Budget-savvy travel

Savvy travellers are latching on to clever ways to make their funds go further.

New Zealand's ranking as an award-winning destination is helping to keep it high on the list of top places in the world to visit. So is the long list of natural attributes that come with no price tag at all providing individuals and group travellers with good value options for activities and experience.

Travellers looking for frugal travel options consider on-the-ground costs an important aspect of their choice of destination, and New Zealand comes up trumps in a number of fields - finding your way around is easy, people are friendly and helpful, local produce is plentiful and reasonably priced, and it's possible to enjoy million dollar scenery for no cost at all.

There are also many activities that come without a price tag such as: lying on a remote beach, walking tracks and trails through unspoilt wilderness or lush native forest, soaking up the sun, body surfing, swimming in a clean fresh lake, watching abundant wildlife in natural surroundings, enjoying an outdoor concert or tumbling down a pristine sand dune.

Do-it-yourself

New Zealand also shines in the area of do-it-yourself - the country was built on the DIY ethic. Hiring a bach or holiday house (barbecue supplied) and teaming up with friends to share the costs, camping or "glamping", self-driving and planning your own route, meandering around in a camper van - are all cost-effective options that make New Zealand attractive to tourists as well as those looking for inspiration and a change of job or focus.

New Zealanders are strong on health and well-being and there's a wide range of alternative therapies that make retreating for restorative healing another good reason to visit the country.

Many world dignitaries and famous personalities extol the virtues of New Zealand as a place to escape the rat race. And those who've undergone a change in the circumstances of their employment might also see New Zealand as a good place for new opportunities and to rethink the future.

Whether it's for a short break or a life-changing experience, ways to beat the credit crunch and escape to New Zealand include:

Baches and beach houses

Renting a privately owned holiday home (known as a "bach" in the North Island, or "crib" in the South Island) is a good way to be self sufficient and get into the Kiwi way of life. The Kiwi tradition of owning a second home in a special spot by the sea, river, forest or lake remains strong yet in reality thousands of these homes are only occupied by their owners for a handful of weeks throughout the year.

While many owners handle rentals themselves there are a number of companies managing the process throughout New Zealand.

The country's largest holiday home business, Bachcare, has more than 900 holiday homes on its books covering popular regions like the Bay of Islands, Coromandel, Rotorua and Taupo lakes, and Ruapehu in the North Island, and Marlborough Sounds, Nelson, Queenstown and Wanaka in the South Island.

A recent survey of Bachcare's rental guests showed that staying in a Kiwi bach was the preferred accommodation option for travellers wanting to "rejuvenate, relax and re-connect".

The two weeks across Christmas and New Year are the busiet holiday times for Kiwis but outside of those dates many baches are available to rent. Depending on location and type of accommodation, a holiday house capable of sleeping eight people and just a two-minute walk from the beach could cost about $200 a night.

Apartments

New Zealand's contemporary serviced apartments are also good value for the savvy traveller. A spacious two-bedroom apartment, complete with kitchen and laundry facilities, can be secured for as little as NZ$60 per person per night. Many have flat screen TVs, good sound systems and the latest kitchen gadgets. They're also often in idyllic locations so offer a better-than "home away from home" accommodation option. It's also possible to book apartments for one night only through companies like New Zealand Apartments.

Walking and hiking

One of the best ways to enjoy New Zealand's landscape and explore its vast wilderness areas is on foot. Energetic hikers (New Zealanders call them trampers) can discover glacier-carved valleys, traverse mountain passes and volcanic landscapes, while the more sedate day-walker can explore golden beaches, bush walks and other sites of scenic interest.

About one third of New Zealand's sparsely populated land has been set aside in National Parks or reserves for the benefit and enjoyment of the public and increasing numbers of eco-tourists.

While opportunities for exploration exist all over the country, nine destinations are recognised as special and have been designated "Great Walks" by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

From two to six days and covering a variety of original and modified landscapes, they offer basic accommodation in huts, and safe, well-maintained tracks. All except one - the Abel Tasman coastal track in the north of the South Island - are in the mountains, and all offer guided tours for which bookings are essential. The high season starts in October and lasts until April.

On overnight hikes you can either "rough it" by sleeping out in tents or in more than 1,000 communal hikers' huts, or choose a trail that offers luxury lodge accommodation and gourmet meals.

Eco tourism

New Zealand's clean green image has inspired a lot of interest with eco tourists who're keen to experience what the youngest country on earth has to offer in unspoilt environment, rare wildlife and unique flora and fauna - experiences available to both the luxury and the budget traveller.

World-acclaimed five-star lodges in dramatic natural settings through to self-catering eco lodges and basic trampers' huts in the wilderness give environmentally conscious travellers plenty of options.

WWOOF-ers and couch surfers also target New Zealand claiming the hospitality is legendary and it's one of the easiest places in the world to meet people, make friends and work for your keep.

Opportunities to put something back into the environment to offset your travel are also greater in a country where sustainability is a priority, and many visitors are happy to plant trees or get involved in voluntary work for organisations like the Department of Conservation which is charged with conserving the natural and historic heritage of New Zealand.

Self drive

New Zealand is an easy place to get around under your own steam and heading into the rural areas can be a cheaper option than a city stay.

Farmstays and B&Bs are dotted throughout the country, and coastal areas are well served with budget accommodation. Many visitors are pleasantly surprised that rates are quoted per room, not per person.

Motels are also great value for money - you can drive to the front door of a unit that is basically set up as a mini home. Many can sleep up to six people and are fully self-catering (there's even fresh milk in the fridge and a newspaper delivered each morning in most) making motels ideal for families or groups travelling together. Most charge per unit and depending on season rates start at around NZ$120 per night.

Driving distances in New Zealand are easily achievable, roads relatively quiet and well maintained and there's much to see and do en route. Diverse terrain can have drivers from mountains to beaches and vineyards to lakes within just a few kilometres.

Great New Zealand touring routes are well marked and provide a catalogued itinerary that takes the guesswork out of where to go and how to get there. Depending on areas of interest and time of year, choose from touring routes that curve along the coast, wind through alpine territory, target thermal areas and meander through vineyards and remote farming country.

Backpackers and flashpackers

Whether you're carrying a pack or pulling a suitcase there's no need to pay top hotel prices for good, clean, affordable accommodation in New Zealand.

Backpackers hostels can be found in almost every town and city, and range from a shared dormitory experience for as little as NZ$15 a night to a more sophisticated stay in a "flashpackers" lodge or VIP backpackers resort. More upmarket flashpacker lodges have a higher level of comfort and are likely to cost around NZ$60 a night for a double room with ensuite.

Facilities in hostels or lodges vary as much as the locations - some are beachside, peaceful and remote, others vibrant and lively, offering a great social experience. Age is no barrier (more than 10% of people staying in backpackers hostels in NZ are over 40) and many places have family rooms - making hostels a fun and friendly option for families and friends.

You do not have to be a member to stay at any of the hostels and some provide free linen and blankets. Hostel managers are well versed in local knowledge which is a useful resource if you want to know things to do off the beaten track or cheap places to eat, shop and visit.

Kiwi Experience

Travellers wanting independence and flexibility swear by Kiwi Experience, a transport network which links New Zealand's scenic and adventure attractions. Driver guides, who are local characters and experienced travellers themselves, will do everything from book your accommodation and activities, provide in-depth commentary, entertainment and travel advice.

Kiwi Experience was set up in 1989 and has carried more than 400,000 passengers over 20 million miles - often to off-the-beaten-track locations - with a hop-on hop-off system that provides maximum flexibility.

InterCity Coachlines

New Zealand's main coach network also offers a cost-effective travel option and will take you just about anywhere you want to go.

With 3,000 daily stops at 600 destinations all-year-round, the nationwide service offers good value fares with concessions for infants, children, students, backpackers and senior travellers. InterCity Coach Passes offer discounted sector travel throughout New Zealand, and a Flexi-Pass that works like a pre-paid mobile phone offers discounts as high as 40% off standard fares.

Campervans

Adopting the "house on your back" idea, campervans are one of the most popular ways to explore New Zealand. It's possible to pick up a van in one island and drop it off in the other saving time and increasing flexibility.

Visitors list freedom, fun and flexibility as the main advantages to campervan touring. With no need to be fixed to a timetable, you can travel at your own pace, stop where the mood takes you and experience the land, culture and people without blowing your budget.

Travelling in convoy with other groups of friends or family can enhance the experience, and there are many top quality camping grounds in holiday spots around New Zealand that offer good back up facilities.

Holiday Parks

New Zealanders are seasoned campers and have a long tradition of family holidays at the many camping grounds in coastal regions and other top holiday spots throughout the country.

There are nearly 50 TOP 10 Holiday Parks (camping grounds and motorcamps) which meet the New Zealand standard for cleanliness and value for money. The holiday parks offer different accommodation options from motels and self-contained units through to cabins, tent and powered sites for caravans, motor-homes and campervans.

Camping grounds are set in park-like settings offering plenty of space with children's play facilities, barbecue and safe indoor and outdoor recreational areas. Many also have additional facilities such as tennis courts, swimming pools, spa pools and jumping pillows.

Daily costs

Costs per day on the ground in New Zealand offer good value especially for European travellers, and the benefit of being in an English-speaking country with high health and safety standards is another drawcard for many tourists.

Self-catering options also cut per day costs and it doesn't take long for travellers to adopt the Kiwi way of eating simple, fresh foods based on seasonal produce. Farmers markets, local supermarkets and roadside stalls offer ample opportunity to buy fresh foods at reasonable prices and some visitors even get involved in casual fruit picking for the social, outdoors experience and to help stretch the budget.

New Zealand has a thriving café culture and it's possible to get a top quality cup of coffee (served in a mind boggling variety of ways) with an assortment of fresh, well priced food whether you;re travelling through a quiet rural town or a major city.

Travellers opting to eat out are spoilt for choice and local food, and wine offers good value for quality. Whether it's dining in five-star luxury in a country retreat or enjoying fish and chips from the paper sitting on a beach, dining out in New Zealand is likely to be a memorable culinary experience.

Coffee lovers will be surprised by the standard in New Zealand and also the price - a good flat white is normally NZ$4. New Zealand wine is also good value and sells in the supermarkets for anything from NZ$9 upwards. Constant specials mean some of the better known labels can often be picked up for less than NZ$20, and many vineyards sell from the cellar door.

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