For a compact country, New Zealand packs an incredible amount of diversity. From craggy coastlines and fairytale forests to world-class surfing and adrenalin-pumping excursions, New Zealand is an endless playground for adventurers. But, holidays here don’t come cheap. If you’re trying to push your pennies further, you’ll need to stick to a tight budget. Here are some handy tips on how to travel to New Zealand on a budget.
1. Travel in shoulder season
Most people travel to New Zealand between December and February. It makes sense: while much of the northern hemisphere is settling down for a frosty few months, the summertime is just beginning for the southern hemisphere. But it’s also the most expensive time to travel. You also want to avoid the coldest time of year, from June to September, when prices skyrocket. Skiing and snowboarding are popular Kiwi pastimes, particularly around Queenstown and Wanaka. For a cheaper trip, travel between October and November or April and May. The weather is still good and prices will be cheaper for accommodation, car rentals and popular excursions.
2. Rent a campervan for your road trip
Come summer, New Zealand is heaving with campervans. They’re popular for good reason, offering the opportunity to save on accommodation and transport in one go. You’ll need to spend more on fuel, but you’ll save on rooms. Plus, you’ll get to maximize your time on the road. There’s usually a minimum rental period of one week, but some local tour operators offer shorter-term rentals. Unlike many countries, you don’t need a special license to drive a campervan either.
3. Plot a circular route for your road trip
While it might be tempting to try and travel the length and breadth of the country, you’ll pay a premium for dropping off your campervan at a different location to the one you started at. Instead, plan to return to your departure point. If you’re only travelling to New Zealand, you’ll likely need to pick up your return flight up from the same city anyway. Budget-friendly car rental companies like Mad Campers and Happy Campers can help advise on your route.
4. Research campsite options
Always book your campsites as far in advance as possible, as the best book up quickly. If you’ve rented a self-contained certified campervan, you’ll be eligible to try freedom camping at a designated freedom camping site. These sites often offer basic bathroom facilities, some with coin-operated showers. You can find the best freedom campsites on the Campermate app. Or, you could choose to pull over and sleep on the side of the road.
Otherwise, your best bet is to book a low-budget campsite operated by the Department of Conservation. Prices tend to average less than $15 NZD per night and most sites have basic pit toilets. You don’t need to book a self-contained van to stay at one of these either.
5. Take the bus if you’re not driving
If you’re not planning on driving but still want to see as much of the country as you can, travel by bus. There are two main bus operators in the country: InterCity and Newmans. InterCity operates a wide range of high-quality, full-size busses across the country with great value discounted bus fares and bus passes. With the FlexiPass, you can hop on and off at any stop on the network, book and change your ticket up to two hours before departure, top-up any time and book onto great value day tours. Newmans often shares the same timetable as InterCity but offers more luxurious coaches. These tend to target sightseeing excursions and are much pricier.
6. Cycle where you can
If you’re a keen cyclist, it’s worth renting a bicycle for exploring the area around base camp for the night. Generally speaking, the South Island is easier than the North, though you’ll still need to have a good level of fitness to take to two wheels for longer than a few hours. You can find bicycle hire shops in most cities and small towns.
7. Get off the beaten track
There are some bucket-list activities you’ll need to tick off: bungee jumping in Queensland, whale watching in Kaikoura, wine tasting in Marlborough… But, if you’re on a tight budget, your pennies won’t go very far if you say YES to everything. The same goes for the big cities. Instead, dig deeper into the country’s stunning scenery and immerse yourself in as much nature as you can. Explore the country’s mammoth natural parks, beaches, waterfalls, lakes and hiking trails….you won’t regret it.