How to Travel New Zealand on a Budget

spellbound travels new zealand on a budget

You may have heard that New Zealand is notorious for how expensive it can be – especially when it comes to travel. It’s not exactly the most backpacker friendly destination, which can be difficult if you’re on a budget. After spending five weeks backpacking through the country, I’ve broken down the costs and worked out how you too, can travel to New Zealand on a budget!

Accommodation

Finding a place to stay in New Zealand is definitely the most costly aspect when travelling there. I stayed in hostels each night which ranged from $28-36 NZD per night for the first four weeks. That averaged out to being approximately $900 NZD, taking up a huge sum of my budget. Luckily I had made a friend from Auckland when I was living in Melbourne. She was nice enough to let me stay at her place and take me camping for the last week I was in the country. That really helped cut down on the cost of accommodation.

If you’re looking to cut back on costs when it comes to accommodation in NZ (which I’d highly recommend), here are a few resources that may be of use to you!

  • Workaway – Most places provide you with free food & accommodation (score!) for working a few hours at their hostel, help them set up a website, teach yoga at their resort, etc.
  • CouchSurfing – Similar to HostelWorld and AirBnb, only you can stay with people for free! Be careful with this site though, as you never know who’s offering up their couch to you and I haven’t personally used CouchSurfing before.
  • WWOFFing – While I haven’t WWOFF’d before, I know many who have done it in New Zealand and really enjoyed working in a rural area and getting to know locals, all while enjoying free accommodation.
  • House sitting – There are many house sitting sites available online. It can be an excellent way to save on accommodation if you don’t mind completing a few simple house chores for someone who’s on vacation.

Food

After spending a year living abroad in Australia, I didn’t think I’d be too surprised by the cost of food in New Zealand. I heard it was similar and expected the pricing to be a little higher than in Aus. This was noticeable right off the bat with cafe’s charging a lot more than what I was used to for a cappuccino ($4.50-$5.00 NZD).

If you’re looking to stick to a strict budget in New Zealand, avoid eating at restaurants/cafes at ALL COSTS. You’ll blow through your budget in the first few days if you do so! If you’re staying at hostels you’ll have access to a kitchen where you can prepare food and save money at the same time. I’ll soon be posting quick and healthy meals you can make for yourself at a hostel and how to meal prep at hostels, so stay tuned for that!

When it came to cooking food yourself, there are four main grocery stores you’ll find in New Zealand:

  • New World (Coles equivalent)
  • Countdown (Wolworth’s equivalent)
  • Pak’nSave (Aldi equivalent)
  • FourSquare

If you’re in a large city like Auckland, ALWAYS choose Pak’nSave!! It is most definitely the cheapest option, with New World and Countdown being a tad more expensive and FourSquare ridiculously overpriced. Once I got down to Queenstown, FourSquare was the only option for grocery stores so I had to be more vigilant with what food I was spending money on.

Activities

nevis bungy spellbound travels

New Zealand is known for its stunning nature, so take advantage of it! Instead of spending heaps of money on the tourist traps such as the glow worm caves in Waitomo, I spent a lot of my time doing hikes which were usually free or substantially cheaper than the other activities offered in the area.

When it comes down to other activities, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to partake in at least one adrenaline experience. On a  budget, it’s impossible to do them all, so I’d recommend choosing no more than three. I personally only chose to spend money on the Nevis Bungy which came out to be approximately $300 NZD. (PRO TIP: if video isn’t your top priority, pay for the package that only includes the pictures and get someone there to take a video on your phone for you to save about $50).

Transport

You may have heard of people hiring a campervan and driving around the country. Sound great, right? It’s definitely a fantastic option if you have other people to travel with but if you’re flying solo like myself, it’s not the most cost effective.

Since I knew I’d be travelling through NZ alone, I decided to go with the bus option that allows you to hop on or off whenever you want along a selected route. There are two main hop on, hop off bus companies who run throughout the country known as Stray and Kiwi Experience. Having heard good things about Kiwi Experience, I went with them for the convenience of easy transport, flexibility to stay longer at different destinations and meet other solo travellers. It was a large part of my expense but made it much easier cuz my planning time in half! Read more about the pros and cons of Kiwi Experience here.

If you’re planning to travel the country with other people, I’d recommend hiring a campervan or a car to get around on your own and make your own plans.

Total spend for 5 weeks in New Zealand

lake rotoiti new zealand spellbound travels

When I originally budgeted for coming to New Zealand, I only set aside $2500 AUD for the 5 weeks I’d be there. I definitely surpassed that initial budget but I’m still pretty happy with how I managed my money during my trip.

So how much did I really spend for the 5 weeks I was there? I no longer have access to my Australian bank card so I don’t have all the specific pricing but I’ve listed a fairly accurate estimate below! All prices listed in NZD.

Accommodation:

  • $900 – 4 weeks staying at hostels
  • $100 – 1 week camping

Food:

  • $150 – Lunch/dinner out
  • $800 – Snacks, meals made at hostels

Activities:

  • $300 – AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy 134m
  • $70 – Tongariro Alpine Crossing – bus to and from Taupo
  • $120 – Abseiling at Waitomo Glow Worm caves (would NOT RECOMMEND! Serious tourist trap and waste of money)
  • $150 – overnight stay at Tamaki Maori Village – this activity truly surprised me and ended up being worth it in my opinion

Transport:

  • $16 – Auckland city to Airport
  • $50 – Gas money when camping with friend
  • $600 – Kiwi experience (Mighty Moa Pass & Milford Explorer)

Alcohol:

  • $50 – Goon (Cheap boxed wine)
  • $60 – Alcohol while out

SIM card:

  • $60 – Due to sheer stupidly of leaving my iCloud on, killing my data and having to get a new SIM card

Grand Total: $3,426.00 NZD

Final thoughts

lake pukaki new zealand spellbound travels


So as you can see, New Zealand is most definitely not the most budget friendly country. With that being said, it is possible to travel cheap if you’re willing to sacrifice a few things. Be sure to check out my cheap travel hacks to see how I can afford to travel regularly.

If you have any tips on how to travel New Zealand on a budget I would love to hear! Leave a comment below or as always, message me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter!

Cheers,

Amy xx

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