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Road-tripping New Zealand’s South Island is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. But the important question is, is it… holds breath budget-friendly? In this post, I’ll break down the usual costs you’ll incur and we’ll find out exactly how much will a New Zealand South Island Road Trip cost. Read on to find out!
⇒ All prices are in NZD$ | 1US$ = 1.38NZ$
Here’s an outline of our itinerary for reference.
- Fly into Christchurch, overnight
- Drive to Kaikoura, overnight
- Drive to Franz Josef via Castle Hill (prepare for a long drive!), overnight in FJ 2 nights
- Drive to Queenstown via Lake Wanaka, overnight in Queenstown
- Drive to Milford Sound, overnight in Te Anau
- Stopover at Queenstown on the way to Lake Tekapo, overnight at Lake Tekapo 2 nights
- Drive back to Christchurch, overnight
- Fly out of Christchurch
Total: 10 days
Flight: $2,268 per person
Dang, that’s a hefty amount. And I just had to get that out of the way. Flights to New Zealand can be expensive because it’s kind of all the way at the other end of the world (unless you’re from Australia), but if you look out for fare deals, you can get flights for half of what we paid. We booked really last minute (one week before departure!) so unfortunately, our tickets were insanely expensive. You can even get tickets less than $1000 if you book at the right time and well in advance!
Transportation: $932 total, $310 per person
→ Car rental $684
→ Fuel $234.70
→ Parking $14
We rented a Hyundai Tucson (SUV) from Snap Rentals, which had one of the better rates in Christchurch airport ($684 for 10 days, including $0 Excess Insurance – quite the steal!). It’s a lot more comfortable if there are 3 or more of you traveling, but if there’s only 2 of you, a mini car will do, and you’ll save so much more! The car pick up point isn’t in the airport itself but is located about 5 minutes away. They offer a transfer service to and from the airport for $10 each way, which is really convenient, and it saved us about $NZD400 if we had rented from one of the companies in the airport itself.
Rentalcars.com is the largest online car rental search engine, and I always use them to compare and get the best prices, and that’s how I found this Snap Rentals steal!
However, if I could do it all over again, I would definitely do South Island with a campervan as you have the freedom of just driving and stopping as and when you wished; staying longer in cities you really liked, and shorter if there wasn’t much to do. Of course, the costs of hiring a campervan would be higher, but you would save on accommodation rates, and you would get the chance to go to sleep under the stars or wake up in the most beautiful surroundings!
Fuel isn’t cheap though. When we were there (January 2017), the average cost of fuel was about NZ$2 per litre.
You wouldn’t have to worry about parking in the smaller cities, but in cities like Queenstown and Christchurch, you can get whole day parking for $5.
Accommodation: $786 per person
All of our accommodations had at least 2-bedrooms, as there were 3 of us. We booked mostly Airbnb‘s and apartments (whichever was cheaper), and the average price we paid was about $250 per night for a 2-bedroom apartment. It was pretty pricey mainly because we needed 2 bedrooms, and it was peak period, and we booked really last minute.
Activities: $244 per person
This is where your money’s gonna drain the quickest. I was astounded to see the prices of tours and activities in NZ, most of them starting from $200. If you’re into adrenaline sports, be prepared to fork out quite a bit! White-water rafting in Queenstown would cost you $229 per person, a heli-hike in Franz Josef $449(!!!) and hang gliding $220 for 20 mins! Unfortunately, I did none of these for a few reasons (1- time constraints, 2- canceled due to weather 3-I’m a scaredy cat). Speaking of bad weather, the weather in NZ is super erratic so you have to be prepared to have a few failsafe days in case activities get canceled. Our heli-hike in Franz Josef, glow worm caves in Te Anau and dolphin swim in Kaikoura got canceled due to weather.
The only activities we went ahead with were dolphin swimming in Kaikoura, which was the best $175 I ever spent, and a cruise down Milford Sound ($69), which is something everyone says you have to do when you’re in The Land of the Long White Cloud. I really wanted to try the Shotover Jet in Queenstown too but we didn’t have enough time 🙁 but it looked so fun!
Food: $1,298.43 total, $432.81 per person
A meal in New Zealand costs about ≈ $20. We aren’t big eaters, usually eating only two meals a day, and sharing two main courses between the 3 of us. We also never ordered alcohol, and this is how much we racked up in our 10 day stay! Eating out obviously isn’t cheap. Included in this total are also groceries, where we would stock up on lots of fruits. We probably went grocery shopping about 3 times, and each time we took home about $100 worth. So you could probably expect to spend this much if:
1. There are 2 of you.
2. You eat 2 meals a day.
3. You don’t order booze.
SIM Card: $29
Get a good SIM card as you will be on the road most of the time, and will likely not encounter free WiFi very often, unless you’re back at your hotel. I normally like to disconnect when I’m on trips, but I found having data really handy when looking for directions and information on places we were visiting. We bought a Vodafone SIM card for NZ$29 that gave us 1GB of data and some ridiculous amount of call minutes which we hardly used, but is handy when calling up tour operators and booking restaurants. I found 1GB wasn’t quite enough for our 10 day stint, but probably because I went a little crazy on an Instagram binge during the first few days. Oops!
So, in total, how much did we spend?
NZ$4,070 for 3 persons, 10 days.
Minus our return flights, that would amount to NZ$180 per day for the three of us, roughly US$130.
NZ$60 per person per day!
That’s actually not too bad.
So the good news is…
New Zealand can be budget-friendly.
With a cheaper flight, you could potentially spend under NZ$3,000 especially if you don’t need the luxuries of a 2-bedroom apartment and an SUV like we did! You could even go as far as to bring a tent, or use Couchsurfing for lodging, hitchhike to get around, and avoid eating out!
If you want to save money when traveling to New Zealand, here are some tips:
- Book early, early, early!
- Come during the low season. You might even benefit from better weather in the colder months as there is less rain.
- Pass on the adrenaline activities. There’s so much free stuff you can do in New Zealand as there is so much nature for you to explore. Hiking is free!
- Book activities and tours on Bookme.nz. This was probably my greatest find while researching for my trip. I found sometimes some tours were sold out on the operator’s website, but were available on Bookme NZ, and for better prices too!
- Cook your own meals!
With all these tips, you could totally do everything for under US$100 a day, which makes New Zealand totally budget-friendly! Spent less on your road trip? Let me know your budgeting tips!
PS. I’ve handcrafted a super handy printable checklist to help you pack for your New Zealand South Island road trip! Just pop in your email below and you’ll get it sent straight to your inbox!
Planning your trip to New Zealand? You might like these posts.
Watch my video!
Watch my embarrassing run through Mount Cook’s Hooker Valley Trail and the amazing dolphin swim!
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MY TOP TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES
Here are my top travel tips and resources to help you save money and plan your trips effectively! If you're looking for more tips, head over to my travel tips resource page or my comprehensive guide on trip planning.
- Booking Flights: When it comes to finding great flight deals, I always start my search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. To save some cash, consider flying mid-week or on the weekends, opt for carry-on only with budget airlines, and be open to red-eye or early morning flights. Check out my in-depth guide on how I find the cheapest flights.
- Accommodations: I'm a stickler for finding the absolute best deals on my stays, so I will obsessively oscillate between a few booking sites: Booking.com (in general) and Agoda (for Asian destinations). When it comes to vacation rentals, there's Airbnb or VRBO.
- Travel Insurance: It's always a wise decision to purchase travel insurance for international trips. I can't stress this enough - it's highly recommended! For international travel insurance, I suggest considering World Nomads or SafetyWing. SafetyWing, in particular, stands out as one of the few policies that cover Covid-19. They also offer excellent monthly policies that are perfect for digital nomads and long-term travelers!
- Travel Credit Card: My go-to travel credit card for booking trips is the Wise travel card. I love that there are no foreign transaction fees, so I can pay like a local and never get any surprises at the end of my trip. You can also withdraw cash from the ATMs wherever you are. With Wise, you are always guaranteed the best exchange rate, and I have saved sooo much money just by using this card. Most of the time, I get charged the exchange rate I see on Google, plus or minus a few cents.
- Tours: Most times, I prefer traveling independently but sometimes, getting a guide and a local's perspective makes the experience all the more enriching. When it comes to tour bookings, I trust Viator and GetYourGuide to provide me with excellent options. In Asia, I choose Klook as they are the biggest provider in the region. Plus, you can often get entrance tickets and discounted prices!
- Transportation: To navigate through public transit options and plan my journeys from one place to another, I rely on Rome2Rio. When it comes to rental cars, I compare rental companies and find the best deals through DiscoverCars.
- Connection: It's essential to me to have seamless connectivity wherever I go. I need it to navigate to new places, Google what's around me, and keep in touch with my loved ones. But fumbling around with multiple SIMs has always been a nightmare, which is why I choose Airalo when I travel. No more switching SIMs, just purchase a plan on your phone, on the go, anywhere, and stay connected.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever I need to check out early or take advantage of a long layover, I securely store my luggage with LuggageHero. It's a reliable service that allows me to roam around freely. As a bonus, you can use this link to enjoy your first hour of FREE luggage storage on me!
- What to Pack: I always have packing anxiety once I've left home—you know the phantom feeling that you've forgotten something even though you've checked 372836 times. So I made my own packing list and use it religiously before every trip, and by religious I mean I tick off that list at least 7 times before I zip up my bag. Check out my in-depth packing list here.