Top Tips For Travelling On A Budget In NZ

Monday, August 26th, 2019

Read about 'Top Tips For Travelling On A Budget In NZ' on USAVE, the place for all things car rental.

A holiday in New Zealand doesn’t have to cost the earth – with a little planning and careful consideration you can save big on transport, activities, food and accommodation. The diversity of NZ’s tourist industry means it caters just as well to people on a tight budget as those enjoying a luxury holiday. In fact some of the best things to do in New Zealand are free! Read on for our top tips on saving money while travelling in NZ, the costs of accommodation, transportation, food and activities, and budget travel tips in New Zealand.

Budget Transport Options In NZ

Travelling around New Zealand can be expensive, domestic flights are not cheap and petrol prices are significantly higher than in other parts of the world. Saving money on getting around is one of the best ways to keep the budget down when in NZ.

Hiring A Rental Car

Hiring a budget rental car is a great option for those who wish to make it up as they go and travel the country at their own pace. All budget rental car options in NZ are still well maintained and serviced and fully functional cars – offering you everything you would expect from a regular car. Remember to consider fuel usage into the price.

  • Best For. Travel for 1 – 4 weeks and creating your own itinerary. Renting a car is the best option if you are planning on spending more than a week travelling the around the country and wish to make it up as you go. Cheap car rental is even more cost effective if there are more than two of you travelling together as you can split the cost – and the driving.
  • Costs. $25- $30 per day. A budget style rental car, which in New Zealand can be anything from older style sedans through to newer thrifty smaller sized hatchbacks is likely to cost somewhere between $25 -$30 per day. Be aware some rental car companies do charge extra for every kilometre travelled, so their advertised price may be less but overall it will add up to more – for the best deal look for those that offer unlimited kilometres included in the price.
  • Deals. Keep an eye out for relocation deals, off-peak rates and extended period hire for the best deals.

Scenic Highway Road

Travelling By Bus

New Zealand has a wide network of regular bus routes at fairly reasonable prices. Travelling by bus is great for those sticking to the main highways and cities, and for travel in and around the larger cities. If getting off the beaten track is your goal the travelling by bus is not the best choice as the bus routes tend to stick to the more popular routes.

  • Best For. Travel between the main cities. Travelling by bus is perfect for those who don’t wish to have to think about driving or where to go. You can just sit back and enjoy the views.
  • Costs. The cheapest bus ticket from main operator Intercity between Auckland and Wellington will cost around $30, this may mean travelling at unpopular times of the day but it is worth it to save on the fare. Prices will be higher on short notice bookings so always book in advance if you can.
  • Deals. Look out for Intercity’s awesome $1 fares (these sell out fast so get in quick if you see one!), backpacker discounts are also available (only valid with accepted form of ID) along with Flexipass options which allow you to get on and off at certain stages.

Air Travel In NZ

There is no dancing around this one – domestic flights in NZ are relatively expensive. Flying between the main cities (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) in New Zealand is the best option for those on a budget as these are the cheapest flights. This option can be a useful tool if you plan well ahead or wish to travel the length of the country by other means then fly out at the end of your journey. Avoid flying during late December early January as prices get pretty steep over the summer holiday period.

  • Best For. Heading home or travel between the main cities. Due to their high cost domestic flights in NZ are best used strategically, and are particularly useful at the end of your journey when you are ready to head home after having travelling the length of the Island or country.
  • Costs. Flights between the main cities are the best value for money. An average ticket between Auckland and Wellington is going to cost anywhere from $70 to $200 depending on the time of day and seat selections.
  • Deals. It’s definitely worth seeking out the deals here, unless you’re very lucky this will usually mean booking well ahead. Look out for GrabASeat deals from New Zealand main passenger airline Air NZ for some amazing prices as low as $30 between Auckland and Wellington, and $40 between Christchurch and Auckland – sometimes even lower.

Queenstown Airport

Hitch Hiking In NZ

While hitchhiking is fairly common practice in New Zealand and completely legal, it does carry certain levels of risk, most importantly with regard to personal safety, but also time frames and the possibility of being left stranded in unfamiliar or remote locations. Extreme care is advised for anyone considering this form of transport.

  • Best For. Groups of two or more with very little luggage. Do not hitchhike in New Zealand when travelling alone or late at night.
  • Costs. Its free! However, if travelling with the same vehicle for extended periods the driver may ask for some contribution towards fuel, and it is always appreciated if you make the offer.
  • Deals. Hitchhiking in New Zealand is most effective when sticking to the main highways such as State Highway 1, 2 or 3. Avoid taking a ride that will leave you stranded in low traffic volume areas or small towns with little or no overnight facilities.

Hiring A Campervan

Hiring a self-contained (or semi-self-contained) vehicle can be a great way to combine travel and accommodation costs. New Zealand has a good selection of campervans available for hire ranging from large 4 berth motorhomes through to smaller pop-top minivan style choices. It is important to note places you are allowed to park up and stay will be limited by whether your vehicle has self-contained toilet and waste water facilities.

  • Best For. Families and groups of up to 4. Hiring a campervan can be expensive and has the added hassle of having to drive large cumbersome vehicles. Driving a campervan on New Zealand roads can add significant amounts of time to the trip, but also means you can stop for a break wherever you please!
  • Costs. $30 to $100 per day.
    • Very basic 2 berth minivans are available for hire for as little as $30 per day, however these are not self-contained and your ‘freedom camping’ options will be limited to designated areas with existing toilet and water facilities.
    • Larger campervans with self –contained certification have a much wider range of overnight parking options with costs ranging from $70 – $100 per day depending on the number of berths and on board facilities.
  • Deals. As with hiring a rental car it is worth keeping eye out for special deals online including relocation specials, extended period hire rates and off peak rates.

NZ Motorhome

Purchasing A Car, Van Or Campervan

Many tourists who intend to spend longer lengths of time in New Zealand consider purchasing a cheap car, van or campervan for the duration of their stay. There are plenty of low cost, budget cars available for sale around New Zealand, however with this comes the risk of potential break downs or mechanical problems that may arise during the course of your journey.

  • Best For. Extended travel periods. If you plan to stay in NZ for longer than a month purchasing a car can be a great option. Local online market place TradeMe is a great place to look – be sure to get a vehicle pre-inspection, check it has a valid WOF and registration, and getting a vehicle history report is a good idea to check it is not stolen or there is any money owing on it.
  • Costs. Depending on the type of vehicle you require you can pick up a car for around $1000-$2000, a minivan for around $2000 to $3000, and a cheap campervan for around $5000 to $10,000.
  • Deals. As previously mentioned TradeMe is the best place to look for private vehicle sales, however purchasing privately does carry some risk. Budget car dealers yards are also a great place to look, along with car auctions (these are usually only in the larger cities).

Budget Accommodation Options In NZ

Accommodation is another thing that tends to eat into the budget and is also something you simply can’t do without while travelling around New Zealand. The good news is there are plenty of affordable accommodation options in NZ for the budget conscious including camping, hostels (Backpackers) and Airbnb options.


New Zealand has a large amount of government operated camping sites as well as commercial camping grounds dotted all around the country. The commercial camp sites are quite well equipped and offer a good range of options (tent sites, campervan sites, dorm rooms and private rooms) for the budget conscious traveller. 

DOC operated camp sites are usually in fairly remote places and some have very little facilities – sometimes none – but they are a very cost effective way of spending the night if you have your own gear. Purchasing a second hand tent and camping gear is the cheapest way to stock up – see TradeMe for the best deals.

  • Best For. Travellers with their own gear in Summer. If you have your own tent, sleeping bags and cooking equipment, camping out is the cheapest accommodation option in NZ .
  • Costs. Basic tent sites range from sometimes free to between $8 and $20 per night for DOC operated camping sites. For commercial camping grounds you are looking at approximately $20 to $40 per night for a tent site (depending on its location), these sites will usually include use of the shared camp facilities such as toilets, hot showers, clothes washers and dryers, kitchens and TV rooms.
  • Deals. Yes looking for deals online is a good idea, so is giving the camping grounds a call directly to see if they can offer any discounts. Some places will have discounts for certain traveller rewards clubs, extended periods of stay and for off peak times.

Mt Cook National Park


New Zealand has a lot of reasonably priced Hostel style (or ‘Backpackers’ accommodation as it is commonly known). In NZ these usually consist of several dorm style rooms that can accommodate 4 – 10 sleepers and shared bathroom and kitchen facilities as well as the option for single-sex dorms, private rooms and ensuite bathroom facilities.

  • Best For. Budget travel during the colder months. Staying at a Hostel/Backpackers can add up – so use it sparingly during the warmer months perhaps only when you feel the need to have a nice warm shower or in the colder months when sleeping in a tent is not an option.
  • Costs. Depending on where you are in the country staying in a dorm room at a Backpackers will cost around $30 per night.
  • Deals. Unless you are staying for an extended period you are unlikely to find many deals for this already lost cost accommodation, the best advice is to shop around as prices can vary considerably between providers, especially if you look for less centrally located options.


AirBNB is a lovely alternative to booking a motel or hotel and sometimes offers the opportunity to stay with your hosts. Getting to know the locals and sharing their homes is ideal for people travelling on their own, providing good company and people to touch base with.

  • Best For. Travellers looking for that more personal experience, with the added benefit of getting to know your hosts. Private Airbnb units are also an option.
  • Costs. A standard room in an Airbnb house (sharing with its occupants) will cost around $65 in Auckland, $50- $60 in Christchurch and Wellington, a significantly cheaper option than most motels or hotels.
  • Deals. Check the Airbnb website for the best deals, keep an eye out for the location, number of occupants already in the house and the number of bathrooms.


If you have rented a campervan or minivan it is possible to sleep in your vehicle in registered campsites with or without facilities. There are plenty of campsites which allow certified self-contained vehicles (these must have a Self-Containment Certification sticker on them), and a few that allow you to sleep in a vehicle such as a minivan or car which is not self-contained (these sites will always have toilets and running water nearby).

  • Best For. Those who are planning on hiring a vehicle anyway – with the added bonus of accommodation along the way. No need to seek out regular accommodation stops – make the trip up as you go.
  • Costs. You can sometimes park up for free, but most sites tend to be around $8 to $20. Freedom camping is not permitted in unspecified places around New Zealand, hefty fines are given if caught.
  • Deals. Look out for relocation specials, particularly between Islands and always book ahead. Travelling from South to North is also a great tip for seeking out rental vehicle specials.

NZ Rearview Landscape

Food Costs In NZ

Most travellers tend to find food quite expensive in New Zealand. To give you an idea of local prices here are a few pantry staples for comparison.

  • Milk 2 litres $3.50
  • Cheese 1kg $10
  • Eggs 12 pack Free-Range $8.00
  • Bread plain white $3.00
  • Bottled Water 4 litres $6
  • Baked Beans $1.50
  • Apples $6 per kg
  • Oranges $3 per kg
  • Pasta 500g $2.50
  • Mince 500g $11

Top 3 Tips For Saving Money On Food In NZ

There are some simple ways to avoid skyrocketing food costs on your New Zealand holiday. Here are our 3 top tips for saving money on food costs in NZ.

  1. Cook Your Own. Plan to cook your own meals all or at least part of the time. Eating out in NZ is expensive, the average cooked breakfast will cost around $20 per person, lunch $30 and dinner anywhere from $40 (just for a main) and up.
  2. Stock Up In The Big Supermarkets. There are main stream grocery stores in just about all of New Zealand’s larger towns and cities, if you stick to Countdown, New World or PaknSave then you will find the best prices. Stocking up on the basics as you pass through is the best way to have food on hand for a quick and cheap meal.
  3. Buy Local. Keep an eye out for Farmers Markets and food stalls on the side of the road, these will often be a cheaper source of fresh produce than supermarkets. And there is the added bonus of produce fresh from the farm.

Activity and Attraction Costs In NZ

Activity costs are high in New Zealand, but where else can you ski, hike, bungy jump, kayak, surf, cruise and zip line all in one day! There are a huge number of exciting adrenaline fueled activities, national attractions and things to do all across NZ, so the best suggestion here is to figure out which ones are on your Must-Do list and ditch those that you are happy to give a miss.

There are also plenty of free attractions and activities to add in to the itinerary, you just need to know where to find them! A little bit of online research before you go is the best way to find those elusive camping spots and remote destinations off the beaten track.

Free Things To Do In NZ

  • Visit the beautiful beaches
  • Find the best hiking and mountain biking trails
  • Soak in natural hot springs
  • Visit the stunning lakes, waterfalls, rivers and other waterways
  • Explore the lush green forests 

The Department of Conservation (DOC) website is a great resource for a range of government operated trails, National Parks, points of interest, free or low-cost camping sites and conservation land that is available for public access.

Mt Cook Horse Trek

Not So Free Activities

While we all love getting back to nature you can’t come to NZ and not take part in at least some of the really cool action packed activities on offer. Here are just a select few of the best activities, or see here for more ideas on things to do in New Zealand.

  • Whale And Dolphin Watching – Auckland $180. Join the team from Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari on their unique tourism/research/conservation dolphin and whale spotting tours. Take in the stunning sea life and scenery with the research teams from local Universities and the Department of Conservation.
  • Kayaking To Rangitoto Island – Auckland $185. Kayaking across to Rangitoto Island is simply one of the best ways to experience the Hauraki Gulf. There are two main operators for kayaking to Rangitoto, both of which offer a sunset kayaking option which is our choice for the best kayaking experience.
  • Visiting The Waitangi Treaty Grounds – Whangarei $50. Located in the beautiful Northland region, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are an important cultural icon for New Zealanders. Representing the beginning of New Zealand as a British Colony, the Treaty Grounds are a great place to visit as part of your road trip around Northland. If you can stretch the budget, stick around for the awesome Hangi and Concert Evening ($120).
  • Skiing Or Snowboarding – North or South Island $100 – $120 (Lift Pass and Rentals). New Zealand has two main commercial ski fields in the North Island and many more in the South Island. The ski season runs from July through to the end of August (sometimes longer depending on the location and weather conditions). See here for more information on Ski Fields in NZ.
  • Bungy Jumping – Queenstown $275. Whether you are a bungy newbie or a seasoned jumper, the Nevis Bungy is the biggest and the best – and the one many people head to Queenstown for, but there are several other bungy options to choose from while you are there. Combine your bungy with a giant swing, catapult or zipride or just complete all of the bungy jumps – it’s up to you!
  • Taking A Ride up The Gondola – Christchurch $28. The city of Christchurch is quite flat apart from the prominent ‘Port Hills’ that are situated to the south east of the city. Taking a ride to the top of the Port Hills in the Christchurch Gondola is a great way to view the city and coastline from above. There are also some great hiking opportunities while you are up there and of course you could always walk up too!
  • Soaking In The Mud At Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park & Mud Spa – Rotorua $79. Enjoy a soak in an outdoor Mud Bath, used for generations by local Maori for its health benefits. Then unwind in a natural Sulphur Spa with its naturally heated geothermal waters. Hells Gate is a world renowned geothermal reserve and spa complex and a great way to experience something unique to New Zealand.

So How Much Would A Trip Around NZ Cost?

So lets break it down, how much would a road trip around New Zealand cost? Keep in mind these figures are just a guide and depend greatly on your ability to curb the urge to spend!

Taking it to the extreme you can backpack around New Zealand for less than $100 a day provided you aren’t signing up for any of the more expensive activities and are seeking out free accommodation and travel options where possible. However it is more realistically likely to come in around $140+ per day. Here is a quick breakdown of likely costs.

  • Hostel/Backpackers Accommodation (Dorm Room) $30+ per person
  • Campsite (Per Person) Free or up to $20
  • Campervan Rental (Daily Rate) $35-$75+
  • Used Car Or Campervan Purchase $1500-$5000+
  • Petrol Price (Per Litre) $2.20+
  • Bus Fare (From Auckland To Wellington) $30+
  • Ferry from North to South Island $130 including a car, or $40 for passenger only fare
  • Breakfast At Café $20
  • Lunch At Café $30
  • Breakfast or Lunch at Bakery $10 – $15
  • Dinner at Restaurant $40 ++
  • Takeaways $20 Fish and Chips, $10-$15 McDonalds, $15 Burgers, $10-$15 Pizza
  • Coffee $4-6
  • Bungy Jump $275

Keep in mind credit cards are widely accepted in NZ, along with cash cards. The use of electronic transactions is the main method of payment in NZ. ATM’s are also readily available for the withdrawal of cash, just watch out for international fees when using ATM’s not affiliated with your bank. Keep in mind our great money saving tips when travelling in New Zealand and you won’t miss out on any of the breath taking scenery and adrenaline pumping activities that this country is famous for!

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