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.
  1. 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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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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