How to Backpack New Zealand on an Extreme Budget

Accidentally glance at New Zealand on a map and when you check your wallet later you will notice that you are missing twenty dollars. There is no denying that New Zealand is expensive; $1500 will buy you a month living in some shady hostels and eating wiggly noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Vegetable soup will be a common fixture on your menu, and you will quickly find that condiments can jazz up a plate of rice quite nicely.

Meanwhile, the same amount of money would buy three months in SE Asia where your only terror is the fact that your pants no longer fit for all the chicken Pad Thai you have stuffed into your mouth.

If you’re still set on going to New Zealand, then you’re in for a treat because the land of the long white cloud is worth every penny (and there will be a LOT of pennies). With some of the most spectacular mountain views, adrenaline experiences, and varied picturesque environments New Zealand will thrill the pants off you, and you won’t even mind that your morning coffee cost the same as a nights accommodation in Cambodia.

If backpackers in New Zealand had a collective motto, it would be ‘Just keep hustling’. Hustling looks differently from person to person. Along my travels I met people who were living off two minute noodles and bowls of rice: meals that they would soon forget whilst trekking through Milford Sound. Others were working in orchards and vineyards and using their weekends to tramp, explore, and play. It just seems that people have decided that New Zealand is worth every day of hard labour or every bowl of tasteless mush. And I would have to agree, it is worth it.

So to get you a hop and skippin’ through the sheep-filled green fields of New Zealand, here is a quick and handy guide to backpacking New Zealand on a pretty tight budget.

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1.Take the Bus

Petrol in New Zealand is very, very expensive; at some of the more remote places in NZ, we were paying 2.10 cents a litre, which meant that filling up our fuel-guzzling campervan would set us back nearly $100 each pit stop. Luckily, there is a much more economic way to travel throughout the islands and that is the bus. New Zealand has one of the best cheap bus networks I have ever seen. The routes go everywhere and fares are very reasonable. For $250 you can buy a ten-trip pass on the Naked Bus which will get you anywhere from the Bay of Islands to Te Anau in the far south.

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2. If your heart is set on a campervan, try a relocation special.

Most of the major camper van companies offer relocation specials for when they want to move a campervan from one place to another. In New Zealand this is usually between Christchurch and Auckland. Whilst you will still have to pay for petrol, these deals cuts the hiring costs down to nothing. With your accommodation and transport sorted, insurance and petrol will be your main costs.


3. Hitchhiking isn’t that scary

If you’re as poor as a church mouse, your cheapest bet is to stick your little thumb out, put on a big smile, and hope that a friendly New Zealander will toss that indicator on. Hitchhiking is legal in New Zealand and you will notice hopefuls taking to the curb to thumb a lift all over the islands. On the three occasions I hitched a lift in NZ, all were positive and happy experiences; the longest we had to wait was half an hour!

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4. You are going to spend a good chunk of time in the local supermarket

My backpacking pal and I treated going to the supermarket for the day’s food an adventure in itself. We wandered the isles debating whether we wanted nachos or hummus for dinner, labels were read and compared, and the cheapest meats were inspected for queasiness-levels. While you can go mega cheap and survive off rice, potatoes, and beans, you can up the budget by just a little and eat some pretty tasty food. Favourite meals included bean nachos, pita/hummus, and tinned creamed rice.

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5. No time limit? Try WWOOFING.

Imagine a big kitchen stocked full of food. A backpackers dream, no? If you haven’t heard about wwoofing, it stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Not just swapping labour for food and accommodation, wwoofing is also intended to be an educational experience and is a good way to breech that gap between your weekly supermarket shop and the production efforts that go into making the food. For example, where on earth do beans come from? The ground? Trees? I don’t know, do you?! Wwoofing can be a little hit and miss, a little more slavery than wholesome farm experience, but when it is done right, both parties benefit and you’ll find yourself with a big ole’ cupboard full of food.

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6. Avoid Countdown, head to Pak N’ Save instead.

Not all supermarkets are created equal so if you’re on the tightest of budgets, Pak N’ Save is where you need to be shopping. It’s cheap, no frills, and will have all your staples.

7. You need to have a travelling pantry

You will quickly notice that traveller in New Zealand will be lugging around a heavy bag of food- as if we don’t have enough stuff to carry already. Buy a sturdy supermarket bag to carry your goods around in, that way you won’t ever be stuck for a quick meal. Running out for emergency food at expensive petrol stations or convenience stores is a prime way to rack up that budget quickly.

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8. Try a XBase Jumping pass.

A lot of the bigger chain hostels are very reliable but can be a lot more expensive than the little guys. A good way to combat this is by purchasing a package deal of ten nights of accommodation. Base hostels have a 10 night Base Jumping pass available for $250 on their website which puts a night stay at around $25. This is a whole three dollars cheaper than my cheapest night at an independent hostel. They get a bad rap but the big guys know exactly what backpackers want and they also are always in the most convenient places possible, usually right across the road from the bus stop.

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9. Two of you? Share an AirBnB.

The average price of a double room at a hostel? $70 per night. Cutesy room for two in an AirBnB? $40-$60 per night. I had the pleasure of spending three nights at my hosts, Eliza and Logan’s house, in Christchurch; the room had a quirky fit-out, an ensuite bathroom, and was only a couple of kilometres away from the cardboard cathedral. If you’re lucky, you might even become best chums with the owners who will invariably have the best tips for exploring the place. My lovely hosts directed me to a supermarket that was ‘less stabby’ than the one that I had been going to. Thanks!

10. In Summer, sleep outside.

If I wasn’t such a baby (read: single girl who is scared of the dark), camping would be my go-to. New Zealand makes it easy with it’s abundance of Department Of Conservation run campsites which range from being completely free to costing around $6 per person. With the small investment of a swag (casual bucket list item- sleep under the stars in your own swag) or a tent, you’re on track to save yourself a tonne of money. If you’re not so keen on the vagabond life, lots of car rental companies have car/tent combos which are cheaper than a full-scale campervan.

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11. Everything is cheaper in the winter.

Come October 1st, everything gets more expensive in New Zealand. Hostels chuck their prices up by a couple of dollars, the budget buses get booked out even with their raised prices, and throwing yourself of a bridge is going to cost you more than your probably anticipate. Trust me, you won’t be worried about how cold it is when your peeping directly over the ledge you’re about to step off. Plus everything is a little more extreme when there is snow on the ground.

12. Be okay with not springing for the photos (or beg/borrow/steal a GoPro)

When you’re paying $175 + for a bungee jump or white water rafting session, adding another $40- $80 for the photos onto that is making your budget cry real salty tears. Yes, it might rack up a couple of likes on social media, but is that really worth trawling yo broke ass home a week early. Take a selfie at the bridge, get a kindly stranger to take a picture of you from the viewing platform with your phone, or just take a good ole’ mental picture, your smile will be that much bigger knowing that you can afford a couple more cheeky Fergburgers. Also, you might be surprised how many companies allow you to hold onto your own GoPro. If you don’t have one of your own, then hustle my friend!

Have you backpacked NZ on the cheap? Have any tips for doing it on a budget? Let us know by leaving a comment or emailing at