A Locals Guide To Road Tripping Around New Zealand

When I meet someone new overseas, the following is a fairly standard opening conversation.

Me: “Hey, I’m Jub. How’s your Wednesday treating you?”

Other person: “… fine, I’m Ivan from Russia, where are you from?”

Me: New Zealand. So your…”

**Ivan interrupts**

Ivan: “Oooooo, wow, New Zealand is a beautiful country. It’s somewhere I really want to visit.”

It’s true, New Zealand is beautiful. I got extremely lucky (and am grateful) to be one of the few million people born there that are alive today. Despite New Zealand being so high on the bucket list of many, most people haven’t visited. They are all so are full of questions.

disconnecting from the internet in new zealand

I try and answer questions honestly, kiwis are known as being fairly straightforward with our answers. This favorite quote of mine from one of New Zealand’s sporting heroes is a good example of kiwis calling things as we see it.

“You’re always going to be criticized to a degree. Some people didn’t like Mother Teresa as well” – Brendan McCullum

The two main reasons people haven’t traveled New Zealand?

  1. It’s far away.
  2. It’s expensive.

It’s true, New Zealand is an expensive country for most people. Yet, as Cez and Agness know, pretty much anywhere in the world can be experienced regardless of your budget. And yes, it’s far away, but we can’t win everything. 

Exploring the Hobbiton

Today I am going to provide tips and tricks for exploring New Zealand on a budget as you road trip around the country (definitely the best way to see New Zealand) based on things I seem to get asked about often.

What this article isn’t?

This won’t be a how-to explore New Zealand on $25 a day like the former eTramping days. It’s advice you can incorporate into your trip to keep your budget reasonable. But you won’t be restricted to two basic carb meals a day, freedom camping, and skipping out on once in a lifetime experience.

beautiful new zealand

Why?

Because the New Zealand food scene is unique so you should try Bluff Oysters if you get the chance. If you’ve always wanted to bungy jump, why not do so at home of bungy jumping? And camping is often confused with glamping in New Zealand.

bungy jumping auckland

In reality, sand flies are biting you as soon as the sun sets and the cold southerly winds leave you freezing in your tent all night.

The Auckland bridge jump

Let’s get into it.

How To Get Around New Zealand

Because we have decided road tripping around New Zealand is the best way to see the country, we will need to either buy a car/campervan or rent.

Buying A Vehicle In New Zealand

Buying a vehicle might seem like a hassle, but the buying process for international travelers in New Zealand is simple enough. I’d only recommend buying a car if you’re staying for a month minimum and have some basic car knowledge.

sunset from the car

The main departure points from New Zealand are Christchurch and Auckland, so give yourself a couple of days to go second-hand car shopping when you arrive. TradeMe is a good source before you arrive but also check at various hostels and ask if anyone is selling a car.

People can be negotiated down for a low price as they don’t want to be stuck with a car after they’ve left the country. The more people you talk to, the better your chances are at picking up a great deal. The same goes when you leave the country of course if you can find a buyer in advance that’s great, otherwise, you might need to sell the car at the market price.

Renting A Car/Campervan In New Zealand

There’s no need to book a rental car or campervan in advance in New Zealand (unless you find a great deal online. Do some research in advance to have a good idea of what you’re looking for.

If you’re on a short trip you might want to save some time and book in advance for an airport pickup, but most international airports have no shortage of options (summer holidays can be an exception)

Another option for rentals is to choose a relocation service. You can get some amazing deals with this if you have some flexibility and don’t mind driving lots in a short span of time.

A Heads-up On Alcohol & Cigarettes

Cigarettes are crazy expensive. Be prepared to pay at least $15NZD per packet. If you were ever planning to quit before New Zealand might be the best option.

Alcohol is expensive in New Zealand too. We are making wine that is getting talked about more and more on the International stage, so don’t hesitate to buy some mid range bottles from the supermarkets (and visit some wineries) but maybe stick to having a glass or two at restaurants as buying by the bottle gets expensive (if you can find a BYO, that’s another option).

new zealand winery

The craft beer scene is expanding too, but it’s certainly not cheap. Unless you’re an aficionado looking for the next triple IPA with lemon and honey extracts (totally made that up), stick to the cheaper options like Tui and Speights at the shops and bars (buy what’s on special).

Spirits are expensive too. I’m not a spirits drinker so can’t advise the best option here. Buy whatever is one special and stick to happy hours at the bar?

Experiences In New Zealand

This is a personal choice, as so many experiences in New Zealand are once in a lifetime Think, visiting Hobbiton, heli-hiking, skydiving, glow worms, Milford sounds, glacier walks. The list goes on.

I’m not going to even attempt to sway you from not doing your kiwi bucket list items. There is no shortage of free things to do in New Zealand to balance out the costs so as long as you save enough in advance, you should follow what your heart is set on.

Exploring the Hobbiton

If you really want, you can find alternative options for many activities by searching online like these free glowworm caves.

Accommodation In New Zealand

If you are sleeping in your car

You can find free campsites throughout New Zealand. Use the CamperMate app to find them. Alternatively, you are never too far from a safe campsite with road signs letting you know where they are frequently. You could risk sleeping in your car in parks and carparks, but if you catch a police officer on a bad day, the fine will sting.

For those who aren’t sleeping in their vehicles

Again, you can use the CamperMate app to camp at free campgrounds. Be aware, most of the facilities are going to be poor and dirty.

new zealand motel inn

Otherwise, hostels are the cheapest option. They can’t be found in smaller cities, so your best bet is to download a couple of your favorite accommodation apps, and use them as you see fit to find motels, bed and breakfasts, Airbnb etc.

New Zealand Sports (a.k.a Rugby)

The haka and the All Blacks are two of the things that people bring up consistently (no I don’t know the Haka). It’s embarrassing,  but at the time of writing this, I still haven’t been to an All Blacks game.

If they are playing a game when you’re here and you aren’t too far away, make the effort to attend. The tickets aren’t cheap, but the All Blacks legacy is world renown so why not.

Alternatively, if you haven’t got a chance to see the All Blacks, head down to the local parks on a Saturday or Sunday around midday. There should be a game going on where you can see the grassroots of New Zealand rugby and experience culture through some sport.

Note: Rugby is a winter sport. The New Zealand summer sport is cricket.

A Heads Up About Holidays In New Zealand

The holiday seasons in New Zealand are different for a lot of you as down in the southern hemisphere the summer months are over the Christmas period (the tree above is the Kiwi Christmas tree. This is when kids also have school holidays.

christmas tree new zealand

Holiday pricing isn’t a major thing in NZ, however, the demand for everything is certainly a lot higher as many businesses close for two weeks over Christmas and New Year as the public holidays make it pointless for some businesses to open up for one day.

Don’t Expect Great Mobile Phone Plans

I mentioned the CamperMate app earlier. Thankfully this app is usable in offline mode, as New Zealand 3G/4G data plans are expensive. You could buy a sim card and see how you get on, but don’t plan to have access to the internet 24/7. If you need some free wifi, the local libraries are always a good source and are free to use.

We Aren’t Quite Finished, Yet

Woah, are you still with me?

Awesome.

I hope you’re now slightly more eager to visit New Zealand and understand where you can save some funds.

New Zealand of course, is beautiful as I’ve been told hundreds of time (by people who haven’t actually visited New Zealand).

It’s incredible what Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit (Hobbiton anyone?) have done for New Zealand tourism. Thankfully, the country is as good looking as it is in the movies. We wouldn’t want to mislead people!

Beyond the stunning scenery, there are unique food, culture, sports, and adventure experiences that aren’t always cheap. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing right? It’s a long way to go just to half-ass the trip.

However, you decide to explore New Zealand, remember, it’s your trip. There’s no right or wrong way to do anything.

The above is based on my experiences having been asked dozens of questions about New Zealand over the years.

Have a question about traveling to New Zealand at all?


This article about road tripping around New Zealand is written by kiwi (a.k.a New Zealander) Jub. He loves sports, seeking out who the local teams are after arriving at a new destination, as well as other activities or sports-related sites nearby. That leads him to his blog, Tiki Touring Kiwi, where he blogs with the goal of encouraging others sports fans to embrace random sports experiences on the road. Learn more about Jub here, or ask him something interesting on Facebook.

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19 Comments

  • So exciting! I’ve been wondering on how to get around New Zealand and buying a car/camper van seems to be the most favorite option.

    I’ve been told many times the country is expensive. When I first came to Hawai’i I told me that it wasn’t as pricey as I thought it would be. Someone said to me, “If you think Hawaii is expensive, you’ve never been to New Zealand!”

    I do have a question. How come people from New Zealand are called Kiwis and not “New Zealanders” or something similar? Sorry if it’s offensive, I really don’t know why though!

    • Hey Leanne,

      Thanks for the comment. We are called kiwis as the ‘kiwi’ is our national bird. It’s not offensive at all :D

      It’s native to NZ, but funnily enough, it can’t fly haha!

      Can’t say I’ve been to Hawaii, but have heard it’s expensive there

  • Hahaha, if it’s any consolation, I’m an Australian, and I’ve definitely had new international friends say to me “Oh, I can’t WAIT to visit New Zealand!” or “Wow, that’s great, but do you go to New Zealand a lot?”. It’s like, thanks a lot guys! ;)

    Glad you guys are finally getting your moment in the sun tourism-wise. Interestingly, I’ve noted that almost all of the tips you’ve listed here could apply to Australia as well – with perhaps the exceptions being that (1) road trips take a LOT longer, and (2) your cigarettes are actually cheap compared to ours (usually anywhere from $25AUD-$40AUD a pack nowadays). Good to know I won’t be completely out of my element when I make it across to the neighbour! Thanks for sharing :)

    • Howdy Neighbour!
      Definitely, agree many of the tips can apply to Aussie. Some of the stories I’ve heard about cross country road trips in Aussie, crikey, that puts me off lol.

      Rumour is, our ciggys will catch up to you soon. They (the Govt) wanna have a smoke free country asap which is awesome.

  • New Zealand has never been number 1 destination on my bucket list, but this article actually moved it a lot higher. I am not sure that I want to sleep in the car no matter how cheaper it is, but I am all down to try that cuisine and see the beautiful landscapes.

  • Really nice guide! I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the Haka either, but looks pretty interesting. I wouldn’t want to be on the opponent’s team, though :)

    I would go to New Zealand for the stunning views and hobbit houses alone, any day :)

  • New Zealand is an incredible place! I was there years ago when I was younger with my family and now I can’t wait to go back and explore more of both islands. You really are lucky to be from such a beautiful place in the world =o) Also I still wear an All Blacks sweatshirt I bought when I was there =o)

    • Hey ‘the adventurer’ (who are you, I wanna know your name),

      I definitely got lucky being born in NZ! You’ll love the country even more on your next trip no doubt.

      Love that you’re representing the All Blackers :D

      Have the best December ever, the adventurer.

  • This is a great post Jub!

    I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand, and if given the choice between Australia and New Zealand, I would always choose New Zealand, as I think it’s more diverse while Australia is a “warmer” version of England! Shh! Don’t tell them that I said that!

    On a serious note, it is rather far, and I’d need at least 6 weeks to get my money’s worth. Perhaps, when teenage son is on his gap year. Won’t be long now, only 3 more years to go…! My hubby wouldn’t want to buy a car out there, but is it worth just renting one instead?

    p.s. Jub, I believe that I met you briefly, at TBEX in the Philippines last year, is that right?

  • Hey Victoria, yea we did meet briefly..you were hanging with Nathan I think!

    I’m totally with you on waiting till you can spend a longer period of time in NZ – three years will fly by! You could rent, as long as you factor it into your budget beforehand and are okay with it (at least the costs are somewhat predictable?)

    If hubby is a car fanatic, I’d lean towards buying one….but renting is still the ‘easier’ option I spose.

    Thanks for the sweet comment and have the best day ever :)
    Jub

    p.s. brownie points for NZ>Aussie haha. Lips are sealed.

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