Is New Zealand expensive? I knew the answer to this question before I boarded a recent flight from Sydney to Auckland—and I hope you do too.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue reading. I quite intimately learned about the cost of travel in New Zealand as I drove 3,000 km around the North and South islands earlier this year, and I think the details will prove insightful, to say the least.
I don’t just plan on talking about my own travels, either. At the end of this post, I’ll help you calculate your own New Zealand trip budget (which, though you won’t want to admit it now, is going to have to be much larger than you want, I’m afraid).
Why New Zealand is So Expensive
Since we both already know the answer to the question “is New Zealand expensive?”, I thought it might be important to dive into some of the reasons why. This won’t change the cost of your trip, or even really make it easier to bear, but it will help you to put things into perspective as you travel. The simple answer is…well, simple: New Zealand is a remote island nation at the literal end of the Earth, and because it has minimal industry, everything (and a good chunk of everyone—New Zealand is increasingly a nation of immigrants!) is imported.
Another factor that can affect how expensive New Zealand is (or isn’t) is what the New Zealand dollar is doing. During my trip in early 2020, for example, the USD-NZD exchange rate favored New Zealand’s currency far more than it did my home country’s (it was even stronger than the Australian dollar!), which made steep raw prices on goods and services even more difficult to bear than they might otherwise have been. Irrespective of where you come from, you’ll want to analyze exchange rates before you board your own flight.
Breaking Down the Cost of Travel in New Zealand
New Zealand Hotel Prices
The bad news? Finding cheap hotels in New Zealand can be difficult—even serviced apartments in cities and motels in more rural areas can cost upwards of 100 USD per night. The worse news? Whether you splurge and go private, or save on a hostel dorm bed (which you can expect to cost between 25-35 USD per night, depending on the size of the room), the quality of lodging in New Zealand leaves much to be desired, to say nothing of how poor air circulation tends to be, and how rare air conditioning is, even in hot places during summer.
Cost of Renting a Car in New Zealand
One way to counteract the cost of lodging in New Zealand of course, drive your own hotel—when it comes to campervan rental, New Zealand is one of the top destinations for it, and it’s easy to see why. Unfortunately, while many companies advertise that both campervans and cars can be yours for around 20 NZD per day, the fact is that after taxes, fees and insurance, you’ll be paying closer to 100—USD, not NZD. What’s more is that gas is extremely expensive in New Zealand (NZ$2+ per liter), so if you drive a lot (and you will—distances between attractions are huge) you can probably add 20-30 NZD per day to your travel cost.
Price of Food and Drink in New Zealand
Is New Zealand expensive? Eating and drinking here is, almost without exception. Perhaps worse, with the possible exception of restaurants in Auckland or Christchurch and, like, Waiheke Island, the quality of food and drink leaves a lot to be desired. I had a “lamb” burger at Aoraki-Mt. Cook, for example, and it tasted like something from an elementary school cafeteria, in spite of costing NZ$20. Although you can save some money by purchasing food (and wine!) from supermarkets (I like Countdown—”the green one”), it’s difficult for me to imagine feeding and hydrating a human being in New Zealand on less than 25 USD per day.
New Zealand Entry Fees
Many attractions, natural and manmade, are privately owned in New Zealand. As a result, whether you’re talking about the Hobbiton entrance fee or what you need to pay to visit Wai-O-Tapu thermal park near Rotorua, it’s realistic to expect paying 30-40 NZD simply to get in the proverbial door of places in New Zealand. Other attractions are free, but entail auxiliary fees no less. If you want to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing near Lake Taupo, for example, you need to pay for a ridiculous “shuttle” service in order to get around tedious parking restrictions; this will add 30-40 NZD to your tab as well.
Is Skydiving in New Zealand Expensive?
If you’re considering New Zealand skydiving, you should know two things. First, it boasts among the best scenery in the world, whether you do it above Lake Wanaka or Franz Josef Glacier in the South Island, or over the Bay of Islands in the North Island. On the other hand, the minimum amount you can expect to pay to skydive in New Zealand is around 200 NZD—and that’s from a relatively low height, and without photo or video. Even more troubling, the cost of skydiving pales in comparison to other activities like “heli-hiking” to glaciers and Milford Sound sightseeing flights, which sometimes range closer to 500-600 NZD!
It it Possible to Travel Cheap in New Zealand?
There are a few ways to decrease the cost of your trip, but it’s never really going to be cheap. The cheapest time to visit New Zealand, for example, is during “shoulder” months like April and October. However, you can still expect prices on most everything not only to be objectively high, but also (as I describe above) to be largely poor-value. The silver lining of traveling before the heat of summer seats in and after it has cooled, of course, is that the stagnant air in hotel rooms won’t be quite as boiling hot!
There are, of course, some general cost-saving measures you can take, such as sleeping in hostel dorms, traveling via mass transport (or hitch-hiking) and cooking your own food, which might not be a bad idea for other reasons, given how mediocre so much New Zealand restaurant food is. No matter which way you slice it, however, and especially in comparison to other countries, the answer to the question “is New Zealand expensive?” is always, always yes.
How Much Will My New Zealand Trip Cost?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the cost of travel in New Zealand without knowing all the specifics of your preferences, but I can break down some broad ranges for you:
- Accommodation: Hostel dorm beds tend to cost 25-30 USD per night, while even simple and private rooms are 100 USD per night, at a minimum. Nicer hotels (and even some dumpy “motels”) can easily run 200 USD per night, often far more.
- Transportation: Renting a car will cost a minimum of 100 USD per day, including gas. Renting a campervan entails a similar cost, although this will also save you on accommodation.
- Food: Restaurant food in New Zealand can often cost 20 USD or more per meal, even for very ordinary food. Groceries aren’t cheap either, however, even if you are probably a better cook than the “professionals” working in New Zealand eateries.
In general, most travelers can plan for a New Zealand trip budget of between $100-300 USD per person, per day, not taking into account once-in-a-lifetime experiences like skydiving and heli-hiking.
The Bottom Line
Is New Zealand expensive? Yes, and unfortunately it’s also rather poor value—well, the quality of goods and service, anyway. Obviously, traveling amid the fluorescent waters of Lake Tekapo and jumping out of planes in Queenstown are both priceless experiences, and I would be remiss to complain thanklessly in conjunction with them. With this being said, you need to be honest with yourself. At a bare minimum, traveling in New Zealand is going to cost about 100 USD per day, assuming you’re actually interacting with the places around you. Optimize your trip to New Zealand, no matter your budget, by hiring me as your Travel Coach!