In the near 30 years of living in New Zealand I’ve travelled in all styles from camping, to renting a bach (beach house), to sleeping in cars, to upmarket hotels, to renting apartments. I’ve flown, taken public buses and driven my own car to see the best that New Zealand has to offer. But how much can it cost to travel around New Zealand?
Currency and Peak Seasons
Here, I’ve written six budgets to match any kind of traveller and all prices are in New Zealand dollars. At time of writing NZ$1 = US$0.69/GBP£0.56. Know that I costed these budgets out during a shoulder season (spring Sep, Oct, Nov/autumn Mar, Apr, May). If you’re travelling during the summer (Dec, Jan, Feb) add on 25%, and subtract 25% of the cost for travel in the winter (Jun, Jul, Aug).
If you shop around for flights, you can score a return flight from London for around $1100, from Los Angeles for $1300, or under $2000 for many major airports around the world. Get the best prices by booking 2-3 months in advance. New Zealand has really poor budget domestic airline options, with only Air NZ and Jetstar to choose from and overpriced flights between all cities except for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. A one-way ferry with Interislander (between the North and South Islands) costs $50 for one person, or $177 including a vehicle.
I also haven’t included any activities in this budget as some can be very expensive and if you’re on a limited budget you may want to pick just the tours you’d enjoy the most.
Popular activities are: a tour of Hobbiton $79, kayaking in Abel Tasman $135, skydive in Queenstown $300 minimum, whale watching in Kaikoura $150, Waitomo glow-worm caves $50, Wai-o-tapu geothermal pools $32, among many others.
1 – The bare-bones budget: hitchhike and couch surf
Transport by hitchhiking: $0 but you’ll need to look presentable, be good natured enough to endure possibly a long wait in rough weather. Carry cardboard and a marker (write big and bold!) New Zealand is a safe country to travel in - I haven’t hitchhiked personally, but have picked them up on occasion.
Sleep by couchsurfing: $0 – although there is a verification cost of $25, this isn’t a necessary payment, but having it helps to find hosts.
Cook your own meals: A loaf of bread costs as little as a $1 for basic brown or white bread, a jar of peanut butter $3.40, tap water is fine to drink, a kilo of apples (as much as) $3.00 - buy your fruit and veggies from roadside stalls across the North Island for the freshest and often best prices. If you’re going for a shoestring food budget, you’ll be skimping on the meat I’m afraid – for a country that produces ten times the food we consume, we sure do pump up those prices. You can always fish for your own shellfish, or opt for the classic kiwi meat pie at $1.80 Probably looking at around $10 a day with a little discipline.
Total: Between $10 and $20 per day.
Pros: Spend your trip getting to know kiwis through couch surfing and hitchhiking, learning locals only knowledge of little known beaches, parks and hiking routes.
Cons: You’ll be a slave to your budget and you may have to give certain experiences a miss or wait a while to hitch a ride.
2 - The flash packer budget: bus and hostels, one cheap meal out a day
Transport by bus: Intercity buses are New Zealand’s biggest bus network and they have a flexi bus pass option that includes the Interislander ferry between the North and South Island. You buy your tickets by the hour and can top up your pass at any time. For a four week trip around NZ, you’re probably looking at buying 50 hours for $389 ($13 per day).
Sleep in a dorm: Around the country, hostels are usually around the $28 a night mark. If you’re backpacking NZ for 3-4 weeks it would be worth signing up for a $25 YHA hostel membership (NZ’s biggest chain hostel) for discounted accommodation and tours.
Eat one meal out a day: What’s the point of visiting a far flung country like New Zealand if you’re not going to experience a kiwi brunch ($16) or local burger joint ($19). Food budget looking at $30 per day.
Total: $70 per day
Pros: An easy way to travel; meet other travellers in hostels, but still retain the independence to go when and where you like.
Cons: Difficult to get off the beaten path.
3 – The eco-travellers budget: camping and public transport
Transport by bus: See flashpacker budget above, or hitchhike like barebones budget
Sleep in a tent: A non-powered campsite costs about $40 around the country, but can rise to $80 per night in the peak season (Dec, Jan, Feb). There are some great freedom camping spots around the country which are mostly listed here. Use common sense when camping, leave the grounds how you arrived.
Cook own meals: see barebones budget above
Total: $65 per day for one person. $43 per day each for two people
Pros: See more of New Zealand’s bush and landscape than any other budget
Cons: You may start to miss a comfortable bed and hot shower. You’ll know if this budget is right for you.
4 - The independent budget: rent a Jucy Campervan and cook own meals
Transport by driving: a two-person sleeper van costs $110 per day and gas is about $1.70 a litre at the moment. It would cost about $80 to drive from Auckland to Wellington without detours.
Sleep in the car: $0. New Zealand has freedom camping laws which means that you can park your car up overnight and sleep anywhere that there isn’t a local council bylaw (a sign saying no overnight camping) or common sense places like outside of a school or in a city centre. Although, if you have a campervan, you might want to recharge the battery (depending on your power use/refrigerator etc.) every couple of days by staying at a powered campground at $50 per night.
Cook your own meals: $10 per day – see barebones budget above
Total: $150 per day if travelling solo, $80 per day each for two people (extra weight = extra gas)
Pros: Go where you want, when you want.
Cons: Not an environmentally friendly option. Difficult to meet other travellers.
5 – The peace of mind budget: an organised tour
An all-inclusive country wide 19 day Contiki tour costs $3899 (at time of publishing)
Total: $205 per day
NB: Also includes many of the usual activities and must dos around the country that would otherwise need to be factored into the above budgets, like a traditional Maori hangi or viewing Auckland city from the sky tower.
Pros: Easiest way to see New Zealand. Great for young and inexperienced travellers.
Cons: These tours sometimes herd you from one destination to the next in a very short amount of time, often with one day spent in each location. Need to be under 35 years old to join the tour.
6 – The only the best budget: hotels, flights and cruises
The sky’s the limit on a budget like this.
A 10-night kiwi explorer cruise costs $1200pp quad with P&O cruises
Go glamping (glamorous camping) in the Coromandel for $350 per night.
Stay the luxury suite of New Zealand’s top rated (Trip Advisor) hotel – The Waipoua Lodge for $585 per night.
New Zealand’s largest cities all boast world class restaurants and you could fly between locations with Air New Zealand – often in the top 10 of the world’s best airlines.
Pros: Experience the very best of the luxurious side of NZ
Cons: Are there any? A dent in the wallet perhaps?
Make your own budget
Feel free to mix and match these budgets a bit. Maybe you want to bus around the North Island but then rent a car in the South Island. Maybe you want to finish your last few days in New Zealand in style, living in the lap of luxury. Or start your trip with a weeklong organised tour before finding your feet and doing the rest independently. The country’s your bluff oyster!
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