There is no denying it. New Zealand is an expensive country.
A meal at a cafe costs NZD15, a night in a backpackers goes for around NZD27, and a beer starts at around NZD6. The prices are comparable to Singapore’s, but just like one of my friends had aptly described, in terms of costs, New Zealand is “Singapore without hawker centres.”
When I first decided to embark on a solo trip to New Zealand, I knew it was going to be tough to keep to a budget. The air ticket alone could have taken me to Europe and going solo meant I had no one to split costs with. With the money I was intending to spend, I could have done a month-long Europe trip, taking in the sights of multiple countries. But all my research about NZ, despite the costs, was pushing me towards this beautiful country.
I am thankful for the posts on Nomadic Matt, Travels of Mike, and Solowayfarer, for giving me a rough idea about the actual costs of travelling in NZ. I took a lot of their tips into consideration when I first started planning for my trip, and strongly recommend their posts should you be thinking about travelling to NZ, and have no idea where to start with.
It is important to note that :
- All figures mentioned, unless otherwise stated, is in SGD.
- This “guide” is not suitable for anyone looking to stay in hotels (duh), or to party everyday.
- Neither is it for travelers on a tight time schedule.
- By traveling in winter, I was able to enjoy more discounts not commonly seen during the peak summer period. However, it also meant that I was more often than not, subjected to bad weather, and reduced activities. For instance, the public bus to Mt. Cook does not run during the winter period, and the Milford Track is closed during winter. Things to consider should you be thinking of which season to visit NZ.
- Yes, it is less than $3000 INCLUDING RETURN AIR TICKETS to Singapore.
Now, back to the all important question:
How on earth did I manage to spend just $2950, averaging to a mere $47 per day, for 63 glorious days in New Zealand?
Following the lead from Travels of Mike, I am splitting it into different main categories, to make it easier to explain.
1. Air Tickets
The key to securing cheap travel is starting it right, from the air tickets. It is helpful to roughly know your itinerary at this point in time. Why you might ask.
Straightforward enough, money and time saving.
Checking out the tickets to New Zealand, I realized that at that time, Qantas was running a sale of SIN-AKL for $966. Not too bad, considering we are taking a trip to the edge of the world. I realized however, if I were to purchase these tickets, it would mean that I will have to travel back to North Island, from the South Island, which will cost approximately $60 extra, making the total cost $1200.
However, if I were to fly in SIN-AKL, and fly out CHC-SIN, it will save me the extra cost, and the extra time of making an additional trip back to the North. Exploring my options, it seemed like flying into Auckland, and out from Christchurch, was the more sensible of choices.
Once I decided the combination, I found it helpful to first look at Skyscanner, and Cheap Tickets. They both source through the available flights, to provide the cheapest option. I usually find cheaper tickets on the latter though.
However, I never, never book from these external sites. At least for me, I find it much safer to book directly from the airlines, so if anything were to go wrong (e.g. flight delay, wrong deduction of money), I will know who is the responsible party to look for.
Searching through a variety of dates (usually cheaper air tickets for Wed, Thurs or Sun), I got my tickets at $958, two-way.
* Qantas run sales to NZ from time to time. For increased efficiency, you might want to subscribe to its newsletter. Recently, SIA just announced its partnership with Air New Zealand, and its new flight routes to NZ. So you can expect some promotional flights from them. Remember to check them out too!
For two months, I spent a mere $400 on accommodation, and this is largely due to my Workaway stint.
When I am not on Workaway, I relied on another popular budgeting tool for backpackers, to not only save heaps of money, but to meet notably, locals. That’s right, I am talking about the magical Couchsurfing.
I surfed for around 17 days while backpacking on the North and South Island. I honestly had serious doubts about CS at first. Afterall, I was traveling alone, and had no idea who these hosts were beyond their CS profile. I was so scared, that on my first “surf”, I left a note with my Workaway host that if I did not reach her in two days time, please call my mum and tell her something happened to me.
Of course, it all turned out to be an exaggeration. My host was an entrepreneurial Frenchman who opened my eyes to the world of cheeses. I met a Maori lady who took me to my first open-mic session, and an active hiker who invited me to his friend’s home for the World Cup finals, brought me to a hike, and even drove me to the train station.
Amazing, the kind of people you can connect with on Couchsurfing.
I stayed in various backpackers (or hostels, as most know it), and managed to save a few dollars by talking to a random backpacker when I was in Wellington. Realizing that I will still be roaming around NZ for a couple of weeks, she kindly offered me her VIP Card, which came with $4 discount every night, at selected backpackers (the BBH card or YHA card works in the same manner, with their own affiliated backpackers).
*I would have tried campervan-ing if I had someone else to split the cost with. With various free and DOC camping sites all around NZ, it is the best way to experience NZ and shave some bucks off lodging. Definitely the best option, but I would recommend doing it in summer or spring where is all warm and toasty for sleeping inside a vehicle.
I have mentioned this numerous times, drive if you can in New Zealand.
By car, by campervan or even by bikes in summer, NZ is built in such a way that it is a huge hassle to get to place to place without a personal vehicle. That being said, it is not impossible to do it, just like how I did. Though, I did have to miss out a few sights, because no public buses were heading there (e.g. Mt. Cook in winter, Roy’s Peak, Hotel Cardrona).
Prior to the trip, I had read about backpacker hop-on/hop-off buses, which provides a nicely packaged tour ranging from two weeks to a month. The driver, also a tour guide in a way, will bring you from place to place, and even help in making accommodation and activities reservations. This is the best alternative way to travel NZ, if you do not want the trouble of arranging transport, itinerary, and want to meet a bunch of like-minded backpackers.
I wanted the flexibility of staying at a place for longer if I wanted to, and did not want to stay in a clique of backpackers. Hence, I opted for the more local friendly option, a Naked Passport. I snuck a 10-trip pass for $138, making each bus trip only $13.8, regardless of the distance.
I also hithchiked from Wanaka to Queenstown, but that was more for my personal satisfaction of wanting to try hitchhiking at least once before heading home. Though, I have a friend who hitchhiked all the way from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island. Quite impressive if you ask me, and a definite money saver. But, you should know the risks involved in hitchhiking, so do this at your own risk.
*While it is refreshing to travel alone, bringing a friend or two would mean being able to split the transportation cost. Fuel prices are high in NZ, and this is something to consider should you think of driving alone. In winter, the icy roads and short daylight hours are potential problems especially if you are a driver from Singapore, who have no experience in dealing with this.
Splurge and pamper yourself from time to time (e.g. having more than two Fergburgers while at Queesntown, enjoying a glass of NZ wine from the Marlborough region), but cooking your own meals can really help save some money.
Every backpacker I stayed in has a kitchen, so there is no excuse to not use it. There are huge supermarkets in practically every city and you will probably get sick of eating fish and chips for every meal. So get cooking!
I saved massively on food, not only because I cooked myself, but also of my time at Workaway, where my food expenses were fully covered. Limiting my alcohol consumption also helped. In total I spent around $170 on food.
* I have never cooked a meal in my entire life (minus cup noodles), and even my Workaway host seemed to doubt my ability to cook for myself when I left the comforts of her home. But I did it! Don’t be embarrassed about your cooking skills (I wasn’t!). You will probably find heaps of young backpackers who are having problems like you. Here is a good article to kickstart your culinary adventures!
5. Entertainment and Activities
Without a doubt, where the bulk of your spendings will go to.
New Zealand is renowned for being an adventure country, and it is one of the reasons why it attracts so many backpackers every year. From bungee jumping, to heliskiing, from rolling down the hill in a plastic ball to walking on ice glaciers, there is an activity for everyone, and naturally, they don’t come cheap.
I adopted a “choose between the two” strategy to try and limit my spendings here.
Because I did skydiving at Taupo, I did not do a bungee. I did a whale watch at Kaikoura, and forgo the dolphin swimming. I took the Tranz Alpine train, but not the Northern Explorer, and instead of going for a heli-ice glacier tour, I settled for a valley walk to see the Franz and Fox glaciers.
It worked, at least for me. I did not regret any money I spent on each of the activity, and the activities I had to miss out on (except for the Tongarriro Crossing, which I would gladly pay to do, but the weather was not on my side). I had my fair share of “adventurous New Zealand”, but I would recommend leaving more than enough cash for activities outside of your original plans. My skydive was unplanned, and I was fortunate to have enough cash for it.
I ended up spending around $860 on activities. Rather than scrimping on the activities, like what my dad said, “it is not about the money. It is about the fact that you can’t even skydive in Singapore if you wanted to!” It is usually the activities you don’t do that you will end up regretting. So don’t let that happen should you visit New Zealand!
*Bookme is an excellent site. Somewhat of a Groupon for activities, it features various deals on popular activities in New Zealand. Discounts can go as high as 80%, but they are usually snapped away fast. I have used this site twice, and had a couple of backpacker friends used it as well, with no problems. I would think it is safe, but once again, try it at your own risk!
For the internet dependent, unfortunately, NZ is lightyears behind when it comes to connectivity. Internet is notoriously expensive, and unlike vastly connected Singapore, you have to pay for shitty wi-fi at the backpackers.
My phone, for better or for worse, refused to work in NZ. That eliminated my option of purchasing a SIM card with data, and I had to scrimmage for Wi-fi everywhere I went. In the bigger cities like Auckland and Wellington, it is easy to find free (but slow) wi-fi in the CBD areas, and McDonalds. The famed Te Papa museum has excellent wi-fi, and I found myself spending more time there not just for its outstanding exhibits.
By looking for free wi-fi, and relying on the wi-fi from my couchsurfing hosts, I spent $0 on connection.
*Here is a more detailed write-up about connectivity in New Zealand. I was with T-mobile for my 2G phone and they offer data plans starting from NZD30 for 3GB of data. Similarly, Vodafone has its traveler SIM for NZD49 with 2GB data for a month. You can get these SIM cards from Auckland airport, but it might be helpful to check their coverage before purchasing the cards. Some more remote areas, especially on the South Island, are not as well-covered.
This pretty much sums up my main spendings in New Zealand. Now that I have done it myself, it is definitely possible to embark on a dream trip without breaking my bank account. All it takes it a little more planning, and perhaps some self-discipline (you know, to not indulge overly in alcohol and what not).
I have seen other extreme budget travelers, who managed to travel for much lesser than $3000. But, ultimately, rather than the money, it is about what you are comfortable with doing. A lot of travel bloggers have mentioned this, and I agree to it wholeheartedly: do not be so obsessed with your spendings, that you neglect to enjoy the holiday you deserved.
Hopefully, this was helping in sharing some insights about the possibility of traveling for cheap in NZ!