Cheap travel in New Zealand? Yes, it’s possible!

New Zealand is often perceived as an expensive destination for travellers, even though our dollar is weaker than the world’s major currencies. In a way, this is true. The words ‘cheap travel’ and ‘New Zealand’ aren’t often in the same sentence.

A small market (only 4.5 million people here, folks!) results in a high cost of living, not to mention the fact we are on an island in the middle of the ocean, hence it costs a bit for things to get here.

However, travel in New Zealand doesn’t have to cost exorbitant amounts of money – you just have to do your homework.

cheap travel in new zealand


Cheap travel in New Zealand

This post considers some of the most expensive aspects of travel in New Zealand and suggests how you can save money. We’ve personally travelled throughout much of New Zealand, most of it via plane, rental car, or our own vehicle. We’re always on the lookout for deals and jump on sales that come up! Hopefully you can take some of these tips to make your next trip to New Zealand a bit less painful for your wallet.

Transport

It’s pretty easy to get around New Zealand. From flights to bus travel to rental cars and the occasional train, it’s not too hard to navigate – NZ is a small country, after all!

Flights

New Zealand has a good flight network and two carriers that both offer relatively good fares. However, you can be stung if flying to a less-common destination or booking last minute.

Auckland from the air

Grabaseat is a website run by Air New Zealand, which features low-price airfares for (generally) flights within the next month or so. They sometimes have $1 flight deals (these get snapped up very quickly!) and the deals change each day. You have to act quickly to get the cheap flights that you want – we’d recommend signing up to Grabaseat’s email list to be notified which routes are on sale each day.

Air New Zealand‘s website also has frequent domestic sales, with dates further out than those on Grabaseat. Sign up to their email list to be notified about their sales.

Jetstar has a frequent sales on domestic routes. You can get some cheap deals on their flights for dates further away than those on Grabaseat. Note that Jetstar only flies to the main hubs (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown, but they have just announced expansion of their routes into some smaller towns – so watch this space for more deals and competition with Air New Zealand).

Buses

Naked Bus have the cheapest deals for bus travel in New Zealand. They offer $1 fares if you book far enough in advance, and it’s still pretty cheap if you book last minute. I took a bus from Auckland to Paihia (Bay of Islands) last summer, and it cost me $14 when I booked just 3 days in advance. Not too bad for a 4 hour trip!

Buses in NZ (the ones we’ve travelled on, anyway) are comfortable and clean. If you’re not in a major rush to get anywhere, they’re definitely the cheapest and most convenient mode of transport!

Te Arai Point

Car & campervan relocations

Because travellers often arrive in Auckland, pick up a rental car and drop it off in Christchurch or Queenstown, there are always rental companies needing their vehicles relocated back to Auckland or between other major cities (usually Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Queenstown).

If you’re travelling south to north, you can pick up a car or a campervan for a steal – often as little as $1 per day, plus gas and insurance. If you’re crossing Cook Strait, most of the rental companies will provide you with a free ferry ticket for the car and driver. The only catch is that there is a time limit – usually 3-5 days to get from Christchurch to Auckland, as well as a distance limit – so unfortunately not much opportunity for taking the longer scenic route!

We haven’t done a car or campervan relocation, but you can find them on these websites: Rental Car Relocation and Transfer Car.

hawkes bay campervan

Rental cars

Rental cars can be pretty cheap in New Zealand. Companies like Jucy and Go Rentals offer cars for around $20/day plus insurance. It’s well worth getting a rental car if you’re travelling with mates or family, as you can split the cost and also take your own route rather than that of a bus.

Gas is pricey though – as at June 2015, Unleaded 91 cost about $2.12 a litre. It definitely adds up over the course of a road trip, so consider asking for a diesel car or a small, economical vehicle. Those little cars (like a Daihatsu Sirion or equivalent) will be fine on most roads in New Zealand, except for if it’s snowy!

Cape Reinga New Zealand

Hitch-hiking

Hmm, this is a difficult one to recommend. We see travellers hitch-hiking all the time, and many of them swear by it and have great experiences of meeting kiwis and visiting destinations that they otherwise wouldn’t have. While it’s the ultimate cheap way to travel (it’s free!) it also comes with risks – you are getting into someone else’s private car, after all. There have been horror stories in the media (I’m not going to go into detail, but you can imagine) so hitch-hiking is definitely something to do at your own risk.

Accommodation

There are many accommodation options in New Zealand.

Private house rental websites are common. Airbnb is really taking off, with lots of hosts offering amazing properties all over the place (to get $25 off your first Airbnb stay, click here). Bookabach is another website that is similar to Airbnb, in that you can rent out people’s holiday homes. I think there is a greater range of houses listed on Bookabach than Airbnb at the moment.

Motels (usually with a kitchenette) are common in all towns across the country, which is handy because you can save money by cooking your own food. Hostels are found in most places too, although these may be hard to find if you venture too far off the tourist trail.

cheap travel in New Zealand

We recommend camping, especially in the summer months. The Department of Conservation manages a huge number of campsites around the country, often in wilderness areas beside beaches, rivers, lakes, or in the middle of forests. Charging a pittance of $10 per person a night, these campsites are well worth packing your tent for! You will need your own form of transport to get to most of these sites though as they can be quite isolated.

You can find holiday parks (privately owned campsites) in most major towns. These are more expensive than DOC sites, charging upwards of $30 for a tent site per night, and more if you want power. We were actually quite shocked when Shaun went camping last summer and found that some holiday parks north of Auckland were trying to charge over $90 for a tent site (no power)!!! Seriously, that’s friggin’ ridiculous.

Above all, we recommend travelling by campervan in New Zealand. We owned our own campervan called Bessie a few years ago, and we have done numerous road trips around the country. Having a campervan kills two birds with one stone – it covers both your vehicle and accommodation. Yes, if you’re not self-contained (without a toilet or wastewater tanks) you will have to check into a campsite each night, but it still gives you the freedom to go pretty much wherever you want to go.

Some companies offer pretty cheap (but basic) vans, with Jucy being the largest company. Friends of ours have rented Jucy vans and said they were good!

Food

Food in New Zealand can get rather expensive. Compared to places like the US, you’ll get a lot less for your dollar in New Zealand. However, all is not lost! By cooking your own meals at a motel, hostel, while camping or in a campervan, you can save heaps of dosh.

Supermarkets have the cheapest food – Pak ‘n Save is the cheapest of the mainstream supermarkets and New World is the most expensive (with Countdown somewhere in the middle). Supermarkets in small towns tend to be more expensive than those in cities, but in cities it varies by suburb with the more affluent areas being more expensive than less affluent areas.

For example for Auckland, the supermarkets in the central city and surrounding suburbs are much more expensive than those in South Auckland! Convenience stores, such as dairies, gas stations, or Four Squares, are more expensive than supermarkets.

If you don’t want to cook, you can pretty easily find cheap meals – pubs are known for serving large meals, and it’s easy to find takeaway sandwiches, sushi, pizza, and the like in cities. Generally, takeaway food is cheaper than eating in a restaurant (although some takeaway establishments, especially in affluent areas, charge crazy amounts – $20 for a Pad Thai in a plastic container?!).

food wine hawkes bay

It’s easier to find lunch specials than dinner specials at restaurants, so it might be worth re-considering what meal is your biggest of the day – perhaps have a big lunch and just a snack for dinner.

Activities

Doing things in New Zealand can be really expensive. Day trips with a tour company can be upwards of a few hundred dollars per person, depending on where you’re going.

Unfortunately, you miss out on much of New Zealand’s amazing natural landscapes if you don’t do these tours, as often they’re on boats or access places that you can’t get to by road (e.g. Milford Sound and the Bay of Islands). So it’s important not to miss out!

Whitewater rafting in New Zealand

[Credit: Rafting New Zealand]

There are numerous ‘daily deal’ websites that often have experiences on sale. The biggest/most popular ones with travel deals are Grabone and Book Me. Sites like Grabone also have meal deals at certain restaurants in main cities.

Sometimes you can get deals for activities when you rent a car or stay at a hostel, or similar. For example, Jucy offers free skiing at Treble Cone ski field near Wanaka when you rent their cars.

So there you have it. Travel in New Zealand doesn’t have to be expensive, does it? There are plenty of ways to keep the costs down and to really enjoy our beautiful country.

Can you recommend more ways to save money while travelling in New Zealand, or in any other country? Share them in the comments section below!

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