30-Day Budget Itinerary for New Zealand
Lucky enough to be exploring New Zealand for one month? You’re in the right place to plan an exciting, enriching and action-packed New Zealand itinerary even if you’re on a budget. This New Zealand budget/backpacking itinerary for one month takes you through both the North Island and South Island, suggesting budget accommodation and affordable (and mostly free) activities that will help you keep the costs to a minimum. What’s more, this itinerary is flexible, where you can do the itinerary backwards, while you easily skip a destination in order to spend more time in others.
Be inspired for places to go, things to do, where to stay and how to get around with this complete one-month budget and backpacking itinerary for New Zealand.
New Zealand Budget and Backpacking Itinerary for 4 Weeks: Overview
- Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Auckland Central
- Day 2 – Explore Auckland
- Day 3 – Auckland to the Bay of Islands
- Day 4 – Explore the Bay of Islands
- Day 5 – Bay of Islands to Auckland
- Day 6 – Auckland to Waitomo
- Day 7 – Waitomo to Rotorua
- Day 8 – Explore Rotorua
- Day 9 – Rotorua to Tongariro National Park
- Day 10 – Explore Tongariro National Park
- Day 11 – Tongariro National Park to Whanganui
- Day 12 – Whanganui to Wellington
- Day 13 – Explore Wellington
- Day 14 – Wellington to Picton
- Day 15 – Explore Picton
- Day 16 – Picton to Nelson
- Day 17 – Nelson to Westport
- Day 18 – Westport to Greymouth
- Day 19 – Greymouth to Franz Josef
- Day 20 – Explore Franz Josef
- Day 21 – Franz Josef to Makarora
- Day 22 – Makarora to Queenstown
- Day 23 – Explore Queenstown
- Day 24 – Explore Queenstown or Milford Sound
- Day 25 – Queenstown to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
- Day 26 – Explore Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
- Day 27 – Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to Christchurch
- Day 28 – Explore Christchurch
- Day 29 – Christchurch to Akaroa
- Day 30 – Akaroa to Christchurch Airport.
How to Get Around New Zealand in One Month on a Budget
Most travellers experience New Zealand by exploring as much of the country as possible. In one month, you have plenty of time to visit both the North and South Islands. The best ways to get around, using the below itinerary, are as follows:
Rent a Car or Campervan
For absolute freedom to visit all of the stops we recommend in this budget one-month itinerary, renting a car or campervan is a good way to go. As this itinerary starts in Auckland and ends in Christchurch, we recommend choosing a rental company that has depots in both cities – don’t worry, there are many. Start your research using The Guide to Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand and The Best Backpacker Campervan Rentals in New Zealand.
Use the National Bus Service
InterCity offers the cheapest way to get between the destinations mentioned in this budget itinerary. Find out more about the passes available in What’s the Difference Between InterCity Backpacker Bus Passes?
Do an Escorted Bus Tour
While bus tours won’t follow the below itinerary exactly, they’ll have their own set itineraries around the country hitting most of the destinations mentioned. Check out tour companies that travel the whole country in The Best Backpacker Bus Tours in New Zealand.
Do a Hop-on Hop-off Tour
Like a bus tour, hop-on hop-off buses follow a set itinerary around the country but give you the flexibility to stay in some destinations longer. All you need to do is catch the next bus. Plus, they tend to be cheaper than escorted bus tours. Find out more in What is a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?
Taking the Ferry
This itinerary includes the ferry journey between Wellington and Picton. Learn more in The Ferry Between the North Island and South Island.
The below itinerary begins in Auckland and ends in Christchurch. Both cities have international airports and are well-connected with domestic flights. If you’re leaving from Auckland, you will need to consider booking a domestic flight from Christchurch to Auckland.
For more transport methods for backpackers, check out the 6 Cheapest Ways to Travel Around New Zealand.
Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Auckland Central
Travel time: 40 minutes
Welcome to New Zealand! Because this country is far from pretty much anywhere, chances are you’ll be tired and jet-lagged (or super excitable off the adrenaline, but that will wear off eventually). With that in mind, we recommend either picking up your car rental if it’s at the airport or using one of the affordable bus and shuttle options to get to Auckland Central.
Check-in at your budget accommodation in Auckland and start exploring the city centre attractions, like the Sky Tower (more info on Viator and Klook), the Auckland Museum (on Viator and Klook) or the bushwalks in the Auckland Domain. It’s best to keep active if it’s still daylight to get your body acclimated to the new time zone. Check out more tips in 10 Simple Ways to Get Over Jet Lag.
Budget Accommodation in Auckland
Day 2 – Explore Auckland
It’s day two of getting your body clock onto New Zealand’s time zone, as well as a day to explore some of Auckland’s highlights. If you’re looking for free or ultra-cheap things to do in the city, check out the list below. Otherwise, we recommend a ferry trip to one of Auckland’s outer islands, whether it’s the volcanic island of Rangitoto or the bird sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Auckland
- See Auckland from the top of the Sky Tower (more info on Viator and Klook)
- Watch a free movie at Silo Park in the summer
- Climb Mt Eden for amazing views
- Take a cheap ferry to Devonport or Rangitoto Island
- Walk in the forest… in Auckland Domain.
Find out more about each activity and others in 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Auckland.
Day 3 – Auckland to the Bay of Islands
Travel time: 3 h 15 mins
It’s time to hit the road! If you haven’t already, pick up your Auckland car rental or hop on an InterCity bus to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Note that the fastest route between Auckland and Paihia has a toll road. Check out our Quick Guide The Northern Gateway Toll Road for more information and alternative routes.
Along the way, you could take a 35-minute detour to the Goat Island Marine Reserve to do clear kayaking over fish and stingrays with Clearyak.
When you reach Whangarei, stop by the short walk to the majestic Whangarei Falls, check out the cafes, and head to the glowworm caves at Abbey Caves. All of this is listed in the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whangarei.
Once you arrive in Paihia, you have two options: either check-in at a budget accommodation or join The Rock Adventure Cruise for your accommodation and bay-exploring activities packed into one exciting overnight experience.
Budget Accommodation in Paihia
Day 4 – Explore the Bay of Islands
Today, experience the Bay of Islands your way. You could be completing your tour on The Rock Adventure Cruise with snorkelling, visiting islands and kayaking. Alternatively, we recommend a bus tour to the top of the North Island.
Let someone else worry about the driving as you take a diverse journey to Cape Reinga. Cape Reinga has cultural significance, spectacular views and a photogenic lighthouse. The tour also includes driving down Ninety Mile Beach, sandboarding on sand dunes, and seeing the largest trees in New Zealand, kauri trees. Check out the tour with Fullers GreatSights.
On the other hand, if you just want to hang out in the Bay of Islands, check out the list below for some of the things you can be doing.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands
- See the magnificent Rainbow Falls in Kerikeri
- Take a tour of the Stone Store Museum and Kemp House
- Take the ferry from Paihia to historic Russell
- See New Zealand’s most famous public toilets in Kawakawa
- Walk to Haruru Falls in Paihia.
For more ideas, head to the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands.
Day 5 – Bay of Islands to Auckland
Travel time: 3 h 15 mins
This morning, head back down to Auckland. Drive down the way you came up (which is the fastest way) doing some of the free activities in Whangarei that you might have missed. Alternatively, take a 1h20min detour to Omapere to drive down the Kauri Coast. On this latter route, you might like to stop by the Koutu Boulders, the Waipoua Forest with its magnificent kauri trees and more. Check out more ideas in our 10 Outstanding Things to Do in Opononi & Omapere.
Get some rest in Auckland, do the free activities you might have missed, scout out some of the cheap eats, and enjoy another night in its budget accommodation. For more literature on the subject, check out The Guide to Auckland on a Budget.
Day 6 – Auckland to Waitomo
Travel time: 2 h 20 mins
Want to see some glowworms today? Set off in the morning to Waitomo, giving you time to do a cave tour once you arrive. If you need to pick up supplies or want to grab a bite to eat, take a quick detour to Hamilton city. You can also stop by the quirky town of Otorohanga which is the self-proclaimed “Kiwiana Capital of the World”.
In Waitomo, you have a wide array of tours available to experience its famous glowworm caves. Walking cave tours, underground tubing, boat tours, caving tours and free walks: it’s all available. Check out tour options in the 8 Best Waitomo Cave Tours. Alternatively, see the list below for free things to do.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Waitomo
- Take a road trip to see free sights like Marokopa Falls, Mangapohue Natural Bridge and more
- Do the Ruakuri Bushwalk
- Learn something new at the Waitomo Museum of Caves
- Visit Otorohanga and do the Ed Hillary Walkway
- Dig your own hot pool at Kawhia Beach.
For more ideas, head to the 15 Free Things to Do in Waitomo.
Budget Accommodation in Waitomo
- Juno Hall Backpackers
- Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Waitomo Village Chalets
- Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge
- Waitomo Orchard Estate B&B
For more listings, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Waitomo.
Day 7 – Waitomo to Rotorua
Travel time: 1 h 55 mins
Start off your morning with any of the activities you might have missed in Waitomo. Then, it’s just a 1 h 55 min journey to Rotorua.
If you’re a Middle-earth enthusiast, you can take a 15-minute detour to the Hobbiton Movie Set for their film set tour. Check out Viator or Klook to book your tickets or head to How to Get the Best Hobbiton Discount for tips on how to get in cheaper.
Alternatively, a scenic 5-minute detour to the Putaruru Blue Spring/Te Waihou Walkway is well worth it to see a vividly blue transparent stream along a three-hour return walkway.
In Rotorua, you can get started by checking out the free geothermal Kuirau Park in the city centre or scouting out the free hot pools around the city. Check-in at your accommodation from the recommendations listed below.
Budget Accommodation in Rotorua
- Rock Solid Backpackers
- Holdens Bay Holiday Park
- BKs Rotorua
- Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park
- Rotorua Downtown Backpackers
Day 8 – Explore Rotorua
You have the whole day to explore Rotorua and its free and affordable attractions, as listed below. If you have some budget to spare, we recommend experiencing the Maori culture and a traditional hangi meal at Te Pa Tu (formerly Tamaki Maori Village – more info on Viator and Klook), Mitai Maori Village or Whakarewarewa: The Living Maori Village (on Viator and Klook). You’ll also find a lot more recommendations in the 25 Best Things to Do in Rotorua.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua
- Relax in one of the free thermal pools like Kerosene Creek
- Check out one of the surrounding walks, such as the Blue Lake Walk or the Tarawera Trail
- Check out the free geothermal park, Kuirau Park
- Visit the National Bird of Prey Centre, Wingspan
- Walk or cycle in the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest.
For more ideas, just head to the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.
Day 9 – Rotorua to Tongariro National Park
Travel time: 2 h 10 mins
Next on this one-month budget itinerary is the Tongariro National Park, but not without a few stops along the way. If you have the budget, it’s well worth stopping by the amazing geothermal parks along the way. Between Rotorua and Taupo, you have Wai-O-Tapu, Waimangu Volcanic Valley (on Viator and Klook) and Orakei Korako.
Stop by Taupo for a bite to eat using The Food Guide to Taupo or Cheap Eats in Taupo. Check out the powerful rapids of Huka Falls, soak in the free hot pools at Otumuheke Stream, or try the Hole in One Challenge on the lakeside. See more options in the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Taupo.
If you have time or are not enthused by the already suggested stops, then you might like the 2-hour walk around Lake Rotopounamu. The walk is an excellent example of New Zealand’s lush native forest and a picturesque lake that shines green when the sun reflects off it.
Your final destination today is Whakapapa Village or National Park Village, depending on where you can get accommodation. The villages are 10 minutes’ drive apart and are the closest to the Tongariro National Park.
Budget Accommodation in Whakapapa and National Park Villages
- Skotel Alpine Resort
- Manowhenua Lodge
- National Park Backpackers
- Howard’s Mountain Lodge
- The Crossing Lodge
Find out more about these accommodations in the 7 Best Hostels in National Park Village & Whakapapa.
Day 10 – Explore Tongariro National Park
If the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is on your list, you’re in the best place for it as you wake up in Whakapapa or National Park. Shuttles will transport you to the day hike which is deemed the most popular in the country. Organise your transport using Tongariro Crossing Accommodation and Transport: A Practical Guide. Note that you’ll need a guide in winter.
For those of you who would rather not do a 19.4 km (12 mi) hike or are travelling in winter, there’s a myriad of short walks in Whakapapa to take advantage of. Taranaki Falls is a good one, boasting views of the volcanic cone of Mt Ngauruhoe on a clear day, as well as featuring a waterfall plunging off an old lava flow. More waterfall delights await on the Tawhai Falls, while the Ridge Track offers more excellent volcano views. A good winter alternative to the Tongariro Crossing is the Tama Lakes hike.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Whakapapa and National Park
- Hike the popular Tongariro Crossing
- Check out the stunning Taranaki Falls
- Do short walks like Tawhai Falls and the Ridge Track
- See the creamy-white terraces of the Silica Rapids Walk
- Check out the exhibitions at the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre.
Learn about the walks and more in the 13 Walks Around National Park Village & Whakapapa Village.
Day 11 – Tongariro National Park to Whanganui
Travel time: 1 h 50 mins
This is the part where most travellers rush all the way down to Wellington. With one month in New Zealand, however, you have the time to explore more.
On your way down to the city of Whanganui, take a mere 5-10 minute detour to Ohakune. Here, hire bikes and cycle the Old Coach Road through the forest of the Tongariro National Park, do a bushwalk on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, or just check out the giant carrot sculpture.
You’ll then follow a scenic drive down the Mangawhero River valley, stopping off to check out Raukawa Falls from the roadside, before reaching Whanganui. The city is extremely budget-friendly, so check out the list below for things to do, as well as the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui
- Check out the views from the Durie Hill Tower
- Wander around Virginia Lake
- Visit the Whanganui Regional Museum
- Hire a bike and cycle alongside the Whanganui River
- Do a road trip on the Whanganui River Road.
For more ideas and information on each one, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui.
Budget Accommodation in Whanganui
- Whanganui River TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Riverside Motel
- Riverview Motel
- Whanganui Seaside Holiday Park
- Braemar House
For more information on our top picks, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Whanganui.
Day 12 – Whanganui to Wellington
Travel time: 2 h 30 mins
Do anything you might have missed in Whanganui yesterday then hit the road to the capital city! You’ll pass through quirky towns like Bulls, whose many shops and services feature puns about bulls – because why not? Check out the giant windmill in Foxton, grab a bite to eat in Levin, and stretch your legs on the beaches and sand dunes of Queen Elizabeth Park in Paraparaumu.
Once you arrive in Wellington, check in at your budget accommodation and perhaps take a stroll to the Te Papa Museum. New Zealand’s national museum is free-entry and open until 6 pm, so is always an easy visit when you first arrive.
Budget Accommodation in Wellington
- The Marion Hostel
- Microtel by Wyndham Wellington
- The Dwellington
- Trinity Hotel
- Capital View Motor Inn
Day 13 – Explore Wellington
You have the whole day to explore the capital of New Zealand! Some of the free activities include the Te Papa Museum, walking the trails up Mt Victoria, exploring the Botanic Garden, checking out the art on the Wellington Waterfront and much more that we list in the 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
An activity well worth doing, if you have a little budget to spare, is Zealandia Ecosanctuary. Admission is under NZ$20 and gives you access to a predator-free reserve where New Zealand’s weird and wonderful birds can thrive. Spot them as you’re walking the network of trails and learn more about the New Zealand ecosystem at the informative museum.
And if that’s not your thing, check out our One Day in Wellington: City Walking Tour Itinerary for things to do on the cheap.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Wellington
- Visit the Te Papa Museum
- Check out the views from Mt Victoria
- Take the Cable Car to the Botanic Garden
- People-watch and check out the art on the Wellington Waterfront
- See the seals on the Red Rocks Walkway.
Find out more about each activity and much more in 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
Day 14 – Wellington to Picton
Travel time: 3 hours
You can typically find cheaper ferry fares in the morning, so get up and check in at your chosen sailing time to the South Island. The trip isn’t just a means of getting between New Zealand’s two main islands but it’s a scenic cruise, starting in the Wellington Harbour and taking you through the Marlborough Sounds. Learn more about the journey and prices in our guide to The Ferry Between the North Island and South Island.
While travellers who don’t have the luxury of time often drive straight out of Picton, we highly recommend that you take the time to explore. Picton makes an excellent base to explore the Marlborough wine region on various wine tours, as well as scenic boat trips to explore the Queen Charlotte Sound, which hosts an array of wildlife such as seals and dolphins. It also has historical significance as a landing place for the first Maori and British explorers of the South Island. Check out our top recommendations in the 20 Best Things to Do in Picton. Otherwise, we go through some of the budget-friendly activities in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Picton.
Budget Accommodation in Picton
- Tombstone Backpackers
- Harbour View Motel
- Picton Accommodation Gateway Motel
- Waikawa Bay Holiday Park
- Sequoia Lodge & Backpackers
Day 15 – Explore Picton
You have the whole day to explore the (usually) sunny top of the South Island. Aside from the wine and boat tours that we mentioned yesterday, there’s also an array of free and affordable activities that your wallet will welcome.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Picton
- Do a short walk in the Victoria Domain or the Tirohanga Track
- Visit the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum
- Check out the Picton Heritage & Whaling Museum
- Hit the Picton mountain bike trails
- Check out the views from Karaka Point.
For more activities and information on each, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Picton.
Day 16 – Picton to Nelson
Travel time: 1 h 50 mins
There are two routes to get to Nelson: either via the city of Blenheim or the scenic route via Havelock. Both take approximately the same travel time. Check out the 10 Amazing Things to Do in Blenheim and 9 Fun Things to Do in Havelock to see which town and its nearby sights and attractions appeal more to you.
Nelson is the end destination for today, known as the sunniest city in New Zealand due to receiving the most sunshine hours. Here, climb to the geographical centre of New Zealand for awesome views, tour a peanut butter factory, explore Founders Heritage Park, or check out the birds at the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary. We have more recommendations below.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Nelson
- Walk to the Centre of New Zealand
- Check out the Queen’s and Miyazu Gardens
- Hike the Cable Bay Walkway
- Browse the Suter Art Gallery
- Check out the One Ring at Jens Hansen – The Ringmaker.
Learn about each activity and many others in the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Nelson.
Budget Accommodation in Nelson
- Tasman Bay Backpackers
- Delorenzo Studio Apartments
- Tahuna Beach Holiday Park
- The Hotel Nelson
- The Beachcomber Hotel
Day 17 – Nelson to Westport
Travel time: 3 hours
From Nelson, drive through the wine country of Richmond and head south on a long but scenic drive to the West Coast. We recommend taking a 25-minute detour to St Arnaud, which is a small alpine village on the edge of the Nelson Lakes National Park. Make the shores of Lake Rotoiti your pitstop with stunning lake and mountain scenery, as well as short bushwalks to enjoy.
Refreshments can be found in Murchison, as well as scenic white water rafting trips. From Murchison to Westport, you have the stunning Buller Gorge to enjoy. Stop by the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge for bushwalks, a jet boat tour and, yes, a long swingbridge (note this is a paid attraction). Make sure to pull over at the Kilkenny Lookout to soak in the river and mountain scenery.
Your endpoint is the town of Westport, historically known as a gold and coal mining town but today, it makes a great base to explore the top of the West Coast. If you have time, Denniston (30 minutes north of Westport) is well worth checking out for awesome views of the South Island, as well as its collection of preserved mining relics.
Alternatively, Cape Fouldwind is just 15 minutes out of Westport and features dramatic coastal scenery, a lighthouse and a seal colony along a 1h15min one-way walkway.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Westport
- Hike to a waterfall on the Charming Creek Walkway
- Take a trip to the historical site of Denniston
- Ride the Nile River Rainforest Train
- See seals on the Cape Foulwind Walkway
- Check out the Coaltown Museum.
For more details on each activity and more, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Westport.
Budget Accommodation in Westport
- Bazil’s Backpackers
- Tripinn Hostel
- Westport Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels
- Havenlee Homestay
- The Westport Hotel
Day 18 – Westport to Greymouth
Travel time: 1 h 30 mins
There is a lot to see between Westport and Greymouth, so let’s get started! If you didn’t already, stop by the Cape Foulwind Walkway. Plus, if glowworm caving was on your bucket list and you didn’t get to do it in Waitomo, then you’ll get another chance in Charleston.
Enjoy the views on the Great Coast Road as you venture toward Punakaiki and the Paparoa National Park. Check out the 20-minute Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk, as well as other walks like the Pororari River Track or the Punakaiki Cavern.
In Barrytown, craft yourself a unique souvenir, either at Barrytown Knifemaking or a Maori bone pendant at the Skeleton Crew Carving Studio.
If you have any energy left, stop by the Coal Creek Track to enjoy a bushwalk and cool off for a swim at a waterfall. For more activities near Greymouth, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Greymouth.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Greymouth
- Check out the historical Brunner Mine Site
- See mining relics in the forest of the Woods Creek Track
- Lap up the coastal scenery of the Point Elizabeth Walkway
- Browse the jade art and more at Left Bank Art Gallery
- Spend the day at Moana and Lake Brunner.
For more details on each activity and more, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Greymouth.
Budget Accommodation in Greymouth
- Apostles View Motel
- Noah’s Ark Backpackers
- Greymouth Seaside TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Scenicland Motels
- Brunnerton Lodge
Day 19 – Greymouth to Franz Josef
Travel time: 2 h 15 mins
On your journey today, stop by the town of Hokitika. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to visit greenstone carving studios, check out glowworms at the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell and put your toes in the sand at the beach. A popular attraction is Hokitika Gorge, which is a 45-minute detour for its milky blue waters and dramatic river gorge scenery. However, you will be seeing a similar attraction later in this itinerary if you don’t want the extra drive here. Find out about more activities in the area in the 10 Awesome Things to Do in Hokitika.
For more ways to stretch your legs and experience New Zealand’s amazing forest, try the affordable West Coast Treetop Walk. Alternatively, take a 10-minute detour to the Okarito Lagoon and its extremely rare white herons, which can be seen on walks ranging from 20 minutes to 3 h 30 mins.
We’ll talk more about the activities in Franz Josef tomorrow. For now, check in at your budget accommodation.
Budget Accommodation in Franz Josef
- Rainforest Retreat
- Franz Josef Montrose
- Alpine Glacier Motel
- Glow Worm Accommodation
- Franz Josef TOP 10 Holiday Park
Day 20 – Explore Franz Josef
Heli-hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier is on the bucket list for many travellers, so if it’s also yours, keep your fingers crossed for good weather. Otherwise, reschedule for tomorrow morning or wait to do a glacier hike in Aoraki Mt Cook which comes later in this itinerary. Find out more about heli-hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier on Viator and KKday.
Admittedly, glacier heli-hiking is often the most expensive activity travellers do in New Zealand. If you’d rather save your money, then there’s an array of breathtaking walks in the area – even walks to view the glacier.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef
- See the glacier on the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
- Watch rare birds at the Okarito Lagoon
- Check out the glowworms on the Terrace Walk
- See kiwi birds at the West Coast Wildlife Centre
- Hike the challenging but remarkable Roberts Point Track.
For more free and cheap activities, head over to the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef.
Day 21 – Franz Josef to Makarora
Travel time: 2 h 50 mins
Say goodbye to Franz Josef and get ready for a road trip where there’s something amazing to see every 20 minutes or so!
Stop for refreshments in Haast, then continue down the Haast Pass with its array of short walks to Roaring Billy Falls, Thunder Creek Falls, Fantail Falls, Haast Pass Lookout and the Blue Pools of Haast. The latter is a one-hour return walk to a vibrant blue river with a swingbridge crossing.
At the end of Haast Pass is the tiny settlement of Makarora which makes a good stopover before your journey to Queenstown tomorrow. It has budget accommodation with million-dollar scenery!
For more things to do around the Haast area, check out the list below or the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Haast.
Budget Accommodation in Makarora
For more details on each accommodation, as well as alternative accommodation in Haast town, check out the 5 Best Budget Accommodations in Haast.
Day 22 – Makarora to Queenstown
Travel time: 1 h 50 mins
Enjoy views of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka as you make your way to Queenstown, stopping by Wanaka to take a photo of #ThatWanakaTree. You can check out more things to do in the town in our 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.
We then recommend a scenic drive through the Crown Range, where highlights include the Cardrona Bra Fence (yes, really) and horse riding with The Cardrona. If you fancy stretching your legs, the Rock Peak Track offers excellent views.
Once you get to Queenstown, you can easily get carried away with jet boat rides, skydiving, bungy jumps, ziplining, white water rafting, canyon swinging and other adventures in the “Adrenaline Capital of New Zealand”. Be choosy to stick to your budget and plan ahead using our 20 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.
There’s plenty of budget accommodation but still, book early for a spot at this busy tourist destination.
Budget Accommodation in Queenstown
- Absoloot Hostel QT
- Adventure Queenstown Hostel
- Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Melbourne Lodge
- Driftaway Queenstown
Day 23 – Explore Queenstown
Time to start checking things off your Queenstown bucket list, of which we have many suggestions in the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.
If you’re on a tight budget, however, you can still have a blast between the walking trails, gardens and eateries. Check out a full list of recommendations to help you stick to your budget in the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown
- Hike up Queenstown Hill
- Play disc golf in the Queenstown Gardens
- Enjoy an affordable cruise with Southern Discoveries (more info on Viator and Klook)
- Scout out the Queenstown cheap eats
- Go ice skating at the Queenstown Ice Arena.
For more information on each activity and more ideas, check out 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.
Day 24 – Explore Queenstown or Milford Sound
Because you have done A LOT of driving at this point, you might want to take a bus tour to Milford Sound with a cruise in the fiord included. Bus tours include plenty of stops at short walks and cafes along the way, so you won’t miss out too much compared to driving yourself. Check out recommended tours in the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau.
Day 25 – Queenstown to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Travel time: 3 h 10 mins
Make a day out of this journey to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. On our way out of Queenstown, check out the historic Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge and give bungy jumping a go. You’ll then continue along the Gibbston Valley known for its wineries and the Goldfields Mining Centre with the Goldfields Jet.
In Omarama, take a 30-minute detour to the Clay Cliffs for its otherworldly formations of pinnacles and narrow ravines. After, Twizel offers plenty of cafes, the Twizel River Trail and your last convenience store stop before Aoraki Mt Cook.
It’s a super scenic journey alongside the vibrant blue waters of Lake Pukaki on your way to Aoraki Mt Cook Village where you’ll find the following budget accommodation.
Budget Accommodation in Aoraki Mt Cook
- Mt Cook Lodge & Motel
- Glentanner Park Centre
- Twizel Holiday Park
- High Country Lodge, Motels & Backpackers
For more details on each accommodation, check out the 5 Best Budget Accommodations in Mt Cook.
Day 26 – Explore Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Hikes, hikes and more hikes: they are the best ways to soak in the scenery of New Zealand’s highest mountains and longest glacier without spending a dime. Check out our top recommended walks in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook. If you have the budget, however, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park is another excellent place for glacier heli-hiking, scenic flights, glacier lake tours and more – check out these paid activities in the 15 Best Things to Do in Mt Cook.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook
- Hike the Hooker Valley Track
- Visit the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre
- Check out the views from the Red Tarns Track
- Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
- Do some stargazing!
For more details, hikes and experiences, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook.
Day 27 – Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to Christchurch
Travel time: 4 hours
While this is the longest drive on our itinerary so far, there are plenty of reasons to break up the trip. After one hour into your journey, you’ll reach Lake Tekapo with its scenic lookout from the Church of the Good Shepherd and soothing hot pools complex.
After driving over Burkes Pass, you’ll reach Fairlie where it’s mandatory to get a pie from the Fairlie Bakehouse. The next significant town is Geraldine, known for its canyoning, whitewater rafting and alpaca farm tours – check out more in the 10 Excellent Things to Do in Geraldine.
Cruise on through the Canterbury Plains with farmland as far as the eye can see until you reach Ashburton, giving you another excuse to get refreshments and perhaps explore the Ashburton Domain. Take a photo of the giant fish sculpture in Rakaia before making the final stint to Christchurch.
Check in and relax at your Christchurch accommodation.
Budget Accommodation in Christchurch
- The Bealey Quarter
- Southwark Hotel & Apartments
- BreakFree on Cashel
- Tasman Holiday Parks – Christchurch
- Hotel Give
Day 28 – Explore Christchurch
Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city, also known as the “Garden City” so it would almost be a crime to not visit its gorgeous outdoor displays such as the Botanic Gardens or Mona Vale. Check out the 10 Beautiful Gardens & Parks in Christchurch for more information.
Learn more about the city and how it dealt with the 2010/11 earthquakes at Quake City or the free-entry Canterbury Museum. For those who want to explore a little further, Sumner and New Brighton Beaches are popular go-to’s, while taking the ferry to Quail Island from Lyttelton offers some unusual surprises.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Christchurch
- Explore the Botanic Gardens
- Visit the Canterbury Museum
- Check out Sumner or New Brighton Beach
- Take the ferry to Quail Island
- See the warplanes at the Air Force Museum.
For more inspiration, check out the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Christchurch.
Day 29 – Christchurch to Akaroa
Travel time: 1 h 20 mins
Akaroa is certainly not a bad place to spend your last couple of days in New Zealand. Tucked away in the harbour of the Banks Peninsula, Akaroa offers penguin tours, dolphin swimming, scenic sailing trips and, of course, walks. Treat yourself to any of the 15 Best Things to Do in Akaroa or stick to your budget by doing the free and affordable stuff.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Akaroa
- Check out the Akaroa Lighthouse
- Visit the Akaroa Museum
- Hike the hilltops, bush and beach in the Hinewai Reserve
- Hire a kayak to paddle in the Akaroa Harbour
- Discover the whimsical gardens of The Giant’s House.
For more details on each activity and more, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Akaroa.
Budget Accommodation in Akaroa
Check out the 8 Best Budget Accommodations in Akaroa for more information on these accommodations and more.
Day 30 – Akaroa to Christchurch Airport
Travel time: 1 h 30 mins
After one month in New Zealand, it’s time to wrap up this adventure with any of the activities you might have missed in Akaroa and Christchurch before heading to the airport.
Remember to give yourself plenty of time to return your rental vehicle. There are connecting flights between Christchurch and Auckland if you are flying out of Auckland, otherwise, many international flights leave from Christchurch.
More About a New Zealand Budget Itinerary for One Month
That’s it for our New Zealand budget and backpacking itinerary for 30 days. If that wasn’t the itinerary you were looking for, check out these alternative 30-day itineraries:
- New Zealand in a Month: Road Trip Itinerary
- New Zealand Family Itinerary: One Month
- New Zealand Honeymoon & Romance Itinerary: One Month
- New Zealand Food Itinerary: One Month
- New Zealand Luxury Itinerary: One Month
- How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
Finally, get advice on planning more of your backpacking or budget trip to New Zealand with The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget and NZ Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to New Zealand Cost?