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Budget Travel Guide In New Zealand: 11 Simple Tips

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Budget Traveling In New Zealand

Budget traveling can be hard. It’s easy to overspend when traveling. Many people say that New Zealand is an expensive country to travel in—and it is! Food, especially, can be costly, not to mention the frequent use of fuel and accommodation too! However, if you know the ways to save and plan your budget, though only a little, they can easily add up! 

First off, the airplane ticket to fly from Malaysia to New Zealand cost between RM1,500RM3,000 (USD$350—USD$700) on average. Next, the transportation in New Zealand. Should you go for budget rental cars or campervans? Then you’ll have to figure out the accommodation too. How to choose between Airbnbs and motorhomes?

In fact, I actually made a post on budget breakdown when I traveled South Island with my parents in winter. For 10 days, the four of us stayed in a motorhome, doing all we can to stay under budget whilst visiting the most beautiful places in New Zealand!

A family with 4 people sitting under an autumn tree
A random rest stop with a bigass tree with leaves of autumn colours. FAMA absolutely loved autumn vibes and asked for a nice photo together. The motorhome was invited for the photo too. It's part-family now.

When I traveled with Louis in summer, we managed to keep to our budget and traveled for a month on both south and north islands, all the while saving money too! Many times, we, and by we I mean me, were tempted to overspend. Keep in mind that staying under budget has a lot to do with self-control.

I have compiled a few simple yet significant ways on how you can travel New Zealand on a budget, so you don’t have to take the long way around to do this like we did!

Travel New Zealand On A Budget With These 11 Tips:

1. travel in a motorhome or campervan

A man budget traveling with a campercar arranging the kitchen in a car park
Arranging our "kitchen" outside a supermarket

Everything is cheaper in winter, including motorhome rentals, budget car rentals, holiday parks and activity bookings. In summer, not only will everywhere be crowded, prices surge too. Places get filled up very quickly and you see people everywhere you go!

When we travelled in winter, we rented a motorhome with Apollo, which was having a winter promotion at the time. In total, we paid NZD$1059 (USD$632) with 2 days free. Alternatively, there are many good campervan rental companies out there like Jucy, Madcampers, Pod Rentals, to name a few.

Things like used cars sell really well in summer and really cheap in winter! Our Toyota Estima was bought in winter for NZD$2800 (USD$1670). To give you a clearer idea, it is usually sold between NZD$4500—NZD$5000 (USD$2685—USD$3580) in summer! Depending on condition and mileage as well. Check out Backpacker Cars New Zealand on Facebook or Facebook marketplace! Set your custom location and you can browse a car that you want at the location you’re at!

Note: Make sure you get liability reduction if you’re not familiar with driving a huge motorhome or van!

A couple sitting behind a campercar posing to the camera and smiling
Our Toyota Estima 2002 bought for $2800 in winter! It traveled with us for a little over a month and had saved us heaps of money!

2. Rent A CAR

A man walking in front of a white toyota corolla rental car
Our Toyota Corolla, which we also sleep in.

Speaking of hardcore. Our last week in New Zealand was spent staying in a Toyota Corolla budget rentals car before we flew back to Malaysia. No, we did not stay in a hotel nor an Airbnb during that period of time.

If buying a car or renting a motorhome isn’t an option for you, consider renting from the local car rental companies. Oh, you will be spoilt for choices! Most of them are a stone’s throw away from the airport and they provide shuttle services to pick you up!

After doing some research and comparison, we decided to rent a Toyota Corolla from Go Rentals NZ. Making a switch from our Toyota Estima, we noticed that Toyota Corolla runs like a beast! Not forgetting that it’s much stable and fuel-efficient too! The rental fee for the Toyota Corolla costed NZD$95 (USD$57) per day.

Other than that, you can also take a look at RentalCars.com to get a wider selection of cars from multiple car rental companies!

Although it’s true that it will be uncomfortable to stay in a tiny car while traveling, we managed to find our ways and slept like a log on the last leg of our journey!

Note: You drive on the left on New Zealand roads!

3. car relocation for free transportation

If you’ve not heard of car relocation, then you’re in for a treat! This is absolutely the best form of transportation you could get in New Zealand completely free!

Basically how this works is this: 

Let’s say ABC rented a car in Auckland (north island) and drives all the way to Christchurch (south island). ABC decides that it’s a hassle to return the car back in Auckland, hence leaving the car in Christchurch. 

Now, if all the cars gather in Christchurch, then there wouldn’t be any more cars left to rent in Auckland anymore. Therefore, your job is to drive the car back to Auckland for the rental company! 

On average, they will give you more or less 1-5 days to drive the car back to the selected city. Their vehicles range from sedan, to campercars, and even campervans! 

The downside to this would be: 

  • Limited days
  • Rushed schedule
  • No fuel coverage
  • In selected cities only

4. stay in freedom campsites

A panoramic view of a row of campervans and campercars parked facing a misty mountain
A freedom camp spot with a stunning backyard view of mountains and rivers.

Yes, it is possible to stay in your vehicle without paying a single cent! All you will need is the “Campermate” App. Conveniently, this app helps travelers navigate around New Zealand by providing information such as self-contained and non self-contained campsites, public showers, holiday parks, and so on. Also, you can read what others have to say under the comment section of the locations and facilities!

Fortunately, many self-contained freedom campsites are equipped with drop toilets or cold, running water. However, some of them only provides a land for your self-contained vehicle to park and rest for the night. Throughout our one-month travel, we’ve only encountered once when a lady drove up to us because she thought we weren’t self-contained. 

Note: Make sure that your vehicle has the self-contained certificate sticker before you stay for the night! Or you will wake up to find yourself a surprise the next morning! 

Undoubtedly, freedom campsites are usually nestled in remote areas or have limited spots. Hence, you will need to get there early to secure a place! Luckily, most of the time we were able to secure a spot. It is helpful to note that freedom campsites in cities or near ports and ferries are always full or fill up very early. Therefore, it is always good to have a plan B!

5. make use of public toilets

A man washing up outside a public toilet that has two doors
Washing up outside a public toilet at the freedom camp site. The sign is meant for people who irresponsibly park in front of the toilet. Always heed the signs and park at designated areas only.
A man holding a towel outside a public toilet with misty mountain at the back
After washing up at a public toilet in a local township.

Oh, boy. The shameful things we have done to save some money. 

We have showered in: 

  • The sinks in public toilets (basically just washing our hair and wiping our bodies with wet cloths)
  • The beach shower (be careful though, some of them don’t allow shampoos that are not Eco-friendly)
  • Swimming centres (sometimes even naked because they just don’t have any privacy)
  • Freezing-cold river

If you’re a person who needs to shower twice or thrice a day, this may be a struggle for you. On the contrary, showering often in winter can also be a torment. In summer, the beach shower will suffice, though many of them lack privacy. As for hot showers, you can expect to pay between $2-$10 per shower in swimming centers, information centers, and holiday parks!

Make sure you are considerate when you use the public toilet as well! On many occasions, we came across many backpackers who left their mess everywhere and made things difficult for the next user. Not only that, be sure that you are considerate with your use time as well. As everyone has the same needs, occupying the toilet for a long time for the sake of your own comfort can be really inconsiderate!

6. use the local library

Most of the towns in New Zealand have their own libraries to cater to their communities. Many of them are air-conditioned and Wi-Fi equipped. For one, Campermate does a really good job of pointing out where they are. 

If you stay in freedom campsites all the time, chances are the library will be your go-to place to charge your equipment and get some work done. Thankfully, they make for a great spot for backpackers to stay out of the rain, slump on the couch and read a good book!

Nevertheless, many community libraries have started barring backpackers from going to their libraries because of the shameless things they’ve done in there, leaving a bad reputation amongst the locals. So, again, be considerate when using their facilities because if they stopped accommodating for backpackers, freedom camping in New Zealand would be so much harder!

7. Couchsurfing and wwoofing

A lady wearing sun hat squatting down digging on weeds in a garden
Before we started traveling, we did work for accommodation on days when we had no work in the kiwi orchard. With that, our host kindly offered us the job to clean her garden and cut our rent by half or sometimes all.

Couchsurfing and WWOOFING have become the new trend in budget traveling. Basically, you can stay in an accommodation with a host family for free in exchange for something else, or nothing at all! It sounds too good to be true, right? It really is! 

Let me break it down to you:

In short, Couchsurfing means that hosts allow travellers to stay with them for free for a few days in exchange for cultural exposures. To illustrate, a few things you can do are spending time with the host, cooking them some of your mean home-cooked meals, playing with their kids, and the list goes on! 

On the other hand, WWOOFING is working for accommodation. Help hosts manage their homes in exchange for food and a place to sleep in! For example, you can help with gardening 3-4 hours a day; helping out in farms; taking care of their children as au pair, scrubbing the toilets and cleaning rooms in backpackers lodge or hostels,…

All in all, Couchsurfing and WWOOFING give you a shelter without breaking the bank! Despite that, make sure to always exercise vigilance and get out when things don’t seem right!

8. Eat easy-to-make meals

A man holding out his sandwich sitting on a driftwood smiling beside a rocky river

Although this may sound silly or unbelievable to you, we lived off sandwiches when we were traveling. In fact, our staples were bread and tuna. In total, we ate 12 pieces of bread per day. Crazy, I know!

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way! Try to stay away from soup-based food because they eat up a lot of gas! Even though portable gas cookers are the popular ones, their gas canisters need to be changed quite frequently as they don’t last long! 

Note: Kmart sells the cheapest gas canister we know! Cost about NZD$4 for 3 canisters! On the other hand, The Warehouse can be quite cheap, costing about a dollar more.

9. prioritize your activities

A lady and her instructor skydiving downward with a view of a lake and land underneath them

When you are booking for an activity, ask yourself this: Do I really want to do this? 

The idea of bungy jumping appealed to me, but when I looked down from the bridge and imagining myself falling head first, I decided that it was not my type of thing. Instead, I went skydiving—something that didn’t need me to fall headfirst. It was an extremely liberating experience

When booking skydiving, the lady encouraged us to pay more for an extra minute of free fall. It was just an extra minute of free fall, and that will cost us another NZD$100 or NZD$200. Instead of upgrading, I used that money and got the handy cam package instead. No regrets.

10. visit free attractions

Most of the destinations we went to were free, staying away from cities as much as we can. Clearly, you are more compelled to spend when things are available because that’s how consumerism works. 

When we were in Wellington, we found home! After paying for our meals, we realized that we’ve spent NZD$40 for a meal alone! Of course, we weren’t very satisfied, so we went back again for the second time the next day! That’s another NZD$40 spent! Not to mention our splurges on Indian food, amounting to NZD$158 for three separate meals. 

Your budget can truly go down the drain if you don’t stick to your plans. But then again, sometimes the heart wants what it wants. 

My best advice would be to stay away from cities as much as you can if you’re on a tight budget as hidden costs like parking tickets can quickly add up. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

New Zealand is a beautiful country that’s teeming with native wildlife and stunning nature. Best of all—they don’t cost any money! Other than nature, many museums in New Zealand are completely free too. With so many options around, you need only find.

11. make use of deals or membership cards

A back view of a group of tourists sitting in a jetboat wearing safety jackets
Jetboating for free.

Many activities in New Zealand can be booked for a discounted price through bookme. Whereas cheap backpackers hostels or accommodations can also be booked using booking.com

When I booked the Milford Cruise in winter, they were having deals. With every purchase of the Go Orange boat cruise ticket, we can be entitled to a free jetboat ride in Queenstown. To put it simply, there are always deals to help you make the most out of your travels in New Zealand, saving money at the same time. 

Keep an eye out for membership cards too! For example, Onecard, New World Clubcard, and PAK’nSAVE Sticky Club are three really good ones. As the cards don’t cost a penny, you can pick them up at Countdown, New World, and PaK’nSAVE respectively and use them straight away! 

With these cards, you can pay for your groceries at a discounted price for members! Not only that, you can also use the cards for cheaper fuels! Usually, these are the little things that we will overlook, but they can most certainly make a huge difference in the long run.

Final note

In a nutshell, there are all kinds of ways you can travel New Zealand on a budget! Most importantly, don’t compromise your experiences because you only live once (YOLO)

Being frugal is not a bad thing. At least you come back with some money, not completely broke. 

Do you have any tips that you’d like to share with us on how you save money when you travel? Leave a comment and let us know! We’d love to read them! 

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