Travelling New Zealand South Island on a Budget

Check out our travel blog of the South Island New Zealand on a shoestring budget. We managed three and a half months of exploring pretty much the whole of the South Island costing a total of £6165 GBP (Approx 12306 NZD) excluding our arrival flights and departure flights to and from New Zealand.

Highlights: Fox Glacier, Franz Joseph Glacier, Queenstown, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Wanaka, Lake Hawea, Christchurch, Picton, Abel Tasman National Park, Kaikoura, Akaroa, Dunedin.

We’d like to share our epic adventure with you, including all the costs to complete the trip which we hope may inspire you to follow our route or some of it taking in some of the most outstanding natural beauty, iconic sites and scenery New Zealand’s South Island has to offer. Please note we took the trip in 2023, so consider this when looking at our costings as they may well have increased since then, but it should give you a guide at least.

Summary of the all important facts and figures for the trip


Food: £1510 (Approx 3025 NZD)
Accommodation: £2490 (Approx 4995 NZD)

Car Hire: £1204 (Approx 2423 NZD)
Fuel: £460 (Approx 920 NZD)
Trips: £495 (Approx 930 NZD
Public Transport: £15 (Approx 28 NZD)
Internal Flights: £90 (180 NZD)

Total Cost:  £6264  (Approx 12515 NZD)

Please Note: We have not included travel insurance in the total cost (as we have a worldwide policy because we will be travelling to other countries). Quotes for travel insurance our individual, you can find many companies offering reasonable rates online. We have also not included our arrival and departure flight costs as we actually can from Sydney and flew back to Melbourne in Australia.

Trip Dates: 22nd February to 28th May 2023

Route Map with accommodation in Springfield, Greymouth, Fox Glacier, Queenstown, Te Anau, Lake Hawea, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Picton, Nelson, Akaroa, and Dunedin.

On route visiting Arthurs Pass, Greymouth, Hokitika, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, Lake Matheson, The Blue Pools, Lake Wanaka, Queenstown and the Remarkables, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Lake Hawea, Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook National Park, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Marlborough Wine Region, Picton, Nelson, Abel Tasman National Park, Akaroa and Dunedin.

Christchurch to Greymouth (23rd to 24th February 2023)

The 240km drive from Christchurch to Greymouth is a great start to any journey taking you along the scenic drive across from the East coast to the West coast through Arthur’s Pass National Park

Accommodation in Greymouth was Noah’s Ark Backpackers priced at £38 for the night (We had a private double room with a shared bathroom. (Communal kitchen and lounge areas).
Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Communal shower facilities OK, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi, Communal kitchen was very well stocked with cooking equipment and utensils. Lots of seating areas and the lounge had TV.  Highly recommended for the price.

Greymouth to Fox Glacier (24th to 26th February 2023)

Taking the road south from Greymouth for 195km brings you to Fox Glacier leaving in the morning it should take 2 to 3 hours, which still leaves you enough time for a half day visit to Franz Josef Glacier view point before heading on to Fox Glacier village. We stayed 2 nights in Fox Glacier which gave us an extra full day to visit Fox Glacier view point and the beautiful Lake Matheson Walk (Mirror Lake). We recommend viewing the Lake early in the morning for the best mirror effect.

Accommodation in Fox Glacier was at Mount View Cook Motel priced at £148 for the 2 nights (We had an Executive Studio). 
Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Very nice modern bathroom with walk in shower, Kitchenette perfect for cooking a chilli, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi. Good location for Fox Glacier and the Mirror Lake. Highly recommended.

Frans Josef Glacier Walk
Lake Matheson
Coffee With A View Of Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier to Queenstown (26th February to 1st March 2023)

This is a full day of driving, although its only 330km the roads can be fairly slow and the scenery is absolutely stunning. Make time for stops along the way as you head along the coast. The scenery really changes when you reach the north shore of Lake Wanaka with fabulous mountain backdrops and clear blue waters. Most people might consider staying in Lake Wanaka or Hawea to break up the journey, but we had plans to come back to Hawea so headed straight for Queenstown. 3 days in Queenstown really wasn’t enough for us. We hiked up to the basket of dreams, took a cruise on the lake with a BBQ lunch, strolled along the streets, tried the popular Ferburger, walked through the park and along the lakeside. There’s so much to do here!

Accommodation in Queenstown was at Blue Skies Guest Accommodation priced at £221 for the 3 nights (We had a Studio). 
Review: We Would Rate This As Excellent, Really Comfortable Bed, Lovely and Clean, Very nice modern bathroom with shower. Kitchenette with microwave and fridge, Fresh Bread, milk & Cereals left for us. Daily Housekeeping, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi. TV with Netflix. Good location for Queenstown (10 minute drive or catch a bus at the end of the road). Lovely owner. Really Highly recommended.

The Blue Pools
Hiking High Above Queenstown
The Basket Of Dreams
Queenstown Lake Cruise
The Famous Ferberger
BBQ Lunch Was Epic

Queenstown to Te Anau (1st to 5th March 2023)

The 170km drive takes you along the shores of Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown and then heads across the countryside towards Te Anau, the closest town to Milford Sound and with a great selection accommodation to suit all budgets. We were lucky enough to have four nights in Te Anau which gave us a full day at Milford Sound for our boat trip and a couple of days to do some hiking around the Lake at Te Anau.

Accommodation in Te Anau was at Parklands Motel priced at £210 in total (We had a standard studio – ground floor)
Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi, Use of Communal Kitchen, Paid Laundry Room on Site. Very happy with the accommodation at the price we paid.

Stunning Milford Sound!
One Of The Waterfalls.
Milford Sound Boat Trip.
Not A Bad Place For A Picnic!

Te Anau to Lake Hawea (5th to 25th March 2023)

The 240km drive takes you back to Queenstown before the road climbs into the mountains and the journey ends in the lakeside town of Hawea. The scenery in this area is outstanding, there’s some incredible hikes here too. We found Hawea’s accommodation to be cheaper than the more popular Wanaka but you’re still just a 15 minute drive away. We had hoped to find a pet sit for our 20 days in this location, but nothing came up. We’d already pre-booked some “free cancellation” accommodation months before and although it dented the budget a little, it was great to be pet free and fully explore this fabulous area. We had day trips to Lake Wanaka and back down to Queenstown along with Arrowtown. Climbed Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak. Hiked along the river at Albert Town and around Hawea Lake and found the best carrot cake in New Zealand!

Accommodation in Hawea was at Hotel Lake Hawea priced at £732 in total (We had a double room with shared bathroom and kitchen)
Review: Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness reasonable, Free Parking, Free Wifi, Use of Communal Kitchen although a little basic. The bathrooms and toilet block were in a separate building outside of the hostel rooms (not advertised like this). We booked a room with shared bathroom as accommodation was pretty pricy in this area. We’ve stayed in much better and well equipped hostels. It was adequate at the price we paid, but we would stay in Wanaka next time if we could afford to. Location was still great though, right on the lake.

Our Morning View Lake Hawea!
The 4100ft Climb To Isthmus Peak.
Top Of Isthmus Peak!

Lake Hawea to Christchurch (25th to 26th March 2023)

From Lake Hawea we were heading to Kaikoura but decided to break the journey up with an overnight stay in Christchurch. The 430km drive to Christchurch takes about 5 and a half hours and provides great views of the Southern Alps and the opportunity to visit Lake Tekapo on the way up. 

Accommodation in Christchurch was at Kings of Riccarton Motel priced at £56 for the night (We had a king studio)
Review: Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness good, Free Parking, Free Wifi, Kitchenette in the room with kettle, hob, microwave and fridge. Perfect for the night!

Christchurch to Kaikoura (26th to 29th March 2023)

An early start to make the 280km drive up to Kaikoura taking about 2 and half hours. Worth mentioning our coffee stop around half way at the Fossil Point Cafe in Greta Valley. Great coffee served by “Kiosk Keith” and relaxing outdoor space with nice views, food looked good too but we’re on a budget so just watched other tables consuming it!
Arrived in Kaikoura early afternoon, its a stunning location, had time for a walk along the sea front before heading to our accommodation. We were lucky enough to have 3 nights in Kaikoura and had pre-booked a Whale Watching Trip for the next afternoon. A brilliant trip sighting Orca Whales and a “a bucket list moment” as we came across a pod of over 200 dolphins who swam with the boat as we headed back to shore. We highly recommend the trip if you are in Kaikoura, the staff on the boat are brilliant!
On our second full day in Kaikoura we walked along the coast to the seal colony and spent time in the town centre. It’s a beautiful spot and we could have easily spent a week here.

Accommodation in Kaikoura was at Mondello Kaikoura priced at £151 for 3 nights (We had a studio with spa bath) and what a BARGAIN we got by booking early!
Review: Really Lovely Room, Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness excellent, Free Parking, Free Wifi, Kitchenette in the room with kettle, hob, microwave and fridge, great spa bath. Perfect location, walking distance to the town and to the Whale Watching Reception!

Stunning Views On The Drive In To Kaikoura!

Kaikoura to Christchurch (29th March to 5th April 2023)

After one more morning walk in Kaikoura we made the journey back to Christchurch for our 7 day explore of the city. 7 days was plenty of time to see the sites including the gallery, food market, river punting station, Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. We also had time to catch up on some online work too!

Accommodation in Christchurch was at Southern Comfort Motel priced at £389 for 7 nights (We had a deluxe queen studio).
Review: Good price, Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness good, Free Parking, Free Wifi (but not a great reception), Kitchenette in the room with kettle, oven and hob, microwave and fridge. It was really like a little 1 bedroom flat. Walking distance to the city centre and Botanical Gardens. As we got such a good deal we couldn’t complain about the room as it had everything we needed for a self catering stay, but it could have done with a little bit of TLC, saying that we’d stay there again as the room facilities were good.

Pet Sitting in Christchurch (5th April to 16th April 2023)

Pet Sitting Archie the Cavapoo in Christchurch. We took him for long walks to Brighton Beach, Hagley Park, Christchurch Farmers Market, Sumner Beach and Mona Vale Garden Park. 

This accommodation was completely free thanks to house and pet sitting – find out more about house and pet sitting here!

Petsit With A Pool.
Archie Likes A Treat.
Loving The Park Walk.

Christchurch to Picton (16th April to 20th April 2023)

Leaving our sit early in the morning we headed up the coast towards Picton (340km taking around 4 and a half hours). We had heard about a The Kaikoura Seafood BBQ, serving good value Crayfish and other seafood on the grill. So we stopped here for lunch and were not disappointed, good prices too. We recommend it if your in town and fancy a lobster! We continued our journey up to Picton in the afternoon. We had 4 nights in Picton. One day we drove the coast road around to Havelock. Another day we walked the coastal path to the Snout with great views of the Sounds. The third day we walked around Picton, watched the ferries leaving while drinking coffee at the French café on the sea front and drove up to the Karaka view point.

Accommodation in Picton was at Sequoia Lodge Backpackers priced at £160 for 4 nights (We had a double room with private bathroom).
Review: The worst accommodation we had throughout our trip, The room was very basic, communal kitchen, dining and lounge areas were very tired looking and the whole place needed some investment. The accommodation was so bad that we cancelled our other accommodation we had planned in Picton and re-booked at the Tombstone Motel, Lodge and Backpackers. Much much better accommodation, which we have reviewed further down in this blog post.

Governors Bay.
Picton Harbour.
Mahaki Paoa View Point.

Pet Sitting in Wakefield (20th April to 25th April 2023)

We took advantage of a pet sit in the Tasman village of Wakefield (3 adorable cats), perfect as it allowed us free time in the day to explore the North Coast. During our time there we spent a day hiking in Abel Tasman National Park, another walking some of the lovely footpaths by the river at Wakefield, a trip in to Nelson and a trip to the Marlborough Wine Region.

This accommodation was completely free thanks to house and pet sitting – find out more about house and pet sitting here!

Our Pets For A Few Days.
One Of The Tasman Beaches
The Abel Tasman National Park.
Split Apple, Tasman.
Marlborough Wine Country

Originally we had booked a further 5 nights in Picton when we left Wakefield, but we decided we’d had enough time there and thanks to free cancellation accommodation we were able to change our plans. We had heard that Akaroa half an hour south of Christchurch was worth a visit and we also wanted a little more time in Kaikoura.  So we decided to break the 5 nights up and had 1 night in Picton, 2 nights in Kaikoura, 1 night in Christchurch and 1 night in Akaroa, as you’ll see below.

Wakefield to Picton (25th April to 26th April 2023)

We had a leisurely drive through the wine region on the way back to Picton and arrived at the motel in time for supper which we’d prepared before we left the pet sit.

Accommodation in Picton was at Tombstone Motel, Lodge and Backpackers priced at £47 for the night (We had a double room with private bathroom).
Review: Good price, Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness Excellent, Free Parking, Free Wifi. Lovely communal kitchen and lots of communal lounge areas. Games room with pool table and a hot tub for all guests use. Freshly made complimentary cheese scones and toast and jam for breakfast. If you’re taking the ferry to or from the North Island this is a great location as its just a few minutes walk away. Easy walking in to Picton town centre too. Highly recommended!

Picton to Kaikoura (26th April to 28th April 2023)

Due to our last minute accommodation changes, the only accommodation we could find in our budget in Kaikoura was at the Lazy Shag. Our expectations were pretty low (but we were pleasantly surprised as you’ll see from our review below). While in Kaikoura we had a lovely walk and a BBQ fish platter at The Kaikoura Seafood BBQ (As the first time we ate here was so good we just had to do it again!). We were also lucky enough to sit and watch 100’s of baby seals playing in the rock pools about 20 metres away. One of many great memories to take away from Kaikoura!

Accommodation in Kaikoura was at The Lazy Shag priced at £90 for the 2 nights (We had a double room with private bathroom).
Review: Good price for Kaikoura, Big room, Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness Good, Free Parking, Free Wifi. Fridge and kettle in the room, Good communal kitchen. Easy walking in to Kaikoura. Pleasantly surprised and recommended for the price we paid!

Kaikoura Seafood BBQ - 1st Course - Seafood Platter.
Kaikoura Seafood BBQ - 2nd Course - Crayfish and Scallops.
Hundreds Of Little Seal Pups Playing In The Rock Pools.

Kaikoura to Christchurch (28th April to 29th April 2023)

We took a leisure drive back from Kaikoura down to Christchurch. The road out of Kaikoura is simply stunning and we never got tired of this journey. On the way to Christchurch we drove through tree lined hills, vineyards and endless fields of sheep, cows, deer and lamas.

Accommodation in Christchurch was at Tower Junction Motor Lodge priced at £52 for the night (We had a studio).
Review: Good price, Nice room, Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness Excellent, Free Parking, Free Wifi (Limited to 2GB per day). Kitchenette with hob, microwave and fridge. Recommended!

Christchurch to Akaroa (29th April to 30th April 2023)

We were looking forward to this 80km drive taking about an hour and a half. The drive took us south out of Christchurch and after a while we started to see hills again. The road takes you high up and gives you stunning views of the sea inlet before you take the final few miles down towards Akaroa. Akaroa is a pretty little town set right on the waters edge surrounded by hills. It has a French colonial history and home to Hector Dolphins and Pohatu Penguins. We were lucky enough to see a penguin fishing in the bay during our time in Akaroa. There are a few bars/restaurants, fish and chip shops and gift shops in the town. Its a lovely place to spend a couple of nights.

Accommodation in Akaroa was at Tresori Motor Lodge priced at £93 for the night (We treated ourselves and had the honeymoon suite).
Review: Lovely spacious room, Comfortable Large Bed, Cleanliness Excellent, Free Parking, Free Wifi. Kitchenette with electric frying pan, microwave, Fridge and kettle in the room, Double spa bath. 2 minute walk to the promenade and restaurants. Highly recommended!

Views On The Drive Towards Akaroa.
Lovely Views In Akaroa Waterfront.

Akaroa to Christchurch (30th April to 1st May 2023)

We took the leisurely one and a half hour drive back to Christchurch, stopping at Little River Café and Store for coffee on the way. Beautiful café with good coffee!

Accommodation in Christchurch was at Southern Comfort Motel priced at £47 for the night (We had a studio).
Review: Great price, Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness good, Free Parking, Free Wifi (but not a great reception), Kitchenette in the room with kettle, microwave and fridge.

Internal Flight From Christchurch to Dunedin – Flying With Air New Zealand – £90 in total one way for 2 people with luggage and seat selection.

Dunedin (1st May to 28th May 2023)

The final 28 days of our trip took place in Dunedin where we house and pet sat for Bowie a Border Collie. The owners left us a car so that we could explore the local beaches, Larnach Castle and the area around Dunedin with Bowie. Dunedin is away from the main tourist spots of the South Island. Its got some great beaches and shopping! If you have the luxury of lots of time in places like Queenstown, Milford Sound, Wanaka and Kaikoura then give it a visit, but quite honestly we’d rather have another month in the lakes area as they were simply stunning!

This accommodation was completely free thanks to house and pet sitting – find out more about house and pet sitting here!

Bowie At The Beach.
Lovely Views Of The Coastline.
After A Long Beach Walk.
Dunedin's Beautiful Beaches.
Stunning Views Of The Bay.
Bowie Liked A Cuddle!

A few general tips about our costs

Flights: These were booked with Air New Zealand who provided a comfortable flight both ways. We flew from Sydney, Australia as we had been visiting before our trip to New Zealand, we flew back to Melbourne in Australia as this was our next destination to explore! We have included the one internal flight we took from Christchurch to Dunedin at £90.

Car Hire: We booked this really early when Car Rentals were offering up to 25% discounts. Great thing we found was that upgrading to fully comprehensive and extra driver was just £145. Worry free car hire as they call it. Keep your eye out for the bargains as car hire in New Zealand can be pricey!

Accommodation: Book as early as possible and always on free cancellation. We couldn’t find better prices than and nearly all rooms could be booked and cancelled for free, giving us the opportunity to swap accommodation if a better deal comes up nearer the time, which it did on one occasion. Sign up with them and after booking with them for a while you will gain genius status with regular offers of up to 15% discounts, free breakfast, room upgrades and cool stuff like that!  We researched our accommodation well,  wanting the best prices but with good reviews on cleanliness, comfort and either an en-suite or our own room with shared bathroom and kitchen!  All but one of our accommodation were brilliant and we’ve listed and review them all individually above in this blog.

Pet Sitting: To stay as long as we could in New Zealand on our budget we took advantage of three pet sits. A week in Christchurch, 5 nights near Abel Tasman and 4 weeks in Dunedin (We estimate that this saved us well over £2000 (4000 NZD) in accommodation costs. We could have done more sits and easily saved another £1500 on our £2500 total accommodation costs bringing the total down to under £1000 for the 3 and a half months. But we chose to spend more and be pet free for much of our trip as this was our first time in New Zealand.

Petrol: We spent a total of £460 on fuel and covered well over 3000 kilometres.

Sightseeing Tickets: We booked three sightseeing trips. A boat trip on Milford Sound – £165. A cruise and BBQ buffet in Queenstown – £200 and a Whale Watching Trip in Kaikoura – £200 

Have a comment on this article?   Join us on Social Media and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. Any income helps to keep this site free and helps us continue bringing you useful content, thank you for your support!