New Zealand has always been on our bucket list for travel and we were both very excited to finally explore it.
We spent a total of 69 days and just under £4200 travelling in New Zealand, which sounds alarmingly like we threw money down the drain. We didn’t; we just decided to treat ourselves to certain experiences. Of that sum, we spent 18% on accommodation, 21% on food, 37% on transport and 23% on activities.
New Zealand offers visa exemption to most European visitors with a 3 months tourist visa for most and a 6 months tourist visa for British citizens. There is also the option of a working holiday visa for under 30’s.
New Zealand uses the New Zealand dollar which bizarrely no longer has one, two or five cent coins. Prices get rounded to the nearest 10 cents. When we visited the exchange rate was a favourable NZ$1.97 to £1. Accessing money from ATMs was easy, but quite a few charge for cash withdrawals. We tended to use ANZ as they did free withdrawals. Payment by card (EFTPOS) is available almost everywhere (even farmers markets) but some vendors aren’t able to process foreign credit card payments.
Saving some precious dollars is actually quite easy. We found a couple of good websites offering discounts on activities, food and accommodation which were great in low season. One we found by picking up the Arrival magazine at Auckland airport. There is an Arrival app which allows you to search for local deals or in other regions of New Zealand. These can be used online or by presenting the app to a cashier. The other great source of discounts was Book.Me (a little like Groupon in the UK) where you can pre-book attractions for certain dates and times. This unfortunately ties you to a certain date and time but can give you huge discounts. These deals are not always available so it if worth checking bookme frequently and in advance.
We took a different approach for the north and south islands which worked fairly well.
On the north island we mainly used Intercity’s Flexipass to get around, but did hire a car to visit Cape Reinga and the Bay of Islands. We bought our passes second hand on the Intercity facebook page and cut the hourly cost down to $5 (new passes cost between $6 and $10 per hour). We got everywhere we wanted to visit, but since we were camping this often meant staying in town at a holiday park rather than cheaper places in the country side.
We made a huge saving by crossing the Cook Strait as pedestrians and using hours from our Flexipass. We paid $15 (using 3 hours of the pass) each instead of $69. With a vehicle it costs around $300 so if you can, leave a car on one side and pick up a new one on the other.
On the south island we hired a car for 38 days rather than worry about buying and selling a car. We paid $20 per day including our own hire car excess insurance. This gave us a lot more freedom and access to cheaper DoC and community run campsites. We did find that the petrol prices increased as we traveled west and south but ranged from $2.38 to $2.68 per litre of petrol! Fuel discount vouchers are available at New World and Pak ‘n save supermarkets and can save you up to 15 cents/ litre. Diesel is a lot cheaper per litre, but owners of diesel cars have to pay road user charges of $74 per 1000 km which makes hiring a diesel car not worth it. For this all we’ve seen were petrol.
The food in New Zealand reminded us of British food, especially the pies. We mostly shopped and cooked for ourselves and most of the local produce is pretty good quality. We were a little shocked to see how much food was imported from places like China and USA. We ate out a couple of times and had some very good meals. Fish and chips is still a good and cheap meal at $10 (normally big portions!) and the burgers a Fergburger in Queenstown were great. On average a cup of coffee cost $4-5. Also don’t miss the golden kiwis, ice cream or the local wine. Being an island nation, sea food ranks quite highly. Around Havelock green mussels are a delicacy worth trying. In the south east blue cod is a notable specialty. We tried it and found it quite tasty. The west coast of the south island is famous for whitebait: the juveniles of six different river fishes usually served deep fried. We did not try this, because we did not want to support the over-fishing of juvenile fish, especially since four of the six species are at risk.
We stayed in a variety of accommodation including hostels, motels, holiday parks and campsites. The accommodation was of a good standard with holiday cabins and motel rooms starting at $50. We bought a full set of camping equipment which paid for itself within 10 nights of camping rather than staying in hostels.
We found the holiday parks expensive at $20 pppn for a tent site, which often did not include WiFi or kitchen utensils. The DoC campsites were fairly good, but totally inconsistent for the price. The cheapest ones we used at $8 pppn often only had a bush toilet and sometimes a freshwater supply which needed to be boiled or treated. We found we got much better value at campsites run by local communities or councils which cost $0-10 per person per night and had better facilities. The best source of reliable information on campsites is the Campermate app. This app is a must have for everyone who intents to stay on campsites. It lists facilities, provides directions and contact details and people can comment and review the places.
It is impossible to have nothing to do in New Zealand, it is rightly the adventure capital of the world but also good for the less adventurous traveler. Our top activities are:
- Tongariro crossing in the snow
- Knife making at Barrytown
- Take a scenic helicopter ride over the glaciers and Mount Cook
- Cruising around Milford Sound
- Hiking the Abel Tasman
- Seeing the All Blacks do the Haka
- Sailing an America’s cup yacht around Auckland harbour
Learn a of the Kiwi lingo
The most important change to the English language is the pronounciation of an E as an I. This makes for some funny moments – All hands on deck!
New Zealand is an awesome country, with so much to see and do. Ideally, take your time to avoid the rain, snow, wind and see it in all it’s glory in the sunshine after the storm. It’s not cheap but it is unique and spending the money is totally worth it. The food is good and the people are very welcoming. We enjoyed learning how the Maori and Colonials met and how New Zealand developed. Beyond the history, we were awed by the landscapes, confused by weird wildlife and amazed by the diversity.