New Zealand has a landscape totally unique to itself, and lots to offer to the enthusiastic backpacker. The scenery, especially in the South Island, cannot be beaten. If you are a fan of hiking, camping, trekking, or outdoor activities in general, and want to do it easily and safely, this country is for you.
Out of the 18 (and counting) countries I've been to, New Zealand is by far the easiest one to travel in. The infrastructure is good, crime is low, buses run on time, and every tourist town has a dedicated information center. It is extremely simple to book activities and arrange accommodation, whether you are camping, staying at hostels, or going a more luxurious route.
For what you get in ease of travel, you pay for in cost. Being a Western country, New Zealand isn't exactly a cheap tourist destination. However, I was able to keep costs reasonably low, by cooking most of my meals and staying in backpacker dorms. Additionally, I didn't pay too much for activities, because one of my favorite activities, hiking, is totally free! If you love taking short, beautiful hikes, the country will be a paradise for you.
Before getting into a cost breakdown, a couple of things should be noted. First is that New Zealand is undoubtedly a car country. While I found it easy to get to most of the places I wanted via buses, there are countless sites that cannot be seen without the use of a personal vehicle. Every once in awhile, I managed to hitch rides with car-owning friends that I met at hostels. However, the rest of the time, if something wasn't within walking distance of the town, I was shit out of luck. If you are coming here for an extended period of time, definitely consider buying or renting a car (though once again, I had an amazing time even without one)!
The other thing I should mention is that I traveled the off-season. The high season is December through March, and while the weather will likely be much better, prices for various things (hostels, etc) will be higher. I specifically chose September/October to travel in because it would be less crowded, prices would be lower, and the temperature outside wouldn't be completely awful. Maybe it's just that I got lucky with the weather, but I do not regret at all traveling during the off-season. I was able to spend less and deal with smaller crowds.
In total, I spent 39 days backpacking through New Zealand. I went as far south as Te Anau/Milford Sound and as far north as Auckland. Here is a breakdown of what I spent during those five and a half weeks (all costs will be described in USA dollars, NOT New Zealand dollars).
Food - $607.17
I spent the largest share of money on eating, and there is a simple explanation as to why; I ate out one meal per day. Many backpackers cook all their meals, but not having a car to store things in, I couldn't be fussed to prepare all of them. So I bought groceries most of the time but spent a fair amount eating out. Without having done this, I could easily have shaved hundreds off the cost. Oh well.
Accommodation - $519.49
There's not much that can be helped about this one, and for most people, this will constitute the lion's share of spending. I always stayed in hostel dorms, averaging about $14 per night. Not terrible, considering New Zealand is a Western country!
Transport - $368.31
I learned my lesson very early on, that booking bus tickets one by one would be too expensive. So I bought a "flexipass" from Intercity (NZ's main bus company). By booking a certain number of road hours, I was able to pay less per kilometer than if I'd paid individually for tickets. One thing to keep in mind: the more you buy upfront the cheaper it is. I could have saved even more had I bought a larger block upfront.
Activities - $177.89
This is a tricky one, as activities tend to be very expensive in New Zealand. A tour of Milford Sound set me back $80 and entry into Hobbiton was $54. A lot of people do things such as skydiving and bungee jumping, and these can cost hundreds. Thankfully, my free hiking "habit" led to this category costing not so much.
Miscellaneous - $74.89
Includes mobile data, laundry (quite expensive), toiletries, and other random expenses.
Average daily cost of $44.81. Despite freaking out a bit initially about how expensive New Zealand was going to be, I came out slightly under budget. I spent less than $45 per day, and I'd say that's excellent for a country like this. For a more comfortable time, you might want to budget a minimum of $50 per day, though this depends on what sorts of things you are planning on doing.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.