By Sarah Schlichter
New Zealand’s sweeping mountain vistas, pristine beaches, unique wildlife and fascinating Maori culture make it a dream destination for many travelers. But exploring the Land of the Long White Cloud doesn’t come cheap. An expensive long-haul flight will take the first chomp out of your budget — and once you arrive, you’ll find high prices for gas, food and excursions.
To help make your dream trip a reality, we’ve gathered 25 secrets for saving money on every aspect of your New Zealand vacation. Read on to learn how to trim tour costs, find a cheaper flight and eat well for less.
1. Travel at the right time. New Zealand’s seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere, so the busy summer travel season runs from December through February. Both international travelers and Kiwis swarm the country’s most popular sights this time of year, and prices rise accordingly for everything from airfare to accommodations. Consider visiting during the quieter spring or fall shoulder seasons, or during the winter (where tourism is down everywhere except ski areas like Queenstown).
2. Focus your trip. New Zealand may not look like a big country, but if you want to take in the major sights on both islands, a week or two just won’t cut it. If your time or budget is limited, concentrate on either the North Island or the South Island, not both. Staying focused will save you a mound of money on internal transportation; domestic flights or gas for long car trips can eat away at your vacation budget.
3. Look for airfare sales. Because of New Zealand’s remote location, airfare is a pricey proposition for most international visitors. To help trim costs, keep an eagle eye out for fare sales on major carriers like Air New Zealand and Qantas. Both airlines offer sales and discounts by e-mail; you can also sign up for fare alerts from your favorite booking site or airfare aggregator (such as Expedia.com, TripAdvisor.com/Flights or Kayak.com).
4. Get creative with fare combinations. For American travelers, most sales on Air New Zealand and Qantas are for departures from Los Angeles or San Francisco. If you don’t live near one of these airports, consider booking a cheap fare aboard a discount airline like Southwest, JetBlue or Virgin America to get you to and from California. The cost of that flight plus an LAX-Auckland sale ticket on Air New Zealand could be cheaper than booking the whole itinerary through a single airline.
5. Keep an eye on exchange rates. Along with fuel prices, currency fluctuations can have a noticeable effect on the cost of your airfare. I took advantage of this myself on a recent trip; I made my booking at a time when the U.S. dollar was strengthening against the Kiwi dollar, which resulted in lower fares from Air New Zealand.