How Much Did It Cost? A 6-Month Road Trip in New Zealand

One of the most important parts of embarking on our months-long traveling has been to budget and make sure that our bank accounts will last us the entirety of the trip. We thought we would summarize the costs for our 6 months in New Zealand for others who may be looking to do a similar low-budget long holiday.

After arriving in Auckland, New Zealand, we began to realize that working casual jobs for an income on our working holiday visa would be more difficult than we thought. We had arrived in the winter when farm jobs weren’t plentiful, especially in the North Island. Furthermore, paid work would come at the cost of long, hard hours and being tied to specific locations rather than being able to travel the country. We made the decision to shorten our time in New Zealand from the initial year (the length that the visa is good for) to about 6 months, and just be able to travel freely at a slow pace. We kept our costs relatively low by cooking most of our own meals, renting Airbnbs, and doing a few work-stay exchanges with real Kiwi families.

Below are approximate costs for different categories based on actual budget keeping throughout our trip. All costs are listed in US dollars, using the conversion at time of writing ($1 NZD = $0.74 USD).

Flights: $0

Because we had planned ahead for this trip, we were able to purchase our flights to New Zealand from Boston with United miles, thanks to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. And thanks to a flexible schedule from having no other obligations, we chose Saver-level award flights for only 40,000 miles each. The full price for the one-way trip were about $800-1000 each. New Zealand is pretty much at the ends of the earth (which means beautiful unspoiled landscapes!) so flights will likely always remain pricey, making paying with miles at a flat rate a great option.

To return to the US at the end of our trip, we are taking a splurgy trans-Pacific cruise to squeeze every last bit of exploring out of the journey. We are not including the costs for the cruise here since it is essentially a whole separate trip in and of itself.

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Car: net $345

  • Purchased: $3850, which included on-road costs (Warrant of Fitness, Registration, License)
  • Sold: $3550
  • TradeMe Listing Fee: $45

There are a lot of sights to be seen on every road in New Zealand, so we purchased a car to be able to catch as many as we can. We opted to purchase directly from a dealership to increase our chances of getting a car that won’t inexplicably break down while in a remote part of the South Island. Luckily, our trusty little Honda Fit had zero mechanical issues for the entirety of our trip. We were even able to sell it for a great price on TradeMe. The process of buying and selling a car is incredibly easy compared to the States – just a quick visit to the AA and PostShop; no long lines at the DMV.

Many people will opt to purchase a campervan, which is a very popular way to travel through the country. It comes with the flexibility to stay almost anywhere – on the beach, at the foot of mountains – although many camp sites do require a “self-contained vehicle” which has its own toilet. A larger self-contained vehicle comes at the cost of lower fuel efficiency (and higher difficulty of parking if you’re terrible at it, like Insia). A smaller make-shift van or the popular smaller Jucy vans come at the cost of paying for campsites and always being on the search for public toilets and showers.

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Car-related Costs: $630

  • New tires(tyres, if you’re in New Zealand): $330
  • Servicing and oil-change: $95
  • License extension 3-month: $18
  • AA membership: $142 for two AA Plus Memberships
  • Car washes: $45

Because we wanted our car to last for the entirety of our trip, we took very good care of it to minimize risk of issues. We paid for Automobile Association memberships, mostly for the peace of mind that we would have someone to call in case of breakdown. Luckily we never needed to use it. We also fully serviced the car before journeying through the South Island. It turned out that the car needed new tires, which we had suspected at purchase, so we replaced the tires which also eased our worries of getting a flat tire on the many gravel roads in the country. The new tires also helped increase the value of the car when sold.

Fuel: $1180

Gas is extremely expensive in New Zealand due to high taxes. Prices during our trip varied anywhere from $4.80/gal (=NZ$1.70/L in Rotorua) to $6.31/gal (=NZ$2.25/L in Nelson). Using an average of US$5.56/gal, a city/highway MPG of 31 for our car, and a total distance driven of 10,432km, our total fuel cost comes out to more than $1000. We found that Pak’nSave fuel was typically the cheapest, especially with the 6 cents/L savings from shopping at the store (woohoo!).

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Accomodation: $7900

As with any trip, one of the largest expenses is accommodation. Since we’re in our late 20s, both introverts, and highly value our privacy, the cheap beds in a shared hostel room weren’t going to be an option for us. At the same time, this was long-term travel and not a short, splurgy vacation that called for fancy hotels with all the amenities. We did our best to book “self-contained” units (containing a bathroom and kitchenette) on Airbnb whenever possible. We tried to stick to a budget of $40-$60 per night; $40 in the North Island (July-October) and $60 in the South Island due to less availability and peak holiday season (December & January). We took advantage of weekly (and even monthly) discounts on Airbnb – a benefit to traveling slowly. We also did three Helpx work-stay exchanges, like working on an alpaca farm, where we received accommodation and meals in exchange for a few hours of work a day.

Our total accommodation costs come out to $7900, which is $41 per night including the free Helpx nights. Excluding the free nights, the cost comes out to $47 per night of paid accommodation.

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Food: $4260

  • Groceries: $2900 ($106 per week)
  • Eating out: $1360

We did our best to cook our own meals whenever possible to cut down on costs. Our favorite grocery store was Pak’nSave, which has the lowest food prices based on our not-so-scientific comparison of Kinder Egg prices. Grocery prices on average are similar to those in the US. We purchased a few essential kitchen items – a spatula, a sharp knife, aluminum foil – and used whatever was available in the Airbnbs. This sometimes required some ingenuity due to lack of space and lack of equipment. Some accommodation had no microwave, while others had only one electronic stove-top or only pots and no pans. When we didn’t feel like cooking, we would get some quick and easy meals from the grocery store, like rotisserie chicken or prepared quiches, or a NZ$5 pizza deal from Domino’s.

We also wanted to experience New Zealand cuisine since dining out is such a large part of getting to know a culture. Therefore, we did a fair share of eating at cafes and restaurants. The restaurant scene is pretty similar to that in the US, with a variety of ethnic restaurants (Chinese, sushi, kebabs, Indian, etc), many McDonalds (a.k.a. Macca’s), and a lot more cafes. A meal out can run anywhere from $11-15 for two at a cafe or McDonald’s to $35-50 at a sit-down restaurant.

Other: $6165

  • Travel Insurance: $850
  • Fun Fund: $1160
  • Miscellaneous: $3755 ($140 per week)

Insurance is required as part of the conditions of entry with the working holiday visa, so we purchased cheap travel insurance online. We haven’t yet needed to use the insurance (fingers crossed) in any real capacity so we’re not sure how legitimate it is, but it gets the job done. The insurance is not Affordable Care Act-approved, so we will be paying a penalty for that at tax time.

We utilized a separate fund for any “fun” expenses so we never felt bad about dipping into it to cover activities. Some of these costs included visiting a Maori Village in Rotorua ($41 for two), the Milford Sound Cruise ($120 for two), and helicopter flight at Fox Glacier ($350 for two).

And there are always those miscellaneous expenses that add up fairly quickly, including laundromats, cold medicine, Ubers, boots for working on the farm, sunscreen (so.much.sunscreen.) and souvenirs for ourselves and for our friends. We only purchased items we really needed and did very little extraneous shopping since we were limited in space by our suitcases.

Our grand total cost for the 6-month New Zealand road trip is $20,080. For reference, this is slightly less than a semester for two students at Purdue University (Rob’s alma mater) ($23,022 for the 2017-18 year per student). It’s also equivalent to 30% of a semester for two students at MIT (Insia’s alma mater, $67,430 per year per student).

We hope this has helped anyone planning to go on a similar trip. New Zealand is a safe, remote, first-world country, which means it can also be fairly expensive in all aspects. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible on a moderate budget.

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