New Zealand is expensive, there’s no getting round it. We expected it to be in line with Australia but it’s actually even more eye-watering-ly shocking in terms of prices. We’re always on the hunt for a free or cheaper option as we travel on such a tight budget, but also don’t want to miss out on an experience that we may never have a chance to try again. So when we started planning New Zealand, we wanted to make sure that we could see all the sights but to somehow fit it into our budget. We’re pleased to say that after a huge amount of research and a lot of chats with helpful locals, we’ve managed to do it! Here’s what we’ve been up to:
No photos of these as my camera skills weren’t good enough to get more than a brief blur and lots of black (believe me, I tried). If you’re going to visit the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, it’ll set you back about $50 NZ dollars each (about £25). But a 15 minute drive past the caves and you’ll find Mangapohue Natural Bridge. It’s free to visit and if you go at night like we did, you’ll see hundreds of glow worms. You’ll need a torch as it’s pitch black and miles from anywhere – we didn’t see anyone while we were there and I have to admit, I was a little terrified that we might stumble across our own version of a Blair Witch style horror movie. The glow worms were worth it though – hundreds of little lights climbed the walls of the gorge that’s been carved into the rock by the natural bridge. We hear it’s also a great sight to see in the day!
There are plenty of places ready to take your money if you fancy a dip in a hot spring in New Zealand – especially around the Taupo and Rotorua areas. However, being that they’re natural wonders, there are still some which you can safely visit without paying an admission charge. The Spa Park in Taupo and Kerosene Creek near Rotorua were two that locals pointed us to. Just make sure you keep a close eye on your belongings and leave valuables in a safe place. Thieves in the relatively crime-free New Zealand know that tourists are keen to drop everything in a pile and jump in, paying little attention to where their wallet is or may be going…
When it comes to viewing the natural hot springs and thermal mud baths of the North Island, not even getting in them, there are plenty of locations where you’ll be charged just to look at them. We recommend the free Kuirau Park in Rotorua for an incredible array of different types of pools and even a mesmerising lake covered in steam. Or take a drive around the area that surrounds Wai-O-Tapu park (a reasonably priced but still costly attraction), where you’ll spot many mud pools and hot springs outside of the park’s fences.
Everywhere you go on both islands in New Zealand, you have tour operators trying to coax you in to see penguins on an expensive-sounding boat trip. There are, however, lots of locations where if you’re in the right place at the right time, you may be lucky enough to see one for free. As we only had a couple of weeks in NZ, we decided to splash out $30 each (about £15) on seeing the world’s smallest penguins come home for the night in Oamaru. The colony there is protected by a shelter who each night allow a small number of tourists to watch the penguins come out of the sea and climb the beach up to their burrows. It’s all done very well, you get to see about 50 penguins in their natural habitat but you know you’re far enough away not to interfere with nature or their sense of secuity. $30 was far cheaper than most of the paid penguin related activities we saw and truly was worth every penny. You’re not allowed to take photos as they can disturb the penguins and risk them running back into the sea. So no cute photos I’m afraid…
As we looked through photos of helicopter trips to the glaciers costing £400 a pop, we knew there was no way we could afford to join one. However, with a little research we found you can get within a few hundred metres of both Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers for free by taking the well sign posted hikes to the area. So beautiful and so worth the walk, we were chuffed that we didn’t have to miss out on these natural wonders just because we didn’t have a few hundred pounds spare.
Lakes and Mountains
Our time in Milford Sound National Park and around Lake Wanaka were some of our absolute favourite days of the whole trip. The hikes we took around the areas were free and well signposted, with free maps available from local information centres. Our absolute favourite was our hike to the top of Rocky Mountain. Three hours of stunning views were our reward. If you’re low on funds in NZ, a good old hike is often the answer!
Other great things to do for free
We’ve also checked out the following free things to do in New Zealand:
Taupo – Watched the Aratiatia Dam open, releasing 80,000 litres of water and creating the Aratiatia rapids (featured in the LOTR films); visited the incredible Huka Waterfall, tried various types of New Zealand honey at the Huka Honey Hive;
Rotorua – Drove round the lakes and then up Mount Ngongotaha for a view of the town; drove to Rainbow Mountain; visited the Redwood Forest for a hike (free maps available from their visitor centre);
Worth splashing the cash
Hobbiton, the movie set on the North Island where both LOTR and Hobbit films were shot, works out as about £45 PER PERSON. So much money, but so worth it. If you or the person you’re travelling with is a LOTR fan, I can assure you you’ll both enjoy it. Patrick is a big fan, I’m less of one, but we both had such a great time that we knew we’d done the right thing spending our tight budget on the day trip.
So there you have it, how to do New Zealand without selling a kidney. Have you been to NZ? What are your budget saving tips? Comment below to let us know.
See all our photos from New Zealand below: