Frugal trip to NZ

This item appears on page 18 of the May 2009 issue.

New Zealand, an expensive country, can be done on the cheap. I spent $2,200 plus my grocery costs on my trip from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Day 2007.

Air New Zealand e-mailed my round-trip ticket, which cost $710 plus the usual fees for a total of $935. My Magic Bus pass for the North and South islands cost about $500. Thirty nights at hostels (there are over 200 available) cost me about $450.

I stayed in bunks and dorms in hostels in 23 towns and cities. The driver of the Magic Bus (120 Albert St., P.O. Box 949, Auckland, NZ; phone +64 9 358 5600, who dropped us off and picked us up at certain hostels usually booked my hostels. Most people might not like the loud music on the bus or the stops at “tourist traps,” mostly on North Island. I drew 18 pictures in 31 days.

I used to book hostels where there were no night stops. However, the Magic Bus still would drop me off and pick me up.

To cross from the North Island to the South Island, I had to book a 19-seat airplane instead of the ferry.

There are coin-operated computers in many hostels. A cell phone would have been useful at times.

My pack is only 14"x18" plus a grocery sack. Hostel kitchens are well equipped, and sheets are provided. The “Hostel Directory Book” is free at airports.

I don’t bungee jump or skydive. I hiked Bob’s Peak in Queenstown and Mt. Maunganui near the Bay of Plenty. I visited a mining specimen museum in Thames, Nelson; a storefront Buddhist temple in Nelson; painted with an art club in Picton, and read the local newspaper in libraries. I met many international travelers, including an Orkadian (!) from the islands off the north coast of Scotland.

Prudent packers need little. The hostels and/or campgrounds have washers and dryers. I put my deodorant in a lip balm container and put baking soda for teeth brushing in a Tic Tac® box.

It is safe to hike alone in New Zealand. The locals tend to be fun and friendly. I didn’t carry a camera but have many fond memories.

Back in November ’04 for a camping trip, we booked our camper (a class-B motorhome) from the cheapest online outfitter. The camper people met us at the airport with our name on a placard, and we signed for the camper in the airport parking lot. All we needed were toothbrushes. We read the guidebooks to find the smaller mom-and-pop campgrounds, when possible.

We never reserved in advance and often were a stone’s throw from the ocean or a stream. Travel tip — rent a camper on each island and cross by air; it cost hundreds of dollars to take the camper on the ferry.


San Marcos, CA