How to explore New Zealand on a budget

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Peter Minkoff

Peter is a gay lifestyle writer at Queer Voices and The Queerness magazine. Follow Peter on Twitter for more tips.
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Once I discovered that The Lord of the Rings was filmed in this incredible country (yes, I’m a nerd, and proud of it), New Zealand instantly found itself on my bucket list of travel destinations. However, being so secluded from the rest of the world, and with no friends of my own there, I knew I had to use the best of my skills to make it work on a tighter budget – and what do you know, it actually worked well. So, if you’re eager to do the same, here are a few first-hand ideas to wisely allocate your travel funds to make the most of this enchanting trip!

Work on the go

As soon as I saw the hefty price tag on the plane ticket that will get me to NZ and back, I knew I couldn’t possibly go for days or weeks without working. That said, it’s not as bad as it sounds, as most of the things you can do will actually get you to see more of this incredible country. New Zealand is brimming with opportunities such as farms, volunteering, work in hostels, and the like.

Do some research before you go, and your stay with the locals and the skills you pick up will actually be one of the best parts of the trip. On the other hand, you can always work as a digital nomad and travel across the country while working.

Shop wisely

However, even if you do manage to find an incredible deal with the locals on accommodation and some handy work, you’ll still need to spend a decent sum on food and groceries. Using their supermarkets as your source of goodies is by far the best option for your wallet, and the likes of New World and Countdown offer loyalty cards that come with various perks to make your shopping a bit lighter.

However, you’ll need to time your grocery shopping when you’re near a larger city, because these supermarkets don’t exist in the rural areas. Then again, farmers’ markets are always a great choice, both for the experience and the local, seasonal food. I’ve saved up quite a bit with such a shopping method, enough to treat myself to a delicious lunch at Harlan Pepper in Auckland, and their Moroccan chicken was to die for.

Rent your ride

Keep in mind that these budget-friendly decisions also favour more adventure and a more personal, authentic experience of the country, so I wholeheartedly recommend for you to set up a road trip plan to see the sights. You can easily get a reliable Avis car rental and even use some of their own recommended routes to make sure you see the best of New Zealand.

My personal favourite is the Heritage Trail, filled with history lessons and an array of astonishing wildlife, so you can switch from driving to hiking and camping depending on your mood.

Camp and house-sit

If you want to save a bit extra on accommodation, you can make arrangements beforehand to house-sit in New Zealand during your stay. Yes, this will make your trip a bit limited when it comes to exploration, but this is one of the best options for the smallest budgets.

On the other hand, in a slew of motels and hostels, I’d still go for at least a few nights of camping in New Zealand – the night sky is enough to keep you awake for the sheer beauty of it, but you’ll come across many very affordable camping spots to save a few bucks and experience the wilderness of this incredible country. The Klondyke Corner campsite is even free of charge, while you can find spots for less than $10 per person per night in other areas.

Skip the touristy stuff

Yes, I know, the biggest thrill-seekers among you will not be able to resist some of those adrenaline rides scattered across the country, but in order to stay smart with your budget, and still get the thrill of your life – opt for the free, and less pricey experiences. New Zealand is full of them! From free treks and walks, to guided tours such as the tour into the Shire (yup, didn’t miss out on that one!), and surfing on their beaches, you can easily strike the right balance between spending and saving.

If you’ve splurged on a fancy eatery or a cool nerd tour, you can still enjoy a free spa experience if you go to Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, and not to mention the numerous free hikes that will take you to see breathtaking waterfalls and rugged cliffs unlike anywhere else in the world.

Finally, no matter where you end up in New Zealand, and how you choose to distribute your humble budget, make sure you get outside as much as possible and soak in their stunning vistas and enjoy their friendly culture. Rest assured, some of the most precious of memories I’ve made during my stay there were entirely free of charge and were not even on my list of to-dos. So, the best advice I can possibly give you is to let the same happen to you and make the most of what you can spend!

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