People love to conflate New Zealand and Australia. I mean, I get it, NZ is basically the Canada to Australia’s America. You’ve got a climatically rich and large country full of inland country bumpkins and coastal beautiful people with the personality of a spoon, right next to an alpine country closer to the poles full of people who hunt moose and think getting stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere is the tops. And you can travel pretty freely between the two.
But the similarities get fewer and farther between. Particularly when it comes to money.
Going into Australia, you probably got used to the idea of your wallet being dragged into a back alley and fucked up every time you went anywhere. Now, New Zealand uses the dollar, just like Australia. It even uses a lot of the same banks as Australia, and their kiwi accents are just delightful, which lulls you into a false sense of security when you first land. This is familiar. But see, the financial situation in New Zealand might throw you off if you’re used to things like “your money having value.” This works out extraordinarily well when you first arrive, because, that exchange rate tho!
$1 NZD = $0.78 USD
$1 NZD = £0.5 GBP
$1 NZD = $0.9 AUD
$1 NZD = €0.63 EUR
It’s Southeast Asia without the malaria and meth-spiked drinks. So when you just fly in from a year in Oz, still living off the money in your foreign bank account, you’re gonna be rolling in Wolf of Wall Street style, wiping your ass with hundred dollar bills and using two dollar coins to fill your pool. If you’re British, you’ve literally doubled your skrilla just by stepping off the plane. There are worse ways to live. But as you’ll see, that money can go pretty damn fast, and you can get gobsmacked once you start working and and making New Zealand dollars to send back home.
This budget guide is going to take place in Auckland, the largest city in the country and a good jumping off point for your adventures. The prices stay pretty much the same no matter where you go, although since most of the towns outside of Auckland are tiny as hell, you won’t be using much transportation money outside of it.
The Cheap Day
- Begin your day as you would most cheap days – in a shitty hostel, snuggled up to your own filth and insecurities, swearing this hangover will be your last. It won’t be. Your hostel is pretty terrible, but this is a first world country, and generally doesn’t get the same (lack of) quality of backpackers as Australia does, meaning it’s still gonna be relatively clean. This kinda hostel will go for around $22 NZD/night, although, as always, prices will fluctuate depending on the season. Pay for some daily WiFi for another $4/day and awkwardly sit in the lounge for a while, like you’re just inviting enough for people to want to talk to you but just distracted enough that they won’t.
- Since you’re saving money, eat your own food for brekkie. Nothing cures a hangover like swirling two sad little fried eggs over a can of beans while watching everybody around you eat monster plates of artery-clogging everything. At least you’re saving money. When you’re making your own food, it gets pretty cheap, and while the total package (they don’t sell eggs in groups of two) will be more than this, your total breakfast should only come to around $2.50 NZD if you’re buying off brand. Drink a lot of water to make yourself feel full.
- Now, you could spend the entire day inside feeling sorry for yourself, but then you’ll stumble across an article about the beauty of travel and feel like a total piece of shit, thus being guilted into going outside. There are lots of free things to do in Auckland, like walking the trail along Okahu and Mission Bay or going window shopping on Queen Street and Britomart. Auckland is pretty spread out, so you can walk, but it might be easier to catch a bus or train. They’re only $2 NZD.
- Let’s jump ahead, because we know you’re just gonna skip lunch and you’re sure as hell not going to be buying all that camping gear from Queens Street when you’re not even sure you’re going camping yet. Jump straight ahead to dinner. If you’ve still got some food back in the hostel, go ahead and eat some spaghetti and ketchup for the equivalent of, like, $1 NZD. But I’m not going to judge you if you want to just get something off the value menu from the Macca’s down the road. It’s another $5 NZD.
- Go the fuck to sleep. Write the day off as a wash.
Like every cheap day in these budget guides, it’s not ideal. It’ll leave you a little hungry and probably a little bored. But anybody who’s been abroad will tell you that you don’t go skydiving every single day. If you did, how could you appreciate how awesome it was? Regardless, that’s basically another day you’ll get to be abroad.
Total: $29.50 NZD / $23.27 USD
The Average Day
- Chin up buddy, you’ve moved across town into a slightly nicer hostel. Well, at least a more expensive one, because why the hell not, it’s my budget guide. Backpackers usually flock to one hostel until it makes enough money to improve its infrastructure and then jack up the price, at which point they move onto the next one, like a plague of locusts. That jacked-up price is usually around the order of $28 NZD/night, and if you’re doing Kiwi Experience or another hop bus that gives discounts, these are the kinds of hostels you’ll stay in most often.
- Make breakfast with some of your friends. It’s cheaper together and you’ll get way more food. I’m talking full fry up: eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, beans, the works. Groceries in New Zealand are all generally the same price as you could expect to find anywhere else, so you could pay for your fair share of the fry up easily with around $6 NZD, assuming you have around 4-6 people contributing.
- Get out of the hostel and do something, man! It doesn’t have to be crazy. Go for a ferry ride over to Waiheke Island, where you can go hiking, fishing, or just explore another part of town. The return ferry trip from Auckland is a whopping $36 NZD, but honestly, that’s about average for the standard day adventures, if not a lowball. Once you get out of Auckland and start doing other things, that price will jump (see the monthly budgeting section below).
- You’re gonna want to eat lunch this time, but I’ll assume you’re willing to skimp a little bit and just get something small. But since you’re in New Zealand, and why the hell would you just eat fast food all the time, let’s say you hit up a nice cafe on Waiheke. Try something new. Get something middle range when it comes to food. Unfortunately, here in New Zealand, middle range means that you’re still gonna be spending around $17 NZD for a dish, be it burgers and fries or Asian fusion. The prices don’t vary all that much, honestly, no matter where you go.
- Now, you’ve already spent a decent amount today, but you haven’t gone out in a bit, so it’s time to hit up some bars. You’re not trying to impress any ladies and you’re sure as shit not pounding any goon here in New Zealand (it’s sort of a thing, but it’s really not as much of a thing as you’d think), so maybe you split a bottle of bottom shelf vodka and hit up the backpacker bar offering $5 NZD beer and spirits. You’ll knock back at least six of these in a night while trying to have a good time for a total of $30 NZD, while also paying at least $10 NZD cover to get into the damn place to begin with. What a crock of shit.
By the time the night ends, you’ll be walking home, and the epiphany will hit you that, holy shit, you spent a lot in a day that wasn’t even particularly full. See? This is what I mean. You can feel like fucking Scrooge McDuck all you want, but you’re gonna be spending way more money than you expect here. I didn’t even include transport in this day, so go ahead and throw another few bucks on the docket. Plan ahead. Or better yet, get a working holiday visa and make some sweet, sweet cash to tide you over.
Total: $127 NZD / $99 USD
The Expensive Day
- There are a lot of chain hostels in New Zealand – Base, Nomads, the like – which is where you’ll find most of the cheaper deals. However, there’s another network of loosely affiliated hostels called BBH that includes a lot of awesome, more local options, where you can grab a beer and chat to the owners to get a real Kiwi experience. However, they are a little more expensive, so if that’s what you want to spring for, you can expect to spend anywhere between $31-$45 NZD for a night in a dorm room, depending on the season. Whether it’s worth it to buy your way into a local’s heart is up to you.
- Let’s say you’re doing a tour today and you don’t have time to make yourself a real breakfast. Stop through a little cafe or something (even, god forbid, a McDonalds), and grab a breakfast for $9 NZD.
- Tours in New Zealand can range from the cheap to the crazy, “fuck off are you scamming me?” expensive. A good middle of the road expectation is around $200 NZD, which is an average I’m taking between something like the Nevis Bungy ($279) and Waitomo Caving ($150). It’s worth every last penny, so don’t shy away just because of the money (although, yeah, if you’re really hurting in the wallet area, there’s lots to see in New Zealand without actually sticking your foot in it). I’ll explain more in the Monthly Budgeting section below.
- Most tours in New Zealand don’t take all day, and most don’t include lunch or anything either. By the time you get back, you’re gonna be too tired to cook. Not to mention there’s the whole, “I’ve already spent so much today, what’s a little more?” factor. Go buy some lunch. Again, a good option is around $17 NZD.
- For your sake, we’ll assume you prefer to drink your dinner tonight. You’re all jacked up on adrenaline and you just wanna get shitfaced and make bad decisions tonight. You’re gonna split a bottle and then hit up some more clubs! Maybe you’ll even get lucky! That’s entirely up to you, my friend, but I can guarantee you’re gonna end up spending at least another $80 NZD on drinks, covers, drunchies, whatever in the course of making that happen.
This was a good day. I mean, sure, you spent a grand total of $341 NZD, or $265 USD. Which is a shit ton. And you’re gonna have more than a few days like this over the course of your stay, whether it be just for a quick four week jaunt or a full year’s worth of traveling and working. Obviously, the working holiday will help a lot in this regard, as you can work between the expensive days to pick up some more cash. But don’t ever consider for a second cutting out the expensive days at all, because that’s just not how Elsewhere Men work.
Total: $341 NZD / $265 USD
Weekly and Monthly Budgeting
So where does this put us? There are a lot of different ways to do New Zealand, and there are a lot of other fees you’ll have to consider that aren’t included in the daily values. But let’s assume you’re doing this trip right in the middle, a nice combination of batshit crazy adventurer likely to get lost in the woods forever, and a sheltered kid just venturing out of his country for the first time. So you’re staying in hostels, doing a hop bus, and having a good time. Here’s how it’s gonna break down.
- Rent: $150-200/week, depending on the hostels you stay in and what kind of discounts you can swing.
- Groceries: $40/week, if you’re splitting between friends and eating conservatively (that means no lobsters, Mr. Moneybags).
- Phone: $19/month, if you’re just getting a basic plan to keep in touch with people while you’re in the country
- Travel: $150/month is a decent estimate if you’re gonna balance a hop bus over time with taxis, other buses, and such. However, keep in mind that hitchhiking culture is alive and well here, so this is a huge variable.
- Drinking: $250/month is a pretty conservative estimate honestly, but I’ll assume you’re not trying to go too crazy and can limit how much money you bring out at night.
- Tours: $600/month, especially if you’re traveling. This goes down (duh) if you’re staying in one spot for a while and working, but judge it for yourself.
- Food: $150/month is another conservative estimate, but maybe you have better self-control when it comes to eating out than I do.
- Assorted Costs: $100/month. Shit happens, and you’ll probably lose some money at one point or another.
Total: $2,149/month NZD, $1676/month USD
Again, feel free to contradict me. You may not be a drinker. You may not do as many tours. you may not buy a phone, you may live off bugs you find in the trash, I don’t give a shit. You’re gonna be spending a lot here if you want to enjoy yourself and see everything. But fear not. There are other options. Check this out:
The Campervan Option
I go into a bit more detail on this here, but a good option for traveling New Zealand is buying a camper van. By doing this, you can vastly cut down on the cost of certain things – particularly travel. By buying a camper van and selling it when you’re done, you can combine your rent and transport fees into one thing and save on both. This is most ideal when traveling with a group and it comes with its own fees, but it does exist as an option.
A decent van or car will go for around $3000 NZD, with any more expensive probably coming with more than you need, and any cheaper coming with some problems you sure as shit don’t need. You’ll also need insurance, which is around $200 NZD. If you’re smart, you’ll get a car that already has rego and WOF for the duration of your stay, but if not, each one can be another $100 NZD. Add in the cost of gas (another, oh, $600/month), and you’re looking at spending $4000 straight off the bat. However, if you’re staying for four months or longer, the you’ve already saved a good amount that you would have put into rent, while also having a lot more freedom to see the country. Consider it.
Cost of Transport
- Intracity Bus: $2
- Intracity Taxi: Easily $40-60 if going across town, say, from Auckland City to Takapuna. Up to $100 from the airport to the city. Just… don’t bother.
- Intercity Bus: $50 average
- Hop On/Hop Off Bus: $400-$2000
- Intercity Airline: $120 (Queenstown to Auckland 1-way)
- Gas: $2.12-$2.40/liter (petrol), $1.60 (diesel). Diesel also has to pay an additional fee for every 1000 miles driven.
Best Hostel I’ve Stayed In: Rainforest Retreat, Franz Josef Glacier ($26/night)