NEW ZEALAND is one of the most beautiful places on the planet but it’s also one of the most expensive places to visit if you stay in four and five-star hotels.
With a little know-how, though, this land Down Under can be budget friendly, especially if you travel here in the shoulder seasons (September, October, November, March, April and May), which, by the way, is also the most beautiful time of the year to visit.
Finding your way around New Zealand is easy. People are friendly and helpful, local produce is plentiful and reasonably priced, and it’s possible to enjoy million-dollar scenery for no cost at all. And New Zealand is great for solo female travellers because it’s so safe and welcoming.
Here’s my recommendations on how you can enjoy all New Zealand has to offer without going broke:
Above: Beach cottages like these will cost you less than $200 (U.S.) a night.
Beaches and beach houses
Renting a privately owned holiday home (known as a "bach" in the North Island, or "crib" in the South Island) is a good way to be self-sufficient and to get into the Kiwi way of life. New Zealand’s largest holiday home business, Bachcare, has more than 1,300 holiday homes in its books, covering all the popular regions. Depending on location and type of accommodation, a three-bedroom holiday house – just a short walk from the beach – could cost about $200 NZD ($178 CDN) per night, though rates may vary according to the season.
Apartments or motels
Aside from Airbnb options, New Zealand's contemporary serviced apartments or motels (literally motor hotels) are also a good value for the savvy traveller. A two-bedroom unit, complete with kitchen and laundry facilities, can be secured from as little as $75 NZD per person per night, depending on the location. Many have flat-screen TVs, good sound systems and the latest kitchen gadgets. They're also often in idyllic locations, so they offer a better than "home away from home" accommodation option.
Backpackers and flashpackers
Whether you're carrying a pack or pulling a suitcase, there's no need to pay top hotel prices for good, clean, affordable accommodation in New Zealand.
Backpacker hostels can be found in almost every town and city, and range from a shared dormitory experience for as little as $20-25 NZD per night to a more sophisticated stay in a "flashpacker" lodge or VIP backpacker resort. More upmarket flashpacker lodges have a higher level of comfort and are likely to cost around $100 NZD per night for a double room with ensuite.
Facilities in hostels or lodges vary as much as the locations – some are beachside, peaceful and remote and others are vibrant and lively, offering a great social experience. Age is no barrier (more than 10 per cent of people staying in backpacker hostels in New Zealand are over 40) and many places have family rooms – making hostels a fun and friendly option for families and friends.
Above: Self drive and Kiwi vacations will lead you to local markets like this on at Hawke's Bay.
New Zealand is an easy place to get around under your own steam and heading into the rural areas can be a cheaper option than a city stay. Farmstays and B&Bs are dotted throughout the country, and coastal areas are well-served with budget accommodation. Many visitors are pleasantly surprised that rates are quoted per room, not per person.
Travellers wanting independence and flexibility swear by Kiwi Experience, a transport network which links New Zealand's scenic and adventure attractions. Driver guides, who are local characters and experienced travellers themselves, will do everything from booking your accommodation and activities to providing in-depth commentary, entertainment and travel advice. Kiwi Experience was set up in 1989 and has carried more than half a million passengers over millions of kilometres – often to off-the-beaten-track locations – with a hop-on, hop-off system that provides maximum flexibility.
Campervans and motorhomes
Adopting the "house on your back" idea, campervans are one of the most popular ways to explore New Zealand. It's possible to pick up a van on one island and drop it off on the other, saving time and increasing flexibility.
Walking and hiking
One of the best ways to enjoy New Zealand's landscape and to explore its vast wilderness areas is on foot. Energetic hikers (New Zealanders call them trampers) can discover glacier-carved valleys, traverse mountain passes and volcanic landscapes, while the more sedate day-walker can explore golden beaches, bush walks and other sites of scenic interest.
About one-third of New Zealand's sparsely populated land has been set aside in National Parks or reserves for the benefit and enjoyment of the public and the increasing numbers of eco-tourists.
While opportunities for exploration exist all over the country, nine destinations are recognized as being special and have been designated as "Great Walks" by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
On overnight hikes, you can either "rough it" by sleeping out in tents or in one of the 950 communal hikers' huts – or you can choose a trail that offers a fully guided experience with lodge-style accommodation and gourmet meals.