Travel in New Zealand – On A Budget

travel in new zealand

Without a doubt New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. There’s bubbling volcanoes, glittering glacial lakes, mountains and locals so friendly they make Londoners seem like dementors. The one drawback? The cost.

Regardless of the price, travel in New Zealand is something all backpackers/aspiring Frodos should experience. Whether it’s the fact that you can practically see the South Pole, or knowing that you are quite literally thousands of miles from the nearest London tube station, there’s something magical about New Zealand. 

Here are my top tips to ensure travel in New Zealand won’t result in you having to spend the rest of your life reliving your first year of uni. You know, the days when you could only afford porridge and Lidl’s own brand shampoo. Weep.

Get A Working Holiday Visa

Even if you don’t plan on working in NZ, a working holiday visa is definitely worth getting as there’s always the chance you’ll become addicted to the laid back way of life and want to extend your trip until retirement (likely).

As far as I can remember, all you need is enough money in the bank, I believe it’s £2000.

Of course no one actually has this amount. I had -£450 in my bank account. Yes, that’s a minus number.

I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much as when I handed my passport to the lady at check in, in fact, I’m still surprised they didn’t arrest me there and then.

She asked me if I had enough money, and I said yes.

The lesson?

Sometimes lying is necessary, and sometimes lying works.

On arriving in Auckland, I checked myself into the cheapest hostel I could find and spent 3 weeks in a dorm with 15 other people. The boy in the bed next to me snored every night until, after one particularly bad 3am wake up, I poured water on him.

That remains, to this day, the meanest thing I have ever done, and I still don’t regret it.

I then found myself a job at a restaurant, found myself a job at a call centre, quit the job at the restaurant, quit the job at the call centre, got my job back at the restaurant and all was well. It was time to start saving.


Matt and I bought a tent for our travels around New Zealand and it was one of the best decisions we could have made. Our first tent experience was…an experience (you can read all about it here) but by the end of our trip we had fully embraced the tent way of life and I may have shed a little tear when we left it in Erica’s hallway.

Buying a tent is the ultimate money-saver when it comes to travel in New Zealand. As some parts of NZ are a tad breezy (gale force), I’d recommend getting a decent one, because if you are hit by a hurricane and torrential downpours in Franz Josef you will at least have some chance of saving your passport.

Camping in New Zealand is something I will remember forever. There are campsites all over and, in my opinion, you haven’t experienced true happiness until you’ve lain outside your tent and stared at the stars scattered across the gloriously unpolluted sky.

Most campsites will charge around $15-20 per tent. The campsites are generally clean and usually have cooking facilities. You may not make as many friends as you might in a hostel, but at least you don’t have to deal with snoring roommates, fights over the fan or that horribly awkward moment when you walk in, say hello and no one even looks up from their iPhones.

Enjoy The Scenery

Hands down the best thing about New Zealand is the scenery. You could literally have stepped into a Lord of the Rings movie and be trekking to Mordor with Gollum, when all you’re actually doing is trudging to McDonalds in your dressing gown on a hangover day. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sitting in awe by the sparkling glacial lakes, searching for shooting stars on a clear night or spending your days hiking through New Zealand’s famous national parks cost nothing. You don’t need money to appreciate or experience real New Zealand.

Although you do need money for Hobbiton.

Do Your Own Cooking

Almost every hostel we went to had a kitchen, and while a large number of them were absolutely disgusting, you can generally find slightly-less-dirty saucepan to thoroughly wash, disinfect and inspect, before cooking your pasta in. If you’re really nervous, eat with your fingers because then you don’t have to use cutlery.

The campsites we stayed in generally had good cooking facilities, although we hit a low point in the Abel Tasman, when all shops had closed and we resorted to eating peanut butter straight from the jar for dinner. Oh, and we used the foil lid as a spoon.

Car Relocations

This is the ultimate budgeting secret when it comes to travel in New Zealand and so many people have no idea about it. Forget renting a car (although we also did this), car relocations are by far the cheapest, and possibly the funnest, way to travel in New Zealand.

Essentially, you are given the car for free, or at least for very little, to transport between two cities. We drove from Christchurch to Queenstown, Queenstown to Christchurch and then Christchurch to Punakaiki, all for no cost, as we were given a tank of petrol.

You are given a limited amount of time to get the car to the next location, usually one or two nights, so we stopped off and camped next to Lake Tekapo. If you’re feeling extra thrifty, just sleep in the car and save money there too.

I would post the link to the website but I’m worried they will see that we slept in their car and find some way to sue us.

Buy A Bus Pass

Another way to travel around cheaply is to get yourself a bus pass.

So many people think hiring a camper van is the only way to travel in New Zealand but this isn’t particularly cost effective, especially if you’re travelling around Christmas time, as we were. We used Naked Bus, although this was far from smooth sailing.

Despite some odd journeys with even odder people, Naked Buses are generally very reliable and go to most places in New Zealand. And also no one is naked which was a nice surprise.

We bought our bus passes before and got ourselves 10 trips for around 150NZD. This included an overnight bus to Wellington from Auckland which, in my 14 months of travel, was by far the worst overnight bus I have ever been on. But beggars cannot be choosers, it saved us a flight and we had nine other journeys to use around South Island. We used up all our journeys and without this pass, our trip would have cost a huge amount more.

Shop In Season

At one point tomatoes in New Zealand cost $7.99 per KG and a couple of weeks later, $2.99. I can confirm that they didn’t taste that much better at $7.99.

There’s no feeling quite like walking into Countdown and seeing that avocados now cost $1 each instead of $3. Make sure you buy the fresh fruit & veggies that are in season and don’t get caught out like I did resulting in me desperately screaming at the self-checkout trying to cancel my $10 passion fruit. Always check the price. You’d think at the ripe age of 23 I would have learnt this, but no.

Travel Out Of Season

This goes without saying really as it is the same for virtually every single tourist destination in the world. If you decide to go to Queenstown for Christmas or New Year, be sure to prepare yourself for the inevitable panic attack that will occur when you try to book your hostel, by doing daily meditations up to three weeks before and practising breathing exercises.

Go hiking

Travel in New Zealand is all about seeing the beautiful country (and pretending to be Frodo), and hiking is one of the best ways to do this. Whether it’s the never-ending uphill of the Tongariro Crossing that will make you wish you were dead, Waiheke, Auckland’s most pretentious wine-island or the pristine, golden beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park, there are stunning hikes all around New Zealand which can be explored without spending a penny. Although make sure you tell people where you’re going because you don’t want to end up like these two.

Let’s all just ignore the fact that I just linked to the Daily Mail.

Work At Hostels

Pretty much every hostel we stayed in offered a ‘work for board’ which is an attractive idea until you realise that travellers are all disgusting and the only thing worse than having to sleep in the same bedroom as them, absorbing their filth, is actually cleaning up their filth.

One hostel we stayed in had 7 people cleaning the windows and no people cleaning the toilet, so that was re-assuring hygiene-wise.

 However, cleaning at the hostel is actually a really good way to save money, as hostels will generally give you your room for free in exchange for just a couple of hours work in the morning. When you compare it to the time worked vs the cost of your room, you’re probably earning far less than minimum wage, but it’s really easy, requires little effort and you will have the rest of the day to explore.



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