Many people will agree that one of the best ways to see and experience New Zealand is by taking a road trip. Road trips though aren’t the cheapest forms of travel. We learned loads about how to save money and stretch our dollar while in the country. These tips are not to be missed if you’ll be traveling on a budget or are just looking to save some extra cash.
Note: All prices are listed in NZD and USD. As of February 2020, $1.00 NZD = $0.65 USD.
1) Stock Up on Duty Free Alcohol
If you plan to drink hard alcohol or wine during your trip, then it’s best to pick up some bottles at the duty free shop in the airport before going through customs. Cost can be 10-15% cheaper than what you’ll find in liquor stores. Otherwise, once in-country, opt for wine over liquor or beer. New Zealand has very tasty vino that can be bought at a reasonable price.
2) Dine In Regularly
Restaurants are expensive in New Zealand. Even fast food joints, such as Burger King and McDonalds, are pricier than the US. Dining in and cooking your own meals will easily save you money.
However, as foodies, we don’t recommend doing it for every meal. Instead save your money for a few higher-end experiences out. It’ll be more memorable and allow you to taste the best the country has to offer.
ProTip: Go veg! Meat is expensive in the country, whereas veggies are reasonably priced, so it’s the perfect time to stock up on your vitamins and eat veggie heavy meals. Eggs, nuts, tofu and tempeh are good shelf-stable protein alternatives.
3) “Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart”
Any other Army of Darkness fans out there? No…okay, then just ignore the reference (and go watch the movie ASAP!).
As with many places around the world, some stores will have better prices than others. Knowing where to shop can save you heaps of cash.
Pak’nSave will be your cheapest grocery store across the islands. Offerings will be more limited though, so if you’re looking for name branded products or a wide selection, this isn’t the place to go.
Countdown and New World
Countdown and New World are two alternative stores. While they’ll have more offerings than Pak’nSave, generally speaking they’re more expensive as well.
ProTip: Both Countdown and New World offer loyalty cards, which get you discounts off future purchases and gas. However, we found this is only worthwhile if you plan to shop at them regularly. If Pak’nSave is your primary store of choice, then it’s unlikely you’ll get enough reward points at these others to significantly cash in throughout your trip.
Reduced to Clear
This store takes overstock groceries and sells them at clearance prices. The only downside is that their offerings change regularly, so you never know what you’ll find. Reduced to Clear is located in a few cities across the North Island (such as Auckland and Rotorua). If there’s one in your area, we recommend stopping there first, before continuing on to a regular grocery store for the rest of your needs.
Consider The Warehouse your one-stop-shop for New Zealand. They have a little bit of everything, from clothing, to household items and camping gear. Stop here first before heading to a specialty shop, where you’re likely to pay more.
Similar to a dollar store in the US (or Euro store in Europe), this place has random items for $2.00 NZD ($1.29 USD) and more. While not everything will be the best deal, you’ll generally find it’s cheaper than other places. For example, Tom found a super warm pair of socks for only $5.50 NZD ($3.55 USD), whereas the next best option was $10.00-15.00 NZD ($6.46-$9.70 USD) from The Warehouse.
If you don’t mind wearing used gear, then you can find some killer deals at secondhand thrift shops (a.k.a. Op Shops) across the country. While there are some chain name brands (such as The Salvation Army and SPCA Op Shop), towns will often have independent op shops as well.
4) Choose Activities Wisely
There are so many activities in New Zealand to choose from, that with limited time and budget, you just won’t be able to do them all.
New Zealand is all about nature. From fjords, to endless beaches and snow-capped peaks, there’s so much beautiful wilderness to explore.
A pleasant surprise came when we learned their national parks are free (unlike in the US, where our national parks typically have a permit fee attached). In New Zealand all you have to do is get yourself to the trailhead. If enjoying nature is your thing, get outdoors and hit as many trails as you can!
ProTip: If you don’t have a specific hike planned, then head to the local DOC (Department of Conservation) Center when arriving to a new region of the islands. They’ll have a list of all the available hikes in your area and up-to-date trail conditions.
Continue Reading: We’ve put together the perfect 2-week itinerary for the North Island, showcasing some of the best nature this country has to offer. It’s packed full of budget-friendly hidden gems and local favorites. NZ Frenzy is also a good resource for nature activities. Scott Cook spent years exploring New Zealand and has compiled his top picks into two guidebooks.
Similar to the UK, all national museums in the country are free to visit. Expand your horizons by attending some art galleries or learning about the nation’s history and culture.
If adrenaline pumping sports or unique experiences is what you seek, then look for discounted activities on sites like Book.Me before paying full price. They cover a range of locations across the islands.
ProTip: Book.Me only offers a handful of discounted tickets per activity per week, so it’s important that you be flexible on your date/time and check the website often to ensure you snag the deal once it’s available (the most popular activities sell out quick!). We recommend taking a preview of the offerings before your trip begins to see what type of discounts are typically offered. That way you can determine if it’s worth waiting for a deal versus booking at full price in advance to secure your spot. For example, you can regularly find deals for Milford Sound tours, whereas things like jet boat or helicopter rides are fewer and far between.
5) Find Free WiFi
Sim cards aren’t cheap and don’t provide much data limit, especially if you’re traveling for an extended period of time. In addition, overages can be expensive (may plans will charge an extra $10.00 NZD / $6.46 USD per GB if you go over). Instead use WiFi as much as possible. Some of the best places we found to get free WiFi include:
- Burger King
- The Warehouse
- Bus Station Terminals
- I-Sites and DOC Centers
6) Freedom Camp
Freedom camping is when you camp overnight on public land, free of charge. This is a great option if traveling around in a campervan, RV, or tent. However, there’s more rules and regulations than the name implies. Read our guide on the ins and outs for freedom camping to learn more.
7) Use Travel Apps
There are tons of free travel apps that’ll help you save money while on the road in New Zealand. Just make sure to download them before arrival since WiFi is iffy and you’d hate to use up a lot of data.
8) Locate the Best Gas Prices
Gas (or petrol) is expensive in New Zealand. We were sticker shocked the first time filling up our tank.
If coming from the US, there are a few things to note about gas prices before arrival:
- Gas is sold per liter, not gallon. This means prices add up FAST.
- Prices are sometimes listed in cents per liter. For example: $207,9 translates to $2.079 NZD per liter. That’s $1.34 USD per liter, or approximately $5.08 USD per gallon.
With that knowledge in mind, here are some money saving tips:
Download the Gaspy App
This will help you find the best gas prices in your immediate vicinity. You can also search by town name if you want to look for a price in the area you’re headed to. We did this multiple times before reaching a remote destination, helping determine if we should refill our tank early or wait to do it when we got there.
Bring a Payment Card That Uses a Pin Number
Many of the best priced gas stations are self-serve and don’t have an attendant on duty. Instead there’s just a kiosk, which requires a pin activated card to complete the transaction.
We didn’t know the pin for our primary travel card, and our other card (with a pin) only worked sporadically for some reason. This meant we often had to go to a gas station with an attendant so we could pay inside. Having the attendant though usually means an increased gas price to cover the overhead of staffing.
9) Take Advantage of Grocery Store Discounts
Pak’nSave will provide coupons at checkout (they’re printed on your receipt), which can then be redeemed for discounts on gas at their same facility. We regularly saw discounts between $0.06-$0.10 NZD ($0.04-$0.07 USD) per liter.
Note: The gas discount coupons can only be redeemed at the exact same store that you purchased your groceries in. You cannot save it for use at a different Pak’nSave, so if you’re traveling around a lot, then it’s best to combine a grocery run and gas fill in the same go.
Countdown, on the other hand, offers the OneCard in partnership with BP. You’ll get $0.06 NZD ($0.04 USD) off per liter at BP or participating GAS outlets, but only when you swipe your Onecard and spend $40.00 NZD ($25.85 USD) or more on fuel in a single transaction.
10) Pick the Proper Travel Vehicle
As with any road trip, having the proper vehicle can make or break your experience. Although everyone touts the benefits of a campervan, it’s not necessarily the most cost-effective option for your travel style. Read our touring guide to help pick the right vehicle for your trip.
Or, if you’ve already chosen to go with a campervan, then consider renting from Euro Campers. We really enjoyed them.