“New Zealand is VERY expensive.”
Friends and travelers had warned me about the sky-high budget which I will need to fork out for New Zealand. On average, most people spend about $3.5-5K, but here I will share some tips on how I managed to keep everything under $3K for a 13-day overland trip to New Zealand.
Note: I use New Zealand and Singapore dollars quite interchangeably here. The exchange rate was 1 SGD = 0.98 NZD at the time of this trip.
Flights = S$655.53
Given its location far at the southern east end of the globe, international airfare will cost a bomb for most people.
This costs amounts further if you’re expecting to cover both the North and South Islands. A typical Singapore-Auckland, Auckland-Christchurch, Christchurch-Singapore airfare will usually cost you no less than $1.2K.
Here is how I managed to cut this portion by half:
1. Book early. I purchased my flight around 4 months in advance. In fact, when I first did my research I could’ve purchased the flights for less than S$600, but I had it postponed until I settled my visa, itinerary, etc.
2. Don’t be afraid to go budget. Jetstar is your best bet, but do also check AirAsia (Auckland route only) as well as Skyscanner for the best deals. Jetstar will likely have a stopover in Australia, which I do not mind: leg-stretching between a long-haul is always welcomed!
3. Date flexibility goes a long way. Check for flight prices on different dates, and if you have a little time, try to avoid flying during weekends when prices are usually highest.
4. Experiment with your routing. You don’t necessarily have to purchase a flight to Auckland and returns from Christchurch, or vice versa. This routing is expensive even on budget flights! Try experimenting with different points: Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown, Christchurch all have international entry points.
I ended up buying a Singapore-Christchurch-Singapore flight for less than S$600, and added a domestic Auckland-Christchurch flight separately for less than S$60.
Transportation = S$238.61
The number one myth people have about New Zealand is that you have to do self-drive.
DO NOT believe that. I have nothing against self-drive: it offers great flexibility to stop-and-go whenever you please. But it’s also incredibly costly and the idea of having to drive long distance on a solo trip just doesn’t appeal to me.
Instead, there are excellent bus infrastructures connecting between all major attractions. Intercity and Naked Bus offer dirt cheap prices for early birders. My fare for Greymouth-Nelson, Nelson-Picton, Wellington-Taupo, Taupo-Wairakei, Wairakei-Rotorua, Paihia-Auckland all literally cost NZD1 each!
If you are a little late in your planning but would still like a good bargain, consider using Intercity’s FlexiPass (based on hours) and TravelPass (based on routes). Ditto for Naked Bus’ Naked Passport.
Finally, get used to walking within city centers. It’s free, healthy and you get to see more of each place!
Accomodation = S$298.90
Unfortunately, most hostels in New Zealand located near city center will cost you around S$30/night, but most of the standards are quite good. Just remember to read the reviews!
Use HotelsCombined to find the cheapest price possible. Here’s where I stayed:
- Christchurch: New City Hotel – SGD29.40/night
- Queenstown: Absoloot Value Accommodation – SGD30.87/night
- Franz Josef: Chateau Backpackers & Motels – SGD21.56/night
- Nelson: Downtown Backpackers & Accommodation – SGD24.50/night
- Rotorua: Rotorua Downtown Backpackers – SGD22.54/night
- Auckland: Nomads Auckland Backpackers – SGD24.01/night
- Paihia: YHA Bay of Islands Paihia – SGD22.54/night
As I had an early morning return flight to Singapore, I slept at Christchurch airport for my final night. A note that this can only be done if you can prove you arrive in Christchurch after 10.30pm and you need to fly out before 8am the next morning—they will patrol around and ask you to leave otherwise. If your time falls nicely within the time frame, you can then choose to sit in the chair or sleep in Air Lounge for NZD10.
Pro Tip: If you exit the main terminal areas into the Arrival Hall, there wasn’t any patrolling when I was there! Alternatively, you can check out Jucy Snooze Christchurch Airport, which offers sleeping pod for just NZD39/night (or NZD10/hour).
F&B = S$77.76
Food can be a real bank-breaker in New Zealand.
If you dine out, a typical meal will cost you around NZD 25-35 each time. Even a simple sandwich will cost you NZD 7-10. And unlike Europe/Southeast Asia, there are no market squares or street foods where you can find something affordable to fill up your tummy.
New Zealand’s airport immigration also has strict rules against bringing food items into the country, so you can forget about pre-packing your food from home country (though a few energy bars and chocolates is usually not an issue).
When backpacking, daily supermarket visit is part of your life. You can buy groceries or ready-to-eat food here. Avoid convenience stores especially those near train stations and tourist attractions because they seriously hike up their prices. Head to the neighbourhood supermarkets instead. I didn’t manage to compare the prices, but my general impression is that Pak’n Saves has the best prices, followed by Four Square.
Tap water is drinkable, so bring your water bottle and fill them up constantly. You can also purchase water in supermarket for about NZD2-3.5 per bottle.
I had initially prepared NZD20-30 for daily food expenses and I think this is about the right estimate.
In reality, however, I found out that my debit card had been fraudulently used for unauthorized charges in the middle of the trip and I had to get the card suspended. With limited access to fund, I had to channel some of my original food expenses for activities and emergency budget.
That drove me into a steady diet of bread, which can cost between NZD2-6 depending on how plain or flavorful you want them to be. I opted for the fruity and pizza varieties, which is on the higher end of the price tag. Some bread loafs come in discount when you purchase in two, which can help you last 2-3 days with just NZD 7-9.
Not exactly my favorite way of scrimping, but hey, it cut my budget by thrice and helped me save for the most important thing: the activities!
Activities = S$1,116.71
Hell yeah, splurged didn’t I?
Activities in New Zealand come with very steep price tag, but they are mostly worth every penny. I happily splurged on a glacier helicopter, fjord cruise, etc. This is an area where you should try not to scrimp, but to fully enjoy.
That being said, there are plenty of free activities too. New Zealand’s stunning scenery is made for great hikes, which the locals fondly refer to as “tramping”. The options for great low-cost tramping is abundant in almost every city, from easy bush walks to multi-day treks.
There are also free museums to be found in major cities, such as Canterbury Museum and Christchurch Art Gallery in Christchurch, and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in Auckland.
A simple stroll around parks, gardens, nearby lakes and local neighborhoods will also rarely go wrong. There’s even a free walking tour in Auckland!
Pro Tip: Be on the lookout for discount vouchers. There are plenty of them to be found, sometimes in i-Sites, agencies, but especially inside the AA Travellers magazine which are freely distributed throughout the countries. I saved 20% on my helicopter ride, which is a really good bargain!
Here are a few recommended activities which piqued my interests. They are not necessarily cheap and I only budgeted to do some of them, but as per shared earlier, they seem mostly amazing and worth the price!
- Waitomo: Waitomo Glowworm Caves Tour
- Waitomo: Ruakuri Cave Tour
- Waitomo: Ruakuri Black Water Rafting – Black Labyrinth
- Matamata: Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
- Rotorua: Agrodome Farm Tour
- Rotorua: Te Puia Geothermal Wonders Day Pass
- Rotorua: Mitai Maori Village Evening Tour
- Taupo: Huka Falls Jet Ride
- Abel Tasman: Abel Tasman National Park Scenic Cruise
- Abel Tasman: Kayaking Abel Tasman’s Beaches
- Franz Josef: Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools
- Fox Glacier: Fox Glacier Heli Hike
- Mount Cook: Hooker Valley Guided Walk
- Lake Tekapo: Earth & Sky Mt John Observatory Tour
- Queenstown: Queenstown Skyline Gondola
- Queenstown: The Lord of the Rings Tour
- Queenstown: NZOne Skydive Queenstown
- Queenstown: Kawarau Bridge Bungy
- Queenstown: Queenstown Paragliding
- Queenstown: Helicopter Flight to Milford Sound
- Milford Sound: Milford Sound Scenic Cruise
- Akaroa: Swimming with Dolphins
Miscellaneous = S$351.97
Miscellaneous mainly accounts for two elements, which is visa-related fees (S$193.70), as well as personal items and merchandises (S$158.27).
My saving advice will be mainly on personal items:
– Bring your own towel and toiletries as most hostels charge you for these.
– Bring a good pair of sturdy shoes. There will be plenty of “tramping” and you do not want to spoil your soles like I did in the middle of nowhere. The closest city was Franz Josef and there was very limited choice of shoes which I could buy, and they freaking cost me NZD125 for a sad-looking pair of shoes which would normally cost maximum SGD65 in Singapore.
– Bring your own lock to keep your valuables secure. Most hostels do not provide lockers, but even when they do, they will not provide locks. When there are no lockers provided, I just use the lock directly on my backpack.
– You can do without renting a pocket wi-fi. Most hostels, buses, and/or i-Sites provide free wi-fi. But if you really cannot live without connectivity, you may want to consider arranging a cheap WiFi to be picked up from Singapore! Or click here if you’re from Hong Kong!
Flight = S$655.53
Transportation = S$238.61
Accommodation = S$298.90
F&B = S$77.76
Activities = S$1,116.71
Visa = S$193.70
Miscellaneous = S$158.27
Total without miscellaneous = S$2,581.21
Total with miscellaneous = S$2,739.48
There you go. I included total spending without miscellaneous because most people wouldn’t have needed to purchase shoes at last minute, so in fact I could’ve survived with only S$2.5K in New Zealand. But if you think everybody has their own odd little emergency, then fair enough, S$2.7K is more like it.
You may want to round up your F&B budget to around S$350 instead, seeing that not everybody will want to go on a bread diet.
Hope this little guide helps in planning your trip and cracks the secret into traveling on a budget in this notoriously expensive country. If you’re interested to find out which places I visited in New Zealand, read New Zealand Itineraries (North & South Islands) for 9 Days, 11 Days & 14 Days.
Do you have any other tips to share for budget traveling in New Zealand?