Auckland on the cheap: top money-saving travel tips

If you’re taking a trip across the Ditch, there’s no need to max out your credit cards in the process. Read our handy hints for how to holiday in Auckland in style, without breaking the bank.

father and son bonding over rugby football
  • Jetstar

Currency exchange

The worst way to exchange currency is to do it at home before you go—the rates you’ll get in New Zealand will be better. Avoid exchanging money at the airport or at hotels; the banks and foreign exchange kiosks that line Queen Street in the city are only marginally better. Shop around and use a currency conversion website or app such as XE to find out the mid-market rates.

You’re likely to get better rates by using ATMs and credit or debit card transactions. Check your bank’s international transaction fees, taking into account both the withdrawal fee (likely to be a flat fee) and the currency conversion fee (usually a percentage of the total withdrawal).

The four big banks in NZ are ANZ, Westpac, ASB and the Bank of New Zealand, and they’re all wholly owned by Australian banks. This means that, for instance, Aussie Westpac customers can withdraw money fee-free from Westpac ATMs in Auckland, while Commbank customers can withdraw money from an ASB ATM for NZD $2, rather than the usual international withdrawal fee of NZD $5.

When you pay by credit card you may be offered the choice of paying in your home currency or the local currency. Always choose local—your credit card company will give you a better rate. Be aware that some retailers add a small card-processing charge (generally NZD $0.50-1 per transaction).

How to get around

Getting around the city on a budget is easy, thanks to a public transport network that includes buses, trains and ferries. Plan your journeys on the Auckland Transport website, and grab an AT HOP card, a bargain-buster that makes your travel around 40% cheaper than the usual cash fare.

Travelling through two zones on a bus or train costs NZD $5.50 (NZD $3.00 with an AT HOP card), and through three zones NZD $7.00 (NZD $4.85 with the card), so the card is well worth the initial NZD $10 investment. Children under five travel for free, and kids aged 5 to 15 for 40-50% of the adult fare. If you have funds left over on your AT HOP card when you’re done travelling, you can use them to buy snacks at certain retailers, thus putting every last dollar to good use.

If you’re in town for more than few days and planning to do some day trips, or you’re travelling in a pack of three or more, budget car rental is a good option. Auckland’s car rental industry has a thriving second-hand vehicle side-hustle, which means you can hire an older run-around for as little as NZD $35 a day, inclusive of insurance. Auckland is a very driveable city with the same road rules as Australia, and State Highway 16 winds towards the city’s beautiful beaches.

If you want to combine your transport with some exercise, hire a pushbike to travel around the Auckland waterfront and CBD: the first two hours are completely free, or you can keep the bike for up to 24 hours for NZD $20.

Fresh produce beer roots and baby carrots at the Auckland farmers market

Where to eat

There are loads of places around town where you can walk away with change from NZD $10 after a great feed, from burger bars to Mexican restaurants to cute cafés and pizzerias. To be instantly overwhelmed by choice, head to dining hotspot K’Road to choose from over 100 great-value eateries. Or hit the Auckland Night Markets to be spoiled for choice of (mostly Southeast Asian) dinner options.

The thirty or so restaurants dotted around the Viaduct, the city’s beautiful waterfront precinct, feature a few gourmet fast food options, where you can feast on pizza or buffalo wings for under NZD $20, all with spectacular views. If it’s a hearty burger you’re craving, you’re in luck: Auckland is positively overflowing with gourmet burger joints, with many meals priced from just NZD $7.

If you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, take a trip to one of the city’s many top-notch farmers’ markets and grab some local produce to prepare at home. This handy guide also highlights the best two-for-one deals, $10 dinners and downright freebies to be had at some of Auckland’s most popular eateries.

Where to shop

Dress Smart, in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga, is the largest outlet shopping mall in New Zealand. It has all the big clothing brands as well as tech stores, cosmetics and sports gear. At Briarwood outlet in Grey Lynn, you’ll find a huge range of NZ-designed leather goods, including bags, wallets and shoes.

If you need a new pair of jeans, take a trip to 14oz Jeans—the Kingsland outlet store, in a cool, creative hub southwest of the city, always offers a bargain. Cross your fingers that your trip coincides with one of their crazy sales—think “fill a bag for NZD $50” and prepare to upgrade your baggage allowance!

If you’re interested in vintage threads, Polynesian crafts and handmade bric-a-brac, Auckland also offers a great range of lively markets, located all over town. A long-time favourite is the Otara Flea Market held every Saturday morning—this could be your one-stop souvenir shop.

Skyview of Auckland city through a wine glass.

Drinking in Auckland

If you fancy a refreshing a drink or two without spending a fortune, heed these tips:

  • Drink wine: New Zealand’s world-renowned wines can be bought on the cheap in Auckland. Local drops are the top option; prepare to pay more for international labels.
  • BYO: Just as in Australia, Auckland has plenty of BYO restaurants. Instead of spending $40 to $50 on a bottle of Marlborough sauv blanc to go with your meal, bring the identical bottle that you picked up for $15 from the supermarket (yes—in NZ you can buy your wine from the supermarket!).
  • Observe Happy Hour: The beautiful Viaduct precinct is a haven for city workers seeking a knock-off drink, so many of the bars and restaurants in the area offer early evening drink discounts between around 3.30pm and 6pm.