New Zealand is like a diamond necklace: oh-so-pretty, but also oh-so-expensive. Those of us in Asia, especially in the Philippines, are used to going on some fairly nice vacations on a shoestring budget, so traveling to a Western country can bring on a poignant case of sticker shock (i.e., when you look at the price sticker and get a heart attack).
In some of the beach towns outside Manila, you can rent a decent bungalow for about USD15 or roughly PHP750 a night. Good luck finding even a bunk bed in a hostel at that rate in New Zealand, and if you’re more of a solo-room-for-two-with-a-private-bath kind of traveler, prepare to shell out at least NZ$80 (about PHP2,760) per night.
However, there are some pretty ingenious ways for backpackers to get around New Zealand with comparatively little money, and comfortably too. Here’s how:
Given how conducive New Zealand is to outdoorsy pursuits, many travelers opt to stay at eco-friendly hostels or rent out campervans to make the most out of the scenery.
If you happen to be funding your trip with remote work and need a desk and an Internet connection, none of those options would do, clearly. Should you be staying in the country for a month or two, you might want to look into house-sitting. This is an arrangement where you look after someone’s house while s/he is away in exchange for free (!!!!) accommodation.
Check out kiwihousesitters.co.nz for leads. If you like animals, they’ve got set-ups where you can look after the owner’s pets while you house-sit, and some deals even come with the free use of a car!
2. Volunteer for car/vehicle relocations.
Rental companies often need people to bring their vehicles back to bigger cities from smaller towns. You can take advantage of this need by signing up for relocation deals where a company sets a date for picking up the vehicle and an allocated number of days for bringing it to its next destination.
Some companies throw in a free full tank of gas or petrol, and you can use the vehicle to get to any place you want so long as you bring the vehicle to its destination on the specified date.
And okay, there are a few companies that might charge you NZ$1 per day for the vehicle, but come on, that’s next to nothing compared to what you’re getting in exchange. Neat, isn’t it?
3. Look up last-minute deals for outdoor activities online.
Tour operators typically offer heavy discounts to sell off vacant slots on bungee-jumping, rappelling, or even spelunking queues just so these don’t go to waste. But where do you find deals like these?
Sites like Bookme, that’s where. You can get tickets to attractions like Lake Tekapo or Queenstown’s luge and gondola on this site for as much as 50% off the list price. As a plus factor, these sites target locals so a lot of tourists aren’t too aware of them. Just keep your schedule flexible so that you can advantage of the said deals whenever they come up.
4. Scour the free food shelves at hostels for, well, free food.
Backpackers typically travel light, so they leave behind any leftover food or groceries in the said shelf or box upon checking out. The best time to scrounge around for food is just after check-out time and before the lunch rush begins in the kitchen, around 10-11:30 am. Bon appetit.
5. Talk to a local for the best nature-watching spots.
When all is said is done, you didn’t come to New Zealand for its museums or its fancy-schmancy restaurants (go to Europe for that, but save up first). You came here to enjoy Mother Nature at her best.
And as Pocahontas once implied, no one owns nature, so enjoying its charms is free (or it should be)! Get friendly with the locals and ask them about their favorite spots for dolphin-watching, glacier-viewing, or penguin-spotting. If you ask really nicely, they’re bound to help you out and they may even invite you to come along with them.
Clearly, the best way to see New Zealand on a budget is by living like a local. As you can see, all it takes to do that is a longer stay (something I’m sure most of us are only too happy to comply with), an open mind, and the willingness to put in a bit of work if needed.