Travelling New Zealand on a Budget: Transportation Tips & Tricks

Preparing for a trip to New Zealand? Look no further as this guide is going to provide you with all the tips and tricks learned along the way of traveling to Aotearoa. As a whole, New Zealand is a vast country and is highly popular for travellers, for good reason. While expenses all over the country are quite high, especially for international travellers (and even those who are natives) a few transportation tips will take you far so you don’t overspend on your travels, or pay unnecessarily for travel costs.

Pick the Right Time to Travel 

Travelling to New Zealand is the experience of a lifetime, and doing it at the right time only enhances your trip. Summer months in the country are from December – March. You can expect temperatures in these months to be around 21-32 degrees Celsius or 70-90 Fahrenheit. So, count on the weather getting pretty hot, especially in January and February, when temperatures are at their height. These months are also when most natives and international travellers are out exploring the country and pursuing travel plans. 

Depending on where you go, of course, crowds will follow. Specifically, you can find the most crowds in Queenstown, Rotorua, Nelson, the Bay of Islands, and the Coromandel Peninsula. If you don’t mind the crowds, these summer months are the best time to travel. 

The second best time to travel to New Zealand is in Autumn or March-May. In these months temperatures will be around the 60s (19-21C), and when you will find fewer crowds, but can still enjoy all outdoor activities like hiking, biking, laying on the beaches, camping, and exploring wine vineyards. 

Wintertime in New Zealand (June – August) is when most travel to partake in skiing and snowboarding, and is the best time to travel the country if you enjoy snow sports. You will find temperatures between 4-7 C in the North and 1-6 C in the South. Popular destinations for the wintertime include the ski resorts in the South, particularly in Queenstown and Wanaka, 

Springtime (September – November) will bring you temperatures of 7-17 C, and like Autumn, is the perfect time to explore the country’s endless outdoor activities. Long, crisp sunny days are met with chillier evenings and occasional weekly rainfalls. You won’t find many travellers during these months, as most are already planning their upcoming summer holidays when school is out for the kids. 

Overall, the months you choose to travel are entirely up to you and your preferences. However, March-May can generally be said to be some of the best if you don’t want peak tourist season,  but still want to enjoy all of the outdoor activities. Keep reading to find the best prices to book your holiday in these months and for transportation tips on getting around! 

For more info including the weather by month, check out the best time to visit NZ.

Save on Flights & Airport Parking for Domestic Travel

Travelling in the months of March-May will bring you optimal weather conditions, lower flight prices & airport parking costs, as well as less populated cities. Despite this, when you are travelling between cities, flight prices can add up. When possible, book your flights as far in advance as possible, even doing so by 3 weeks – 1 month prior to your flight can help lower your costs. Nelson Airport – while not the most popular airport in New Zealand – is a key transportation hub for domestic routes, especially in connecting travellers to cities in the East of New Zealand.

For travels from Nelson Airport into cities like Auckland or Wellington, here are a few ways to score cheap flight prices: 

  • Stick with a preferred airline so you can garner loyalty points and save them to receive discounted airline tickets in the future
  • Set price alerts via email for specific dates you wish to travel in the future
  • Be flexible with your dates, as particular days of travel can save you a great deal of Monday
  • Try to book your tickets on Sunday when possible, as it can save you almost 20% on domestic flight prices 

If you want to save on multiple transportation costs associated with your travels in New Zealand, you can save on airport parking as well. Planning to drive your car to Nelson Airport and wish to have it there upon your return? Consider booking Nelson Airport Parking at least 2 weeks in advance for the best rates. By booking online, as opposed to driving up to the car park on your departure date, you can save up to 40% on parking costs. Saving on flights and airport parking? It’s a win-win! 

Renting a Car

Renting a car in New Zealand is by far the most convenient way of getting around and being flexible with your travel plans. Below are some tips for making your rental process as smooth as possible. 

  • If you want to rent a car, you should look into doing so at the airport, so right when you get off the plane at Nelson Airport, Auckland Airport, or Wellington, you have transportation accommodations awaiting you. Keep in mind that airport rentals are likely going to cost you more than picking up your rental elsewhere, as the car agencies know that everyone getting off their flight and going into the city needs a car if that’s their planned transportation mode. 
  • You can expect to pay between $65-115 a day for a rental car in NZ – the price will vary, of course, depending on the size and model. 
  • The longer you rent a car, the cheaper the prices will be. 
  • Choosing your start and end point is critical, as not all car rental companies are available or have depots in every city you may travel to. 
  • If you want to save money on transportation costs, look into rental car relocation. This is where a rental car company will offer extremely low rates for your travels from one city to another, as they need to move the cars between two cities, anyway. You can ask the car agency via telephone if they have any offers at the time you need the booking. 
  • Rental car rates are going to depend on the season in which you need a car. If you rent a car in the summer or winter months, prices will be approximately 20% more than what you would pay for renting a car in the fall or spring months. 
  • The most reputable car agencies in NZ are Thrifty, Europcar, Avis Car Rental, and JUCY Rentals. 
  • The primary locations to find a rental are Auckland International Airport, Christchurch International Airport, Wellington Airport, Auckland City Center, Invercargill Airport, and Tauranga Airport. 

What to Know About NZ Bus Transportation

If you don’t plan to rent a car in between your domestic city travels, consider taking busses. They are cheap and run often enough in between even the smallest cities to be convenient. Intercity is New Zealand’s largest bus network and can take you from city to city in a few hours. It’s important to note that if you are a student,  backpacker, or senior citizen, you can qualify for a discounted bass pass. Additionally, those who purchase standard passes will have different benefits and accommodations than those who hold flex passes. They also offer discounted fees for students, backpackers, and senior citizens, in addition to travellers who hold a standard pass versus a flex pass. Find the information below for the different types of passes offered: 

  • Standard Passes: Cheapest bus ticket without qualification for being a student, backpacker, or senior citizen. They are non-refundable tickets, so best to purchase them when you know your itinerary will not have any modifications.
    • You may make changes to your ticket or pay for it up to 2 hours before departure. Online payment is required at the time of booking. No refunds will be issued if you cancel or modify your ticket. 
  • Flexi Passes: More expensive tickets than standard passes, but offer you the opportunity to make modifications to your ticket if needed.
    • You may make changes to your ticket or cancel it for it up to 2 hours before departure. Online payment is required at the time of booking. A full refund can be issued if you need to cancel or amend your ticket. 
  • Student Pass: For secondary students or those in a tertiary learning program. Students aged 13-16 do not require an ID, but students 17+ may be required to show their student identification card. Students 17 and under may not travel alone on any bus service. 
  • Backpacker Pass: For travellers who have valid ID cards upon booking their ticket. Valid ID cards include YHA, BHA, ISIC, Nomads, Peterpan Gold Cards, and Hostel International Cards. 
  • Senior Citizen Passes: Only available for New Zealand citizens aged 65+ 

You can read more about every town and city the Intercity busy goes on their website. Keep in mind that the sooner you book your tickets, the better rates you will get. Always carry your ID on you when travelling, as you may get asked to verify your pass and identity. 

Now you have just about everything you need to travel around New Zealand with a budget in mind. Keep in mind that you may spend roughly 172 NZD every day on accommodation and transportation costs. Stay in hostels, choose a small car that gets good gas mileage, and cook meals whenever you can for the ultimate cost-saving hacks!