I’m not going to tell you what we spent in total but am setting out some thoughts on things to consider. Having said that what I will say is that we tracked every penny we spent on the vacation and it came out pretty much as I expected (as I’m an accountant that’s both pleasing and a little sad).
First a little background, we are both in our early 50’s and we are not budget travelers,however I would best describe us as value travelers i.e. we’re not looking for the cheapest options but once we’ve decided on something then we’re looking to achieve the best value. That means that if you are a backpacker you will be able to travel significantly cheaper than we did.
There are a couple of general observations that cover the whole trip cost that you’re going to need to work out upfront, which are:
- When are you going to be travelling?
- How are you going to book the vacation?
When are you going to be travelling?
It sounds obvious but travelling outside of peak period is going to be cheaper but what may not be obvious is that travelling outside of peak period means more flexibility. In both NZ and Oz, mid-December until end of February is pretty much peak period. That means you need to book in advance, but it also means you will likely pay “book” price for accommodation. One thing we experienced was that we were frequently the only guests in the accommodation we picked (or at least they were not full), that means if you’re travelling off peak you don’t necessarily need to book in advance. We also noted that a number of B&B’s show the “no vacancy” sign even when they have space as they simply don’t want the passing traffic (otherwise they need to be in a permanent state of readiness to receive guests). This means if you are prepared to not always get your first choice you can save money and be flexible (for example to react to weather conditions).
We also noticed that a number of restaurants will add a public holiday or peak season premium to their prices which you would not see in Europe.
Therefore my advice would be (if you can) to travel in the shoulder season (October / November or March / April) when it will be less crowded and the weather will still be decent. Bear in mind that outside of the shoulder period you may save more money but you also risk certain things being closed.
How are you going to book the vacation?
NZ itineraries can be quite complicated which makes booking them yourself a relatively time consuming affair (not a problem if, like me, you enjoy that side of planning) so it’s tempting to book a pre-organized tour or hand someone your itinerary to book for you. I gave a travel agent my itinerary expecting that they would be able to achieve discounts that I could not, in fact their cost came in about 25% higher than I could achieve by booking myself. Clearly if you’re booking a coach tour that’s not going to be an option but I think for a self-drive tour self-booking is the way to go.
With the above in mind I grouped our actual spend into the following buckets (in order of magnitude):
- Commercial attractions and activities
- Food and eating
- Car Hire
This will be the area where you have most scope to save money but also the area where you have the potential to make your holiday thoroughly miserable.
Generally in NZ other than in the major cities you will not see the chain hotels and therefore your option is a either motels or B&B (assuming you are not camping and excluding the campervan option). Within those categories there is a huge amount of variation and we spent an inordinate amount of time on trip advisor looking through the various options.
There are some national holiday park operators like Top 10 Holiday Parks which seem to have convenient locations across the country and we may try those on our next trip.
Which you choose depends both on price and level of interaction / personalization you are looking for. Motels may be your best option if you want to keep yourself to yourself. Motels will almost always also be cheaper but remember that if breakfast is not included you can reckon with $10-20 per day cost for breakfast which you should factor in.
We choose to stay in high end B&B’s and I would say in the main we were happy with the choice. Part of the attraction here is interaction with the owners and with other guests – so if that does not appeal then think of something else. What I would suggest is that you take a look at exactly where the B&B is on google maps to see that it matches where you want to be for your activities. I would also check what the B&B says about views from the room; we were caught out in a couple of instances by rooms without a view. Now that we know a little more about the areas we are visiting we might have been a little more selective. Looking back I suspect we could have reduced our accommodation costs by a quarter quite easily (by not booking in advance and / or being less selective on areas).
We did not fly business. Honestly I did look at it but I can’t imagine a circumstance when the cost would be justified. Modern planes are just not that uncomfortable and are the flights really that long? One great piece of kit I bought was a Travel Rest. You look like a bit of an idiot but honestly it was very comfortable.
After that the decision making becomes a little more straightforward. I generally look to Opodo when I am booking flights but I will always check with Skyscanner and on the airlines own website and cross check with a travel agent. Your basic decisions will be whether you fly in an out of the same airport (often not the case in NZ but it could be that the saving you make justifies getting back to the same airport) how many stops you are prepared to put up with and how long a layover is acceptable.
As we were travelling to Australia and NZ and wanted as little hassle travel as possible we booked the most direct routes with the shortest stopovers. We actually flew Frankfurt-Perth, Perth-Auckland, Christchurch-Melbourne and Melbourne-Frankfurt. Our main carrier was Qatar airways combined with Air New Zealand. I checked numerous options including flying back to Perth for the return flight home but I could not seriously reduce the cost. The only separate flight we took was Auckland to Dunedin. Overall our total flight costs came to €3,300.
My one piece of advice would be to book early if you want the most direct routes. I followed prices up to day of travel and while prices didn’t move much, the flexibility reduced and stopover times increased for the same money (if that makes sense).
Commercial Attractions and activities
This is the area where you have most scope to be flexible on cost. With a couple of exceptions most of the best things we did were free and there were very few commercial attractions that we would repeat. The best was probably the Buller Canyon Jet and the worst the Tamaki Maori culture show. I suspect were we to go again we would spend almost nothing on commercial activities; the one exception would be some of the boat trips, particularly those one way trips that take you to the start of a walk.
If you are really on a budget my advice would be to do very few commercial trips and it will detract very little from the fun.
Food and eating
NZ is not a cheap place to eat in fact the cost of living is generally about a quarter higher than it is in Germany. In particular I thought that alcohol was very expensive. Germany by contrast is a very low cost place to live (from a European perspective) which might have emphasized the differences plus the Euro is quite weak at the moment but nevertheless the cost can still be a shock.
Overall we spent about €50 a day on food but my other (better ;-)) half does not drink alcohol and all our breakfasts were included in our accommodation costs. We ate out most nights but sometimes skipped lunch or just had a pie or a sandwich.
One piece of advice would be to make sure you do any supermarket shopping (e.g. for water / snacks) in the larger supermarkets (e.g. Countdown) in the major population centers as opposed to the regional supermarket (four square) as the cost of basics (like water) was around three times higher in those regional towns.
This is another area where significant money could be saved. We booked our cars with the major agencies (Hertz, Europcar) where you are essentially paying for having a newish car and being able to collect / drop off at the airport. NZ however seems to have a thriving and established industry in well used rental vehicles which cost less than half the established outfits. We saw a lot of older hire vehicles on the road and most seemed to be in decent condition (and we didn’t see anyone stranded at the roadside!). This is definitely something we would look into next time.
Naturally if you have a hire car then you need to have petrol. I was surprised at how pricey the fuel was in NZ and in fact it’s almost the same cost as in Europe and materially more expensive than in Australia. Just to give some idea of the cost, we drove around 7,500 km across both Australia and NZ and our total fuel costs were around €700 (we were driving mid-range relatively fuel efficient cars).
This covered things like parking, some clothing, bug spray (!!) etc. Of course with careful packing any additional costs should be avoidable but there is also something that is forgotten or lost along the way and needs to be replaced.
The final thing to think about is the cost of time off work and the costs of having someone look after your stuff (house) or animals (dog in our case) while you are away. I saved up one week holiday every year for five years to enable me not to have to take any unpaid time at work.
Of course for both fuel and food costs, you are spending on holiday so you won’t have those costs at home, seems obvious but if you are on a tight budget its worthwhile factoring in some savings for those costs that you won’t incur.