Back in the early 2000's when we first visited, New Zealand was a relatively cheap destination to visit, particularly for Brits. The exchange rate was $3 NZD to 1 GBP and you could easily get by as a backpacker on less than 30 GBP a day.
Now the rest of the world has woken up to just how amazing this destination is, and the prices have rocketed. The NZ Dollar has also strengthened and in short, New Zealand has quickly become one of the most expensive places to travel to.
It's still possible to get by on a budget, but cheap is a very relative term here!
Having said that it is one of the greatest travel destinations in the world and worth every dollar. Having recently spent three months travelling there, here is the cost of travel to New Zealand (in peak season).
New Zealand Spending money per day
Estimating spending money is always tricky as it can differ greatly depending on what you want to do. For these estimations, we've not included any flights or petrol costs. However, these do include accommodation, food, a couple of activities and getting around.
These costs are estimated on a couple travelling together and a price for both combined.
Backpacker: $100 NZD per day
The cost of dorm beds can vary, but in general its about $20-30 NZD per bed, per night. For $100 per day you'll get two dorm beds, some food from a supermarket and a bit extra in case you want a beer, you'll need to catch public transport or do a cheap activity. Luckily walking in New Zealand is pretty damn incredible!
Side note: If you camp you can greatly reduce your costs and many hostels have camping areas in the garden and you can use their facilities. If you're on a really tight budget this would definitely be the way to go.
Budget: $200 NZD per day
The lowest non-backpacker budget will include a basic private en-suite room and car hire, as well as petrol, food and a low cost activity (all the big ticket activities such as sky diving will set you back hundreds of dollars).
In general, you can get accommodation for about $100 NZD per night if you search on booking.com. We did snag a private ensuite room on AirBNB for as little as $65 but the norm is $80 upwards (and much more in areas such as Mount Cook and Tekapo).
Comfortable mid-range $300 NZD per day
This will get you a room in a nicer hotel or motel in a popular area, car hire, option to eat out and a few activities. You could also afford occasional splurges on the big ticket activities or fine dining restaurants.
Top-End: $400 NZD+
The top-end budget isn't actually a 5*, but will get you a good hotel, car hire, meals out every night and allow you to do anything you want.
If you're looking for a top-end hotel, you'll be looking at spending at least $250 NZD per night in places like Auckland and Wellington. Good rooms in Tekapo and Mount Cook can be more.
The cost of accommodation in New Zealand
One thing to note on accommodation is that if you are planning on travelling in peak season (summer) then you will need to book your accommodation in advance.
We made the mistake of leaving a booking in Te Anau until two months before we needed it and the most expensive hotel in town was literally the only one left! You'll can get stung and really eat into your spending money if you don't book in advance.
Book as early as you possibly can to have the most options available to you.
Hostel Dorms: $20-30 NZD per night, per bed
Depending on your location, you can get a dorm bed for $20 NZD.
AirBNB: $75-250 NZD per night
The introduction of AirBNB in New Zealand has been a major game changer, bringing down the cost of accommodation greatly. Using AirBNB we were able to spend less than $100 NZD per night on average and stayed in really comfortable studios with private bathrooms and space. For a little more you'll get a lot more luxury 😃
Motel: $150 NZD per night
Sometimes Motels can be really cheap in rural areas and out of town, but in general they've cost about $150 NZD. In a lot of instances, AirBNB is the better option, but sometimes the availability of either can be pretty limited.
Hotel: $200 NZD per night
Hotels are the ones that can really fluctuate between seasons. We saw a 3 star hotel in Te Anau charge $250 NZ per night in peak season, but the Hermitage in Mount Cook (an historic and famous one) charge $150 NZD in winter (we paid $360 for the same room in summer). Depending on when you go has a big impact on the cost of your hotel.
Read more: The most Instagrammable spots in New Zealand
The cost of car hire in New Zealand
The cost of car hire in New Zealand shows that the industry is popular and in huge demand. Campervans in particular can cost a small fortune per day, although of course save on accommodation costs.
Car hire: $70+ NZD per day for a compact car
This is the cost in peak season renting with a company like Thrifty. You may find a local company offering cars for less if you turn up, but run the risk or them not having anything available. This happened to my sister and I in Wellington and we had to wait for five days!
Tip to save money - A couple of companies (like Ezi Car Hire) have the option to rent an older car with high mileage, so if you just need a car and don't care what it looks like you can get it for about $60 per day.
Campervan: $175+ NZD per day
Campervans are everywhere in New Zealand, so you'll need to book early so you don't miss out. It does save you money if you plan to always sleep in the camper van, but when you can get an old car and an airbnb for the same price (sometimes less), it doesn't seem as cheap an option as you may think.
The Interislander: $250 NZD for two people and a car
The Interislander is the only way to get your car between the North and South Islands. You can treat the journey as a semi-cruise as you go through the stunning Charlotte Sound to get to Picton and the start of the South Island.
The cost of petrol in New Zealand
Petrol: at least $2 NZD per litre
To add to this, petrol in New Zealand is nearly double what it is Australia, costing at least $2 NZD per litre for unleaded fuel.
Diesel costs significantly less, but every rental we've had runs on unleaded petrol. As you'll be doing quite long trips, the cost of your own transport can add up quickly.
The cost of food in New Zealand
The cost of food can vary quite a bit in New Zealand, with the main towns and cities having cheaper options than those in the more remote areas. It's worth taking into account that some places like Stewart Island have to ship in all food every day, so the prices increase to accommodate this.
The cheapest supermarket is usually Pak n Save. They aren't pretty but if you're looking for savings!
Quick Eats: $8 - 15 NZD
We've tended to find that toasted sandwiches are by far the cheapest thing on the menu anywhere in New Zealand. Alternatively a lot of places offer pies, cakes and lots of other food that are really bad for your waistline, but great for your wallet.
Pub meal: $15+ NZD per main
Pub meals are pretty good value and can be decent quality. If you're looking for a burger or something simple, you can often pay as little as $15 NZD. Anything else (especially with meat) will put the price north of $25 NZD.
Restaurant meal: $25 NZD per main
Eating out at restaurants can get pricey as even Indian restaurants charge $18 NZD for a curry and then extra for rice and naan. Other types of restaurant will charge $25-40 NZD for a main.
Coffee: $4.50 - 5 NZD
Coffee in New Zealand is a little more expensive than Australia and can fluctuate in price. Just remember that skimmed milk here is called trim!
Beer: $7-8 NZD
Beer in New Zealand is pretty cheap when compared to Australia and isn't too far off European prices. You'll get a bigger size than Australia as well - you can often get a pint for this price.
Wine: $7-8 NZD
Wine is also pretty cheap in New Zealand and you'll be able to get some of the best in the world here. We love anything that comes out of Marlborough and Central Otago, especially the Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs.
Read more: The best hot springs in New Zealand
How to travel cheaply in New Zealand
Although you can't travel cheaply in New Zealand when compared to a lot of places, there are a few ways to reduce the overall cost. Here are a few of our suggestions:
1. Avoid peak season
Peak Season in New Zealand can differ depending on where you go, but it tends to start in November and run through to March. During this period the prices go up a lot and without booking in advance you may struggle to get accommodation and car hire.
The shoulder and low season (April - October) often have a lot cheaper prices and greater availability. Winter is of course cheapest for most of the country but you run the risk of road closures and activities being cancelled due to weather. The snowy peaks would be beautiful though!
2. Choose to stay a little further out the main tourist centres
It can save to choose a town nearby rather than some of the most popular destinations. When we wanted to visit Mount Cook and Tekapo, we found that accommodation in Twizel and Fairlie (both at least an hour away) were significantly cheaper.
You can use Te Anau as a base for Milford Sound (even though the Milford Sound lodge is amazing!) and Gibbston Valley as a base for Queenstown.
3. Take advantage of New Zealand's incredible walks
Walking is the best thing to do in New Zealand and there are thousands to do across the country. Some of the Great Walks are also a cheap activity as many hikes like the Rakiura only cost $26 NZD per night for accommodation.
4. Data is ludicrously expensive
Where possible if internet connection is important to you make sure you have it free with your accommodation. Data in New Zealand was one of the most expensive we have come across anywhere in the world. 4G was $30 (no higher data package was available).
Read more: The 9 Great Walks of New Zealand in 9 Weeks
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Where is the most expensive country you've visited? Do you have any tips to save money whilst travelling New Zealand? Let us know in the comments below!
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