I’ve discovered that I’m a bit of a wreck for the first few days in any new country. I’m the sort of person that immediately needs to know how things work, where to shop, how to save those precious pennies. I’ve read some great posts on the activities on offer and places to visit in New Zealand but hopefully these starter pack tips will be of benefit.

New Zealand is an expensive country even by western standards, there is no getting around that. The amount of Kiwis that have been surprised we spent 5 months in North America due to the cost has made us laugh, it’s nothing compared to the costs in Oceania. Having said that, there are bargains to be found, you just need to know where to look.


1 – Fuel cards and supermarket fuel discounts


The first thing we got was an AA fuel discount card. You can use this at any BP or Caltex petrol station and every time you purchase fuel you accumulate savings that can be redeemed on future purchases. Just make sure to spend them within the same calendar month as they can’t be carried forward. Fuel prices aren’t quite as bad as the UK but we still nearly fell over the first time we filled up our rental, every penny counts!

At this point in time (December 2012) all of the supermarket chains offer money off fuel vouchers when you spend more than a certain amount in one visit. Countdown and Pak n Save offer money off Shell and Gull and New World offers money off BP, keep hold of your receipts!

Lovely independent shops in Arrowtown

Lovely independent shops in Arrowtown


2 – Supermarkets


That brings me nicely onto our next topic. Eating out is fairly pricey but most hostels have fully equipped kitchens that make cooking so much easier so we did a lot grocery shopping. Groceries aren’t cheap but if you only buy fruit and vegetables that are in season you can save a fortune as New Zealand produces so many. I recently picked up a massive bunch of delicious asparagus for just NZ$2 and 3 punnets of strawberries for just NZ$5.

There are three main supermarket chains in New Zealand and these are listed below in order of ‘cheapness’

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    • Pak n Save – Like Walmart or Asda. Good for bulk buys and they have some pretty good offers on beer and wine.
    • Countdown – Like Safeway or Morrisons. Decent quality food and fresh produce, a little more expensive than Pak n Save but there seems to be more of them around. They have some fantastic discounts on wine.
    • New World – Like Wholefoods or Sainsburys. Great quality and selection of food but it is slightly more pricey. They do great offers on day old bakery goods, handy if you’re making sandwiches every day and their bakery department is seriously good.



3 – Coupons


The Kiwis love a good coupon and in the land where you can do any imaginable activity and a fair few you haven’t, any savings are welcome.

Pick up a free Arrival magazine when you get to the airport, it’s packed full of coupons and ideas of what to do across both islands. Paul saved $NZ20 off his bungy from this. The ‘AA 101 things to do in New Zealand’ magazine is also packed full of coupons and they can genuinely save you some cash.

Paul ready to do the highest bungy over water in New Zealand

Paul ready to do the highest bungy over water in New Zealand


4 – Wifi


Wifi is notoriously bad in New Zealand. It’s slow, very rarely free and they charge by data allowance rather than usage most of the time. This would be fine if you were on a normal holiday but most long term travellers rely on the internet to plan their trip, keep in touch back home and write blogs.

The Kiwis are very aware of this problem and gripe about it themselves. We were in Nelson a few weeks ago and they were laying new internet cables outside our hostel, the owner apologised for the work but did say that they would at least be up to speed with the rest of the world afterwards!

Some tips on wifi usage;

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    • Some lovely hostels do offer free wifi, you just need to hunt them out so check in the facilities sections of their websites. In remote areas you’re definitely less like to find this so maximise your time when you can. There seem to be a larger number of hostels with free wifi in Nelson and Queenstown from what we’ve noticed.
    • Most public libraries offer free wifi and the data isn’t monitored. You may be asked to stay a certain allotted time if you use the facilties but quite often we’ve just sat outside and used it.
    • McDonalds does offer free wifi but you have a data allowance. We’ve sat in a few McD carparks on this trip to use their wifi! If you are heading inside, check it works before you buy anything as it can be a bit sketchy.
    • Top 10 Holiday Parks – holiday parks in New Zealand have everything from tent sites, powered sites, backpacker cabins to quite swanky chalet type things. They offer great value accommodation no matter what you’re looking for. They charge for internet but if you’re there for a few days it’s really cost effective and usually pretty speedy.


Paul guiding our Blanco rental through yet another ford

Paul guiding our rental Blanco through yet another ford

5 – Transport


If anyone asks the best way to get around New Zealand I’m sure the most popular answer would be campervan but we stumped for a car instead and I’m so glad we did. I think the romantic idea of travelling in a campervan is great in theory but the practicalities didn’t weigh up for me.

All the great New Zealand backpacking stories usually involve a camper but they also often took place a few years ago. Free camping isn’t anywhere near as available as it once was, the Kiwis aren’t too chuffed with you just pulling up anywhere for the night anymore. Most people we’ve spoken to are having to pay around $NZ40-$NZ50 per night to park up at a holiday park and when you combine this with the rental cost (min of $NZ80 per day) and the pricey fuel that they guzzle it adds up to quite a lot. We have also been able to go pretty much anywhere in our little car, down really long dirt tracks and on one occasion through 9 different fords. I’m not sure I would have wanted to do that in a van. We are staying in a combination of our tent, hostels (which are fabulous in New Zealand) and cabins in the holiday parks and it’s leaving us with money to spend on enjoying the activities New Zealand is famous for.


On the way to Milford Sound

On the way to Milford Sound

It is completely up to the individual and if we’d been coming to New Zealand on a 2/3 week holiday I would have given it some more consideration but I also thought we’d kill each other after 6 weeks together in a campervan!

Another key tip is make sure to compare rental company prices in a few scenarios. I’d been told by so many people that we’d need to have two separate cars, one for the north island and one for the south, to avoid the vehicle transport prices on the Cook Strait ferry. I’d done this and was about to book when I thought to just double check. We actually saved $NZ20 per day by renting one car for the whole 6 weeks which paid for the ferry and still saved us $NZ600.


*We didn’t receive discounts or freebies from any of the companies mentioned in this post. All opinions are genuinely our own.

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4 Responses

  1. Philip Deaton

    That bungy looks like fun! I’m a bit gutted I have so much trouble on flikr, as it looks like you have done some cool things, but I can’t see them 🙁

    One tiny suggestion – can you put prices in GBP or USD as well as local currency please 🙂

    • Maddie

      That’s rubbish, you would have thought it would be ok now you have a VPN. I think Tanya is right on the currency thing, I list GBP in our budget round-ups as that’s what we’re tracking but for tips etc it’s going to be different for each person

  2. Tanya

    Gutted for you that the GB/NZ exchange rate is so poor. We found NZ really cheap back in 2008 and as such could afford to eat out every day. We got $NZ2.8/£1 though = those were the days:). I personally would stick with just the currency of the country you are in otherwise it will feel like your blog is aimed purely at Brits/Americans. People can look up an exchange rate it isn’t difficult:)

    • Maddie

      The exchange rate wasn’t actually too bad, we were getting 1.96. It’s just that it’s a really expensive country, the standard of living is really high from what we noticed and salaries reflect this I guess. The other issue you have as a backpacker is that everyone goes to New Zealand for the crazy activities and they all cost a bomb, to save cash we just had to scrimp in other areas.


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