When researching a trip, “How much is it going to cost?” is often one of the big questions. It’s impossible to give an answer that will be applicable to everyone as we have our own budget, preferences etc. You could camp every night and hitch out to big supermarkets to stock up cheaply, or you could stay in private rooms and dine out at every occasion. I went for somewhere in the middle, and this is what I ended up at, for 2 and a half months in 2018. I’m not including gear except where I bought things in NZ. Things I arranged before I left for the trip are in £, things on the trail are in $NZ, so apologies for mixing currencies. I’ve put totals in approximate NZD. I only did the South Island so if you’re doing both then obviously the food and accommodation would be more.
Travel in NZ ~ $270
Ferry Wellington to Picton = $65
Ferry Picton to Ship Cove = $55
Shuttle around Rangitata = $30 (one side only)
Shuttle around Wakatipu = $55
Bike hire = $65
I flew into Wellington a few days before starting the trail, so got the ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton and then to the start of the QCT at Ship Cove. I used Wayne from Alps2Ocean to get around the Rangitata (hitched around the Rakaia). Bike hire was also through Wayne, cycling from Tekapo to Twizel along the canals. There are lots of shuttles running around Wakatipu, or many were hitching it instead. I’ve not included my flights from the UK or the travel from the bottom of the South Island back to Wellington to get my flight home, as anyone else’s travel arrangements could be completely different.
Accommodation ~ $1,500
6 month Backcountry Hut Pass = $92
Campsites = $120
Hostels = $750
Hotels/Motels/Holiday Park cabins = $450
Other huts = $30
I bought a 6 month Backcountry Hut Pass from DOC in Wellington before starting, and it’s ridiculously good value. I stayed in DOC huts 27 nights, so it worked out to about $3.4 per night. Wouldn’t be surprised if they raised it soon! In contrast, I found campsites relatively expensive compared to ones in the UK – I stayed in commercial campsites 6 nights. Hostels/hotels/holiday parks were sometimes tricky as accommodation seemed to get booked up weeks in advance, but our arrival dates weren’t certain (and indeed changed a fair bit). I only got a private room 2 nights when I was ill, the rest of the hostels/holiday park cabins were shared rooms. Travelling solo was definitely more expensive for accommodation as often a twin room would only be marginally more than a single room. When we planned to arrive in a town with a group of us it was actually cheaper (and nicer) to rent a holiday house for ourselves.
Food ~ $2,500
Eating out ~ $1,500
Resupply (supermarkets) ~ $1,000
On the trail we’d be salivating over fresh fruit and vegetables, but when we got to town we’d gorge on burgers, chips, pizza and ice cream. I ended up spending more on food as time went on and hiker hunger kicked in, and we were in expensive tourist towns more often the further south we went so there were more opportunities to spend money! Typically we’d eat out the first night we got to a town, and if we were having a rest day we’d cook the following night(s). But sometimes we were lazy. I ate a lot at cafes. I have no regrets.
Resupply postage = $70
Travel insurance = £272 BMC’s Trek insurance
NZ phone = $50 for a 2 month Vodafone SIM card + $20 extension
Garmin InReach Explorer+ subscription = £38 per month
QCT pass = $18
TA Trust donation = $200
Gear = $120
Printing maps = £40 (double sided colour A4 is expensive!)
Apps = £25 (I bought the South Island section of the trail on Guthook’s NZ app)
Town entertainment = $50 (cinema is a great rest day activity!)
Pharmacy = $30
This category covers everything else I spent money on besides travel, accommodation and food. Travel insurance (including search and rescue) and the TA Trust donation were the biggest items, followed by my Garmin InReach subscription. But for me personally, all 3 of those were essential. I don’t think I saved any money by buying from cheap big supermarket in Wellington and posting it to the small towns at the top of the South Island, but I got more of a choice of what I could eat. I had A4 colour printouts of the combined maps and trail notes (many thanks to Leah Harmon from the 2017/18 facebook group for undertaking this!), and would study them in the evening/before each section, but I never used them whilst walking.
Total TA specific budget = approximately $6,000. You could definitely do it cheaper than me, and you could easily spend double!
I just wanted to be transparent about how much this sort of trip can cost. I didn’t quit my job to do the TA (quite a few hikers I met had), which meant I wasn’t coming home to money worries, which was nice, but I had still been paying rent and bills on my flat, which wasn’t ideal. The trip was entirely financed through savings from my full time job.
For money on the trail I used my UK Barclaycard credit card, or cash. The credit card had foreign transaction fees waived until 2022, so I wasn’t being charged for taking money out of ATMs or using it abroad. Most places took card, but I had about $200 on me in cash as not everywhere did. Often in small NZ towns you can’t use foreign cards to get cash out at ATMs.