How to Adventure in New Zealand on a Budget – Our 6 Favorite Tips!

Long before we tied the knot we knew that we wanted to honeymoon in ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’—a country that screams ADVENTURE. The one catch?? New Zealand is expensive! If you are like us and want to do all the things but have a limited budget, you’ll need to conduct a LOT of research prior to setting out—or, you can just read-our-blog!

New Zealand boasts a multitude of terrains, climates, and activities that range extensively in magnitude and cost. One day you may find yourself kayaking in the sun around gold sand beaches, and the next you’ll be bundled up climbing a glacier. There are literally endless things to do, it can really feel overwhelming to decide which activities are worth your funds. So how did we have a full blown wedding, purchase and renovate our 1st home, and THEN have a pricey honeymoon?? Here are five tips on how we made our dream trip a reality.

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Before we begin, it’s helpful to appreciate that New Zealand is a fairly remote island with a relatively small population. Its land masses cover a similar surface area of Great Britain or Japan, but only has a population of 4 million (versus 66 million in GB and 127 million in Japan). Our favorite statistic for NZ is that there are more sheep than people! So what does this mean?

  1. There are TONS of green, wild, and uncharted country to explore!
  2. Resources are limited, and it is absolutely ESSENTIAL to pre-book your stay and vehicle.. especially if you plan to travel in the popular summer months.

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If you ‘only’ have two weeks to explore this vast country, your first question will likely be whether to focus on the North or South Island. Be certain of this—there is a vast difference between the two. Sure you can do both, but your time in each will be limited and we think it’s more cost effective (and you’ll do less traveling, more adventuring!), if you focus on one area. As the South Island boasts the mighty fiords, epic glaciers, and is home to the nations adventure capital, we opted to focus on the lower portion.

Which is best for you? Check out this helpful blog: North Island vs. South Island.

Tip #1 – Secure your flights early!

Unless you are located in Australia or SE Asia, you will need to wrap your pocketbook around an expensive flight.

Almost a year prior to our trip, we read blogs, spoke with friends, and set travel alerts to secure the best deal. We recommend Hopper –an app that predicts air costs and provides an immediate alert when the cost of a flight drops. Early one morning in August we awoke to an alert notifying us that flights from LAX to Auckland during our destination period of February, had suddenly dropped below $900. With travel dates ready to go, we snatched our flights before setting out for the day.

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Domestic Flights–If traveling to the South Island you will likely need to purchase internal flights, as most international flights arrive in the capital city of Auckland, which is located in the top portion of the north island.

Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with Grab A Seat — a site that is typically only known to locals. This website supplies the best domestic flight deals on our favorite airline, Air New Zealand. Like us, you may score a domestic flight for as little as $39.

Tip #2 – Secure your Vehicle ASAP

We will argue that the absolute best way to explore New Zealand is with a good ol’ road trip. Most sites you can see up close and personal, as the country boasts easy access to trail heads and parking lots.

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A road trip of course requires a vehicle, and if traveling during the months that boast the most ideal weather (December, January or February), we strongly recommend that you pre-book. Not only will you save a TON of money, but you will save yourself from being that unfortunate family who was behind us at the rental kiosk– sadly they had not pre-booked and were stranded without wheels.

Car vs. CamperVan? As budget travelers we opted to pre-book the cheapest compact car available. We had initially thought it would be the most economical (and the most romantic) to rent a van and park/sleep wherever we like. However, after considering the cost of a van rental, campsites, and gas–which is costly in NZ ($6.30/gallon or $1.68/Liter)–coupled with the curtailing of “pullover and camp where ever ya like” allowance, we kicked this idea to the curb and opted for the economical car.

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Tip #3 – Secure your stay!

Hotels are pricey, bottom line. In the summer months we found that most decent hotels (which weren’t sold out) were $150-$250/night with taxes. Ultimately, the down side to a hotel is that we’d be required to eat out for all meals. We therefore opted to pre-book our stays at locals’ homes through Airbnb. Ultimately we found this to be the best decision of our entire adventure!

Not only did we stay at incredible homes in prime locations, but we met some of the friendliest locals who greeted us with smiles. One family even showed us around their local area!

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At each location we were provided with a lovely breakfast, and sometimes we lucked out with items that helped to supply our picnic lunch (i.e. peanut butter, jelly and bread).

Most importantly, we received the best recommendations and local tips. At every stay we made sure to have a private bathroom and we were surprised that most stays provided a private kitchenette and living area. Every stay had so much personality and charm. Airbnb all-the-way, if you ask us.

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We averaged close to $100/night, but as it was our honeymoon–once or twice we splurged and paid $150/night for a pristine stay. If you are OK sharing a bathroom or even opting for a hostel, we’re certain you can secure an even cheaper stay. Hostels, also, often provide a kitchen so that you can cook your own meals.

Of course, if you’d like a little more freedom and want the van life experience, just be sure to secure it months in advance. We had looked into renting a small RV or van 6 months out–and most were already booked! Again, we were traveling in the popular  month of February.

Tip #4 – Eat Out Responsibly

With breakfasts covered we had to fend for ourselves for lunch and dinner. To help supply the perfect (and cheap) picnic lunch, be sure to visit NZ’s local grocery chain–New World. Their prepared salads and sandwiches are awesome, reasonably priced, and travelers can take advantage of their Club Card to secure the best deals.

Most nights we enjoyed take out from a local favorite and a bottle of chilled wine from the liquor store. As NZ allows you to enjoy a drink with your sunset, we always opted for the less costly “takeaway” option.  Not only did this allow us to eat ocean or lake side, but we saved on pricey drinks.

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As we were in New Zealand on Valentine’s Day, we decided to really live it up just once. If you are so lucky to find yourself in Kaikoura, we recommend that you indulge at the Green Dolphin Restaurant and Bar–it was worth the splurge!

You will also come to find that the food truck scene in NZ is incredible! Two of our favorites included:

  • Fat Tui — if you visit Abel Tasman National Park, you must stop into this awesome burger joint.

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  • Habit Foods is located directly behind the Fiordland Cinema in Te Anua–where you’ll likely stay if visiting the Milford Sound. Don’t be dismayed by the casual outdoor atmosphere–Trip Advisor ranks it as the towns #1 restaurant.

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Frequent the Grocery Store — To help supply your picnic lunch, be sure to check out NZ’s local grocery store–New World. Their prepared salads and sandwiches are awesome and reasonably priced, and travelers can take advantage of their Club Card to secure the best deals.

Tip #5 – Not ALL Excursions are Costly

Sightseeing, hiking, and exploring much of the great outdoors is FREE, and in New Zealand, there is a never ending supply of outdoor adventures! One of our most favorite days was spent hunting waterfalls and caving, and we didn’t pay a thing— read our recent blog “A New Zealand Adventure: Road Tripping Hokitika to Christchurch.”

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You will quickly find that excursions in New Zealand are quite pricey. Below we have noted just a few of our favorite FREE Adventures (stay tuned for a detailed blog):

Tip #6 – Before you pay for an adventure, purchase through a deal site!

If you are even considering New Zealand than you have adventure in your blood, and you will likely want to jump off of cliffs, kayak under huge cliffs, or go Zorbing! Did you know that NZ literally invented bungee jumping?! While there are TONS of free adventures, if you want to check out one of the many cool (and costly!) experiences, then be sure to purchase via a deal sites to secure at least 50% off!

Our favorite trick, also, is to take advantage of Groupon’s 20% off local deals! Pin point your adventure first, and then jump on and book right when the 20% deal pops up!

In a future blog, we will detail some of our favorite paid for excursions. Our most favorite, far and away, was to swim with the wild dolphins in Kaikoura. This was surely one of the most incredible experience of our lives, and as there is only one company offering this unique treat–you MUST book with Dolphin Encounter months in advance.

Relaxing in the Onson Hot Pools in Queenstown, was also pretty nice!

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So what was the damage??

In all, our two week adventure came close to $6,500. Keep in mind that as this was our honeymoon our dear friends and family had significantly helped to fund this adventure. Had we traveled on our own we likely would have cut out most of the more costly excursions, which we will detail in a later blog.

While this amount is by no means a small sum, we feel confident that if we are frugal in our everyday life and budget accordingly, someday we’ll be back to explore the Land of the Long White Cloud! Our dream, in fact, is to one day retire along the bright blue lake in Wanaka.

We would love to know if this entices you to explore NZ! Or if you’ve been, do you have additional tips for fellow budget travelers? Please share in the comments below, or reach out to us on Instagram.

Hugs and Acorns!

@squirrelmusttravel

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2 Replies to “How to Adventure in New Zealand on a Budget – Our 6 Favorite Tips!”

  1. Great Post and tips! New Zealand is incredible but definitely ramps up in Summer and can get pricey quickly. These tips are perfect to curtail those costs, and gas really is unreal at $6 a gallon. We were “upgraded” to a Rav 4 and wish we would have declined for an economy car as we had originally booked.

    Like

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