If you are wondering how much a DIY hunt in New Zealand is going to cost, the answer might surprise you...
There are so many variables that go into estimating a hunt cost that it's hard to give you more than just a broad range for the total hunt cost.
For instance, I don’t know if you are thinking of staying in NZ for one week or for three weeks. Will you eat out every meal? Stay in hotels or camp on the roadside? Take a couple helicopter rides into hunting grounds or hike in from the road? Expedite your trophies through a taxidermist or boil them in the driveway of your Airbnb?
Obviously, you can take a minimalistic approach and spend as little as possible, or you can take advantage of your ‘holiday’, as they say in New Zealand, and treat yourself to some comforts.
The bottom line is, if you like adventure and you are on a budget, then you are going to love New Zealand.
Ok, not counting food (we all have to eat every day and yes, New Zealand has grocery stores in most towns so you don’t have to eat out all the time), your biggest expenses will be airfare, transportation within New Zealand, and lodging.
In just a second we will dive into these categories and take a bit of a closer look:
There are a lot of other miscellaneous costs with any hunt, but these three categories will likely work out to be about 80-90% of you total hunt budget.
Before jumping into these categories, I’d like to point out two significant factors working in your favor when budgeting for your New Zealand hunt: there are no license or tag costs and historically you’ll have a favorable exchange rate ($.67 NZD to $1.00 USD at the time of this writing).
This will be your largest single cost of the entire hunt and likely it will be about half of your hunt cost.
Figure on spending about $1500 round trip (coach) from most major US airports to New Zealand. If you insist on that first class leg room for those long flights, it will likely cost 3-5 times as much or more. I'll let you make that decision.
I have heard of budget flights and last minute deals for around $800 but that is an extremely low price. Just plan on budgeting a base price of $1500 for round trip commercial airfare and anything you might save by doing a little bargain shopping is money you can put towards that bungee jump once you land in NZ.
NOTE: often times the bargain flights will have you bouncing around the world with an extra layover or two. There is value in saving time will flying internationally and getting to NZ faster. Up to you.
I flew to New Zealand on air miles. It cost me 95k Alaska Air miles and $111.83 in fees (mostly in the form of a “Fiji Airport Development Charge”), but I was stoked.
Back in my corporate days I started banking air miles when flying for business with the goal of making it to New Zealand someday. It all started when I read Hunt High by Duncan Gilchrist and started dreaming of a tahr hunt in the Southern Alps. Fast forward six years and I was boarding that plane across the Pacific. (Life is good when you stick with those goals!)
NOTE: If you are a business owner and you can grab a credit card and spend $30-100k in supplies, services or materials in a year, then flying on air miles might be a good option for you.
Otherwise, I would recommend booking a ticket direct from LA or San Francisco to New Zealand on Air New Zealand. You can figure out the leg from your home airport to LAX/SFO with a partner airline or you could buy that leg separate with air miles. It's up to you, but that direct flight is nice.
The standard baggage fee for most international flights to NZ (at least for the flights that we took) seemed to be that first bag is typically free, and you'll pay $100 for every bag after that with a strict 50 lb limit.
I think the sweet gal at the Alaska Airlines counter misunderstood the baggage fee policy for my flights to NZ because she only charged me $70 for two overweight checked bags. I didn’t complain!
In total, plan on between $100-$300 in baggage fees to NZ and $200-500 in return fees depending on how much you bring back in trophies and meat. If you are a minimalist, you can pack bags within their 50 lb weight limits and you can only bring home euro skulls and no meat, then you can probably get away with only paying about $300 round trip for baggage.
One thing to note...most international flights are more stringent on their carry-on policies that domestic airlines. Fiji Airways, who I flew with, restricted carry-on bags to 15lbs max.
Unfortunately, one of my standby tricks of putting heavy optics and electronics in my carry-on to reduce weight in my checked bags was not an option. A backpack with a water bottle, a laptop or camera, a book and a few granola bars easily weighs 15 + pounds, so you will need to pack accordingly.
Whenever you are shopping for a ticket, make sure and read up on the airline's baggage policy and make note of not only weight restrictions and fees, but baggage maximum dimensions as well.
Once you arrive in New Zealand, your travel expenses can easily become much cheaper as long as you stick with the plan and watch your budget.
Remember, two things are working in your favor here: you will be splitting your transportation costs at least in half (you are not going solo, right...not safe yo!) from the time you land in NZ until you take off for home and you’ve got that exchange rate helping you out.
The first thing you are gonna do is grab a rental car. Arrange this ahead of time so you can pick it up from the airport and drop it off when you fly home. If you look around, these things can be had for pretty cheap.
We rented an older model Subaru Outback for $200 per week, NZD. Thats about $135 per week USD. Yup...cheap wheels.
I opted in (got suckered in?) and paid a total of $300 a week for the rental car by adding an additional $100 per week in accident coverage through the rental agency.
We had an incident free two weeks of blissful left-side driving and didn’t have a thing to worry about (except the two or three times I pulled out of a parking lot and into the right hand lane). Oh well, the extra coverage didn’t break the bank and we would have saved thousands of dollars with the rental company if we had gotten into an accident.
If you don’t have amazing international rental insurance coverage with your auto policy, you might consider throwing a few bucks a day extra at the rental agency to mitigate your liability in the event of an incident. Remember, you will be driving on the wrong, ahem, I mean the left side of the road. Probably not a bad idea, eh?
Gas (petrol as they call it) isn’t cheap in New Zealand. It cost us right at $100 to fill up the Outback, which we did about 4.5 times while we were there. However, no need to wince too hard...thats only $67 USD each fill up, so not really as bad as it seems at the pump.
That’s about it for having wheels during your holiday. Make sure you check in with your auto insurance to let them know you’ll be driving overseas and see what they cover and what they don’t.
Then just make sure you drive on the left (correct) side of the road. It feels really, really weird at first and takes a bit of getting used to, but by the end of our two weeks it was starting to feel like I'd always driven that way.
Oh, before I forget...in Kiwi cars the windshield wipers are the turn signal and the turn signal is the windshield wipers. You’ll figure it out.
Helicopter flights are optional. If you are limited on cash, you can just hike in. You will have an awesome experience and you will find animals if you put in the effort (what they call the 'hard yards')
If you are short on time, however, take a heli ride. Or if you want to take a heli ride, take a heli ride.
The cost of a helicopter flight varies greatly depending on the company that you fly with, how far you fly and whether or not they are picking up or dropping off any other hunters on the back-leg of your flight.
That said, a helicopter flight will be the second largest single expense next to your commercial airfare (unless you flew on air miles).
The cost of our helicopter flight was split two ways and came out to $860 apiece...NZD. That worked out to be about $575 per person USD.
Thats about as cheap or cheaper than almost any flight that you will take on a hunt in Alaska. Not too shabby really and the pilot said that if we had had another party on the back-leg, we could have come out a bit cheaper.
If you figure about $750 per person USD for helicopter flights that should cover things nicely. Of course this cost could be zero if you decide to just hike in and that would not necessarily reduce your odds of having a great hunt or even of being successful.
Lodging is one of those costs like the helicopter flight that is totally up to your preferences. If you want to dirtbag your way around NZ on the uber-cheap, you can camp for free in a variety of locations around the country.
On the flip-side, if you want to stay every night in hotels, fancy lodges and swanky resorts, you could definitely find some options that would suit your preferences.
On the spectrum of lodging expenses, we opted for the cheaper side of middle.
We backpacked and camped while in the field (8 nights total) and rented out a few very reasonably priced Airbnb’s for hot showers and the ability to dry clothing, tents and boots.
We were super fortunate to be invited to stay with some keen hunters near Christchurch, so we ended up spending a few nights in our host’s guest bedroom and were even treated to a few delicious meals and more than a couple of cups of tea. I'm telling you, the Kiwis are a friendly bunch!
I’d say that its pretty safe to budget somewhere around $200-$500 for lodging depending on where you choose to stay and how many nights you pay for lodging. You can definitely budget less if you’d like.
That pretty much sums up the major costs of a hunt in New Zealand. Of course there are a bunch of smaller costs involved with a trip like this, but given the examples above, you are looking at somewhere between $1000 and $3750 USD for two weeks in the South Pacific if you do it on the cheap
You can certainly spend more if ya like...there is no shortage of really cool things to do in New Zealand and we haven't factored in any of the food expenses and incidentals that you'll wind up spending money on.
This should give you a pretty good idea of what's possible if you plan carefully and watch your budget, but I'd say that you can definitely do New Zealand on the cheap for about $2500 - $3000 and still enjoy a couple of luxuries (like a hot shower or two) along the way.