How to Travel to New Zealand on a Budget

New Zealand is a bucket list trip for many and often seems unattainable due to distance and cost. In November 2022, we scored cheap flights and found a way to make the trip of a lifetime come true! In this article we break down the total cost of our trip and offer tips on how to travel to New Zealand on a budget.

Discover How We Travelled to New Zealand on a Shoestring Budget

New Zealand is a bucket list trip for many and often seems unattainable due to distance and cost. In November 2022, we scored cheap flights and found a way to make the trip of a lifetime come true! In this article we break down the total cost of our trip and offer tips on how to travel to New Zealand on a budget.  

Cathedral Cove New Zealand

If you’ve been dreaming about visiting New Zealand to experience its world famous landscapes and Kiwi hospitality but think it’s too expensive, think again. We traveled to and through New Zealand from Chattanooga, TN for 17 days for under $5K USD. This includes round trip airfare for two adults, a rental vehicle, lodging, food, activities, and fuel. In this guide, we’ll break down how to score the best travel deals and tips for saving money while you travel. We’ll also share some of our favorite photos and activities from the trip.

Score Cheap Flights with Google Flight Tracker

If you don’t know about Google Flight Tracker you need to! You can track flights to anywhere in the world and if your travel dates are flexible, you can set the filters to show the cheapest posted flight price up to 1 year out. We used this and scored flights for $880 per person from Nashville to Auckland. Typical round trip flight prices range from $1,500 to $2,000 per person from the Southeast US to New Zealand so this was quite the steal! To save even more money, we applied for an American Airlines credit card that was offering a $200 statement credit for spending a certain amount within the first 3 months of opening. We easily obtained that with the flight cost, so we reduced the overall flight cost to $1,560 for two adults, plus racked up a ton of miles. 

Travel in the Off Season

There’s no bad time of year to travel to New Zealand, but you’ll want to consider the seasons and weather conditions when visiting. Peak travel season in New Zealand is during the summer months – December to March. This is the most popular time to visit to take advantage of the warm weather, but this is when prices are at their highest. We went in November, which offered cheaper prices on just about everything and the Spring weather was lovely! 

Rent a Campervan

A campervan is a rental car and lodging option all rolled into one package. If you know us, then you know we’d recommend this! Traveling by campervan in New Zealand is quite popular. There are several companies to choose from offering a variety of campervan styles from minivan conversion to Class C campers.

Traveling by campervan allows you to access remote locations and to truly experience the awe inspiring landscapes of New Zealand. Several districts offer freedom campsites for self contained vehicles. Self contained vehicles have a toilet and water on board and are given a special certification. If you are self contained you don’t necessarily need additional facilities or amenities and can find more places to camp for free.

We found Auckland Campervan through Outdoorsy, the same platform we use to list our rental van. We chose them over the other options for several reasons: we liked the van setup, the daily rate was well below other companies and they offered free pick up and drop off to the Auckland airport.

We knew we wanted a self-contained unit with a shower and toilet since we were going to be on the road for 16 days. We also wanted a full kitchen set up with cookware and bed linens to avoid flying with all of our camping gear. The van we rented had an inverter and solar panels allowing us to stay off grid the entire time. We did a lot of driving which charges the batteries.

What did it cost? $1.9K USD for 17 days with insurance, airport transfer and added fees. We recommend booking early to save!

Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand

Download Campermate

Campermate is a free app offering super helpful beta about campgrounds, points of interest, wifi spots, gas stations, grocery stores, toilets, water, dump stations and so much more in New Zealand and Australia. It came in so handy for us to locate campgrounds and other things we needed as we traveled around. We stayed primarily in freedom and low cost campgrounds since we were in a self contained campervan. This saved us a lot of money!

Groceries Over Eating Out

Picnic Dinner at Lake Taupo

Buy groceries and make your own meals over eating out. We had a campervan with a fridge, propane stove and cookware. We intentionally did this so we could have the option to keep and make our own food. We lived on PB & J’s, oatmeal and easy dinners. We splurged a couple of times going out to eat and enjoying New Zealand coffee. They take their coffee seriously and we do too so we splurged on oat milk lattes and long blacks.

Look for Free + Low Cost Things To Do

Look for free and low cost things to do. Campsites, hiking, beaches, sunsets, overlooks, Cathedral Cove, the Christchurch Botanic Garden, Blue Pools, Aoraki / Mt. Cook, Franz Josef Glacier, Pancake Rocks, and viewing wildlife like the blue penguins and seal colonies were all free activities that we found along our route. Some of our spontaneous roadside excursions, like Buller Gorge Swing Bridge only cost $10 USD and made for fun memories while also breaking up longer drive days.

Book Last Minute Deals​

We traveled spontaneously, giving us the flexibility to change plans if the weather was bad or we really liked a place and wanted to stay longer. Sunshine really wanted to go whitewater rafting while we were there, but wasn’t sure if Michelle would be down to raft the tallest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! Surprisingly she said yes and we booked the trip that morning with a coupon we found online, saving $50 off the regular purchase price. We had quite the experience with Rotorua Rafting and highly recommend you add this experience to your bucket list!

Play Video

Check Conversion Rates

The US dollar was strong when we went and the conversion was roughly 60 cents to the NZ dollar. This helped tremendously in the total amount we spent while traveling on food, fuel, and experiences.

Other Tips

Save money for experiences and things that bring you joy. We paid for a few guided tours including one to Te Puia to learn about the Maori culture and view geysers and thermal pools. Sunshine rented a mountain bike from Mountain Bike Rotorua to ride in fern forests, and Michelle enjoyed soaking in the Secret Spot natural hot springs. We splurged for a whitewater rafting trip with Rotorua Rafting on the Kaituna — home to the tallest rafted waterfall in the world! 

Check the airlines prices and rules about checked bags. Our flight included one free checked bag per person so we decided to bring our Hala inflatable paddle boards and use the big roller bags that they fit to cram as much as possible into them while fitting the rest in two carry ons. This allowed us to seek out our own unique adventures along the way. We paddled to view glow worms in caves, in glacial lakes, and to view Maori Rock carvings on Lake Taupo. 

Auckland Campervan with Luggage

View Our Route

For those that are curious, we created a google map of our route that includes campsites, points of interest, grocery stores and restaurants. We flew into Auckland Airport and rented a campervan from Auckland Campervans. We spent 16 days travelling the North and South Island without a planned itinerary or any campsite reservations. We had an outline of things we wanted to do and see to guide us plus an app to help us locate things and navigate. Beyond this, we didn’t have an agenda and rather enjoyed the freedom this gave us for in the moment decision making and spontaneous adventures! 

The entire 17 day trip, with round trip flights, campervan rental, fuel, food, activities, and ferry cost under $5K USD for the two of us. We wanted to share our journey and adventures with you in hopes it inspires you to travel more

Here’s a breakdown of costs:

  • Flights | $1560 R/T for 2 adults Nashville to Auckland with a $200 statement credit
  • Campervan Rental | $1906 – included airport transfer + insurance
  • Fuel | $672 – We drove over 3,000 miles! Auckland to Wanaka and back!
  • Ferry | $413 R/T for 2 adults and the campervan
  • Food | $992 for groceries and eating out airport to airport
  • Activities | $300 – Rafting, Mountain Bike Rental, Secret Spot, Buller Gorge
  • Campgrounds + Camping Supplies | $155
Sunshine and Michelle on Hooker Lake Track with Aoraki / Mount Cook in Background

View more photos from our New Zealand adventure here

Have you travelled to New Zealand? We’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment and let us know when you went. If you haven’t been and have it on your bucket list, start tracking flights now and let us know which part of the country you want to see most! We’re happy to answer any questions to help you book this bucket list trip of a lifetime!

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