Travelling the Trans-Tasman Bubble on a Budget: New Zealand

Folks, I cannot be the only one who has been itching to get up and out and start travelling overseas again! For a little while there it didn’t seem as though travelling overseas was going to be possible for a long time to come. Recently though, we’ve begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The number of people infected with Covid-19 has been dropping daily and it seems like we’re well on the way to getting our lives back on track and stepping into a new norm. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re doing all we can to prevent further spread and we seem to be making good progress and promoting hope throughout the world.

Recently, the government decided to open the borders between the Australian States and Territories now, in the last week or two, there has been increasing talk about opening a Trans-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.  Tourist researchers in both countries see this travel bubble as a great start to economic recovery following Covid-19.

What is the Trans-Tasman bubble?

Last week, after Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern met to discuss the Trans-Tasman travel bubble, Australian and New Zealand leadership forum created an expert panel called the Trans-Tasman Safe Board Group to answer this question.

This Trans-Tasman travel bubble will basically be like a domestic travel experience for Australian and New Zealand tourists to begin with.  If successful, the bubble could expand to include other countries at different stages.  Currently, both Australia and New Zealand impose a 14-day quarantine on International arrivals. This safe travel zone will allow tourists from both the countries to travel without adhering to the quarantine period.

Is New Zealand a budget destination?

New Zealand has always been one of my favourite travel destinations in all the world. It doesn’t have an expensive reputation but it’s not cheap to travel through New Zealand in comparison to South East Asian countries, for example. 

Don’t let that stop you from venturing to New Zealand though. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited, and I recommend it to everyone. You just have to make sure that you plan for a bigger budget than if you were travelling to Thailand or Bali. There are plenty of ways to keep the cost down if you’re travel savvy.

Throughout this article I will point out some of the most amazing places to visit in New Zealand, tips for travelling there on a budget and the general cost of items you can expect to find there.

How much time should you spend in New Zealand?

New Zealand might look small on the world map, but you could honestly spend months exploring this beautiful island and not get bored. Depending on the time you have available, you can decide whether you want to visit both the North Island and the South Island or just choose one of them.

Travelling Around New Zealand

It is actually quite easy to find your way around in New Zealand. Buses go everywhere and cars don’t hesitate to pick up hitchhikers. In my opinion, the best way to travel in New Zealand is to rent a car or hire a caravan/campervan and just drive your way around. If you are travelling in New Zealand for a few months, consider buying a campervan, then selling it when you’re done. This might work out to be cheaper than hiring one for a prolonged amount of time.

If you’re on a tight budget, backpacker buses are going to be your lifesaver. With backpacker buses, you can buy a ticket that covers a part of the country and you’ll be able to jump on and off the buses depending on your schedule. These buses give you the flexibility of travelling at your own pace with activities and accommodation all organised for you. New Zealand has two main Hop On-Hop Off type travel buses which I’ve listed below.

The Kiwi Experience:  This is the biggest and the most popular backpacker bus in New Zealand. This bus ride is such a fun experience. The drivers will host games and activities to make sure that travellers socialise and get to know each other. The Kiwi Experience is a lot more popular with the younger crowd for this reason. If you are 25 or younger this would be a fantastic travel experience for you.

Stray Travel: This company has much smaller buses compared to The Kiwi Experience. Stray Travel attracts more mature travellers who aren’t looking to party. They much prefer to sightsee and meet other likeminded travellers. If this is what you’re interested in, Stray Travel is the perfect option for you.

Unless you’re short on time I would recommend sticking to land travel and not flying within the country. You’re going to be able to experience more of the exquisite attractions of New Zealand on the ground than you are in the air.

New Zealand’s North Island

The distance from the top of the North Island in cape Reinga to the south of the North Island in Wellington is roughly over 1000KM.  This roughly equates to a 13hr drive. I’d say you will need at least 4 to 5 days to see the Island in all its glory. If you are visiting the North Island, there are 5 main cities you should add to your itinerary.

Auckland

The best place to start your holiday on the North Island is by flying into Auckland. While Auckland is not the capital city of New Zealand it is known as the third most liveable city in the world! Auckland is also the largest city in the country and is home to the largest airport.  I would recommend spending 1 or 2 days in Auckland before driving down the island. My favourite memory of Auckland was seeing its spectacular coastline and exploring nearby islands. You can easily kill few days in Auckland by doing a harbour cruise tour, visiting beaches around the city and shopping.

The Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is an easy 3hr drive North of Auckland. There are many hidden treasures waiting to be explored in the paradise of the Bay of Islands. The Bay is home to 144 islands that host calm sandy beaches, abundant in marine life and lush native forests. It is a popular holiday destination for both local and international tourists. Paihia, Russell, Waitangi, Kerikeri, Opua, Hokianga, Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach are some of the most popular places to visit in the area.

Coromandel Peninsula

Coromandel Peninsula is well known for its beautiful beaches. It’s approximately a 5hr drive back towards the South of the island from Kerikeri. Two main highlights of Coromandel Peninsula are Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.

Rotorua

Rotorua is well known for its Maori culture, hot mud pools and natural hot water pools. The drive from Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua should only take about 3hrs or so. Rotorua Is Centrally located in the island, so you could stay few nights there and visit Maori cultural shows and hot springs or do day trips to Huka Falls, Tongariro National Park, Ohope Beach and anything else that’s listed on your itinerary within the central area of the island.

Wellington

Wellington is a very compact city and is the capital city of New Zealand. There are many restaurants and bars to visit in Wellington. Shopping Wellington waterfront and catching a cable car up to Wellington Botanical Garden are two super interesting things to keep you busy throughout your stay in this gorgeous city.

Now, after your stay on the North Island of New Zealand, you can either fly back home from Auckland airport or catch the ferry down to the South Island. I would recommend allowing 8 to 9 days to visit North Island without rushing yourself.

New Zealand’s South Island

New Zealand’s South Island is much larger than its North Island. It has a gorgeous coastline, much like the North Island but it is best known for its mountains, lakes and glaciers.

Christchurch 

If you’re flying into New Zealand this is probably the best place to embark on your South Island holiday. Christchurch is located on the East side of the South Island. If you’re spending a few nights in Christchurch, you’ll find quite a few motels and boutique hotels that are perfect for short-term accommodation. The centre of the city is filled with amazing architecture sporting some of the oldest buildings in New Zealand.

What can you do in Christchurch?

  • Christchurch Botanic Gardens
  • Ride New Zealand’s highest and longest zipline
  • Cathedral Square
  • Cardboard Cathedral
  • Christchurch Gondola
  • Container Mall (originally named Re:START)

If you decide to head to Queenstown from Christchurch, I’d suggest taking the scenic inland route and making a few stops along the way. Depending on how much time you’re spending on the South Island, stop for a night or two in Tekapo. It’s about a 6hr drive from Christchurch to Queenstown so it’s definitely a good idea to stop over midway. Lake Tekapo is a beautiful sight and is the most photographed lake in New Zealand. If you’ve been researching New Zealand for any reason, you’ll likely have stumbled across plenty of pictures of it.

What can you do in Lake Tekapo?

  • Lake Tekapo
  • Mt John Observatory
  • Lake Pukaki 

Queenstown

Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world. It is packed full of an adrenaline junkie’s dream activities: bungee jumping, skydiving, paragliding and boat cruises. There isn’t an adventure you can’t experience in Queenstown. I would recommend spending a few days exploring this action-packed town. 

Te Anau

It is about 170km (a 2 to 3hr drive) from Queenstown to Te Anau. Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park. While you are in Te Anau, be sure to visit Milford Sound, Mirror Lake and the Hollyford Valley. From Te Anau you can either drive straight to Mount Cook or spend a couple of nights in Wanaka.

Mount Cook

Mount Cook is my favourite destination on the South Island of New Zealand. The scenery is utterly breathtaking. Make sure you have a fully charged camera battery when you plan to visit this area. You’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t snap a few pictures while you’re there.

Flights

Flights from melbourne to New Zealand generally come in at around $350+.

Meals

One of the main things I enjoy when I travel is going to town on the local cuisine. Obviously, with New Zealand being a neighbouring country to Australia, the food in New Zealand isn’t much different to what you find at here at home. If you’re looking to save some money on food Pak ‘N’ Save is the cheapest supermarket in the country. 

When it comes to alcohol, wine is a cheaper option and a great way to experience what New Zealand has to offer. New Zealand produces some of the best wines in the world so be sure to try out your fair share, if you’re a wine drinker.

I generally average about $50 per day for food when eating out. If sticking to sandwiches and doing my own cooking, I’ll budget for about $15 per day.

Overall budget

If you allow $180 to $190 per day you can travel carefree throughout New Zealand. If you’re on a tight backpacker budget, $80 to $90 per day will allow you to experience New Zealand by staying in hostel dorm rooms, cooking your own meals, utilising bus transportation, enjoying one or two expensive activities.

It’s safe to say, I cannot wait for the Trans-Tasman travel bubble to be officially implemented. I’m ready and rearing to get back into travelling the world by starting with our neighbours a few hours across the sea.

How soon will you start travelling again once the travel bubble is introduced?

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