New Zealand in Nine Days – What do things cost in New Zealand? Touring on a budget, and how to keep a lid on expenses.

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New Zealand in Nine Days.MountDoom.picNow that you know how much the flight from Auckland to Christchurch was ($49 NZD, or about $40 USD), please do not suddenly think that New Zealand is a budget destination.  If your plan was to read  a post on “New Zealand in $50 per day”, please Google away. I doubt someone will provide a recipe for that anytime soon. We can blame the Japanese vacationing in Queenstown (real estate tripled here in the last few years) or in the beautiful villas overseeing Lake Taupo. Or the endless demand coming from China…we had dinner one evening  in the Skyline Restaurant (highly recommended, even if a bit pricey) overlooking Queenstown lights… vast majority of the guests were Chinese. For a country of 4 million people,  and a terrific infrastructure for tourism, the new upper middle class in Asia will provide an endless supply of tourists, and growing demand. I would not expect the prices to go down anytime soon, on the contrary.

So, how much is dinner in New Zealand? How about a Big Mac?

  1. Exchange rate: Let’s start with the basics. Exchange rate used to be absolutely terrific in 2009, with the NZD at about 50 USD cents. The rate has been slowly going up ever since, with now 83 USD cents for the NZD.
  2. A Big Mac meal is about 9 NZD – about $7 USD. Not that you’ll eat one in New Zealand. There are far better choices for food where you can also find McDonalds.  If you absolutely want to have a fast food, I suggest you try the lamb meal, so at last is something different. I cannot say how it is, we did not try.
  3. A gallon of diesel (petrol) is 4.50 USD , which is not that more expensive than US. For an RV, calculate 0.10 USD / km for the diesel costs. With our nine day tour, we paid about 200 USD for diesel for the 2300 km that we drove.
  4. A lunch is anywhere  between 10 NZD for a Thai place offering a special in a competitive restaurant scene, to a 18 NZD in a remote place with no competition.
  5. The camp fee for our camper and two adults is between $35 and $45 NZD per night.
  6. A cruise in Milford Sound, with pick up from Queenstown, is $139 – this is a 620km return trip from Queenstown to Milford, in a comfortable coach, and a two hour cruise on the most spectacular place in New Zealand. The cruse alone costs $89 NZD in Milford Sound… take the pickup option, is well worth it. More on this on the Milford Sound entry.
  7. A good Sauvignon Blanc bottle of wine costs 12-15 NZD. The whites are spectacular here, so try one. In restaurants you’ll see a normal markup of 60-100%, vs. the 200-300% you see in US, so no need to worry about corkage fees etc., unless you are too particular on a Kim Crawford variety that might not be on the wine menu.

How to keep a lid on expenses?

Things can go very quickly out of control. New Zealand has a lot of tour operators, and a variety of activities.

For example, at Mount Aoraki-Cook you have the choice of taking a 420 NZD per person helicopter 30 minute ride to the top of the mountains, with a quick touchdown on the snow. You can do a $130 NZD per person tour boat on a glacier lake. Or you can simply do the five our, free trek to Hooker valley, and take the scenery of Mt. Cook and Southern Alps while you walk to the glacier lake, and the glacier itself.

It’s easy to self-justify that these activities are “once in a lifetime”. Where else will you have a chance to fly on a helicopter to a glacier? Not an option in sunny Cincinnati anytime soon…but you can do these in Alaska next time you take that crusie.  It’s your budget, and your choice.

Now, one thing that I will go always “top of the line” is on the RV camps. The top of the lines ones are very clean, have very good facilities and friendly staff, and cost maybe 10 NZD per night for two people and the RV. Ensuring that you have a great place to stay, and waking up rested the next day, is something that we decided not to skimp on.

Also, the RV food and sandwiches can take a toll on your emotional well being. Even if a dinner will typically run at 30-40 NZD per person (without drinks), go to a restaurant once in a while, you are in vacation after all. If you are in a tight budget, go for lunch only.

Are credit cards accepted?

Yes, the credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. I cannot think of one instance where we could not use a credit card, including in the taxi from the airport to the RV pickup place.

Just make sure that you use a credit card that does not charges exchange fees, they can quickly add 2-3% to your entire set of expenses.