discoveries in Fox and Franz Josef, luges, zip-lining, canyoning, white/black water rafting, skiing, caving, hang gliding, paragliding, jet boating… The list is endless.
There’s also heaps of tours, cruises, and attractions across the country, and these are often the best way to see some places in NZ; sometimes taking a tour is the only way to see certain areas of the country, for example Doubtful Sound in Fiordland and White Island in the Bay of Plenty.
Fortunately, the walking and tramping tracks across New Zealand are budget-friendly: they are completely free. New Zealand is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the world and I think it is a real gift that they are accessible to everyone.
Overnight tracks, and the famous Great Walks, require you to organise accommodation. Depending on the track, this is sometimes a free campsite or cost a few Doc Hut Tickets per night (see their website for info here). The Great Walks are the most expensive, costing $32-54 per night in a hut or less in a campsite.
It goes without saying that travelling with other people saves you money; you can split your costs for food, accommodation, and many activities and tour companies give you a discount as a group. Splitting the cost of a car or renting a vehicle is much more budget-friendly than going it alone.
However, that’s not to say that travelling solo in New Zealand is unaffordable; you just have to be a little more frugal and do a bit more homework on budget options.
Many people who come to NZ alone end up with heaps more friends, and Facebook groups are a great place to start, where lots of people look for travel buddies or to hitch a lift/ offer a spare seat. You can join my New Zealand Work & Travel Group on Facebook here.
By travelling with someone else, staying in cheap campsites, cooking our own meals, and choosing free hiking tracks over expensive activities, I managed to travel New Zealand on less than $40NZD per day.
In a country as pricey as New Zealand, you do have to stay disciplined with your money, but I can honestly say that I don’t feel I missed out on anything due to budgeting.
For me, it made more sense to budget more for longer period of time than to blow a lot of money on something crazy like a skydive. It meant I got to travel for longer, sometimes spending only a few dollars on food and staying in a free campsite.
What worked for me might not work for you though – don’t let money ruin your trip, just be prepared and do your research beforehand.
Check this page of my blog, which is dedicated to resources for those travelling to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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