How To Travel Around New Zealand On A Tight Budget
Published by GAFFL
Last updated - 09:59 AM
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The way you decide to get around New Zealand will come down to your budget and personal preferences. For independent solo travelers with more flexibility in their budget, renting out a car or camper may be ideal, while younger backpackers on smaller budgets, who are looking to meet other travelers, may be more inclined to travel by coach or backpacker bus.

In this post, we will go over the different ways that you can get around New Zealand to help you decide on the best transportation option to fit your tight budget. 

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    Bus Travel

    For non-drivers, taking a bus is the cheapest and most convenient way to get around New Zealand. 

    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. 

    If you book your ticket early, you will get them for cheaper. Additionally, for backpackers who plan on taking the coach often, there are passes available to save you money. 

    The first type of pass you can get is the Flexipass, which lets you purchase hours for bus routes. If you are someone who meticulously plans out all your trips, then precisely working out how many hours you need shouldn’t be too difficult. You can buy the hours you need, and top up your card whenever required. You can even sell your hours off to other travelers if you have some to spare after your trip. 

    Purchasing the TravelPass, on the other hand, gives you access to a series of fixed routes that you can travel along. You can hop on and off the bus as many times as you want within the route, and you don’t need to complete the entire travel pass route immediately. The pass is valid for up to 12 months. You can click here to view all of the Intercity TravelPass options.

    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. The Kiwi Experience and Stray Travel are the two major hop-on/hop-off bus companies in New Zealand. This is a great transportation option for young people who are looking to meet other young backpackers.

    Driving Around New Zealand

    Driving yourself around New Zealand is without a doubt the most convenient way to travel around the country, and can also be the most cost-effective. Since New Zealand has a wide variety of freedom camping available to travelers, you can save on the price of accommodations, especially if you’re traveling around in a self-contained vehicle. 

    So should you buy or rent? That largely depends on how long your trip is.

    If you are going to be traveling for several months, you should probably buy. If you trip is a few weeks, then renting is probably the more viable option. We always advise doing thorough research before making your final decision, campervan pricing in New Zealand is very competitive and it's possible to stumble upon an exceptional deal from time to time.

    Additionally, factors like booking during the offseason (March to October), booking early, booking for longer periods, having the same pick-up/drop off location (preferably not the airport), being over 25, and traveling with friends are all things that can bring your rental prices down.

    Rent A Car

    Renting a car in New Zealand costs on average between $25-$65 NZD per day. We also highly recommend getting rental car insurance which may be complimentary but could also cost you up to an additional $30 NZD.  

    Buy A Car

    From $800 NZD sedans to $10,000 NZD SUVs, you can buy used cars in New Zealand at an array of different prices. You can find really good prices for used cars in the many buy/sell groups on Facebook. New Zealand Cheap Cars for sale/swap, CHEAP CARS NEW ZEALAND, and, Backpacker Car Market New Zealand and More are all great groups to start your search. 

    Rent A Camper

    Due to New Zealand’s freedom camping program, renting self-contained campers is really popular. As long as travelers respect the environment, clean up after themselves, and dispose of their waste responsibly, freedom camping lets them camp for free in any of the 500+ free camping sites around the country. A vast majority of these freedom camping sites only allow self-contained vehicles, but there are still many free & cheap camping spots for travelers who are not in self-contained vehicles. 

    Prices for self-contained vehicles, on average are going to be more expensive, but you do save on the price of accommodations nightly. Whereas, in a non-self contained unit, free camping may not be as regularly available, requiring you to pay for your accommodations more often.

    You can rent a non-self contained unit at a variety of different price points 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. Wicked Campers and Jucy are great companies for affordable campervan rentals.  

    We also recommend getting insurance on your campervan which can be an additional $15-$35 NZD per day.

    Buy A Camper

    For a lot of people, 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. Two great Facebook groups that we highly recommend for buying and selling campers in New Zealand are Campervan for sale in New Zealand and New Zealand Car Market and Campervans for Backpacker/Traveler.

    If you are looking to buy a used self-contained RV, 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 some of those Facebook groups. You can get a non-self contained unit, with basic amenities, for less than $2500 NZD.

    The best part about buying a camper through one of these online marketplaces, you can sell it in the same place after you’re done with it and recoup some of your money.

    Fuel Cost

    Gas in New Zealand is currently hovering around $2.00-$2.20 NZD per litre. The average fuel consumption for a passenger car is about 6-10 litres per 100km. For campers, this number increases to about 12-30 litres per 100kms. So when you are choosing a campervan, make sure it's fuel efficient! 

    Relocation

    A relocation allows you to rent a vehicle for really cheap and even sometimes for free. Rental companies that have offices in different cities will sometimes require that their vehicles be returned to the original location that they were rented from. So instead of doing it themselves, rental companies will get regular people to do the relocation in exchange for free, or very heavily discounted rental fares.

    Usually relocations need to be done within a specified time period, with an additional charge incurred for every extra day you have it.

    Imoova is a great relocation company for campervans in New Zealand.

    Rideshare

    Whether you’re renting a car/camper or buying one, doing so with a group of friends is the most cost-effective way to travel around New Zealand. Splitting rental/purchase costs and fuel with a group makes driving a car cheaper and it makes traveling around in a campervan more financially feasible, especially for solo travelers. 

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

    Train Travel

    Traveling by Train in New Zealand will take your breath away. For people who want to get lost in the country’s beauty, traveling by train is definitely a viable option. The major drawback to rail travel is that routes aren’t as widely available as they are with bus travel, which limits this as a transportation option for most backpackers. Northern Explorer, TransAlpine, and Coastal Pacific are New Zealand’s scenic trains, they aren’t cheap, but if you want to be blown away by the country’s stunning scenery, this is your best bet.

    Flying Domestically

    For backpackers, this won’t be a viable option in most cases because of how expensive it is. Jetstar and Air New Zealand dominate the domestic market and it is possible to get a good deal if you book months in advance.

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