New Zealand

Low Budget Travel New Zealand

Normally I just wing it when I travel abroad.  But, it’s a bit harder to do that when applying for a New Zealand working holiday visa.  Mainly because I hitchhiked in Southeast Asia back in 2014 and 2015, travelling in countries on their unapproved list for tuberculosis.  This made my entry into New Zealand a bit harder because I was applying for a working holiday visa in their country, meaning, I needed to get a chest x-ray from 1 of 26 approved panelists on their list of radiologists.  Originally I planned to head back to Scottsdale in early October, riding freight, hitchhiking and taking the bus from Crater Lake, Oregon, but they took the panelist off their list.  Then I tried Oakland, but they could not book me until the 24th of October, the date my flight left.  So that didn’t work. So my last option was Dr. Boone in Sam Diego.  The price of my x-ray was $175.00.  We spent about $80 on gasoline to get there and back from Phoenix and another $20 on food and $35 on camping.  So needless to say a majority of my last check went towards getting this damn visa, so I could solidify work for Skydive Wanaka on the South Island.

The processing time for visas changed to 23 days, not giving me ample time to get approved and make my flight on the 24th of October, so for another $300 I pushed it back to the 14th of November and flew from Honolulu to the Big Island, using my first leg of my ticket.  All in all, I would have planned differently.  I saved money from the last three months of work, so it was not too much of a big deal, but I could have saved several hundred dollars from my own stupidity and nonchalant attitude towards getting a working holiday visa.

I’m not broke at the moment so it’s really not a problem.  However, just know if you are traveling to New Zealand, and plan on working, to give yourself at least a month before you leave to fill out all your visa paperwork.  It takes 23 days to process.  Make sure upon approval you print your paperwork to bring with you on your flight in order to get through customs.

As for work, you will need a Bank account and in most cases you will need a permanent address in order to open this bank account.  My wife found that BNZ banking is the most lax when it comes to setting up a bank account for foreigners.

What Will You Need to Setup a Bank Account in New Zealand

  • Social Security Card
  • Working Holiday Visa
  • Proof of Address from your bank in the USA
  • Passport

The bank account teller will be able to give you your IRD paperwork and sign off on its verification so you can fill out the form and expedite it with the post office.  This number is given to employers along with your work visa so you are able to work and collect a paycheck in New Zealand.

Cheap Transportation in NZ

Bus Passes

Normally, I do not use the bus unless I really need to get somewhere for a job at a specific time.  Therefore, in this instance, I cannot rely on hitchhiking due to its random nature of adventure.  However, unlike the Greyhound, which over the years has steadily increased its pricing, making it not much cheaper than flying, InterCity Bus in New Zealand is very cheap, reliable and affordable.

Check out InterCity Bus for single bus passes to travel inter-island on either the north or south islands or you can also check out the InterCity Flexipass, which is a budget travel pass to save money for longer distance travel.  This pass is geared towards the backpacker who does not want to rely on hitchhiking, but still wants to travel cheaper than renting a car or taking a taxi.

60 Hour Bus Pass – Pass Fare = $459.00 NZD for Adult Price – Pass is valid from 10 Sep 2015 to 30 Sep 2018 and Interislander Ferry is included in your pass.  When travelling via Intercity Flexipass you have access to over 120 daily bus services and 600 towns, cities and communities.

Railroad Passes and/or Train Hopping

Now if you want to travel in style, but you hate the bus because of the enclosed view through glass pane windows and you do not want to hitchhike because of entertaining your driver and missing the scenery, then there is always the train.  Scenic Tours New Zealand offers a railroad pass to tourists, which is perfect for the backpacker who wants to see the parts of New Zealand only available by rail.

The problem is “All Rail Passes are currently unavailable for sale due to the Coastal Pacific which is currently out of service due to the recent earthquake in Kaikoura.”

So you cannot purchase a rail pass at the current time, but that may change in the near future.  If you want to live life a little more on the edge and for free you could also explore the option of freight train hopping in New Zealand riding on the outside of a cargo train car.  This is highly illegal and dangerous, and I will not be held accountable for anything that may or may not happen to you, but you can check out Train Hopping 101 and Train Hopping New Zealand to learn more about train hopping safety and rideable freight cars in New Zealand.

Hitchhiking New Zealand

Lastly, you can always explore the option of hitchhiking, which in my experience is the best form of travel because you experience the culture around you, take in the scenery and best of all its free, relying on your patience.  Check out Hitchhiking 101

What are the difficulties hitchhiking in New Zealand?

Due to lack-of-shoulders and the surplus of roundabouts, this adds an extra element to hitchhiking compared to other countries, as well as, the inability to walk along some of the major highways, unlike Malaysia for instance.  So, you must be creative.  For me, while I was hitchhiking, I tried to stand off the side of the highway where there were big pull-offs for passing cars, holding my thumb out, with a sign to my destination.  Sometimes, this involved lots of walking to get to the perfect hitchhiking location, like in Hamilton, where I walked all the way down the highway (about 15 kilometers) before getting a ride to Taupo.  Meanwhile, other times like in Taupo, where I walked only a few kilometers to the roundabout near the Shell Gas Station, I hitched a three-hour ride straight to Napier.

Waiting Times for Hitchhiking in New Zealand?

I found that hitchhiking waiting times were between 20 minutes to a half hour when I was standing on the side of the road.  But, walking with a sign strapped to my pack and sitting with a sign outside of a gas station both yielded really long wait times of several hours.  So if you find a good spot, with a big shoulder and a lot of traffic, do not feel afraid to stand, smile and hold your thumb and sign with a positive vibe.  Someone will stop in no time to pick you up.  Hitchhiking is extremely easy for the budget traveler in New Zealand.  Check out HitchWiki for more information on low budget travel in New Zealand by hitchhiking.

Taxi/Buying or Renting a Car

This is not budget travel by any means so I will not even go into detail about pricing or if this is plausible.  However, I will say that my wife and I currently have a Lotus truck, which was given to us as a work vehicle on Te Mata Peak.  We use it strictly for work errands and short distance travel, seeing some of the sights nearby in the area.  So it was free.  We did not pay for it, but I have heard of many backpackers buying used vehicles for up to $2,000 NZD and then selling them for about the same price prior to leaving the country.  So if you have this kind of cash, and that is something you are considering you might want to check out for a good deal on a used vehicle.  Also, keep in mind that the gasoline and diesel prices in New Zealand are very short of budget travel.  In fact, they define the epitome of expensive with pricing close to $5.00 USD/Gallon in the Hawkes Bay area for diesel and a hefty road tax, while gasoline prices are even more expensive.  So keep this in mind and in my opinion if you are strapped for cash, but want to see everything that both islands have to offer, then stick to the bus or hitchhiking and only hop trains if you are experienced.


If you are looking for cheap airfare deals on inter island flights between the North and South Island of New Zealand, look no further than Grab A Seat. You can nab cheap prices that are less than the bus, and sometimes this is more practical and convenient than hitchhiking as you get closer to your departure flight.

Food on Low Budget

You guessed right, New Zealand is expensive when it comes to just about everything, food is no different.  If you want to travel on a cheap budget then I would set aside a minimum of 10 – 15 NZD per day per person, just for food.  This is the bare minimum and I do not see getting by on much less.

What and where are the cheapest foods?

Grocery Stores and Fast Food

As for supermarkets, the cheapest one we found was Pak N’ Save.  Try to buy food and snacks that are on clearance and use coupons when you can, as well as, signing up for any discount cards that the store offers.  This all may sound stupid, but it adds up and will help you travel for longer without working as hard.

Cheese and CrackersInstant Noodles Peanut Butter and Bread Roast Chicken if you are fortunate enough to have an oven (we work in a restaurant) Fast Food – Domino’s ($5 pizza deal), Burger King, McDonald’s Fruits and Vegetables (from local food stands)

Farmers Markets and Stands

Check out your local fruit and vegetable stands along with farmers markets for the best deals on fruit and vegetables.  These prices will ALWAYS be cheaper than any supermarket.

Dumpster Diving

Now I haven’t really needed to dumpster dive and forage for food because we came over here with money and needed 4,000 NZD in order to even make this trip possible, but any bit of food helps you travel longer so it’s worth exploring your options.

For dumpster diving I mainly did a little trash binning and found that the tourist spots always have some type of fresh food available. But, I would say your best bet for getting free food would be bumming it at the food court locations in the mall. Sit at one of the tables and just wait for people to finish their lunch and a lot of times they leave a big bit of leftovers for snagging before the table gets bussed. Go to any mall near the food court area and this will be one of your best options for food.

I did not check many dumpsters, but I would imagine Pak N Save and Countdown to have similar food options comparable to most grocery stores in the USA. Check it out. Get back to me and I will update this page accordingly.

Keep in mind some cities lock their dumpsters or have self compacting trash bins so this is something to keep in the back of your mind.

Staying Clean

So you are trying to save money and you do not want to spend all of it at a hostel?  Well, you do not have to take a shower at a hostel to stay clean.  There are always alternatives.

Single Bathrooms

These are just one of the many options you can take to stay clean while traveling around New Zealand on a low budget.  When I went on a short freight hopping adventure from Napier to Palmerston North to Hamilton and back, I used the single bathrooms in a Burger King to freshen up while traveling on the road.  There is nothing wrong with taking a Vegas shower to wash the essential areas on your body:  face, hair, hands, feet and genitals.  Just be sure to clean up your mess and make the bathroom look better than when you entered.

Because of the transgender equality you will find many bathrooms in New Zealand have single stalls where Men, Women and Handicap can enter. These one person bathrooms are great for showering because you can use the sink to do your business.

Changing Rooms

Another great place to shower are at respective sport clubs, meaning, go into any town that has a racquetball, bowling, cricket, tennis, etc. club and you will see an area that has a CHANGING ROOM for Men and Woman. Sometimes these are open to the public and what makes them great is they have bathrooms, and private showers that are free.

Beach Showers

You can also take a shower at the beach showers provided on some of the beaches in New Zealand.  Just strip down to shorts and use a bar of soap and shampoo to smell squeaky clean.  I know they are used to get salt water off your body, but they are there for a reason and if you can handle the cold, then go for it.  It is free.  They have one by the beach near the Port of Napier, and others exist as well.

Baby Wipes

If all else fails, it is not a bad idea to pack baby wipes.  Even if you cannot wash your hair it is always a good idea to scrub your feet, hands and your face at least a few times a week to keep from getting staph infection.

Where to Sleep in New Zealand?

Rough Camping

Now, I normally do not go over this because it is self-explanatory.  You can sleep wherever you choose if you are willing to suffer the consequences of the environment around you.  Meaning, you can sleep on the beach, but if it storms, you will be extremely uncomfortable with the wind and rain.  You can sleep under a bridge, but you might have to deal with other homeless and be out in the open to being pickpocketed or assaulted.  You can also sleep just about anywhere else for that matter, but it depends on your set-up.

If you have a bivy sack you can sleep anywhere and be fine.  I slept in a dog park across from the train yard in Hamilton, behind a mound of dirt in Taupo, by the train tracks in Palmerston North, and 100 meters from the Auckland Airport in a bush.  It is all up to you and your comfort level.  For me, I do not mind sacrificing some comfort for no money, as long as, I live by the following princicples.

Leave nothing behind, no trash, no feces, and no damage. If I must poop, try to cover it with mulch, or dig a hole and bury it.


If freedom camping wherever you please is not a viable option for you then you can always check into a hostel, which run between 20 to 30 NZD per night for a shared room, which usually has at least three other beds including your own.  You could also explore the option of freedom camping in designated areas, paying for permits, etc. which might run you a few dollars as long as you are self-contained or the area provides toilets.  Lastly, you can find a job that provides housing while you travel like in our instance so you still have a roof over your head and a home base.  You can explore any of these options for low budget travel in New Zealand.

Freedom Camping

You could always check out freedom camping locations if you are wary of trespassing to sleep.  Places like Reid’s Farm in Taupo and other self-contained freedom camping sites exist all across New Zealand they are just more and more scarce due to people ruining it for everyone by leaving their trash and human waste all over the place, but by no means does anything look as bad as Slab City.


What type of work can I get on a working holiday visa?

You can get seasonal work picking fruit in Hawkes Bay, which is paid on a piece-by-piece basis.  This is currently going on now in the summer time as I type this blog post.  You could also look into any minimum wage paying job, like a barista at McDonalds, a factory worker making pallets, like my friend Jan did, or just about any type of temporary labor, like working for a hostel.  Please note:  most hostels require you stay there a minimum number of weeks before doing a work-trade with them, so this may not be feasible if you have little money, and you want to see all you can.  Apply for as many jobs as you can and you will get a bite for something.  It just takes some effort on your part.  There are also a lot of job opportunities in Napier as wait staff, just remember, this is not like the United States where you rely on tips.  Tipping is not a common practice here so you will only get paid minimum wage and probably will not get tips unless it is a touristy spot.

You can work at any one location for up to SIX months on your working holiday visa.

Electricity/ WiFi/ Data

One of the most notable differences I found between bumming around America compared to New Zealand is it is much harder to travel homeless with technology.  So for instance, say you want to charge your phone, connect to WiFi and see where you are at or download some maps, in America you would just hit up McDonalds, spend a buck on a burger and bum it there until your phone charged.  You might even go to Walmart and do the same thing, just sitting outside by one of the outlets.  This is not the case in New Zealand.  If you are traveling on a budget and you need to bum electricity to charge your phone or camera then you are out of luck for the most part.  Outlets are not free reign here like they are in America, they are hard to find and if you do find them, most of the time they are turned off.  So my suggestion is finding a place to stay for the night, either in a cheap hostel, on couchsurfing, or elsewhere and charging all of your external battery banks and your devices prior to traveling.  Download Maps.ME app for Android and use your maps in airplane mode to conserve battery.  You could also invest in a solar panel and go that route if you really want to travel with the extra weight, but note, they only work in direct sunlight.

So if WiFi and outlets are so hard to come by then how do I get on the Internet?  Well, when I am traveling, I really do not check the Internet much for social purposes, it is more so to see where the hell I am at.  You can purchase extremely low budget plans with Spark cell phone service, which offer you 200 local minutes, unlimited texting and 750 MB of data for just $19 NZD per month.  They also offer up to one gigabyte of data per day if you connect to Spark WiFi at one of the pink phone booths located all around the island.  This will also come in handy with getting a job.

Charging Stations


BP Gas stations are great for charging your electronic devices. The employees don’t really seem to care if you come into the store only to use the charging stations to charge a phone or battery bank, just do not monopolize the whole area and yard sale it in there. Be respectful as it goes a long way. Charging options include both plug-in outlets that need adapters along with USB only plugins where you do not need a plug. The coolest part about all of this is you can nab 1 free hour of WiFi while you are charging your devices. Gas stations are also pretty good places to hitchhike, just have a sign out with where you’re going and sometimes people will come up to you and try to help you out.

Often times if you cannot find an available plug and you really need your phone charged, you can just ask the store’s clerk at whatever business you are near and people are normally pretty friendly and will let you plug your phone in somewhere in the store. Just be polite, and ask. They know you’re traveling so you have that on your side. New Zealand is a much more travel friendly country compared to the USA.