In November and December 2016, we spent a full month on New Zealand’s south island. Half of this was spent camping or backpacking, and the other was spent living in hotels and eating at restaurants.
In our overseas travels, we have found beer to be a good indicator of overall relative cost. The average New Zealand price for a six-pack of upper-quality beer, purchased in a grocery store, was NZ $11.50. That was US $8.20, or about 25% less than US prices for an equivalent-quality brew. With the exception of gasoline, the beer-math of 25%-less-than-US-prices proved to be a good planning figure for traveling New Zealand.
At the time of our trip, the exchange rate averaged US $0.71 per New Zealand dollar.
Every restaurant, store, hotel, and gas station we visited took credit cards for payment.
For cash payments, bill totals were rounded up or down to the nearest ten cents (New Zealand is getting rid of its pennies and nickels). Bills paid by credit card, however, were not rounded.
Food and Drink
We ate in a couple dozen restaurants. Breakfast main dishes ran in the upper-teens to low-twenties of New Zealand dollars. Lunch mains generally cost in the lower twenties. Dinner mains were in the mid-twenties to low-thirties. Draft beers cost between seven and ten New Zealand dollars. Cappuccinos cost around five dollars each. What did this mean for two people having a meal? Our average cost for breakfast (one main and one cappuccino each) was NZ $43.00 (US $31.00), and our average cost for dinner (one main each, and a couple draft beers or mixed drinks) was NZ $66.00 (US $47.00). Restaurant costs were pretty consistent everywhere we went, whether it was a city or small village, a rural cafe or a hotel restaurant.
We also rented a self-catering accommodation in Central Otago. After days of eating prepared camp food and restaurant meals, it was great to have our own kitchen. Here are sample grocery store costs:
Small bottle of balsamic vinegar salad dressing: NZ $2.99 (US $2.12)
Bag of pre-washed salad greens: NZ $3.99 (US $2.83)
Bag of pre-washed baby spinach leaves: NZ $3.99 (US $2.83)
Large cucumber: NZ $2.29 each (US $1.63)
Onions: NZ 2.49 per kilogram (US $0.80 per pound)
Red bell pepper: NZ $2.29 each (US $1.63)
Lemons: NZ $5.99 per kilogram (US $1.93 per pound)
Bananas: NZ $3.49 per kilogram (US $1.13 per pound)
Apples: NZ $4.29 per kilogram (US $1.38 per pound)
Half-dozen organic eggs: NZ $4.75 (US $3.37)
Box of gluten-free pasta: NZ $4.49 (US $3.19)
1 kilogram bag of dried rice: NZ $3.69 (US $1.19 per pound)
Dried vegetable and bean soup packet (serves 4): NZ $3.19 (US $2.26)
Can of chunky soup (serves 2): NZ $3.78 (US $2.68)
Box of 5 or 6 snack bars: NZ $3.00 to NZ $4.29 (US $2.13 to US $3.05)
We used a shuttle service (Super Shuttle) to get from Christchurch’s airport to our first hotel near the Canterbury Museum and Christchurch Art Gallery. It cost NZ $30.16 (US $21.41) for both of us.
We used a bus company to get from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass (about a two-hour trip). This cost NZ $85.00 (US $60.35) for two tickets.
Our per-day cost for a 20-day car rental was NZ $77 (US $54.67 at the time). We probably could have found something less expensive if we had shopped around in advance of the pick-up date (as it was, we reserved the car on the same day we picked it up). Gasoline costs averaged NZ $2 per liter (US $5.38 per gallon).
Overall, the cost of lodging was less than comparable accommodations in the United States. We stayed in four and five-star accommodations in the “big city” of Christchurch and the tourist hot-spot of Queenstown, with nightly rates of NZ $398.00 to NZ $525.00 (US $283.00 – 373.00). In more rural areas, our nightly lodging cost ranged between NZ $149.00 and NZ $220.00 (US $106.00 – $156.00). Some of these rural accommodations rivaled the five-star places in Christchurch and Queenstown. The best place we stayed — a two-bedroom, self-catering cottage on a vineyard in Central Otago — had a nightly rate of NZ $220.00 (US $156.00).