Famous as the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand really is a natural paradise. However it is at the bottom of the world and takes a bit of commitment to get there. For a start it’s a 15 hour flight from the Americas, or a 30 hour flight from Europe, and then it can be a tricky place to do affordably. The NZ dollar has been high the last few years and the cost of living always increases.
As a visitor it’s all too easy to spend your money on the huge range of great craft beers or on sampling some of the once-in-a -lifetime adventures – for example heli-skiing over Franz Josef, whale watching at Kaikoura or winery tours on Waiheke Island.
The expensive way to do it is to stay in hotels, rent a new mobile home, stay longer in the cities, and do all the Lord of the Rings tour guide experiences advertised. And if you have some funds then definitely there’s some great tourist experiences to take advantage of.
But as the German backpackers have always known there’s ways to make it more affordable for the average traveller.
To make it worthwhile consider staying a longer time. Although a small country it’s very diverse with mountains, beaches, and forests all within driving distances of the main cities, and you can easily spend a few months on the road exploring. The South Island has the more spectacular scenery while the North Island has more of the beautiful people.
The best time to go (unless you’re a skier) is over the summer months, December to March, when it’s hot. So if you go earlier there’s more chance of getting good deals and also it’s less crowded at the popular spots. Consider going early, from August, before the high season and stay for summer, or stay later into April when it can still be warm.
Here are some tips for doing it the cheaper way.
- Working holiday
If you’re under 30 and lucky enough to come from a country with an agreement with NZ (immigration.govt.nz) then a working holiday can pay your way, and you can get a closer look at NZ culture from the inside. You could live in a city for a few months and then travel, or you could do seasonal jobs such as fruit picking to travel around as you work.
- Travel in your own van
If you buy a camper van once you’re there, and are smart about when you sell, the cost can come back to you at the end of the trip when you sell it. In a camper you have your own freedom and can go where you like, and you are self-sufficient.*
- Cook for yourself
Whether you’re travelling in a van or staying in hostels, aim to cook for yourself as much as you can. Eating out will erode your funds quickly, and you can save for the travel experiences. Eat out for special occasions, or when you need to.
- Go to Nature direct
The big drawcard of this country is the natural experience, but it’s also where lots of tourists rely on guided activities to experience it. For sure it’s easiest to rely on tours, and there’s an added value in having an expert show you round, but if you know where you want to go and do a little research yourself you can design your own trip.
Go camping – there are privately run holiday parks throughout the country, usually next to the beach where you can camp or park your van. There are also campsites in conservation areas maintained by the state. They are kept in great condition in beautiful places. Just be aware the busiest time is end of December and January, when most Kiwis are on holiday too.
The forests are best experienced by walking through them. If you’re well prepared for tramping then do one of the Great Walks, which cost just a small fee for staying in the huts.*
The easiest walk in the country is the beautiful Abel Tasman walk, which goes from beach to beach, and can also be visited for just a day. If you’re more ambitious then do one of the Milford Sound walks. Tongariro Crossing is a one day 8 hour walk across an active volcano.
There’s lots of amazing day walks that can be done from a nearby hostel base.
If you just want to surf and play guitar go to Raglan and stay at Solscape ecolodge.
- Backpacker it, or camp
Check out the Hostel networks and meet lots of other travellers. It’s still relatively cheap, very social and some of them are destinations in their own right.
As already said above, the campsites are not just in beautiful places but are the cheapest kind of accommodation.
Woofing is the volunteer network for organic farms (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). The deal is you do a few hours work each day and you don’t need to pay accommodation and food is provided. You also get to meet the locals, see some lush different properties and communities, and contribute to good projects.
* Freedom camping doesn’t work so well these days, local councils can be strict and move you on
* If you’re doing the serious walks do it properly and make sure you’re prepared – take good shoes, warm clothes, equipment – these are things you can keep, or resell after.