Everyone says New Zealand is an expensive country to travel in (or to live in for that matter), but it wasn’t until I got there and started spending money that I realized how true that is. Food is more expensive, accommodation is more expensive, gas is more expensive…you get the picture. What I’m trying to say is that traveling New Zealand on a budget is hard.
I found myself spending close to a couple thousand dollars (NZD) per month of full-time traveling while in New Zealand—which seems like the opposite of budget travel. However, I can only imagine how much I would have spent if I hadn’t known about some of these ways to save money in New Zealand.
That being said, I know I also could have saved a lot more if I had used all of these techniques instead of just a couple here and there.
I don’t want to discourage budget travelers from visiting New Zealand, since you can tell from the title of this post that it’s meant to help you out. Just be aware that it’s an expensive country no matter how you slice it. There are definitely a lot of ways to cut down costs, though.
This list does not include all of the obvious (and boring) tips like “cook instead of eating at restaurants” or “stay in hostels instead of hotels”. We all know those things will save you money anywhere in the world. These tips are specific to New Zealand. Also, you don’t necessarily need to be a “backpacker” to take advantage of some these tips—no matter your travel style, these options will work for you.
So if you want to travel New Zealand on a budget, keep reading! These 13 tips will help you save some money, and if you want to go extreme budget, you’ll find yourself spending significantly less than I did.
How to Travel New Zealand on a Budget
Sign up for Bus Reward Programs
The major bus lines in New Zealand are Intercity and Naked/Mana Bus. Be sure to sign up for their reward/membership programs (for free) if you’re going to be traveling by bus. I used Intercity exclusively, and on average I saved anywhere from $2-6 on each trip I took. That added up to at least a few hundred dollars throughout my year of bus travel.
Get Tourist Discount Cards from the Supermarkets
New World and Countdown are two of the main supermarket chains—you’ll find them in just about every big town throughout New Zealand. They both offer “tourist cards” for international travelers. These allow you to get their membership savings without having to sign up and give out contact information like locals would have to.
Just ask about the tourist card at guest services or at the register in any store.
Browse Bookme for Activity Deals
Bookme is a tourist deals website that you can browse by region. Tour and activity providers offer special deals and discounts through the site, so you can find big savings here. I always browsed Bookme when planning my next stop, and that’s how I decided which activities to do in each place. You’ll often find discounts (sometimes 50-75%) on major activities and entrance fees to popular attractions.
I booked a tour of Milford Sound for $87 on Bookme, while the original price was around $170. I wouldn’t have been able to afford a full-priced tour, so I’m happy I was able to find this deal.
Go Freedom Camping
If you’re traveling around New Zealand by campervan, you can camp out in some places for free. Just park up your campervan or RV and you’re good to go—no camping fee! There are areas throughout the country where you can do this legally.
However, there have been some issues with freedom campers in the past, so pay attention to signs and rules before parking up for the night. Generally, your campervan should be self-contained if you’re going to freedom camp, although people often sleep in standard cars in these areas. If there is a sign posted that says “no freedom camping”, be respectful and move on. There are exorbitant fees for anyone who does this illegally.
Learn more about freedom camping in New Zealand here
Work in Exchange for Accommodation
Update: Free labor in exchange for accommodation is no longer legal in New Zealand. Now all work must involve a contract and minimum wage pay. However, you can still find positions like this that will pay you for a couple hours work a day, and then deduct it as payment for your accommodation/food/etc. It also seems that official WWOOFing through the organization is still allowed.
If you’re running low on money while traveling, consider working in exchange for accommodation. In New Zealand, this type of exchange is generally referred to as “WOOFing”, even though it is not actually related to the WWOOFing organization. Most hostels have room for WOOFers, as do farms, lifestyle blocks, holiday parks, and sometimes private households. Typical jobs include cleaning, reception work, farm work, and childcare. It usually requires working a few hours a day in exchange for a bed, and sometimes food. The time commitment can range anywhere from one day to months, depending on what you and the host are looking for.
You can find these opportunities on Backpacker Board, or just by asking around (especially at hostels).
Hitchhiking is really common in New Zealand. You’ll see travelers and backpackers along the roads all the time trying to hitch a ride—and locals are often more than happy to pick them up! I’ve never done this myself and I do advise anyone considering hitchhiking to be wary and be smart about it. However, I know plenty of people, even solo female backpackers, who relied on hitchhiking to travel around the country.
Join a Rideshare
You can find rideshares with other travelers, which usually includes chipping in some gas money to get to your next destination. While it’s not free, it’s often cheaper than taking a bus, and it’s a good way to meet fellow travelers. There are Facebook groups dedicated to rideshares, or you can ask around if you’re staying at a hostel.
Buy a Hostel Membership
There are a couple of hostel associations in New Zealand: YHA and BBH are the main ones. The majority of hostels belong to one or the other, and both offer membership cards. YHA membership costs around $25 for a year, while the BBH Club Card costs about $45 a year.
The initial cost is worth it, as it will get you a 10% discount on every stay (YHA); or a savings of about $4 per night (BBH). If you’re spending all of your time in hostels, you’ll see the savings add up quickly. It doesn’t hurt to buy both memberships, but choosing one and using that to choose your hostels is more cost-effective. You can also use your membership card to get the “backpacker” price on bus tickets, which is cheaper than a standard adult ticket.
I joined the YHA simply because I preferred their hostels, and there was a YHA hostel in most of the major towns I visited. It only took 3 nights in a hostel before my savings covered the cost of my membership.
Relocate a Campervan or Rental Car
Campervans are such a popular form of transportation for travelers throughout New Zealand. Rental companies often move their vehicles around to different cities so they have campervans where their customers need them. These companies look for people to “relocate” their campervans, which basically just means driving it from one location to another (duh).
If you want to relocate a campervan, you can usually do this for about $1/day, plus petrol costs. It’s a really cheap way to get from point A to point B, but you usually have a short period to get the vehicle back—still enough time to enjoy the ride, though. Some companies that do this are Jucy and Apollo.
Transfercar is the best resource for this. It lists all types of rental vehicles, from various companies, that need to be relocated. Sometimes you’ll even find vehicles for absolutely no cost to you.
Talk to the Staff at Your Hostel
Hostels know that their guests are traveling New Zealand on a budget and trying to save money. They usually know all the best deals in the area and they can tell you about any free attractions. Plus, they often have special discounts for nearby businesses (like restaurants or bars) or local tours. Head to your hostel’s front desk and ask about free/cheap things to do and they will surely have some inside info.
Check GrabOne for Local Deals
GrabOne is basically New Zealand’s version of Groupon. Grab a deal on local restaurants, attractions, or services. There aren’t as many tourist-focused discounts here (Bookme is the best place for that), but you can find good deals on things like food, exercise classes, and more.
Buy a Bus or Rail Pass
If you’re doing a lot of traveling by bus or rail, it pays to buy a pass. Intercity and Naked Bus offer flexible bus passes based on number of trips. While the rail network in New Zealand isn’t very extensive, KiwiRail does offer a few great scenic train journeys. If you plan on doing all of them, buying a pass will be a better deal. However, be prepared to do them all in a short time period to maximize savings.
Check GrabaSeat for Cheap Flights
GrabaSeat is Air New Zealand’s discount airfare site. You’ll find cheap seats on flights between most airports throughout the country, but it’s especially helpful if you’re flying between the major cities (Christchurch, Auckland, Wellington, and Queenstown). There isn’t much flexibility in travel dates, so it’s a good option if you are able to take what you find. It’s normal to find a one-way flight for $30-$50 NZD!
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