New Zealand is finally opening back up to fully vaccinated tourists. For the first time in a couple of years, people will finally be able to explore this stunning country. But one common complaint about tourists in New Zealand is that it is expensive. So how can one travel to New Zealand on a budget?

The most common way for people to save money while touring New Zealand is to hire a campervan (aka motorhome). Tips about hiring campervans in New Zealand need their own article so we will not go into that here. Here are a number of things to keep in mind while traveling in New Zealand on a budget.


Camping and Backpacking - Don't Get Fined

New Zealand has countless camping and backpacking sites all around the country. New Zealand is famous for its grand outdoors. But many tourists come to New Zealand, set up their tents, and get fined heavily.

With camping, it is very important to learn the rules and only camp in designated places. "Freedom Camping" is typically not allowed in New Zealand and locals will often inform the police that there is someone "freedom camping" - and that includes sleeping in one's car in a car park or on the side of the road. The fines are always expensive. One should typically camp in a designated camping location. Paying for a campsite is also quite expensive in the country.

  • Never: Never Sleep In One's Car or Van In A Touristic Place Overnight
  • Freedom Camping: Camping In Places Not Designated For Camping Is Typically Illegal in New Zealand

For cheaper camping sites consider the public campgrounds. These are run by the Department of Conservation (called "DOC" - pronounced as in "DOK-ter"). DOC has around 200 camping sites around the country and these are normally half or less the price of private campgrounds.

  • Department of Conservation: Called "DOC" Are The Equivalent of The National Park Service. Terms Like "Park Rangers" Are not Used In NZ For Sounding Too American

Related: Hobbiton Is On New Zealand's North Island, And This Is Everything You Need To Know Before You Go

Customs And Declaration In New Zealand

New Zealand (and Australia) is very strict on both biosecurity at customs and keeping the country clean and rules are often followed to the letter.

When flying into New Zealand, be sure to read the declaration form passed out on the airplane. It is very important to read this form as it is legally binding and a mistake often results in a $500 (NZD) fine.

  • Tip: Read The Declaration Form Very Carefully
  • Declare: Declare Everything - Tents, Boots, Food
  • Fun Fact: If One Has Dirty Boots, NZ Customs Will Clean Them

One needs to declare tents, other camping equipment, dirty boots, fruit, wood, and anything else that could have seeds or insect eggs in them.

Get A Free Rental Car

If one is going on a self-drive tour in New Zealand, then one is likely to want to rent a car. Most people visiting New Zealand fly into the main city (Auckland) in the northern part of the country and then make their way south.

  • Tip: Consider A South To North Tour To Get A Cheaper Rental Car

Tourists often end up flying out of Christchurch or just leaving their rental car in the south. That means tour companies are often looking for people to drive them back north. It is not uncommon to find rental cars for free (plus insurance and gas) for those driving them north.

But there are also deals on taking cars south to north. Some will even include a free tank of fuel and occasionally even a refund for the (expensive) ferry crossing. lists many of these rental deals.

Related: Here's How The Diversity Of Auckland, New Zealand Won It The 'Best City To Visit' In 2022

New Zealand Is A Self-Catering Country

There are of course there are many restaurants and places to dine out in New Zealand - but most New Zealanders rarely eat out. Instead, most people cook by themselves. If one is on a budget, then one is unlikely to eat out so one should plan on cooking one's own food while touring the country. One big exception for many kiwis is fish and chips - and there are a lot of fish and chips restaurants around the country.

  • Tip: Plan On Self-Catering While In New Zealand

Food is typically expensive in New Zealand and that includes foodstuffs that one may have intuitively thought would be cheap. Even though New Zealand is famous for sheep, don't expect lamb to be cheap in New Zealand (it isn't).

Also fish and other seafood are expensive in New Zealand - even though it's a large island country with a low population surrounded by the world's largest ocean.

Next: New Zealand Vs Norwegian Fjords: Which Is Better, And How To Visit