New Zealand’s popularity has been steadily on the rise recently, as more and more people look to escape from increasing global uncertainty and questionable politics. But how much does it really cost to live there? And what should you realistically be budgeting if you’re looking to spend an extended period of time in the remote island nation?
This post will focus on the typical costs of living in Queenstown, on the South Island of New Zealand for one month. Obviously, exact costs can vary wildly depending on your lifestyle, the things that are important to you and what you’re happy to live without.
A Quick Introduction To Queenstown
Queenstown is often described as the ‘adventure capital of the world.’ And not without reason. This is the place where the world’s first commercial bungee jump was opened back in 1988, and the adventure seekers who flocked to take part in it have helped shape much of the town’s growth and development ever since. In terms of outdoor adventure and adrenaline pumping activities, nowhere is packing more of a punch than this small South Island town. Bungee jumping, jet boating, mountain biking, hiking, skydiving, ski and snowboarding, paragliding, hang gliding and any number of other obscure death-defying sports you don’t yet know you want to try. There’s more than enough going on here to keep you busy and on the edge of your seat for a little while.
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Costs Of Living In Queenstown For A Month
(Prices are in New Zealand Doallars)
Queenstown in particular has been going through something of a housing shortage over recent years. This shortage is exacerbated further during the winter months when this popular ski towns population swells dramatically. Many ski teams and snow sports enthusiasts from countries in the Northern hemisphere base themselves in Queenstown and the surrounding areas during their off seasons to access the snow.Winter is not a good time to be looking for a house or room to rent in Queenstown. Trust me on that one.
If you’re planning to be here during the months of May-September, save yourself a headache and get something arrange ahead of time. Websites like Trademe are good places to look for listings, and you might also want to join some of the local Facebook groups as rooms are often advertised on there. Even in the lower seasons, housing here isn’t exactly abundant, and you’re going to pay accordingly. Rent is paid weekly here and you should be budgeting around $200-$250NZD for a room in a shared house or flat close to town.
If you’re a family or need your own space, you might be better looking just slightly further afield. Areas like Fernhill and Frankton have more accommodation options and are a very quick drive or bus ride into the town center. Even then, you’ll most likely be looking at $600-$800NZD per week for a decent 2 or 3 bedroom place.
Public transport hasn’t really made it to New Zealand yet. Then again, it’s not really necessary either. The town itself, while a good size by New Zealand standards, is fairly small and easy to get around. Most people here have their own cars for transport, and there’s a healthy low-end second-hand car market in town with plenty of options around the $1000-$1,500 mark. If you’re planning to be in town for a couple of months or more, I’d highly recommend having a scout around to see what you can pick up. It’ll also give you the opportunity to venture further afield and see some more of the South Island while you’re here – and really, seeing this place by car is the best way to see it and get to know it properly. Usually, if you take basic care of the car and keep up with its warrant of fitness every 6 months, you’ll most likely be able to sell it back on again for around the same money you paid for it.
Petrol has been sitting at around $2NZD a liter recently, and the supermarkets are nearly always running a promotion for 4c off per liter when you shop with them.
If you don’t drive or don’t want the responsibility of having your money tied up in a car, there are local buses running around town fairly regularly which connect the suburbs with the city center for a couple of dollars.
Getting from Queenstown out to one of the neighbouring towns though is slightly more difficult on public transport. There’s no train system, and busses aren’t very common. Private companies run daily services between major South Island routes and you should check out their website for prices.
We eat fairly basic but healthy food here for around $120NZD per week for two people. Obviously, food is one of those things where budgets can vary wildly. If you’re happy living off pasta and rice for 3 meals a day, you’ll probably get away with $40-$50 a week for food. If you want premium meats and fancy treats, you can easily spend $100 a week and upwards without even thinking about it.
I’m including standard toiletries and personal items in with that budget too – toothpaste, razors, shampoo, etc. Prices for this stuff are fairly low, and you’d be paying $3-$4 for a tube of toothpaste or $2 for a bar of soap. Popular grocery store chains in New Zealand are Countdown, New World, and Pack ‘n’ Save and Queenstown has all three. Pack n Save is always the cheapest option, and they recently opened a branch on the retail park in Frankton, just outside of central Queenstown.
New World is the more expensive option even though it’s owned by the same parent company as Pack n Save, and their only real competitor, Countdown, have good deals from time to time and a handy home delivery option if you’re into doing your grocery shopping online.
Here are some rough prices of some of the basics, just to set your expectations:
2l milk = $2-$3
Loaf of bread = $3-$4
A dozen eggs = $5
2kg bag flour = $2.50
There’s no mainline gas here, and anything that requires it runs on bottled gas only. Expect to pay around $100 per standard 45kg bottle. It’s reasonably common for houses to use gas bottles for some appliances – cookers and sometimes hot water systems too – and a quick Google search will give you a few options to choose from. A popular one is OnGas https://www.ongas.co.nz/
Most houses have no central heating and winters here get cold. Log burners are common in most houses as the preferred method of heating. Good quality firewood goes for around $80-$110 per cubic meter, and a 5 meter squared trailer load will keep a small-ish flat warm for the season. If you feel the cold more or if your house uses the log fire to power your hot water system as well, then you can probably double that to 10 meters without getting much of a sweat on. Houses without log burners have limited heating options. Some are fitted with gas powered heat pumps. If that’s you, you should find half a dozen or so of the 45kg gas bottles will power your heating needs for the season.
It’s not uncommon though for houses here to have neither a log burner or a gas heater. In those cases, your heating bills are going to be much higher, as electric heaters are your only option. Try to avoid houses like this during the winter months if possible. Providing you’re not plugging electric heaters into every outlet or sitting with all the lights on 24/7, monthly electricity bills shouldn’t run you more than $100 a month for a small 2 bed flat.
Internet is around $70 NZD per month per household and a bog standard pay as you go phone deal will be around the $20 mark. Vodaphone does a good $19 per month plan that gives you 750MB data, 150mins and unlimited texts.
I mentioned earlier on how the town is all about the outdoors. No matter what the season, there is always heaps of things to do here and everyone you meet has that same passion to get amongst it. This is the bit that can really make or break your budget. Here are some rough costs for some of the activities you might want to get involved in while you’re here in Queenstown.
Ski mountain day pass – $100 (gear rental $35-$70 extra).
Mountain bike hire – $40 for the day
Winery tours – $85-$200 depending what you want
Hiking – free! Or between $5-$25 for an overnight stay at a DOC hut or campsite
Jetboating down the river = $99
Queenstown is a pretty lively place to live, and there’s always plenty going on every night of the week. So you’re rarely stuck for something to do. The town has a great foodie scene and a varied nightlife. You know…for those times when you just need to treat yourself or can’t be bothered with cooking. A good meal out with a drink can be done for $30NZD, and there’s no shortage of places around town coming in at less than $50 a head for a good feed.
Drinks in most of the bars and pubs around town are cheap enough too, with most places offering $7-$10 pints or spirit and mixer drinks down as low as $5 in certain bars on certain nights. Keep an eye out in the free local paper The Lakes Weekly for listings on what’s going on each week and updates on entertainment and events in town. You’ll usually find something to keep you busy. A pair of cinema tickets will run you around $16 and popcorn and drinks, while you’re there, will probably round you up to the full $30.
If you’d rather treat yourself to a good night in, there’s plenty of takeout food options in town, and you can take your pick of cuisine from all corners of the world for around $20. A half decent bottle of wine from the supermarket will tap on an extra $15-$20.
One thing you do need to be aware of is that, although Queenstown is a relatively decent sized town by New Zealand standards, plonk it in the US or anywhere in Europe and it might be more likely to be called a village. That means you’re not going to find streets upon streets of shops and crowded highstreets full of bargains. Get used to not having as many options as you might have had elsewhere. Your best bet here is usually to shop online – but even then things aren’t going to be cheap. Sparsely populated as the South Island is, shipping and transportation costs around the island can be a real extra cost.
For example, when Countdown opened a new store in Queenstown, they offered free online delivery for all orders within Queenstown. Orders to the next town over (less than an hour by road) were $40. And that’s a supermarket. Other, smaller companies without their purchasing power can often charge more than that. My advice would be to bring anything you anticipate needing with you wherever possible.
Overall, Queenstown is a great place to live for a little while. Particularly if you enjoy the outdoors. Like anywhere, Queenstown can be as cheap or as expensive as you like. It’s all subjective and comes down to what you need and what you’re willing to do without.
For a rough guideline, $1,500- $2,500NZD a month would probably be a reasonable budget to have in mind here. A comfortably furnished room in a shared flat, the occasional meal out, a drink or two here and there and getting to explore Queenstown a little and take part in the many outdoor activities on offer.
On the other hand, if you’re happy sharing a room, sleeping on a sofa or cooking pasta for dinner every night, you can certainly get by for less.
This post is written by UK based travel writer Matt Burns. Long-term travel advocate, nature man and adventure travel enthusiast, Matt has been slowly working his way around the world since 2011. He’s worked many jobs along the way, from marketing consultant to telesales to butchers assistant. These days he spends his time helping travel and tourism businesses with their digital marketing and writing content for publications across the web. He’s still the worst dancer you’ll ever see.