Over the past few years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in New Zealand. Since the United States Antarctic Program deploys from Christchurch, New Zealand, its given me ample amounts of time in this country.

This is my five-part guide to New Zealand in many of the main areas, starting with hotels and flights. Expedia seems to always show up with some of the cheapest hostel/hotel prices so just do your research.

ACCOMODATIONS:

South Island:

Christchurch

The cheapest place to fly into on the South Island is Christchurch, the Garden City. First things first, find a hotel. If you’re looking for reasonably price accomodations, look for backpacker hostels or go on Airbnb.com. If you can afford to throw your whole budget down the drain in a few days, look for a hotel.

I know, I know. Americans hate the word hostel. Every time I mention that I’m staying in a hostel to a friend, their first thought is “isn’t it dangerous?”

Let’s catch up on the times America. The word hostel in other countries is as common as hotel. I’ve even stayed in fancier hostels than any hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

Look in the range of 20-40USD a night for a bed in a bunk room or 50-80USD a night if you prefer your own room.

The YMCA in Christchurch is a great starting point. It’s within walking distance to the city center, across the street from most of the art museums and the Botanical Gardens, and the gym is included. If you’re looking to be social, ask to be on floors one through three. All the floors above that are pretty peaceful. I’ve also heard good things about the Dorset House Hostel and Jailhouse Accomodations (you literally get to sleep in a refurbished jailhouse) but I’ve never stayed there.

Queenstown:

Window in the kitchen of Absoloot Accomodations

An hour and a half flight or a five hour bus ride from Christchurch, Queenstown is considered New Zealand’s adventure capital.

If you’re looking for accomodations in this city, you’ll have to compromise a bit. By that, I mean that you need to be willing to pay a little bit more or give up that single room.

My favorite hostel in this town is Absoloot Accomodations. It’s an adventure company/hostel that’s centrally located and sits right on the pier. A decent bed in a four person hostel room shouldn’t run you more than 35 NZD.

Their kitchen windows literally swing open to overlook the bay. I can’t think of anything better than staring out over the bay in a sleepy haze while you have your morning coffee. Awesome.

Wanaka

If you have a car and don’t mind driving into Queenstown every day, I highly recommend staying in Wanaka. This is a sleepy mountain town that’s considered Queenstown’s sister-city.

You’ll get a slower pace and beautiful scenery. I suggest looking on AirBnB for your accomodations in Wanaka, though. Interacting with the locals in this town will make your trip feel like home and AirBnB is the best way to do that. The price range is usually around 80 NZD for your own space here or you can find a good hostel bed for 50 NZD.

North Island:

Auckland

I haven’t spent much time in this city since I’m not a huge fan of densely populated areas but it is a city worth checking out. People from New Zealand are very well dressed and incredibly well educated for such a small country so bring a change of nicer clothes if you expect to go to the bars in this city.

Also, going to the park by the university is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Buy some food and stroll through the green hills that Auckland was built on and while you’re there, check out the war museum.

Anyway, the prices on AirBnB are considerably cheaper than hotel rooms in this city. Just make sure the owners have high ratings before booking. The hostels will still run 30 NZD for cheaper rooms.

Paihia (Bay of Islands)

For a place to sleep in the Bay of Islands, I’d definitely stay in Paihia. It’s a nice beach town with chicks sunbathing and many activities to choose from.

The Pickled Parrot is the best hostel, running around 40 NZD but it’s usually filled up. Bay Adventurer Hostel is the cheapest and it’s a great party hostel if you’re into that. It runs around 30 NZD. There’s quite a few others to choose from if you don’t like the ones I’ve mentioned, as well.

You can also go up to Keri Keri, the main town in the Bay of Islands, for more variety but I’ve enjoyed Paihia more.

Wellington

I haven’t actually been to Wellington yet but I’ll be heading there in a few weeks. I’ll update this when I scope out the hostels in Wellington.

There are many other places I consider “must-see” destinations but most of them don’t have many options. I’ll include what those places are in the next post! If there’s a specific town you need suggestions for, comment below. I’ll happily answer any questions.

Flights:

The cheapest ticket you’re likely to find is the Los Angeles to Auckland round-trip flight, specifically through American Airlines. This flight has a layover in Sydney usually and it used to be the most direct flight into New Zealand.

As of 2015, Air New Zealand started offering non-stop flights directly from LAX (Los Angeles) to Auckland or Christchurch. This has driven the price of the ticket down considerably on both American Airline flights and Air New Zealand flights. Since then, you can find non-stop flights from San Francisco, as well.

If you’re traveling from the East Coast, the cheaper flights are usually routing through Dallas or Houston, Texas. This flight isn’t direct from the states; it usually has a stop in Fiji or Sydney, Australia.

My advice is that if you find a cheap flight with a layover in Sydney, make sure that layover is at least 12 hours, if not longer. If you route through Sydney, 12 hours gives you plenty of time to make it a 2-1 flight. There’s a light-rail train that connects the Sydney Airport with the Circular Quay (the harbour where the Sydney Opera House is).

Sydney Opera House

It takes less than a half hour to get from the airport to the Quay. If you line your arrival time up correctly for an early morning arrival into Sydney, you can spend an entire day touring the Opera House, taking a boat trip through the Harbour, and walking around the many rooms of the Sydney Contemporary Arts Museum. Also, schedule your layover time on Saturday or Sunday and witness the spectacular weekend market, dubbed The Rocks.

The usual rate for layover flights is 900 USD from LAX or San Francisco. If you’re coming from the East Coast, obviously tack on a little more. If you want round-trip non-stop flights, 1200 USD is the price you’re looking for. 

***side note-if you want to do the Sydney layover ticket, make sure you buy the visa for Australia so you can actually leave the airport. Just a quick google search on how to get it will have you on your way.