Budgeting for a road trip in New Zealand

Budgeting for a road trip in New Zealand

Before you even consider a road trip in New Zealand, you need to ask yourself the main question “Can I afford it?” Taking a road trip will be the most unforgettable memory of your life. The country is stunning and begs to be discovered by road. The locals are friendly and will point you to the most remote scenic spots. The life experiences gained during a road trip are endless. The feeling of freedom that comes along with a road trip in New Zealand is priceless. And yet, all of that comes at a cost.

Let's break it down to help you figure out where you will spend your money.

Quickly before we get down to business, here are a few notes about the prices below:

  • Those prices are average and may change without notice. We try to keep this guide up to date but if you find any error please email us and we’ll correct them.
  • Prices reflect our own calculation, current price adjustment and survey done with our Backpacker Motor Insurance subscribers.
  • Most working holidaymakers work alongside their road trip in New Zealand, so the total below does not necessary mean that you need to have that amount of cash on hand.
  • All prices are shown in NZD as it will be the currency of your road trip.
  • Don’t miss our 10 tips to save money during a road trip in New Zealand at the end of this article!

Backpacker road trip costs detailed

Purchasing a car or campervan ($1500-$3500)

This is the big ticket item! Purchasing a car or a campervan is usually the biggest expense of a backpacker in New Zealand. We suggest you spend at least $1500 for a car with average price being $2500 and at least $2500 for a campervan with average price being around $3500. The whole purchase process usually takes about 2 weeks. This includes the “shopping around”, organising a test drive, mechanical checks, money transfer, paperwork, etc.

Keep in mind that, given you give yourself enough time to sell your car on, you will get between 80-90% of your money back when selling it at the end of your trip.

WOF ($35 each)

Depending on the age of your car you will have to go through one or two WOFs during the year. We also recommend getting one prior to selling your car as having a “New WOF” is a great selling point.

Mechanical check ($100-$150 each)

When purchasing a car, we strongly recommend that you get a mechanical check done to ensure that all is in working order. A WOF does not really assess the car fully, it only checks a set of regulatory points. So before purchasing a car, get it checked by an independent mechanic. Check out our full purchase guide for more details on buying a backpacker car in New Zealand.

Backpackers Motor Insurance (from $150 to $364)

Getting a good backpackers motor insurance is crucial to a stress-free road trip. Luckily we have a very affordable option right here for you with very simple options. Use our quote widget below to find out how much it will cost you.

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Registration ($400/year)

The cost of your “rego”, as it is called by most people here, depends on the model and year of your vehicle. Usually backpackers spend $200 for a 6 month registration which comes to $400 per year. Having a registration that is still valid for a while is also a great selling point for a car. Keep it in mind.

Gas ($25/day)

Estimating your daily spending on gas is no easy task, it really depends on your car fuel consumption and the amount of driving that you will do in one day. However we have a few facts to base our estimate:

  • Gas price, although changing often, is usually around $2.10/l.
  • Backpackers tend to buy older cars that use more gas that the one they use at home.
  • New Zealand roads are narrow and windy and therefore more demanding fuel wise.

With this fact in mind, along with the feedback from many backpackers, we can estimate that most backpackers will spend $25/day on gas on average during their road trip. That is an average of one full tank of gas every four days.

Ferry ($170-$240 one way)

Taking the ferry between the North and South Island of New Zealand is a must. The cruise is stunning and… well there is no other way to get your car across the ditch. Price will vary from campervans setting around $240 for a one way ticket to cars at $170. This will include one driver. Be aware that the ferry can be fully booked, especially in summer. Book early!


Backpackers on a road trip in New Zealand tend to choose between three main accommodation options. We have detailed them below.

  • Hostel: ($25/night per person)
    Hostels provide full facilities including clean showers, lounge, laundry (extra cost), big kitchen and many other services. In most of the country, aside from major cities, parking will be free with your hostel night.
  • Campsite: ($0-$25/night for 1 van + 1 passenger
    For campsites located near the biggest cities or attractions with full facilities. For phone/internet access look for private campsites and count $20-$30/night for 1 van + 1 person. Count an extra $5/day WiFi access.
    If you are looking to get off the grid, totally off the beaten track, look for DOC campsites. Quite a few of them are free and others have a fee of $5 to $15/van. DOC campsites have very little in terms of facilities though.
  • Freedom Camping: (Free)
    This option is only for self-contained campervan, i.e. campervan that has fully self contained toilets. This type of van must display an official sticker (More info here) A word of advice: do not use self-contained-only campsite if your van is not self contained. Fines are hefty and extremely common.

We also recommend WWOOFing or couch surfing that will provide you with free accommodation and food in exchange for a few hours of work. It is a great way to save some money for a while between two steps of your road trip.

Parking: ($50/month)

Parking costs can go from one extreme to the other depending on what kind of backpacker you are. If you stick around big cities, then you will pay per the hour. At $4/h for parking, your bill will be high up there. You might be a city lover but be willing to park on the outskirts and walk to save a lot on parking.

If you stick to rural towns, you will only pay the odd parking fee here and there and a few times when going to the “must see” cities like Wellington or Queenstown.

After surveying our insurance subscribers, we have found that they are spending $50/month on parking on average.


  • Food:
    Depending on your diet, food can be a big ticket item so keep this important tip in mind: don’t eat and drink out too often. Even “cheap” fast food is not that “cheap” here. Cook for yourself as much as you can!
  • Laundry:
    Price varies from hostel to hostel and campsite to campsite. On average you will pay $4 for a wash and another $4 to dry the load.
  • Activities:
    This is entirely up to you what you choose to spend the rest of your money on. Don’t go overboard but don’t be too cheap either, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience after all!

In short, a road trip in New Zealand will not cost you that much more than your life at home, it only requires a bit more planning. Use the budgets above to check if you have enough funds to afford a road trip in New Zealand and drive off!

We’ll leave you with this:

10 tips to save money during a road trip in New Zealand

  • Use free WiFi in cafes, restaurants, bars and libraries to stay connected without breaking your budget.
  • Cook for yourself instead of eating out.
  • Stock up on groceries when in big cities as small town prices are much higher.
  • Keep your fuel voucher when shopping in major supermarkets - gas isn’t cheap in New Zealand.
  • Plan ahead for your big ticket activities so you can look around for a good deal on that one you really want to do.
  • Do a lot of free stuff, every area has lots of hikes and other free stuff to do. Head to BackpackerGuide.NZ for thousands of tips and guides.
  • Try to work during the peak tourism seasons so you can travel cheaper in less crowded areas during the off-peak season.
  • Consider doing a one way trip to save on the ferry, for example, buy a car in Auckland and sell it in Christchurch.
  • Find travel buddies to share the gas cost with. Many backpackers in your hostel would love to catch a ride with your for a while and will pitch in for gas too!
  • Buy the right car or campervan for your needs. If you are alone, you probably don’t need a full campervan. Stay away from 4-wheels-drive - this is absolutely not needed in New Zealand and will cost you loads on gas.
  • BONUS TIP: Get the right backpackers motor insurance! Who knows what can happen during a road trip, so having good insurance to back you up is important. On the other hand, you don’t want to spend all your travel money on it neither. Use our quote widget to discover our backpacker-friendly prices:

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Ashley L. UK
Backpackers Motor Insurance was a great resource for me to buy my campervan in New Zealand. I used their guide step by step to check the campervan that I wanted to buy. Their cover was pretty cheap so I decided to go for it. The whole process was super easy!
James M. Singapore
I found out about Backpackers Motor insurance through a friend of mine that left New Zealand just when I arrived. It was perfect for me as I only wanted to travel for about 6 months and did not want to take the risk to travel uncovered but also did not want to spend too much.
Anna K. Germany
I was lucky enough not to have to claim anything during my trip - we had no accidents at all. But it was a great option to have this safety blanket at a cheap price. I compared quite a lot different insurance options before my trip and this one had the best cost-to-cover ratio.
Michael S. Canada
I was so relieved to be able to find an insurance option that would not cost me thousands after seeing the prices in the US. I only had a very small issue with the car and the whole claim process took only a few days. It was super easy. Thanks all!