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6 Ways to Travel New Zealand on a Budget

06/23/2015 10:53 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016
paul bica / Flickr

The sweeping mountain vistas, stunning beaches, vibrant cities and hospitable locals make New Zealand a bucket list travel destination for many. But as breathtaking as it is, plenty of travelers forgo a forage into hobbitdom due to the expensive costs of getting and staying there. The sticker shock might be high, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to enjoy the beauty of this remote wonderland for relatively cheap.

Travel during the off-season
This is the easiest way to see New Zealand without spending a fortune. High season in New Zealand occurs in the summer (December to February). However, many top ski destinations like Queenstown, Wanaka, Cardrona and Tongariro National Park have a secondary high season during the winter (May to August). Travel during the shoulder seasons (March to April or September to October) to avoid the crowds and hefty price tags while still enjoying the weather, the activities and the incredible views. Some of the most beautiful times to visit are the spring when the flowers are in full bloom, and the fall when the trees turn vibrant hues of yellow, red or orange.

Invest in a city pass
If you plan on spending a substantial amount of time in New Zealand's bustling cities (like Auckland and Wellington), invest in a city pass. These discount passes will get you into many of the city's top attractions for a fraction of the cost of paying individual admission. With Auckland's Multipass, you get access to five of the city's top attractions like a Fuller ferry ride to Rangitoto Island and the Sky Tower. In the country's capital of Wellington, the city pass grants you entry into the famous zoo, a trip on the cable car, plus other citywide discounts. Queenstown doesn't offer an all-in-one pass, however, during the winter it does have ski passes and packages that grant access to multiple slopes for the cost of one.

Rent a car or campervan
Filling the gaps between the cities are lush forests, jagged mountain ranges and sparkling glacial lakes. Arguably the best way to see these natural wonders (without shelling out major cash for a guide) is to rent a car or a campervan. Much of the beauty of this remote country lies in the many places you stumble upon by accident, which is much easier to do when you're driving yourself. New Zealand has a variety of rental companies for budget price points, such as Jucy Rentals and Thrifty, that offer cars and vans for as little as 22 New Zealand dollars (about $15 USD) a day. If that's still too steep, look into rental relocations, which let you rent a car for $1 NZD a day as long as you're cruising between popular relocation routes like Auckland and Christchurch or Christchurch and Queenstown.

Plan to camp
New Zealand is a country steeped in so much natural beauty and a great way to experience it is to sleep outside underneath the stars. Not only is camping one of the best ways to enjoy the splendor of both main islands, it's one of the most affordable lodging options, too. If you rented a camper van, you can freedom camp (which costs nothing), as long as the van comes equipped with a toilet. However, you can't pull over and set up camp wherever you please (due to reckless tourists and locals, many places no longer welcome campers), so do some research beforehand to avoid fines. If you're just setting up a tent, locals recommend staying at any of the Department of Conservation's 250 campsites, which come equipped with basic toilets, water, and barbecues or fire pits. The cost is minimal, anywhere from $1 to $20 NZD. Holiday parks -- campsites that offer more amenities like recreation rooms, kitchens, laundry facilities and nicer bathrooms -- are also popular. Prices range anywhere from $10 to $40 NZD, which is still relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of a hotel room (room rates typically begin at $100 NZD).

Balance expensive activities with free ones
What makes New Zealand so popular is the abundance of adrenaline-packed adventures available around almost every corner. Although some of the most popular adventures come with a considerable price tag, many of New Zealand's famed outdoor experiences are free. To stay within budget, balance the expensive adventures with ones that don't cost a thing. For example, if you spend the $195 NZD to bungee jump at Queenstown's famous AJ Hackett Bungy, skip the heli-ski tour of the Franz Josef Glacie and take the hike up instead. Forgo the pricey Lord of the Rings film tours (which can cost up to $250 NZD) and take a cheaper bus ride to the Tongariro Crossing, which costs just $50 NZD and was a primary filming location for the movies (as well as one of the best day hikes in New Zealand). Plus, the entrances at most national parks are free and promise rugged hikes with amazing views. In addition to the great outdoors, many of the art galleries, botanical gardens and city beaches in Auckland and Queenstown are free. For great deals on the popular excursions (like the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves), check New Zealand deal sites like Bookme, which offer hundreds of discounts for budget travelers.

Rent a home from a local
Kiwis are incredibly hospitable, and many offer their homes to travelers at a fraction of the cost of neighboring hotels. To truly live like a local, rent a home or apartment on Airbnb or Bookabach. These websites let you rent a vacation home anywhere in New Zealand in a wide variety of price ranges. Not only are the accommodations cheaper, these homes are equipped with fully functioning kitchens, making it easy to prepare meals for yourself and avoid spending a fortune at restaurants. To make the most of your time here and truly immerse yourself in the Kiwi culture, ask your host for tips on cheap grocery stores and the best places to score a local meal on a budget.

About the author: Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent time in more than 30 countries and hundreds of cities writing, photographing and immersing herself in all things food, wine and culture. You can find her favorite recipes on her blog, The Realistic Nutritionist. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ to keep up with her adventures.

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