New Zealand is a magical place. It’s beautiful and majestic and has geography and wildlife like no where else in the world. So naturally, you’re going to want to spend some time there, which usually means spending more money, too. But if you’re staying on the islands for more than the classic American 1-2 week vacation (and I highly recommend you do or you’ll see virtually nothing), there are plenty of ways to save money in New Zealand!
Above: The Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park, North Island
Tour Buses: There are several operators to choose from, but most offer a hop-on hop-off sort of service that gives you the flexibility to get off and go where you want and stay as long as you want. They’re expensive, though, from $500 with limited stops on NakedBus to over $1000 with Kiwi Experience, so be prepared to shell out the cash for the convenience of not having to do any of the driving. However, the buses don’t go everywhere and you may have to buy separate tickets with different companies to get to any places you’d like to explore that aren’t on the well-worn tourist track. Keep in mind you'll also have to factor in accommodation costs if you're not couchsurfing.
Rental Car: It may be expensive, but it does give you the freedom to explore at your own pace and see just the sights you want to see. Rent a van and you can even sleep in it if you like! To save money and if you have the time and inclination, look into sites like Transfer Car or Imoova for deals on relocating rental cars. Some places will give you the car for free if you take it from Wellington to Auckland (and other routes) for them as most travelers are headed the other direction.
Hitchhike: Being an exceedingly backpacker friendly country, hitchhiking is pretty well accepted, especially on the south island. More populated areas are easier to hitch from, but big cities like Wellington, Auckland or Christchurch may not be so amenable. It may be free, but you’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands and be prepared to scrap plans if you don’t get picked up.
Buy a car: This is what we recommend if you’re going to be in New Zealand for at least a month. You can pick up a decently priced vehicle at Turner’s auctions in some larger cities, on numerous backpacker boards, or on TradeMe.co.nz which has auction and buy it now type listings. Even better than a car, buy a campervan so you don’t have to pay for accommodation, too. Spend as much as you can get away with and plan to sell it a few days before you leave the country. We bought a camper van that had been outfitted with a mattress, camp stove, etc., for $1,750 NZD in Hamilton and sold it for $1,700 NZD in Auckland when it was time to leave. You will most likely have to perform routine maintenance like oil changes and you may have to pay for repairs and upkeep (like replacing tires or we had to replace the ignition switch), but with the price of a rental car for that long, you’ll still come out on top.
Camping: There are scores of campsites all over New Zealand where you can pitch a tent or pull up an RV for anywhere between $6-$40 NZD. Prices are often per person in New Zealand, so check before you go.
Freedom Camping: Our favorite option, especially if you bought or rented a car or campervan. You’ll need an app like Wikicamps or Campermate to tell you where to go (on- or off-line), but you can find free camp sites all over New Zealand for all kinds of camping. The apps will also tell you where to find Wi-Fi, water, showers and the like. But be sure to follow instructions as some sites are only for self-contained vehicles (ones that have a toilet on board) or don’t allow tents and you could get fined.
Online: GrabOne.com and Bookme.com are useful for Groupon-esque deals from skydiving and jet boat tours to Maori experiences and thermal spas. Sometimes they offer pretty big discounts. The catch sometimes being that the deals are only good for a certain day of the week or time of day.
Tuesdays: I realize this isn’t an actual resource, but most movie theatres offer discount tickets on Tuesdays. Unlike in the US, most do not offer reduced price tickets for matinees, so don’t hold your breath for a cheap afternoon flick.
Coupons: Even if you’re not staying at a hostel, it’s not a bad idea to pop into one or two as they often have racks of brochures and discount coupons available for local attractions.
FirstTable.com: If you’re prepared to eat early, as in the very first table of the night early, this site will let you pay half price for meals. Not bad for a night out!
Groceries: Obviously cheaper than eating out is cooking for yourself. Whether camping or staying in a hostel, save money by buying groceries and cooking your own meals. Pak-N-Sav is supposedly the cheapest option, but Countdown often has a reduced section where veg and packaged goods are nearing their expiration and on sale.
Farmers Markets: Not all markets are created equal. We went to one in Hamilton where everything was priced pretty high (granted it was good local produce, bread, etc.) and we went to one in Wellington that had amazing deals on fruit and veggies, even tofu. If you’re in a mid-size to big city over the weekend, checking a few markets out could save you a wad of cash.
AA Smart Fuel Card: If you’re driving yourself around the islands, pick up one of these at a gas station that has the yellow AA logo on their sign. It will save you $.06 off per liter when you spend at least $40. You can also choose to bank your savings for later use if you prefer.
Supermarkets: Countdown and Pak-N-Sav both offer fuel discounts when you shop with them and your receipt will indicate that you get $.04 or $.06 off per liter.
Fill up farther north: It can’t be avoided, but generally speaking, the farther south you go, especially on the South Island, the more expensive fuel becomes. So if you’re traveling south, don’t wait to fill up to see if it’s cheaper at the next place. It won’t be.