How to Plan a Budget Trip to New Zealand
New Zealand: it’s a country of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, renowned for its diverse natural landscapes that too few places have preserved. The convenience of such sublime scenery is that you can’t put a price on it. That’s what makes travelling New Zealand so ideal for a budget getaway (after airfares, of course, because, yes, New Zealand is pretty isolated). Many of the country’s natural wonders are free to visit. All you need to do is plan a budget trip to New Zealand using affordable transport, accommodation, food and other nifty tips that we give in this travel guide to New Zealand on a budget.
About New Zealand
Location: New Zealand is a country in the Oceania continent. It’s located in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1,500km (930 miles) east of Australia and around 1,000km (620 miles) south of the South Pacific Islands. See Where is New Zealand? for more information.
Climate: New Zealand has a diverse climate determined by the ocean, mountains and prevailing winds. The mean average temperatures are 10°C (50°F) in the South Island to 16°C (61°F) in the North Island. See The Guide to The New Zealand Climate or check out the “Best Time to Visit” section below.
Time zone: UTC/GMT+12
Population: 5 million. Learn more about New Zealand’s population here.
Languages: English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language. Learn more about the New Zealand language in our guide.
Size: 268,021km2 (103483 mi2) in total. It is approximately 1,600km (990mi) long and around 400km (250mi) at its widest point.
How to Get to New Zealand on a Budget
Most travellers on a budget get to New Zealand via the skies. Direct flights to New Zealand can be found in the US, Canada, South America, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific Islands. Coming further afield from destinations such as in Europe and you’ll need to catch at least one connecting flight.
See our complete guide on how to get to New Zealand. Otherwise, here’s a quick rundown.
Flight Times to New Zealand
Argentina – 12h30min, Brazil – 15h30min, Canada – 16h30min, China – 13h30min, Denmark – 22h, Finland – 20h, France – 23h30min, Germany – 22h30min, Hong Kong – 11h, Israel – 32h, Italy – 22h30min, Japan – 11h, Korea – 12h, Malaysia – 11h, Netherlands – 22h30min, Philippines – 10h30min, Singapore – 10h30min, Sweden – 21h, Taiwan – 11h, United Kingdom – 22h30min, USA – 12h, Vietnam – 12h30min
The Cheapest Times to Fly to New Zealand
Airfares depend on different factors: what time of year you choose to fly, how long in advance you book, where you’re flying from, what type of ticket you get, and the route you take to get to New Zealand. While specific money-saving airfare tips are virtually impossible in the ever-changing climate, we have a few general tips to keep in mind.
The cheapest time to fly to New Zealand is during New Zealand’s spring, winter and autumn months (between July and November). Summer and particularly around Christmas is the most expensive time to fly to New Zealand.
It is also usually cheaper to fly at “inconvenient times” of the day such as late at night or during the early hours of the morning, as well as mid-week rather than on weekends. Having a flexible travel plan allows you to choose the cheapest flights. Check out How to Book a Cheap Flight to New Zealand for more advice.
A Note on Customs Declarations
New Zealand has strict biosecurity measures at the border to stop unwanted pests and diseases from entering the country. With that, anyone arriving in New Zealand is asked to declare any “risk items” they have in their luggage. This includes common items like food and sports gear. Failing to declare such items can incur an instant NZ$400 fine – not a good way to start a budget holiday! Be sure to read up on Everything You Need to Know About Arriving in a New Zealand Airport so that you are prepared.
When to Visit New Zealand
With the notion that New Zealand has “four seasons in a day”, i.e. the weather is very changeable even in summer, we do not recommend planning your trip too much around the weather. Nevertheless, here is what you can typically expect in each season:
Summer is the warmest time of year reaching highs of 25ºC (77ºF). Expect finer days than during the rest of the year.
Autumn has milder temperatures anywhere between 6ºC (43ºF) and 20ºC (68ºF). Weather patterns start to become more interchangeable with a few more rainy days than summer.
Temperatures can be anywhere between -3ºC (27ºF) and 15ºC (59ºF) depending on which parts of the country you are in. Snow falls in alpine regions and rainfall is more frequent.
Temperatures rise again during this shoulder season, where lows are 2ºC (36ºF) and highs are 17ºC (63ºF). Expect a balance of fine and rainy days.
For more information on the climate, check out What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
The Best Time to Visit New Zealand on a Budget
When choosing a time to visit New Zealand when it’s the cheapest, avoid visiting in summer (December to February). This is the most popular time to visit. With that, flights, tours and rentals tend to be more expensive.
Visiting in any of the shoulder seasons, i.e. from March to May and from September to November, brings warmer weather than winter along with more affordable travel deals.
For more tips from this travel guide to New Zealand on a budget, head to When is the Best Time to Go Backpacking in New Zealand?
What to Pack for New Zealand
Just a large backpack or suitcase with a day pack is all you need for New Zealand – there’s no need to go too crazy. New Zealand has plenty of shops and services should you need anything while you’re travelling.
A Quick Packing List
The key to packing lightly for New Zealand is versatile outfits. New Zealand tends to lean more toward the casual style, rather than fashion. Some handy items to remember include:
- Leggings/sweatpants/hiking pants
- Shorts (for warmer days)
- Hiking shoes
- Thermal underlayer (top and/or bottoms)
- Waterproof and windproof jacket
- Woollen socks
- A warm jacket (winter/spring/autumn)
- A selection of light tops
- Toiletries including a mini first aid kit, sunscreen and insect repellent
- New Zealand travel adapter
- Electronic device chargers (extra batteries are a good idea)
- If you plan on camping, pack a lightweight tent and sleeping mat, and/or staying in huts, a 4-season sleeping bag and a torch/flashlight.
Get the full list in the New Zealand Packing List: What to Pack for New Zealand.
New Zealand Visas
A tourist/visitor visa for New Zealand activates automatically upon entry to New Zealand for most countries, usually allowing visitors to stay for up to three months. Visitors also need to pay for an NZeTA and IVL before arrival in New Zealand. Other popular visa options to stay in New Zealand longer are the Working Holiday Visa and Student Visas.
Travel Insurance for New Zealand
Although the ACC in New Zealand partly covers accidental injury medical bills, many travellers opt for travel insurance for extra peace of mind. Our recommended insurance for budget travellers is Orbit Protect, which is based in New Zealand. Find out more in our article, Medical and Travel Insurance for New Zealand.
Your passport is obviously coming to New Zealand with you. For driving, bring your driving license – if your driving license is not written in English then it will need to be accompanied by an International Driving Permit. Note that there are only three valid forms of ID to buy alcohol in New Zealand, so consider getting a Hospitality New Zealand 18+ Card if you are staying in New Zealand for a while.
New Zealand Currency
The currency in New Zealand is New Zealand Dollars (NZD). There are plenty of ATMs in towns and cities where you’ll be able to withdraw cash. Credit cards are also widely accepted, however, there is a small fee with each credit card overseas transaction. If you are staying in New Zealand for a few months, you will save a lot of money by opening a New Zealand bank account.
Get more tips on how to save money on withdrawing cash and paying with card (locally known as paying with “EFTPOS“) in our article, The Best Way to Pay in New Zealand.
How Long Should a Trip to New Zealand Be
Unlike many destinations, New Zealand’s attractions are spread out across the country. Therefore, you will want to travel around, which takes time. In addition, spending as little amount of time in New Zealand as possible can seem like the obvious way to spend less, but an extended trip on a working holiday visa, for instance, allows you to save money by working for accommodation or getting a job.
Whether you’re seeking a short budget trip or a gap year, our tips for different time frames in New Zealand below should help.
1-2 Weeks in New Zealand
Within this time, you should explore just one of the main islands. Take a look at the itineraries: North Island Budget Itinerary: One Week, South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week, North Island Budget Itinerary: Two Weeks and South Island Budget Itinerary: Two Weeks.
3-4 Weeks in New Zealand
There are a number of bus tours that allow you to see both islands in this timeframe or you can rent a vehicle. Get an idea of what you will have time to see in our New Zealand Budget Itinerary: Three Weeks.
Just Over a Month
2 Months – One Year
Now you have the option to travel by bus or buy your own car to see a great deal of the country. Check out our 30 Tips for Backpacking in New Zealand for advice on an extended trip to New Zealand on a budget.
Budget Transport Around New Zealand
There’s no right or wrong way to get around New Zealand. It depends on your personal style, budget and what experience you want to get out of it. Here are your most wallet-friendly options:
This is the cheapest way of getting from A to B. InterCity forms the most extensive public transport network in the country. Find out more about planning a trip by bus in our guide to the InterCity bus passes.
Hop-On Hop-Off Buses
These are flexible bus tours on a set route with the option to hop-off at any point for as long as you wish. Activities and accommodation are optional and pay-as-you-go. Learn more in our New Zealand hop-on hop-off bus guide.
Rent a Car
Renting a car provides freedom for independent travel. There are budget car rentals available, with some listed in The Best Car Rental Companies in New Zealand. Plus, see money-saving tips in the 21 Ways To Save Money on Car Rental in New Zealand.
Rent a Campervan
Make your vehicle your accommodation by renting a campervan. However, with camping restrictions and the need to recharge some vehicles, there are extra costs to take into consideration. See Travel by Campervan in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide for more advice. Plus, choose from the cheapest rental companies in The Best Budget Campervan Rentals in New Zealand.
Buy Your Own Vehicle
Secondhand cars and campervans are easy to buy and sell in New Zealand, working out to be very cost-effective if you plan to stay in New Zealand for a while. Check out Should You Rent or Buy a Vehicle to Travel New Zealand? to see if it’s right for you.
These are structured tours around New Zealand often with some food and accommodation included. It’s a stress-free way to travel the country with other people. While not the cheapest, they can offer good value for money. Get started with your research using The Best National Bus Tours in New Zealand.
While not as popular as other countries, domestic flights in New Zealand are only a good idea for travelling long distances or between the North and South islands.
There are ferry services in New Zealand to get between the mainland and off-shore islands, as well as between the North and South islands. Find out more in our guide to The Ferry Between the North Island and South Island.
Still don’t know where to start? Start with What is the Best Way to Get Around New Zealand?
Where to Go in New Zealand
New Zealand has a vast number of destinations across the North Island, South Island and other off-shore islands. You’ll find each of the below destinations linked to our budget travel guides so you can plan further.
- Bay of Islands Budget Travel Guide – islands and beaches
- Auckland Budget Travel Guide – volcanoes and city life
- Rotorua Budget Travel Guide – geothermal activity and Maori culture
- Ohakune (Tongariro) Budget Travel Guide – volcanic landscapes
- Taranaki Budget Travel Guide – volcanoes and surf
- Wellington Budget Travel Guide – capital city vibes
- Picton Budget Travel Guide – water activities
- Nelson/Abel Tasman Budget Travel Guide – beaches and forest
- Kaikoura Budget Travel Guide – marine wildlife
- Franz Josef Glacier Budget Travel Guide – glaciers
- Queenstown Budget Travel Guide – adrenaline activities
- Aoraki Mt Cook Budget Travel Guide – mountains
- Stewart Island Budget Travel Guide – remote wilderness and wildlife.
Things to Do in New Zealand
Spoiled, you are! Spoiled! New Zealand has so much to do that we could barely fit it all in our 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.
Budget Activities in New Zealand
Sticking to a budget is easy thanks to the overwhelming array of free activities. Just check out the 50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand for an idea. In short, New Zealand’s free and budget activities include hikes/short walks to natural attractions, wildlife viewing, free hot pools, museums, art galleries, gardens, markets, glowworm caves, geothermal parks and more.
For those willing to spend a little, affordable attractions include New Zealand’s bird sanctuaries, brewery tours, wine tastings, mountain biking, kayaking, farm tours and much more. See the 50 Activities Under $50 in New Zealand for inspiration.
And don’t forget to browse our New Zealand Activities category listing everything Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) has to offer.
Budget Accommodation in New Zealand
New Zealand offers many forms of budget accommodation across the country. Stay in cheap accommodation, preferably with self-catering facilities, so you can save money on food. It’s the easiest way to keep the costs down.
Stay in shared dorms or private rooms where you’ll share facilities, such as a kitchen, laundry and bathrooms with other guests. See What is a Hostel? A Beginner’s Guide to Backpacker Hostels to get an idea of how New Zealand does hostels. Plus, Check out listings for every town in New Zealand in our New Zealand Hostel category.
Stay in motel units, private cabins, backpacker dorm cabins, tent sites or powered sites for campervans at this popular type of New Zealand accommodation. Get tips in our Accommodation Guide to Holiday Parks in New Zealand and check out listings in our New Zealand Holiday Parks category.
Budget Hotels and Motels
Stay with a local in a spare room listed on booking websites like Booking.com, Expedia and Airbnb. See our guide on Everything You Need to Know About Airbnb in New Zealand, as well as listings in our New Zealand Homestays category.
Other Cheap Accommodation Ideas
Do you seriously need more information than that?! Head over to our New Zealand Accommodation category and browse until your heart is content.
Food Shopping and Eating Out
New Zealand mostly has Westernised food, including fried food like fish and chips, burgers and pizzas. You can, however, find much more culturally diverse food, especially in larger towns and cities.
Eating Out for Travellers on a Budget
Eating out is notoriously expensive in New Zealand, typically costing between NZ$20-$30 per person for a main- and that’s without a drink! Be choosy when you eat out, perhaps by following our New Zealand Foodie Guides for each town and city across New Zealand. However, we also list some cheap eats in all of our travel guides to New Zealand on a budget.
Self-Catering in New Zealand
Many accommodations have cooking facilities, so there’s no excuse to not enjoy a self-catering holiday in New Zealand. Buying groceries is much cheaper than eating out, so it’s highly recommended for budget travellers.
Typical food prices in supermarkets are as follows:
- 1 litre (35fl oz) of milk: NZ$2.40
- A dozen eggs: NZ$5.40
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of rice: NZ$2
- 500g (1.1lbs) pasta: NZ$1.20
- A loaf of sliced bread: NZ$1.20
- 1kg (2.2lbs) cheese: NZ$11
- 100g (3.5oz) dry freeze coffee: NZ$7
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of apples: NZ$5
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of bananas: NZ$3
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of tomatoes: NZ$10
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of onions: NZ$2
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of chicken: NZ$13
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of beef mince: NZ$13.
So, What is the Budget for a Trip to New Zealand?
Even in the category of “budget travellers”, we all travel and live very differently making a precise budget for our millions of readers an impossible task! Nevertheless, you can work out your own needs, thus budget, by simply looking at the typical prices listed below and in our article, What is the Cost of Backpacking in New Zealand?
- Hop-on hop-off bus national pass/ year: NZ$1,000-NZ$2,000
- National coach bus/ 4-hour trip: NZ$30-$80
- Secondhand car (15+ years old): NZ$2,000-$5,000
- Car hire/ day: NZ$30-$150
- Used 2-person campervan (15+ years old): NZ$3,500-$15,000
- 2-person campervan hire/ day: NZ$60-$260
- Petrol/ litre (0.3 gallons): NZ$1.90-$2.20
- Domestic flights/ one way: NZ$50-$240
- Train/ one way: NZ$100-$260
- Hostel dorm bed/ night: NZ$27-$35
- Hostel or holiday park double room with shared bathroom/ night: NZ$80-$90
- Hostel, motel or holiday park ensuite double room/ night: NZ$90-$120
- Campervan powered site/ two people per night: NZ$22-$40
- Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite/ person per night: NZ$15
- Motel self-contained unit/ two people per night: NZ$140
- Hotel double room/ night: NZ$160
- Hiking trails: Free
- Skydive from 15,000ft: NZ$339-$439
- Bungy Jump: NZ$150-$290
- White Water Rafting: NZ$100-$140
- Jetboat: NZ$80-$130
- Dolphin swimming: NZ$110-$160
- Whale watching: NZ$120-$160
- Glacier Hiking: NZ$390-$470
- Cruise in Milford Sound: NZ$60-$100
- Rotorua geothermal park: NZ$30-$70
- Horse Trekking: NZ$50-$150
- Canyoning: NZ$150-$300
- Hobbiton: NZ$80-$100
- Glowworm caving: NZ$125-$280
- Great Walk hut/night: NZ$32-$110