Overall score (Dan) = B
Overall score (Jocelyn) = A-
Total days = 24 nights, 25 days
Total cost = $4,508
Cost per day = $180 / day
Flight costs = $1,100 each, but total ticket also got us to French Polynesia
Areas visited: New Zealand – North and South Island
We were pretty happy with our overall spending in New Zealand, but there were a few things we could’ve done better. As we went along, we realized New Zealand is a pretty expensive place – especially if you plan to see the many incredible sites there. In addition, we drove over 5,300 km (~3,200 miles) over 25 days! The guy who checked in our camper van was rather surprised and thought they might have erred when the wrote down the miles – but we know the truth when we see how much we spent on diesel!
How far does your money go in New Zealand?
Each US dollar is worth approximately 1.14 New Zealand dollars, so our money actually took us a little further (theoretically). However, New Zealand is pretty expensive so we quickly lost the “advantage” we felt we had. Here’s a complete list of our spending in New Zealand:
As our total mileage indicates, we saw a lot of New Zealand. As I’ve discussed previously, the more you travel within your destination, the more expensive your overall trip. However, we had one major advantage – our hotel on wheels!
If we rented one of the smaller camper vans (basically a minivan with a bed in it), our price would have cut in half, but that might have also cut our relationship in half!! 25 days is a long time on the road, and I’m glad my wife reinforced the need for basic comfort when I was trying to book the cheaper van. In addition, our camper van also had a bathroom and shower which allowed us to “freedom camp” – I’ll get into that more later.
The expense category we managed the best throughout our trip was food. Just doing some simple math, we had around 75 meals total in New Zealand over 25 days and out of that, we went to eat a total of only 9 times! That may sound like a lot, but anytime you’re traveling and away from your kitchen, it’s so much harder to cook for yourselves every day.
We made 65 of our own meals which meant a HUGE savings in our overall budget. Our camper van had a refrigerator, stove, and microwave so we actually made complete meals. We even bought steak a couple of times for dinner! Lunch always consisted of ham sandwiches, chips, sometimes fruit, and almost always a Tim Tam. If you ever visit New Zealand or Australia, you must have Tim Tams… think thin mint girl scout cookie in a larger biscuit size. They are like crack.
Excursions can be another huge expense while on vacation – especially in New Zealand – but we did a really good job of finding free activities and saving our money for the big things. If we were going on a ten day vacation, we would’ve done many more excursions, but since we are traveling for nine months, it’s a decision we had to make. My wife did an excellent job of finding the free things to do… and all of New Zealand’s National Parks are free to get into, so that helped us substantially as well. I’ll post some of her links below which show some of the things we got to do… New Zealand is definitely an incredible place.
Another thing we did well was to keep our overnight camping expenses down. In New Zealand, there are a few different ways you can overnight while in a camper van; you can either pay to stay at a holiday park or you can freedom camp. Freedom camping is basically finding a designated area to park your van and staying the night. Sometimes cities will designate areas you can stay, sometimes you can stay anywhere there isn’t a “no camping” sign, and other times you have to guess where the heck you can stay. The only qualification is that you must have a “self-contained” camper van which basically means it has a bathroom. It was tough in the beginning because we didn’t exactly know where we could freedom camp, so we spent $35-$50 per night to stay in holiday parks. Luckily, we only did this on 6 of 24 nights – so you can see how quickly that would add up if we did it every night.
As mentioned before, we did the best thing and splurged on the nice camper van. If we were on a shoestring budget, this would have been a no no, but luckily we have enough to splurge on a few expensive items such as this. In the end, our camper van was around $90/day. I guess that’s alright since you can look at it as transportation and lodging, but we could’ve easily saved around $30/day on a small van.
Another downside of the the bigger camper van was the diesel we burned through. Much of this was our fault as we were determined to see almost every square inch of New Zealand, but our total spending per day on diesel was $28… compared to $29 per day we spent on our food (groceries plus going out to eat)! It’s pretty bad when you spend as much feeding your car as you do on yourself.
The ugly for New Zealand is the amount we had to pay to see things and coupons that we had and didn’t use! In all, we probably could’ve saved between $100-$200 if we would’ve taken advantage of the different opportunities provided to us.
The first coupons we missed were the discounts offered in the travel guides we picked up at the airport. One easy one was the 10% off the Interislander ferry that took us between the North and South Island – all you had to do was the put the promo code in the online checkout and we would’ve saved $30. There were a few other discounts we missed at the attractions we visited.
Another item we could’ve taken advantage was the supermarket offer of discounted gas. For the amount we spent at the grocery store, we could’ve saved 10-15 cents on each liter of diesel which was around $1.50 per liter. We probably could’ve saved $30-$50 by joining their club and receiving the coupons.
Finally, New Zealand is plain expensive. Tourism is one of their top industries, and they’ve made it an art to extract as much out of the tourists as possible. We’d read the guide books which listed all of the great things we needed to do, and then we’d get to the attraction and get surprised by the total cost of tickets! For example, we went to see the glow worms at Waitomo Caves; our tickets included a short hike through the caves and then a five minute boat ride to see the glow worms – all of this for the small price of $49.50 each!! It was so hyped up that we didn’t want to miss it, but I’d have a hard time recommending it to someone traveling on a budget.
As we traveled New Zealand, we found this same thing happening over and over. In fact, their tourist information centers are obviously commissioned by the different tour companies because they rarely tell you about the free way to do things and instead try to sign you up for tours. Many of the major attractions in New Zealand are a public/private co-op which allows them to overcharge without a guilty conscience. It was somewhat disheartening, but once we learned the process we handled it differently. Mainly, we researched more on our own and headed to the free national parks.
Another example (I promise, my last rant) are the blue penguins in Oamaru. As you can imagine, we really wanted to see penguins in New Zealand because they’re awesome. The guide books talked them up and even mentioned the grand stands available to sit in. This was our first clue it wasn’t free, but it wasn’t until we visited did we see the tickets were $25 per person. This isn’t too high, but at this point we were so annoyed we didn’t want to do it. Instead, we hiked along the cliff overlooking the grandstands and penguins and saw it for free! I would’ve been mad if we paid for it because you could see the penguins for about 15 seconds as they get out of the water and then scurry to their homes – which were little dog house type things that were built for them!
In conclusion, we really enjoyed New Zealand and the many beautiful sites contained within it. It’s a beautiful palce and well worth visiting, but it is a good idea to do some research and decide where you want to spend the majority of your “excursion” money.
Next up: Australia
Here are some additional pictures from beautiful New Zealand: