award-winning solo travel blogger

How To Travel New Zealand On A Cheap Budget (Yes, It’s Possible!)

This is not an ad for Uncle Tony, but ever since they launched their new flights to Auckland, everyone’s been boasting about going to New Zealand. I’ve had at least 5 friends boasting about their New Zealand trip on Facebook since coming home in January. And mind you, I don’t have a lot of friends… 


Hiked up a mountain to the beautiful Smooth Water Bay at Haast.

Flights to New Zealand may be cheaper, but travelling around the country will still cost you a bomb. Seriously, unless you’re earning £ or €, NZ$ is not cheap. I’ve had a lot of people asking me how I managed to travel around New Zealand for close to a year and still come home with a bit of saving. To be honest, I’m still surprised I managed to see so much of New Zealand on such a small budget.

Here’s how I save money while travelling in New Zealand: It’s simple, really; I lived cheap. I got a minimum wage job ($14.75) and worked for a few months to save up enough before I started travelling. I only shopped at second-hand stores and op-shops (which is also probably where I got bed bugs). When I was on my big road trip, accommodation was a decrepit tent that would leak when it rained. As for sustenance, it was white bread, tuna, fake Nutella, canned pasta, and banana party every day.

But of course you don’t have to live like a broke-ass backpacker like me, just pick and choose my New Zealand budgeting hacks below and adjust it to your own levels of comfort. 

1.Cook your own food

That one night I made nasi lemak over a campfire.

That one night I made nasi lemak over a campfire.

Unlike Asia, eating out in New Zealand is really expensive. The cheapest meal would be McDonald’s or Burger King, and it’ll cost you at least $5. Fish and chips takeaways will cost you about $10 and up, while a proper meal at a sit-down restaurant starts at $15. Imagine how much you’ll be forking out (haha) if you’re eating out three meals a day. If you want to save on food, get cooking. Most accommodation places will have cooking facilities so don’t you worry about that.

2. The cheapest place to get groceries: Pak’N Save, Countdown, and New World, in that order

Pak’nSave is probably the cheapest place for groceries in New Zealand. Image via paknsave.co.nz.

They are your Kiwi version of Giant and Tesco. However, they are only available in bigger towns and cities. In smaller towns, you’d be stuck with smaller, more expensive grocery stores like Four Square (nope, it’s not related to the app).

These grocery chains usually have deals and discount for members. I highly recommend applying for a Pak n’ Save/Countdown/New World member card; it’s free and immediate. New World even has a traveller card for those who are visiting the country for a short time.

Word of advice: plan your meals as New Zealand can be quite remote. Stock up when you are in bigger towns to make sure you’re not stranded in a godforsaken village with no stores nor restaurants. There had been several times where my friends and I arrive at a town after 5pm and everything were closed. We would’ve gone hungry that night if we didn’t have a few packets of instant noodles left to share between us.

3. Buy house brand

Homebrand, Budget and Pams were my best friends in New Zealand. They made sure I can afford food. Honestly, they’re not the best, but they’re not that bad either. You can’t really complain about the quality when you’re only paying $1 for a loaf of bread.

4. Buy everything else you need at The Warehouse

The Warehouse has cheap everything, but you also get what you pay for. Image via thewarehousecareers.co.nz.

The Warehouse has everything you need at a decent price – camping sets, clothes, shoes stationary, toiletries, everything. Op shops are great for crazy bargains too, but they usually only have clothes, books, and the most random knick knacks.

5. Buy and sell second-hand vehicles on Trade Me

Trademe.com is the biggest website for buying and selling anything and everything. It’s by far the most popular place in New Zealand to shop for used cars, bicycles, or motorbikes. This was where my brother bought and I sold his scooter. If you’re on a long road trip, it might be cheaper to buy a second hand car than to rent. This couple on a six-week road trip bought a car for USD382.88; renting a car would’ve cost them over USD1,000 for a month.

6. Look for activities and restaurant deals on Book Me and Grab One

Screenshot of BookMe. Goat Island looks like a fun place to be.

Screenshot of BookMe. Goat Island looks like a fun place to be.

BookMe.com has massive deals on attractions, activities and restaurants across the country. The only thing is you’ll have to book your trip early as the deals on offer have limited space and a specific travel period.  GrabOne is basically a version of Groupon; it’s a great site to look for dinner deals at a nice sit-down restaurant. 

7. If you’re seeing the country by bus, check out Naked Bus

I’ve not tried it personally because the timing was never right, but the Naked Bus $1 fare deals sound like a steal: http://nakedbus.com/nz/bus/how-to-get-our-cheap-1-fares.

8. Shop for relocation deals before renting a car or camper van

New Zealand is road trip nation.

New Zealand is road trip nation!

If the universe aligns and the pick-up/drop-off time and location works out for you, relocation deals will help you save a buttload of money.

Here’s how relocation deals work: The rental company needs people to get their vehicles from the smaller towns back to the bigger cities. They’ll set a date and number of days to get the vehicle from point A to point B, and might even offer a full tank of petrol. As long as you get the car back to the destination before the deadline, you’re free to drive wherever you want. They’ll sometimes charge you a token sum of $1 a day for the vehicle, which is basically nothing.

Relocation deals are great for short, straight-to-the-point getaways, not so much for those who are planning a big spontaneous road trip. They sell out fast, so make sure you check for relocation deals often and book your trip before someone else snatches if from under your nose. To find New Zealand relocation listing: http://www.rentalcarrelocation.co.nz/

Warning! Campervans can be a tricky if you are travelling with family, here’s what happend during my family trip – A Super Intense Family Trip: Stuck In A Campervan Together For 6 Days 

10. Forget all the corny tourist attractions and enjoy New Zealand at its best

An afternoon looking at seals lazing on the beach - FREE AND PRICELESS. The burger meal after that is a different story.

An afternoon hanging out with seals on the beach – FREE AND PRICELESS. The burger meal after that is a different story.

Tourist attractions are fun, but they also cost a tonne of money. The best of New Zealand is in its nature. New Zealand has some of the world’s best hiking trails, and crazy picturesque highways, lakes, waterfalls and beaches to enjoy. Go hiking, laze by the beach, go for a drive, take a dip in the refreshing lake, get lost in New Zealand’s raw beauty; believe me, you won’t be missing out on the other paid activities. After all, the best things in life are free.

11. Pre-drink

For obvious reasons.

12. Work for free food and accommodation

Outside my office at Milford Sound Lodge, where I WOOFed for two months.

Outside my office at Milford Sound Lodge, where I WOOFed for two months.

If you’re not familiar with WOOFing, it’s a system where you volunteer in exchange for food and/or accommodation. WOOFing is really popular in New Zealand, heaps of farms, restaurants, and hostels are always looking for free labour, especially in the summer. When I say “labour”, I mean it quite literally. You’re looking at jobs like gardening, fruit picking, building, painting, housekeeping, washing dishes and the likes.

Depending on the host, WOOFers are usually asked to stay for a minimum period of two weeks or more, which makes it a great option for tired long-term backpackers who are looking for somewhere to call home for a while. The arrangement of work hours and remuneration also differs from host to host. Some offer only food, some offer only accommodation, the more generous ones add on incentives like free activities.

If you’re in a fun place, WOOFing is great. I WOOFed in Milford Sound Lodge for four hours a day and got free food, a dorm bed, and the world’s best mountain views in return. Other WOOF-ers that I’ve met told me less than pleasant stories. There were some who had to work for up to six hours a day and got only accommodation in return. Others WOOF-ed in places so boring that they couldn’t wait to leave. I suggest for you to research about the employer and location before sending in your WOOF-ing application.

While some host requires you to have a valid working visa, there are some hosts who welcome travellers on a visitor’s visa as well. Check with your host when you are applying. This is my favourite site to look for WOOF-ing and work opportunities: http://www.backpackerboard.co.nz/

13. Camp at Department of Conservation Sites

The most breathtaking (and free) accommodation in New Zealand - Cobb Valley DOC campsite.

The most breathtaking (and free) accommodation in New Zealand – Cobb Valley DOC campsite.

Camping is by far the cheapest and the best way to tour New Zealand, for me at least. With postcard-perfect scenes at every mile, having a car gives you the freedom to stop anywhere and anytime to take in the view.

The cheapest place to camp is at Department of Conservation (DOC sites), you only pay about $5 to $7 per person a night. The only downside is there are little to no facilities; most places only have a shared toilet. Sometimes, DOC sites are located in remote places that require you to drive for ages on graveled road. It’s worth it though, hunting for hidden DOC sites has led me to discover some of the most beautiful campsites. Falling asleep to the sounds of calling kiwis and waking up to insane views is always a plus.

For a list of DOC campsites: http://www.doc.govt.nz/campsites

Last but not least,

14. Rely on friends and family’s kindness

Dear 15b Grange Street, thank you for letting me mooch off you <3 <3 <3

Dear 15b Grange Street, thank you for letting me mooch off you.

Skills required: Humility and shamelessness. Remember to return the kindness with food cook and some good wine! 

Whether you are travelling for two weeks or living in New Zealand for two years, I’m sure the tips above will help to lighten the load.

Have fun!

If you don’t know my New Zealand story yet, read ‘Why I Quit My Job And Flew To New Zealand For Half A Year‘.

Read more stories from New Zealand: 
34 Truly Unforgettable Experience In New Zealand 
The Difference Between Hiking In New Zealand And Malaysia 
How Did 9 Months Traveling New Zealand Change Me?
 The Best Thing To Do In Dunedin That Every Other Site Missed 

I’m dedicating meimeichu.com to honest travel stories that’ll teach and inspire. If you like traveling through my stories and photos, do follow my personal Facebook and Instagram profiles where I share more stories! 

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