Top tips for a budget friendly trip to NZ

Most people think a trip to New Zealand is a costly affair- mostly due to impressions of how expensive it can be to fly there. However, New Zealand is actually one of cheaper places I’ve been with prices comparing to trips around the United States. There’s loads of ways you can economize and save money in New Zealand that are fairly unique to the country itself, so I’m writing down all the tips and tricks for you to budget your way to the dream trip you’ve been waiting for.

How to eat for cheap in New Zealand

  1. Download the app first table or bookmark their website. This instrumental site allows you to make a reservation for a wide range of eateries for about $10. Then you get 50% (based on the deal) off your entire order when you eat there. If you like fine dining and great restaurants, this is a killer way to save 50% or more off your bill. *Note that you have to make the reservation 1-3 days in advance depending on the popularity of the restaurant.
  2. Explore the grocery market options. We tried to minimize our eating out to only 1-2 meals a day and bought sandwich supplies, breakfast items, and other snacks at the markets. The grocery stores are easy to navigate and have lots of fun options. The 3 top markets for saving money on groceries are: Pac N Save (Costco-like), New World (our fave), and Count Down.
  3. Fast food. Forget Mcdonald’s- that place let us down this trip as far as pricing. However Dominos really rallied for us and it’s got multiple locations across the nation. In under 10 minutes you get your order, plus one large pizza is only $6 NZD or $3.50 USD ! That’s even cheaper than in the US, really fast, and super satisfying after a long day when you’re just ready to curl up in your Airbnb.
  4. Book airbnbs that include breakfast. 50% of our stays did and they were all amazing! I’ve never stayed in such generous places- they usually included toast with butter/ jam, breakfast cereals and milk, fruit, yogurt, and of course a selection of teas and coffee.
  5. Buy your alcohol at the liquor stores or grocery stores instead of drinking at restaurants. It’s much cheaper- particularly if you like cider which goes for practically the price of water some places.
    • Note: For purchasing alcohol at stores OR at bars/ restaurants you’ll be asked to present identification proving your age. For international visitors, the only identification they will accept is your PASSPORT.  

How to save money on activities in New Zealand

  1. When shopping for adrenaline activities and tours check with multiple operators to see if they combo with other tours you want to do. Many do offer combos and discount the rate of the 2nd activity. For example rafting the Kawaru River we found operators that combo’d a cruise on Milford Sound, and another that combo’d jet boat tours and the Queenstown Luge. The latter ended up actually saving us more money so that’s the combo and operator we chose to go with.
  2. Bookmark the site: Bookme for last minute tour discounts. If there’s any activities you’re interested in that you aren’t on a tight timeline for or worried about going with a specific operator (ie: biking tours, wine tours, film locations, or horse back riding tours) visit the site bookme to see what options are available. This site sells discounted tours to fill empty seats or drive business on slower days and usually offers 40-50% off and more in some cases. During our visit to Queenstown we booked a horseback riding tour at 40% off and admission to an Ice Bar for 50% off.  
  3. Do less costly activities and more FREE stuff! If you’re a LOTR fan, see my post here for a diy guide to filming locations across the country. Visit the National Park visitor centers to learn about the history and culture and find info about great hikes in the area. Road trip out to scenic spots and have a picnic! There’s lots of great ways to plan a do it yourself tour and save lots off the organized tour price.

How to save money on gas in New Zealand

  1. If you saw my camper-van post than you know gas is a costly price for road tripping around New Zealand. The more you plan out where you will fill up, the more you will save on gas. Purchasing gas in larger areas is loads cheaper due to the demand. (for example, gas in Glenorchy was $1.50 NZD MORE than gas in Queenstown and it’s only a 46 km drive)
  2. Pick up an EXON Mobile rewards card at the start of your road trip. Exon stations were generally the baseline for price in the cities and with a rewards card you save $0.03 off each liter and once you accumulate enough points, you can cash in for $5, $10, $15 off your gas bill.

And of course the easiest way to save money when travelling anywhere is to visit in the shoulder or off seasons. This will save you the most money on your lodging and car rental and usually impacts even the cost of activities.

See my other cost saving articles for NZ below:

My top 3 budget friendly airbnbs in NZ

My top tips for road tripping New Zealand

Should you rent a campervan in New Zealand

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The top 3 budget friendly Airbnbs in NZ

If you’ve explored this website at all, you’ve probably seen that I love me some airbnbs. I spend hours pouring over lodging for each place I visit- reading reviews, looking through photos, and just visualizing how the location will affect my itinerary. I generally prioritze uniqueness and value so with that- here’s the top 3 amazing airbnbs in New Zealand that are all well under $100 US a night!

Best on the North Island

This may- in fact be the best airbnb experience we’ve ever had- anywhere in the world. The home is located about 15 minutes outside of National Park village on the north island of NZ in a prime spot for hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. National Park village itself is really quite small with only a handful of lodges, restaurants, and a train station- so there’s really no reason to stay in town.

Amenities: This airbnb is a standalone apartment that does share the property with the owner’s home. It has its own entrance and doesn’t share any walls with the home, so it still feels very private. It comes with:

  1. a comfortable queen size bed
  2. wood burning stove for heating in the winter
  3. loft with an additional futon
  4. good sized kitchen and eating area and included toast, jams and butter, yogurt, milk, great coffee and tea, and several small sweets
  5. private bathroom
  6. private outside deck
  7. washer and dryer if needed
  8. 7 acres of beautiful farm land to explore including a hammock space, fruit trees, and several small creeks
  9. Smart TV with netflix hookups
  10. Best of all- it has its own private spa/ hot tub outside under the stars and they even have robes for you to use for going in and out

Honestly we spent 2 nights here and I could’ve stayed forever. The hosts were so friendly and accommodating. They even took us on a tour of the property and we got to meet their super friendly donkeys! You could see the tops of Tongariro National Park’s volcano peaks but the views of the surrounding ridge lines and fields were the amazing enough. For my drone footage of the property, click here.

To stay at this incredible airbnb, you can book here.

The best airbnb on the south island of NZ

This airbnb wins awards for having incredible architecture, wildlife, and views all wrapped up in one. It’s an easy 5-10 minute drive outside of Queenstown along the beautiful Glenorchy road and situated in some of the prettiest countryside in the area. The room itself has warm welcoming colors and is very comfortable. Amenities at this home include:

  1. a VERY comfortable queen bed with luxurious bed linens
  2. small breakfast necessities such as a mini fridge, coffees and teas, toaster, set of dishes
  3. Massive bathtub and gold headed shower in a bathroom with a skylight
  4. Did I mention how interesting the overall architecture of the place is?
  5. a paddock full of Disney level friendly deer right outside your room.

While the host was a little more aloof at this property, she did go over maps of nearby trails we could walk and other points of interest nearby. The property actually has 2 airbnbs available to rent (this room being the cheaper of the 2) and a home attached. We spent a very rainy 3 days in Queenstown and we loved being able to retreat to this mountain lodge. Feeding the deer was also a highlight of our entire trip.

To book this property, visit here

Bonus great airbnb for the north island:

As far as amenities and convenient location go, this airbnb doesn’t quite stack up to the previous 2, but what it does win at is insane views and wonderful hosts. It’s located in the very small seaside village of Whangapoua near New Chums Beach on the Coromandel, NZ. It’s about an hour drive from Cathedral Cove and hot water beach which are 2 much more thriving beach side towns. Its views however are unmatched and if you’ve ever wondered what staying in a shipping container would be like- here’s your chance.

The view from right outside the front door and from the communal kitchen

The airbnb includes:

  1. a full size outdoor covered kitchen
  2. private ensuite bathroom
  3. killer views from every angle
  4. an incredible beach less than 5 minutes drive away

To book a stay at this airbnb, visit here.

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Should you rent a camper van in NZ?

If you’re planning a trip to NZ and plan on staying near a lot of the national parks and hiking, odds are you’ve considered renting a campervan. Camping in New Zealand is incredible and there are tons of brilliant campsites however while most people would think that it’s more flexible and cheaper to rent a camper van… but that’s actually NOT the case.

One of our fave airbnbs in Queenstown, NZ

Renting a camper van could cost you hundreds more than staying in comfortable Airbnb’s and at least double staying in dorm hostels/ tent camping. What’s more, if you supplement some of your Airbnb costs with tent camping, not only do you get the best of both worlds with nature and luxury, but you save a lot of money on the cost of the rental and gas.

In NZ you aren’t allowed to just park your rig and camp anywhere- you either need to find specific free campsites or pay to stay in a campground- making it less of a flexible option than you may have been thinking.

Here’s the breakdown:

New Zealand Campground Costs:

All paid NZ campgrounds come with some sort of toilet and water. Most also come with a cooking facility/ kitchen area. Below are the general costs of NZ campgrounds:

  1. DOC/ nonpowered and no shower sites run $8-$15 NZD per person
  2. Holiday parks with power and showers run $25 NZD per person

There are some free campgrounds around the country with no services at all. These aren’t however as conveniently located to sites you might want to see and will require lots of additional planning.

Visit this site here to see free campgrounds

Another amazing airbnb near New Chum’s Beach and Cathedral Cove

New Zealand Camper-van Costs:

*The below costs are based on a 10 night, 2100km/1300 mile road trip on the south island
*The avg cost of gas on our was trip: $7 USD/ gallon or $2.80 NZD/ liter

Rental Cost of the Camper:
$407/ $637 NZD for cheapest option of a camper-minivan
$617/ $966 NZD for next size up rig (sleeps only 3)

Gas costs:
The minivan rig gets 21mpg or 11L/100km so gas will cost $433
or the larger rig gets 12mpg- 19.6L/100km which would cost $758

Cost range for camper-vans: $840 to $1375 not factoring in campground or rental gear costs

Our non- campervan budget

*We tent camped 2 nights at Mount Cook NP. Otherwise we stayed in very nice Airbnbs

  1. Rental Cost of the economy car: $207 – we got a Toyota corolla
  2. Gas Cost: $257 -we got about 35 mpg or 8L/100 km
  3. Campground costs when tent camping: $60 for 2 nights
  4. Airbnb costs: $608 for the other 8 nights around the south island

Our total cost: $1,132 including showers, toilets, and most of the time kitchens with breakfast

Note: We could’ve saved even more by staying in hostels (Avg cost $30/bed) or tent camping more nights (Avg cost $30/night)

Our tent outside the Pouakai hut on Mount Taranaki


So in the end you could rent a camper-van and pay at least $840 with no showers, toilets, or bedding- where you have to pay at least another $300 in campground fees OR find free campgrounds.

OR you could pay around $1100 for amazing airbnbs and a decent car with awesome gas usage. Plus tent camp when you want to be in nature, OR even better stay in one of New Zealand’s crazy beautiful mountain huts like the Pouakai hut!

Thanks for coming to my TED talk! For more articles related to saving money in NZ, see below:

My top tips for a budget friendly trip to NZ

Tips for renting a car in New Zealand

Award worthy Airbnbs in New Zealand

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