This country can be as expensive as you want to make it — or as economical.
Today we’re catching our breath in Queenstown, sometimes called “Screamtown” because so many of its visitors have a penchant for extreme sports, from bungy jumping to white-water rafting. If you’re into that sort of thing, bring a fat wallet. About three-quarters of an hour of bungy jumping, for example, goes for $175 NZ, about $140 U.S. dollars).
All guided trips here cost a pretty penny. But if you have a backpack, a sturdy pair of boots and a love for nature, you can travel here on a shoestring, and in some style. Backpacker hotels are all over the country. They typically cost $20 U.S. for a bed, a place to cook and sometimes a “spa.” Their locations are as pretty as the four-star hotels, and we often wish here thatwe were 30 years younger so we could set out on one of the multiple-day “tramps” around the country. The National Park system has a magnificent hut system (some huts, believe it or not, have flush toilets) that allows the committed backpacker to stay out a week at a time and stay reasonably dry (yes, it rains in western New Zealand).
Food and hotel prices parallel travel in the United States, even though the New Zealand dollar is worth only about 80 cents of an American. That favorable exchange keeps this from being a really expensive place. Even so, coffee costs about $3 US a cup (latte and cappucino cost the same), and quality motels in tourist areas cost between $100 and $120 American.
One good way to save is to make your own breakfast and lunch. Motel rooms are beautifully equipt with coffee makers, silverware, plates and small refrigerators. You’ll also save bybuying wine by the bottle rather than spending a lot in the bars, which, in this town at least, fill with boisterous laughter and live music in the evening.