NZ on extreme budget: tips to save money during NewZealand trip

New Zealand is expensive to visit- from flight tickets to food to site-seeing, everything appears expensive, similar to Europe or US. Thus for a budget conscious middle class tourist visiting New Zealand, each dollar saved goes a long way in keeping overall trip expense down. To give you an idea, below is what various things cost in New Zealand
#
Expense
Approx value
R
1
Flight return ticket
60-70000 INR in full service airlines
30-40k in low cost airlines like Air Asia (if planned well)
Cheapest I have seen 24k return from Chennai

2
Stay
20-25 NZD/night (hostels)
50-80 NZD/night 2*/3* hotels
100-150 NZD+ for luxury stay
(1 NZD = 50 INR)
INR 1000-4000 per night per room

3
Meals
Min 15-20 NZD for a simple meal

4
Day trips to islands
40-200 NZD depending on destination n activities

5
Water
4-5 dollars for 1-1.5 litres
1.5-2 dollars for smaller bottles

6
Public transportation
Bus- 3.5 to 7 NZD per ride, depending on zones

7
Entry fees to key attractions
20-30 NZD approx.

8
Small car rental
100 NZD per day with insurance, fuel extra

9
Visa
Around INR 9200 per person

Thus you’d need roughly INR 10000 per person per day while in New Zealand, excluding flight. (2k for hotel, 2k for food, 3-4k for entry fee/tours/car rental, 2k other miscellaneous expenses. Even if you’re looking to just fly-in, spend 2-3 days and return, you’re looking at a minimum 50k spending for flight, visa n other things. Assuming you plan a 10 day trip, expect to spend between 1.5 to 2 lakhs at the minimum per person.
There is no major shortcuts or secret tips to avoid spending money during NZ trip. But from what I have observed during my one week trip, below are some tips to save a few precious dollars while touring New Zealand. Even if you manage to save say 10 NZD per person per day using these tips, for a family of four over a 10 day trip the savings will be 10*4*10 = 400 NZD or 20000 INR, which is a significant amount. Refer to group savings section in the end- that can save significant amount.

1. Save on water expense: 
Drinking water is essential- but is fairly expensive in NZ. A small 500 ml bottle will cost 2 NZD, bigger 1, 1.5 liter bottles will cost 4 to 5 NZD. So below is how you can save:

1A. Look for water fountains: Many parks, public places have this water fountain- from which you can refill your bottle. I found one opposite Ellenmelville community centre in Auckland, there was one more near the Auckland Harbor but not working. Devonport ferry terminal had one but under maintenance. Found many in various national parks across the country.
1B. Tap water is potable in NZ. So restaurants are generous with water supply (unlike in Yangon where customers were expected to buy water). Many restaurants will be OK if you take their water and refill your bottle.

A few dollars a day per person adds to several thousand rupees over the duration of your trip.

2. Save on food 

2A. Use community kitchens. 
Many hostels and accommodation facilities have a community kitchen. It will have refrigerator, stove, kitchen utensils and accessories. You can use this to cook your own food- you can carry ready to eat items or rice and so on. One packet of ready to eat food can save you 15-20 NZD in meal cost. If you can't carry, you can buy at Indian grocery stores. 1 Kg of Basmati rice can be purchased for 5-7 NZD and can make enough rice for 6-10 people or meals. 

Pro tip: Be sure to declare your food items in customs declaration card. Else you may have to pay a fine or food items may get confiscated. I recommend carrying only commercially packaged items such as MTR ready to eat, noodles etc instead of home made items. Home made, loosely packed items attract extra scrutiny and are often not allowed due to bio security risk.

2B. Look for offers like this in restaurants- a FB like may get you a free drink-roughly worth 2-3 dollars
2C. In-flight meal might be cheaper than meals in city
A vegetable rice meal on AirAsia X enroute to Auckland costs 22 MYR or roughly INR 400. If you think it is expensive, a plate of vegetable biriyani costs 15-17 NZD in Auckland, Raitha 3 NZD extra in most cases. That is roughly 20 NZD or INR 1000. So you might be better off buying your meal on the plane n save a few bucks than have it on ground. Of course, quantity of food in a restaurant is more compared to airline meals and you’ll also have more choices, but if you’re trying to save as much as possible, you can have your dinner on board and may be skip eating again on your day or arrival. A detailed review of meals option in AirAsia X is here

2D. Restaurants outside the city are cheaper
Restaurants in smaller towns are naturally cheaper than restaurants in big city, owning to cheaper rentals and other factors. So if you’re going out of town, plan your meals in smaller towns.

2E. Look for all you can eat buffet lunch/dinner
Some restaurants, like the Taj Indian restaurant near skytower offer buffet lunch/dinner-for 13-15 NZD. If you're hungry, this might be a good option than ala-carte.

2F. Carry your food if possible
An INR 10, 60 gms pickle packet that I took with me saved me about 3 NZD or INR 150 at restaurants- where pickle supplement costs extra. Thus if possible carry your food or ones that can help you save money.

3. Save on Transportation
3A. Save on airport transfer- use city bus instead of Skybus
Every tourist site tells you to take Skybus from airport. A skybus ride from Auckland airport to CBD costs 19 NZD. While skybus is easy and convenient (takes you right into city and offers free WiFi), a cheaper option is to take a ride in city buses. City bus like this can take you into Auckland city for just 3.5 NZD- that is 5 times cheaper than Skybus. But the limitation is that city bus may not go to CBD directly- you might have to change to another bus to reach your final destination. Still it will be 50% cheaper than Skybus, if you can take some trouble to figure out how to reach.

3B: Self Drive cars:
Renting a car is a lot cheaper way to explore NZ. You can rent a car with your Indian driving license. A small car would cost about 100 NZD per day including insurance, fuel extra- that is lot cheaper than hiring a taxi for say 100 kms and saves a lot of time w.r.t alternates like using bus/train options. So use this facility to explore New Zealand’s country side. It is not that difficult- read this dedicated post on my New Zealand driving experience and tips

3C: Public transportation
Bus tickets in NZ cost based on zone system. Within a zone it is 3.5 NZD- irrespective of your destination is one stop away or 15. So check and plan well- if it is super short distance like 1-2 kms, you're better off walking as there could be walking shortcuts.

If you're walking to save money, walk enough to cross a zone and board the bus in next zone. Else there won't be any savings.

Taxis may cost 6 to 7 dollars minimum for short 1-1.5 km ride. For 4 people, it may cost same to hire a taxi than take bus for short distances. Ola is available in Auckland.

3D. Rent electric cycles and mobility vehicles
There’re different kind of mechanized vehicles for rent- segways, this electric cycle and so on. You can rent them for cheap and move around quickly in city limits. However read the instructions carefully like where to park, where to return etc to avoid penalty.
Above shown powered scooters are the latest craze- you can hire one using LIME App, zip around the city and drop off at designated spots.

There is hop-on, hop-off service but I didn’t find them very economical- I was better off covering key destinations on foot and spend a few dollars on bus instead of spending 40-45 NZD for 24 hours Hop-on Hop-off ticket. Standby for a separate post on Auckland city attractions and optimal sequence to visit them.

3E. Save with one way rentals
This tip is from Sandeepa and Chetan. However I couldn't use it as my rental was around Auckland only. If you plan to rent in Auckland and return in say Wellington, you might get cheap one way rentals- where car rental companies need someone to return the car to their base city. Do some research on this

4. Save on Flight

Flight ticket will be the single most expense during NZ trip. The most popular/conventional flight from India will be via Singapore, with Air New Zealand or Singapore Airlines. Malaysia Airlines, are other full service airlines flying to New Zealand (mainly Auckland). Air Asia is the only major low cost airline flying to New Zealand. A round trip economy ticket to New Zealand typically costs about INR 60000-70000 per person, depending on origin city, date, offers and other factors.

Below are some ways how you can reduce the impact of flight expense

4A. Buy during AirAsia Big Sale- My round trip ticket from Chennai to Auckland cost me only INR 23635- but this was booked 1 year in advance- no refund, no date change, no cancellation, no baggage or meals included. If I was to buy baggage, meals, seat selection and other add-ons that would have costed another 30k INR+, taking the price at par with full service airlines. But if you can travel light and can take some risks, booking cheaper tickets during Air Asia Big sale could save half the travel expense compared to next best alternative. Anything around 30k is decent deal. Read my detailed experience on Air Asia X long haul flight to Auckland and back- ensure it works for you before booking.

4B. Watch out for Air New Zealand/SQ/Malaysia sale: Air New Zealand and other full service airlines occasionally runs promotional offers, during which fares could be slightly cheaper than normal. It may never be cheaper than AirAsia but if you’re lucky you might get a return ticket for about INR 50-55k. If you’d anyway need baggage, meals and entertainment, flying full service airline makes more sense. Stay tuned to Airlineblog where I publish any cheap deals I come across.

4C. Within New Zealand you can get cheap tickets for like INR 4000-5000 to fly between Auckland-Wellington or Auckland -Christchurch etc on Jet Star. You may also save a bit if you book say Chennai-Auckland and Christchurch-Chennai for return, if your plan is to explore both north and South Islands. Do this is two single tickets aren’t too expensive.

4D. Club your trip with Australia, Fiji etc:
If time is not a constraint, you might wish to club your New Zealand trip with Australia, Fiji etc. Though overall expense would shoot up, your per person, per day expense may come down, as flight expense gets split. When I checked, flights between Fiji and Australia or Fiji- NZ, Australia- NZ weren’t really cheap- they would cost in the range of 10-12k (NZ-AU) to 20-25k (Fiji to NZ/AU)- but you might get lucky if you do enough research, wait patiently and book when it is even cheaper.

4E. If you can get cheap ticket to Melbourne/Sydney/Gold Coast, Australia (on Srilankan, Air Asia, Scoot or any other airline), you will get Australia-Auckland or Australia-Wellington return tickets for INR 15000-20000 on Virgin Australia or Jet Star or other airlines during good times.

4F. North India passengers may keep an eye on Chinese airlines like China Eastern, China Southern who may offer cheap flights from Delhi to Auckland via their Chinese hubs

5. Save on internet.
Internet is insanely expensive in New Zealand. This is the reason Auckland airport gives only 45 mins free internet access, many hotels and hostels give free internet only in and around reception area, not in all rooms. Taking an international sim card like TSIM might save you precious dollars while visiting New Zealand. I have a detailed post coming up on TSIM card that I used during my NZ trip.

6. Save on shopping
Avoid shopping altogether if possible. Except some local honey, some souvenirs may be, rest of the items you’re better off buying at home. Avoid buying unnecessary items- plan well and carry essential stuffs like adapters, chargers, suitable cloths, any food items you may need etc.

Keep an eye on 2 dollars shops- everything is two dollars or less- you can pick some emergency essentials from here if badly needed 
7 Save on activities/experiences

Once in New Zealand, your site-seeing/activities can be broadly categorized into 3 types

A: Boat trips to nearby Islands
B: City attractions, adventure activities
C: Scenic reserves and country side attractions

Boat trips to nearby Island

There’ll be many islands worth visiting off the coast- you need to book a boat ride/tour to these islands
  • If you’re not 100% certain, it is better to walkin and book on the day or previous day, as online bookings often come with cancellation charges
  • Typically dealing directly with the tour operator gets you cheapest deals and highest flexibility. But do your research.
  • Pre-booking from India is usually not needed- it will cost you 5% GST extra, your India outbound agency has to make profit n so on-make your own plan, keep it flexible, book once at the destination.
  • Weather is very dynamic in NZ- various trips- particularly boat trips will be suspended if weather is not favorable. You will get refund or will be accommodated in next batch if seats are available- having some back-up plan or flexibility will save a day from being wasted.
  • Plan these boat trips to islands either before renting your self-drive car or after returning it, so that you don’t waste a day’s rent on the car while you’re away visiting islands
  • Many island trips come in two variants- Boat tickets only or Boat (Ferry) ticket + a tour at the island. Do your research- if you’ve time and energy to explore on your own a guided tour may not be needed- you can walk (Example: At Rengitoto)
  • Check for family ticket- which might be cheaper than 3-4 individual tickets.
City attractions and adventure activities

This you need to decide based on your time, interest and pricing
  • Most attractions- like Museums, art galleries etc cost roughly 20-30 NZD per person to visit. Do your research and visit only those that you think is worth your interest and time. Locals (NZ citizens) often get free or discounted entry to various attractions.
  • Some activities like Scuba diving costs INR 5000+ in NZ, you may be able to do it in India/Thailand etc for INR 3500-4000. So if you feel it is expensive you can try that activity somewhere else
  • Skydiving costs about 25000-30000 in India. But in NZ I saw a cheaper option- tandem dive from 9000 ft costs about INR 10000. You might want to try.
  • Make use of discount coupons to save a few dollars-booklets with discount coupon is available in popular tourist places- airport, harbour etc
  • Check for family ticket- which might be cheaper than 3-4 individual tickets.
Scenic Reserves/Country side attractions
All over New Zealand there’re many scenic reserves, national parks that offer great views. 
  • You can’t visit each n every one of them, but do stop at a few that come in your way. From what I have observed, all scenic reserves had free entry and free parking. No fee was to be paid. They have basic facilities like toilets, play areas, beach access, barbecue stations, seating areas and so on. So will be good to visit a few and relax. However after sometime you may feel they are all similar- so no point trying to visit each n every national park. Plan such that you visit important ones.
  • Viewpoints are locally known as Lookouts. Check on map for lookouts. Stop here for some good views
  • While visiting scenic reserves/national parks pay attention to rules
  • Like don’t park in disabled parking or park longer in 5 min parking area
  • If gates close at 9 PM, be sure to get out before that time
  • In most national parks you’re required to take your trash with you and dispose off elsewhere. Don’t litter
  • There’re rules on dogs, swimming and other things- watch out for the rules display and comply
  • Don’t enter private properties
  • Pay attention to Kauri dieback sanitization instructions. Brush your shoes and spray disinfectant.
  • You may also come across many waterfalls-I saw some 2-3 waterfalls during my trip- wasn’t very exciting. Some less popular attractions were closed temporarily to curb Kauri dieback spread. Check photos/reviews online to decide if the waterfalls is worth your time and interest.
8. Save more with a group
Where possible, plan your NZ trip with family and friends. Having a group will help you save in following additional ways:

8A. Car rental expense gets shared
Costs same to rent a car for one person or five. So you may be able to share the rental expense in a group, than renting a car for just one or two person

8B. Community kitchens are fun in a group
Cooking for 1 person is boring. If you have a large group, it is rewarding experience to cook in a group and save big time. You can carry essentials from India or buy from a local store, cook meals and have it, saving lots of money. Assuming 20 NZD per peal per person, for a group of 4 for 10 days, this is a total savings of 20 NZD per meal * 2 meals a day * 10 days * 4 persons = 1600 NZD or INR 80000 approx, which is big amount.

8C. Save on check-in bag
7 Kg cabin baggage allowance is a bit tight for one person and 20 kg check-in baggage is bit too much for one person (costs 10k+). If you're 4, then buying 1 check-in bag for everyone's extra stuff won't be much of a burden

8D. Taxi
For short distances like 2-3kms, hiring a taxi for 4 people might be more convenient than paying 3.5 or 5.5 dollars per person for a bus ride.

8E. Family package
Most attractions and tours have a discounted family package, which is cheaper than 4 individual tickets

Hope this helps. Enjoy your New Zealand tour. If there're any other tips I can include in this list, let me know. Will update with credit.

Similar: Australia on budget * Japan on budget

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