Thinking about planning a trip to New Zealand? Worried it might be one of the most expensive trips of your life?
This is exactly what I was thinking before I planned my two week driving tour around New Zealand, especially after doing a week in Sydney. Was it expensive overall? Yes, more than most of my trips. Is it possible to spend wisely and not break the bank? Yes. Will you still need to save a lot before the trip? Absolutely. Would I, aka Frugal Francine, do it again? You bet!
The saving grace? All the best things to do on the South Island are FREE. You don’t have to plan a super expensive trip. Of course there are some things that will be pretty expensive regardless, like the flight for example. But if you watch the prices and know the best practices for finding cheap flights, it doesn’t have to be that bad. On all of our flights, we managed to spend less than $2,000 during peak travel time. This took us from Shanghai > Seoul > Sydney > Christchurch > Singapore > Shanghai. ADDED BONUS: Seoul Incheon and Singapore are two of my favorite airports in the world. I was beyond thrilled to have our layovers there!
Now, getting to what you came here for!
How to be smart about your spending in New Zealand.
- Book an affordable flight at an affordable time.
My flights weren’t super cheap, but considering it was summer and Chinese New Year, it could have been a lot more expensive. New Zealand and Australia are both very popular destinations during CNY. If your dates are flexible and not during peak travel times, then it will be even more affordable! Keep in mind that NZ is really far away. Flights generally aren’t super affordable, so budget accordingly. There are other areas to be frugal!
- Rent a vehicle if you’re traveling in a group.
This is another area that is going to be a bit difficult to skimp on. You have to get around somehow, and you’re not going to find metros, taxis, or buses to make it cheaper. So just bite the bullet on this one. In the end, our camper van averaged out to $70 USD a night per person, not including the $20 NZD a night we’d spend on a campsite or gas. If I could do this again, I’d make some changes. This was our first experience renting a camper van and we made some mistakes.
If you’re traveling alone, maybe try hitchhiking! If I go back alone someday, that would be my plan. I saw so many hitchhikers all over the island. It was shocking to me, but I bet it’s definitely affordable!
- Take advantage of the endless views, beaches, and hikes.
There aren’t many big cities on the South Island, so everything is super calm and natural. It all almost looks untouched. Just enjoy the beauty that this island has to offer. It’s truly amazing. I’ve never been anywhere more beautiful in my life. New Zealand knows how to do nature. And none of this costs a dime! You don’t have to skydive the Milford Sound just to get a good view of it, though that would be pretty amazing! My point is you don’t have to do the expensive attractions to experience what New Zealand is known for.
- Cut out destinations that are too far from anything else.
The island may seem small, but it isn’t that small. Evaluate your trip as you go. We wanted to go to a beach that was six hours one way from anything else. Some things just aren’t worth the extra gas, time, and hassle. We decided to remove that destination from the itinerary and got a head start on our next destination. GAS IS NOT CHEAP IN A CAMPER VAN, so be sure that you map your trip out wisely, leading me to my next point…
- Get directions FIRST to fully plan your itinerary.
We usually double checked a day or two before leaving a location what the travel directions were to the next few places. You will most likely have to adjust some things. There are several places you may want to go to that only have one road leading to it. You don’t want to pass that road on your way to another destination that appeared to be the smartest choice for the next stop according to the map, or else you will have to backtrack, which means extra gas and time, therefore extra money.
- Buy groceries and cook at your campsite.
The campsites in New Zealand are generally pretty nice. Almost all of the ones we stayed at were really great with nice showers and kitchens. Cooking yourself will save you loads of money. Eating out actually costed each of us roughly $15-20 USD per meal! Even eating out once a day can get really expensive, so eat cold lunches while you’re on the road and cook cheap meals in the evenings. If you don’t have a camper with a refrigerator, a cooler wouldn’t be a bad idea. We didn’t use one, but I’m sure you could pick up one and some ice that would be worth the cost considering how much you’d save on lunches throughout the trip. Just an idea!
Budgeting in New Zealand really isn’t that difficult. You’ll have two major expenses (flights and transportation/accommodation around the island). Yes, these are big expenses, but saving on the rest helps it to average out. It doesn’t have to be as expensive as you’d imagine. Enjoying NZ means enjoying the nature and beauty that is all around. It’s not the type of travel destination where you need to spend money on sightseeing or entry fees, though there are expensive options to enhance your sightseeing if you want to go that route, like taking a helicopter over some glaciers, skydiving, kayaking, etc.
Relax, enjoy the drive, and pull over often for the scenery. Embrace your inner Pocahontas and really get in touch with world around you, because New Zealand knows how to do nature the best.