Kiwi Cool: Saving Money While Traveling In New Zealand

Saving money in New Zealand - supermarket lamb
Last month, I spent three weeks traveling through New Zealand, focusing mainly on the cities and culture. After living in Istanbul for two years, it wasn’t the culture shock, the jet lag, or the seasonal switch that was hard to adjust to, it was the prices. While I knew New Zealand wasn’t cheap (though their dollar is slightly weaker than ours), I was unprepared for the sticker shock. Dinner and drinks can easily run $50 a head or more, city buses can cost more than a NYC subway ride, and $3.50 for a bottle of water seemed offensive. I did discover a few ways to save money and still enjoy the Kiwi cool.

1. Drink locally, eat globally – New Zealand is known for its excellent wines, and starting to get accolades for their craft beer as well. Whether you’re dining out or picking up a bottle in a supermarket, it’s hard to go wrong with anything made in New Zealand; even the cheapest glass of house “Sav” is likely to be pretty tasty. Also note that many pubs are likely to be “tied” houses (unlike the excellent Free House in Nelson, pictured in my first “Kiwi cool” post) and will carry a limited range of brands, giving you an incentive to stick to the “house” tap. In contrast, for cheap eats, look for foods with origins outside the country; Asian cuisine like sushi, Chinese noodles, and Indian curries are often the most budget-friendly options and given the country’s ethnic mix, just as authentic Kiwi as roast leg of lamb and Pavlova.

2. Rent a car – This is one area where I didn’t follow my own advice, preferring to explore the country on public transportation as my husband is the only driver in the family and my baby is not a fan of car rides (yet she’s perfect on planes). Generally, public transportation in New Zealand is not cheap – a day pass for the Auckland bus system is over $10, taxis from the airport can cost up to $100, and the cost of two bus or train tickets between cities often exceeds the daily rate for a budget rental car. Kiwi companies Jucy and Apex offer older model cars as low as $22 – 34 per day, if you don’t mind a less than sweet ride.

3. Book transportation online – If you do choose to go the public transportation route, it can pay to make your arrangements online rather than in person. By booking tickets for the Waiheke Island ferry online, I saved $7 on each adult fare, even for a same day ticket. As part of the promotion for the new Northern Explorer Auckland-Wellington train, Kiwi Rail was offering two-for-one tickets, check their website for current promotions.

4. Check out motels – In my European travels, I’ve been using AirBnB and other apartment sites to book accommodations, as it pays to have extra space, laundry and a kitchen when you are traveling with a baby. The AirBnB craze hasn’t quite hit New Zealand yet, though you may find luck with BookABach (a bach is a Kiwi word for a vacation home that might be more basic than a typical house). I was more surprised by the quality of motels and motor lodges in New Zealand, they are often modern in style and comfortably outfitted with nice amenities like heated towel racks, electric blankets, and real milk for your coffee standard (a small pleasure compared to the powdered creamer typical in most hotel rooms). Motel rooms range from modest studios to sprawling apartments with jacuzzis. I found a useful directory of accommodations on NewZealand.com, and you can filter for features such as laundry or pool and check for special deals. Golden Chain is a quality collection of independent motels spread over both islands.

5. Create your own Wi-Fi hotspot – Another surprise I found in New Zealand is the lack of free Wi-Fi. Even many coffee shops only offer Internet for a fee, and some accommodations will limit your free connection to 100 mb or so per day. The city of Wellington has set up free hotspots in the city center, but I found the signal hit or miss. A more reliable and affordable option is to make your own hotspot by purchasing a pre-paid SIM card with data. Consult this helpful wiki for rates; I bought a SIM through 2degrees with 1 GB of data for about $20. One other tip is to find the local iSite tourism office for a short period of Wi-Fi access if you need to check email or make travel plans (they can help with booking travel and accommodation too, of course).

6. Shop vintage – After a few days in Kiwi Land, you’ll feel an urge to buy lots of nice merino wool clothing and gifts. For a country with apparently more sheep than people, it is everywhere and you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on new sweaters. Another option is to try vintage and thrift shops. I found a lovely baby sweater probably knitted by a nice Kiwi grandmother for $8 in an antique store, just as quality as the $30 one I bought at a market, and both far cheaper than most retail shops. Auckland’s K Road and Wellington’s Newtown have lots of used and “opportunity” shops, often with proceeds going to charity. Eco-friendly fashion is also becoming more widespread, and “recycled” fashion shops can be found in most cities.

7. Stay in on public holidays – One upside to the high cost of a pint of beer is that tipping is unnecessary in New Zealand; the GST tax on goods includes service. However, you will note on many restaurant menus a surcharge for public holidays of 15%. This covers the owner’s cost of paying their employees more for the holidays. Try to avoid dining out on holidays or look at it as a special holiday gratuity.

A bonus tip that may or may not be relevant in the future: follow the rugby fan trail. Started for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to ease traffic congestion and crowding on public transport, Auckland’s Fan Trail was revived for a match against Australia last month. The trail stretches two miles from downtown to the stadium and is lined with entertainment, food and drinks, and other activities, most of which are free. Even if you aren’t headed to a game, it’s fun to watch both the performers and the fans dressed up to cheer on their team. If you happen to be in Auckland during a future big rugby match, find out if the city plans to run the fan trail again.

Stay tuned for more “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Un-adventurous.”

VIDEO: Vintage Turkish Taxis


Millions of people get around Istanbul each day via dolmuş, a shared taxi. Similar to the colectivo of Latin America or the dollar vans of New York City, a dolmuş is generally a mini-bus or van that follows a fixed route for a fixed price. At the beginning of the route, the bus waits until it is full of passengers (dolmuş means stuffed in Turkish) before departing. You hand your money (theoretically a share of a private taxi’s rate, but usually 2-3 TL) up to the driver, and hop out whenever you get to your destination; there are rarely official bus stops.

The video above may look like it’s from the 1950s, but it’s actually from 1986. As recently as a few decades ago, the dolmuş vehicle of choice wasn’t the large yellow van you see today, but classic American cars from the mid-century and pre-war. Some of the vintage cars were customized with a third bench to stuff in more passengers!

Thanks to Turcopedia for the links and info.

Video: a road trip from Rhode Island to Costa Rica

“In the fall of 2004, three friends were given a choice: get a job to pay off student loans and settle down, or fix up an abandoned pop-up camper and take a drive from Rhode Island to Costa Rica.”

It’s a pretty easy decision, at least for us here at Gadling. The boys of Gnarly Bay Productions apparently agreed, and they documented their trans-continental adventures in //finding forever//, a highlight video posted two years ago on Vimeo but recently rediscovered by our friends at the Nomading Film Festival.

The short film showcases snapshots of life on the road, from time-lapses of the natural splendor of the Americas, to cut-away shots of laughter, breakdancing, headstands, surfing and drinking. At times, the guys play up the “bro” factor a bit too hard, but otherwise, it looks like they had a great adventure. If you need motivation for your next road trip, take a peek.

Now about those student loans…

Henry Ford Museum to unveil new exhibition of classic cars

Henry Ford Museum
Workers at the Henry Ford Museum are busy setting up a major new exhibition of 130 historically significant cars and trucks.

Driving America opens on January 29 and focuses on the effect of the automobile on American culture through interactive touchscreen displays, artifacts, and personal accounts. There’s even a mobile diner from 1946 that will be serving classic American diner food.

Of course it’s the cars that are the main attraction. Ranging from the 1890s to the early 2000s, they include numerous innovative designs such as the Model T, the 1907 Rocket Stanley Steamer, and the 1973 Chrysler Newport, which at 19 feet long makes it look like a tank next to some of the miniature cars of today. Driving America doesn’t just look at Ford products; several cars are on loan from other collections and include rival companies such as Honda.

For more on the Henry Ford Museum, check out this article by Gadling’s very own Paul Brady.

Steamer photo courtesy Richard H. LeSesne.

Video of the Day: Brussels to Bruges in two minutes

Road trips seem to be a very American activity. Driving cross-country, family vacations to national parks and the like. However, road trips are popular around the world. Caravanning (what we would call RVing) is quite popular in the UK. Also, because European countries are so much smaller than the United States, driving within a country or to neighboring nations is pretty simple. This video shows off the 96km drive from Brussels to Bruges. It’s oddly comforting to know that highway driving in Belgium is pretty similar to interstate driving in the United States.