The Best Budget Travel Tips For Backpacking New Zealand
Published by GAFFL
Last updated - 10:16 AM
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New Zealand is not a cheap country to travel in for backpackers. However, with the right budgeting tips, there are many ways that you can make your trip to New Zealand a lot more affordable.

We have a lot of experience writing about New Zealand and this guide is a culmination of our best travel tips and hacks for backpacking the country.

After reading this, you should have a much deeper understanding of how to best plan and budget for your trip to New Zealand.


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    Best Time To Visit

    New Zealand is a country that you can have fun visiting all year round.

    Summer, which is from December to March is a popular time for tourists because of the long days and warm temperatures. 

    New Zealand’s winter months are from June through September, and there is snow in some parts of South Island, as well as the mountainous areas in North Island, however, by and large, the winter in most of the country is similar to the milder temperatures of Australia, albeit a bit colder. You are bound to get some sunshine no matter what time of year you decide to go.

    Since tourism in New Zealand is busier during the summer months (especially during the holidays), the best time to visit for budget travelers would be during winter, autumn, or spring.

    Best Visa For Backpackers

    You do not need a visa to enter New Zealand if you are a New Zealand or Australian citizen or resident, a UK citizen and/or passport holder (you can stay up to six months), or a citizen of a country that has a visa waiver agreement with New Zealand (you can stay up to three months)

    A list of countries with a visa waiver agreement with New Zealand can be found here.

    If you don’t meet the above criteria, then you will need to apply for a visitor visa. You can apply for this visa here, and if you are approved you will be able to holiday in New Zealand for up to nine months.

    If you are looking to stay in New Zealand for up to a year or longer, the working holiday visa is the right visa for you.

    This visa allows you to work in New Zealand and travel, so you can pay for your expenses around the country for 12 months (or 24 months if from the UK or Canada). You can also apply for a possible extension visa if you complete 3 months of the required horticulture/farm work. For more information about this, check out our breakdown of the New Zealand Working Holiday Visa.

    A Complete Packing List

    These are some essential items to pack for your backpacking trip to New Zealand.

    • Clothes for hiking, camping, and bad weather like trail-running shoes, protective sun hat, swimming gear, wooly socks, waterproof rain jacket, etc.
    • Shelter items like a tent, rainfly, groundsheet, tent poles, stakes, and guylines. 
    • Camp kitchen equipment like stove, fuel, lighter, utensils
    • Sleeping items like a sleeping bag, pillow, blanket.
    • Navigation equipment like a map, compass, and a GPS with maps downloaded is always helpful in case your phone stops working. 
    • Tool & Accessories like headlamps, batteries, mosquito nets, bug repellent are all optional. However, things like sunscreen, sunglasses, a pocket knife, and food bags are all essential accessories.
    • Emergency Kit items should include a whistle, duct tape, matches, backup water, etc.
    • Toiletries like hand sanitizer, wipes, menstrual products, digging trowel, toothbrush and paste. 
    • First Aid Kit with a thermometer, bandages, antihistamines, otc medication, personal medication is definitely worth having. 
    • Without your Personal Documents like flight tickets, passport, credit/debit cards, and ID, this trip can’t happen, so don’t forget to pack them.

    How To Keep Costs Low

    Book Cheap Accommodations

    Freedom camping is your best option for saving money on accommodations in New Zealand. 

    Freedom camping means camping without leaving any waste behind, and naturally because of this most freedom camping sites around New Zealand exclusively accommodate self-contained motorhomes. That means your RV or camper has to include a toilet and a water container that holds water from your sink and shower, as well as septic waste. 

    With this being said, there are still many freedom camping options available to you even If your motorhome isn’t entirely self-contained. Check out our guides for the best freedom camping sites for non-self-contained vehicles in North Island and South Island.

    If camping isn’t your thing, we recommend staying at hostels as the next most affordable option for an overnight stay. Hostels are scattered all over the country, and there are bound to be a few in most of the cities and towns that you stop at.

    Find Affordable Transportation

    The way you decide to get around New Zealand will come down to your budget and personal preferences.

    For long term backpackers, buying a used campervan may be the most affordable way to travel around the country. While younger backpackers with lower budgets, who are looking to meet up with other travelers, may be more inclined to travel by coach or backpacker bus.

    Whatever your case, be sure to check out our breakdown of how to travel around New Zealand on a tight budget.

    National Coaches

    Intercity is the only fully national coach service in New Zealand. Their tickets aren’t too expensive, the buses are very frequent, and they stop in almost every town and city within the country. 

    Backpacker Bus Tours

    New Zealand has bus options that are specifically geared towards backpackers and they're really popular! With these buses, you have the option of hopping on and off while also having access to planned activities and accommodations.

    Rent A Car

    Renting a car in New Zealand costs on average between $25-$65 NZD per day. 

    Buy A Car

    From $800 NZD sedans to $10,000 NZD SUVs, you can buy used cars in New Zealand at a wide range of different prices. You can find really good prices for used cars in the many buy/sell groups on Facebook.

    Rent A Camper

    You can rent a non-self-contained camper at a variety of different prices from $25 NZD per day to $100 NZD (however, if you’re going to spend around $100 NZD, you are better off with a self-contained unit). As mentioned before, during peak seasons vehicles are more expensive and you likely won't see campervan rental rates as low as $25 NZD. 

    A self-contained unit can start as low as $40 NZD during low season, but during peak season you should be able to find rentals starting around $75 NZD per day. 

    Buy A Camper

    For travelers in New Zealand long term, this is going to be the best option. The online marketplace for campers is very robust and you will find a huge variety of campers at several different prices.

    If you are looking to buy a used self-contained camper, having a budget of around $12,000 NZD is ideal, but we’ve seen impressive self-contained units for as low as $4000 NZD in Facebook buy/sell groups. You can get a non-self-contained unit, with basic amenities, for less than $2500 NZD.

    Find Free Or Cheap Things To Do

    There is no reason for you to break the bank finding things to do in New Zealand since most of what you’ll want to see in nature. Do some hikes, get out into the water, go on road trips, and save your money for tours that you absolutely can’t do without a guide. In most cases, organized group tours have steep administration fees and they don't show you anything special that you can’t go out and see on your own. 

    If you are looking for affordable day trips in New Zealand, be sure to explore our many guides with cost breakdowns.

    Eat On A Budget

    This one is pretty straight forward, if you want to keep your costs low you have to cook your own food. Eating out in New Zealand Is expensive, you’ll be spending at least $10 NZD per meal, and that’s on the cheaper side. Sitting down for a proper meal will be around $20 NZD at minimum. 

    Doing groceries, cooking, and preparing every meal can cut your food expenses by a lot. According to @voyageinstyle_, two bloggers we interviewed about their 10 day South Island adventure, said that they prepared simple meals a few times a day in their van and were very happy with them. They explained that a week worth of food for 2 people in New Zealand costs around 100 Euro. That’s equivalent to 2 dinners out.

    With this being said, it’s unrealistic to expect to cook every single meal, after all, you came to New Zealand to go on adventures, not to become a chef. The key is to have a balance, buy easy food to make, cook as much as you can manage, and don’t break the bank when you do decide to eat out.

    Split Costs With A Travel Partner

    Sharing costs with travel mates is the most cost-effective way of traveling around New Zealand. Splitting costs for accommodations, transportation, fuel, food, and even sometimes attractions with a group will cut down your costs by 50% or more.

    If you’re a solo traveler, you can find other travelers to meet up and share costs with on GAFFL.

    Suggested Budget

    If you follow our suggestions for how to keep your costs low in New Zealand, meaning you are mostly freedom camping, splitting the costs for your vehicle/fuel, mostly cooking your meals, and finding free/cheap things to do, you will be able to travel around the country on a budget of around $60-$90 NZD per day.

    Best Places To Visit

    In North Island

    Auckland

    New Zealand's most populated city has a lot going for it. The Sky Tower is a significant part of the skyline and you definitely want to see it. Head to the Auckland Waterfront to experience some mind-blowing design and architecture, recreational opportunities, and facilities and events. Also, make sure to explore the beautiful downtown streets.

    Top 12 Things To See & Do In Auckland On A Budget  

    Waiheke Island

    Waiheke Island is one of the most popular day or weekend trip destinations from the city. It is only a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, which starts running early in the morning so that you can get a head start to your day, and is located around 10 miles away from the downtown. You can rent bikes and scooters and roam around the island or book tours, which includes ferry tickets for a round trip to and from the island, olive tasting, winery tours, food, and sightseeing. 

    Waitomo

    Waitomo is a village in North Island famous for its extensive underground cave system. Waitomo Glowworm Caves is one of the best natural attractions New Zealand can offer. This cave has been the most popular and world-renown tourist attraction spot for over 100 years for glowworm’s starry night illusions within the cave. 

    Taranaki

    Along North Island’s western coast is Taranaki, which is known for its mountainous terrain. Egmont National Park, also known as Mount Taranaki, is one of the most perfectly formed mountains in New Zealand that formed around 120,000 years ago and last erupted in 1775. 

    Wellington

    Wellington is the capital of New Zealand. The Museum of New Zealand also known as Te Papa Tongarewa, is  New Zealand’s national museum that you MUST visit when you are in Wellington. Other fun things to do here include Wellington Cable Car, Mount Victoria Lookout, Cuba Street, Weta Caves, and so much more.

    Top 9 Things To See & Do In Wellington On A Budget

    Taupo

    Taupo is a town near the center of New Zealand's North Island. Whether you are an adventure lover looking to get your adrenaline fix, or a nature lover looking for some tranquility in the midst of nature, Taupo caters to everyone.

    Top 13 Things To See & Do In Taupo On A Budget  

    Rotorua

    Rotorua, a town on the North Island of New Zealand, renowned for its Maori culture, is like a magical land with geothermal landscapes, bubbling mud pools, natural hot springs, beautiful sparkling lakes, biking trails, and evergreen forests. Once you step into the town, clouds of steam surround you, as if engulfing you and teleporting you into the magic of this land. 

    Top 13 Things To See & Do In Rotorua On A Budget

    In South Island

    Christchurch

    Brimming with architecture, scenic natural surroundings, art, and adventure, Christchurch is every vacationer’s paradise. It is one of the largest and most touristy cities in New Zealand and there are plenty of things to do and see here. 

    Top 12 Things To See & Do In Christchurch On A Budget

    Lake Tekapo

    With picture-postcard views and mild sunny summers and cool winters, Lake Tekapo is located in the heart of the South Island. Whether you like adventure or stargazing, or just want to lose yourself in an oasis of serenity among nature, Lake Tekapo caters to all your demands. 

    Top 11 Things To See & Do In Lake Tekapo On A Budget

    Mount Cook

    Mount Cook National Park is listed as a World Heritage area. With glaciers, rivers, beautiful mountain views, and hiking options, it is definitely an experience you can’t miss out on. You can do the Hooker Valley Track here which is a 3-hour return walk on a pretty well-maintained trail that is pretty easy for people of all ages and abilities.  

    Queenstown

    When it comes to balancing between breathtaking natural wonders and getting an adventurer’s heart beating faster with excitement, Queenstown is a pro.  Also known as New Zealand’s adventure capital, it is heaven for those who love sports and outdoor activities. It is famous for being home to a plethora of activities such as jet boating, bungee jumping, white water rafting, skydiving, and indoor activities.

    Top 13 Things To See & Do In Queenstown On A Budget

    Wanaka

    Wanaka is the perfect place in New Zealand for all you adventure seekers. There are a lot of activities to get your blood pumping. Go hiking, jet-boating, biking in the summer, and enjoy skiing and snowboarding when you visit in the winter.

    Top 9 Things To See & Do In Wanaka On A Budget

    Franz Josef

    Franz Josef is a lively town located on the South Island of New Zealand, near the Waiho River. It is the name of both the glacier and the nearby village. Franz Josef Glacier, also known as Westland Tai Poutini National Park, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand. 

    Top 12 Things To See & Do In Franz Josef On A Budget

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