New Zealand Budget Travel Guide: 15 Money-Saving Tips
Views at the top of Mount Maunganui

New Zealand is an expensive country. There’s no doubt about it. However, this New Zealand budget travel guide will show you how to travel around the country cheaper than you think. Thousands of people backpack around New Zealand each year; the infrastructure and facilities are there to allow you to travel the country on a budget. One of the questions I am often asked is how I afforded to travel around New Zealand for an extended period. Last year I travelled for a total of 6 months and worked for 6. I travelled to New Zealand on a working holiday visa and worked when I needed to sustain my lifestyle. Now I’m going to help you do the same.

Mount Victoria Lookout
Mount Victoria Lookout

New Zealand Budget Travel: Accommodation

One of the biggest expenses, when you’re travelling, is your accommodation. If you want to travel around New Zealand for less finding ways to cut these costs is crucial. It’s surprisingly easy to do so in New Zealand. Here are 4 ways in which you can cut your accommodation costs:

1) WWOOFing

Otherwise known as ‘willing workers on organic farms’. Wwoofing is basically where you work in exchange for your accommodation and sometimes your food too. Traditionally this work was conducted on farms, backpackers would work a few hours a day on a farm in return for a free place to stay. However, these days many hostels hire backpackers as cleaners for 2-3 hours a day and in return backpackers stay at the hostel for free. Sometimes, wwoofers even get other benefits from working at a hostel like free laundry. All of these expenses add up and can prove to be really useful.

If you are on a working holiday visa, wwoofing is a great opportunity to cut your expenses down. Most hostels will require you to stay a minimum of 2 weeks. Some backpackers use it as a cheaper way to travel and stay in one place for longer. Others combine both a paid job and wwoofing to save more money whilst their expenses are lower. Moreover, staying at one hostel for a longer timeframe is also a great way to make new friends.

I made friends with other backpackers who were wwoofing whilst staying at Rainbow Lodge and working in Taupo. I originally got a job at a cafe and started wwoofing at the hostel at a later date when a position became available to allow me to combine the two.

2) Hostels

Staying at hostels instead of pricey hotels is a surefire way to cut your expenses. If you have never stayed at a hostel before then I would recommend staying at a YHA hostel first. Book yourself a private room or a bed in a small dorm whilst you get used to the hostel environment. Sharing bathrooms and bedrooms with strangers can be daunting at first, but you’ll be a natural in no time! Staying in dorm rooms is much cheaper than staying in hotels or even Airbnb’s and guesthouses. With access to a kitchen, laundry facilities and often entertainment of some kind (pool table, board games and films) staying in a hostel will save you more than you think.

South Island hostel Oamaru Backpackers entrance
Oamaru Backpackers

Read Next: New Zealand North Island Hostels: An Honest Review

Once you’ve come around to the idea of hostels and realise they are a fantastic way to travel around New Zealand, don’t forget to sign up for a YHA membership here. YHA members get 10% off every nightly stay at a YHA hostel when booked direct. You also get loads of other cool discounts as a YHA member, including 10% off the Interislander ferry, Milford Sound discounts and many more!

Read Next: New Zealand South Island Hostel Review

3) Camping

If you are planning to visit New Zealand in the summer, spring or even autumn then camping may be for you. Camping is a great option for New Zealand budget travel as there are lots of campsites on both islands. The DOC campsites are usually quite cheap but only offer limited facilities.

We stayed at a DOC campsite in the Catlins region of the South Island and paid $8 per person per night. As our vehicle wasn’t self-contained this was the cheapest option for a weekend away. There were no showers available at the campsite but for just a couple of days, it was okay. A cooking shelter was provided but you needed to bring your gas stove and cooking equipment. For the price we paid, I was more than happy with the facilities provided. The campsite was well located and led right on to the beach.

4) Freedom Camping

New Zealand has a lot of free campsites too. Perfect for those travelling in a campervan to park up somewhere for the night without having to pay. There are even some free scenic campsites but spots are first-come, first-serve and often these spaces fill up fast. I never actually did freedom camping but it’s very popular in New Zealand. To find the best campsites, download the Camper Mate app here.

New Zealand Budget Travel: Transport

Transport will no doubt be your second biggest cost when travelling New Zealand. There are plenty of options available again, especially if you can be a bit flexible with your travel plans.

5) Hitchhike

That may seem like a strange way to get around, but hitchhiking in New Zealand is more common than you would think. Many backpackers use it as a way to get around cheaply. Simply write your destination on a piece of cardboard and station yourself somewhere safe on a popular driving route to your next destination. Hitchhiking is something I never actually did in New Zealand, as a solo female traveller I didn’t want to risk my safety. If you don’t feel safe hitchhiking either, don’t do it!

6) Relocation Rentals

Rental cars and campervans often get picked up in Auckland or Christchurch and get dropped off at different locations. To save money on paying an employee to drive vehicles back up to popular pick-up locations, you can do it for them and get the vehicle for free for a few days. Some rentals will even pay for the cost of the ferry if you need to travel between islands. Terms and conditions of each relocation agreement can vary but it’s a great way to have the freedom of a car or van for a few days for free! Visit Transfercar for more details.

7) Buy a Car

Buying a car may seem like a drastic decision, but if you are planning to travel to New Zealand for a few months this may be your best option. The upfront costs are more expensive than many other options but you’ll often get the majority of it back when you sell it on at the end of your trip. Plus you get the bonus of having your own vehicle and the freedom of going where you want whenever you want. Lots of backpackers on working holiday visas choose to buy a car for the duration of their visit and sell it on at the end of their stay.

8) Travel with Someone

Whether you are buying a car or renting, travelling with someone is a great way to cut your costs. Splitting the initial costs with each other and then the petrol money during the trip will ensure both of you save money. You can also share other costs, for example, food and accommodation. Airbnb is sometimes a cheaper option with 2 people travelling together, it’s worth checking all your options before booking a hostel.

New Zealand Budget Travel Tip: Travel with a friend and share costs
I used a Facebook group to find a new travel mate, we rented a car together for a week!

9) Intercity Bus

If you don’t want to commit to buying a car or dealing with maintenance issues that come up, then getting the bus is a great option for New Zealand budget travel. Intercity is New Zealand’s largest bus network with fleets travelling all over New Zealand. Also, if you buy a YHA hostel membership you can even get a backpacker discount on some intercity fares. It doesn’t take long to start saving money with the YHA membership discounts!

New Zealand Budget Travel: Other Money-Saving Ideas

There are many other costs that you need to consider when travelling. Although your accommodation and transportation will be your biggest expenses, saving money on smaller things all help.

10) Free Activities

Wherever you visit in New Zealand there will be paid activities that you can do. However, New Zealand is filled with free hikes that you can do and other free activities. Many towns have free botanical gardens and from my experience in New Zealand, they are maintained well and are very pretty. The DOC (Department of Conservation) has lots of information about free hikes and walks you can do all over the country. Ask in your hostel for free things to do in the area, often the workers know all the best places to go.

Watching the sunset is always free and is one of my favourite things to do. I saw some incredible sunsets whilst in New Zealand. Moreover, if you are in the Mt Cook National park or Tekapo, it is home to the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve which means stargazing is amazing here! Check out my post about what to do on the South Island here, there are lots of suggestions of free things to do in specific locations, including Queenstown!

11) Bookme

Bookme is a discount website/app in New Zealand which offers tons of discounts on activities across New Zealand. If there’s something you want to do it’s always worth checking if it’s on Bookme. It isn’t uncommon to find discounts up to 70% off some attractions. I saved quite a bit of money using this discount app on activities I would have paid full price for.

New Zealand budget travel tip: Use Bookme to find insane discounts
Larnach Castle in Dunedin, cheaper entrance fee through Bookme.

12) Cook Your Meals

Cooking your meals may seem like a really simple tip, but when you are on holiday it can be easy to buy a coffee here and lunch there. All of these expenses add up really quickly, especially in New Zealand where eating out can be expensive. You should eat out a bit and treat yourself, but cooking yourself will easily save you money.

Additionally, shop at the cheaper supermarkets when you can. Pak ‘n Save is the cheapest supermarket in New Zealand, however, they are mainly only in the big towns and are few and far between on the South Island. Stock up on items you know you’ll need here and shop at Countdown and New World in between. Farmers markets are also a good place to get fresh fruit and veg cheaper, whilst supporting small local businesses.

13) Travel in Off-Peak Season

We travelled around the South Island during the winter and found that not only was it much quieter but that we often found good deals on accommodation and attractions too. Since there aren’t as many tourists in the winter, hostels were much cheaper and we also benefitted from off-peak pricing. For instance, one of the big activities we wanted to do was one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The pricing for the huts you stay in on the track is much cheaper in the Winter than in the Summer since there isn’t as much demand.

New Zealand great walk huts are much quieter and cheaper in the winter.
Hiking the Abel Tasman Great Walk in the winter was much cheaper and quieter!

Read Next: Abel Tasman Coastal Track: Great Walk

14) Plan Which Expensive Activities To Do

New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world. It’s only natural that you will want to do some of these adventurous activities like bungy jumping and skydiving. But planning which ones you want to do and prioritising them will help save you money. Make a list of all the activities you want to do and how much it will cost. Check if you can get a discount anywhere. For example, Taupo is one of the cheapest places to do a skydive in New Zealand. Also, if you have a YHA membership you can get $40 off a camera package when you dive from 18,500 ft. Even when you add in the cost of the membership this will save you money!

Planning what you want to do and shopping around for a deal is your best chance of saving money. It won’t be possible to do everything in New Zealand there is simply too much choice but you can certainly decide what matters the most to you.

Whale Watching in Kaikoura; an expensive activity I planned for
Planning in advance and budgeting allowed me to go whale watching in Kaikoura!

15) Track Your Expenses

Lastly, don’t forget to keep track of your spending so you know how much money your spending and where you are spending it. This will help you to work out how much ‘just that one coffee’ is really costing you and where you might be able to cut back a bit.

Sunset at Ngarunui Beach
Sunset at Ngarunui Beach

I hope this has helped show you that New Zealand budget travel is achievable. More than anything planning a bit and comparing different price options will help save you the most. Make friends with people at hostels, maybe someone is travelling the same way as you and you can rent a car together? Or even make friends with the hostel owners and score a local’s discount for an overnight Doubtful Sound cruise like us. That was by far our best discount we grabbed, saving a few hundred dollars total!

Do you have any budget travel tips of your own? Which ways do you plan on travelling New Zealand on a budget? Let me know in the comments below!

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