New Zealand on a Budget: Auckland and Rotorua Travel Guide 2016

Words and photos by lifestyle photographer Jelito de Leon. Follow him on Instagram: @jelitodeleon.

New Zealand is one of those destinations that need no introduction. There’s a big chance that you — my friend, reading this post right now — have either dreamed of visiting at least once in your life or have already decided to visit in the near, far, or far, far future. New Zealand is spellbinding in that way. Just a mere mention of its name captivates, conjuring up images of a fantasy world: magical, enchanting, and absolutely epic.

New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland is the most accessible gateway to the country. It is home to 1.45 million people, a third of New Zealand’s population. During my stay, I tried to document as much details as possible so I could create this quick travel guide on how you can enjoy a piece of it too.


When to Visit

New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere so their summer kicks in around December and winter in June. In general, when it comes to weather, Auckland is pleasant year-round, but summer (December-February) is the most popular. The downside, it is also the peak season, which means higher airfare and hotel rates. Winter gets some rain showers every now and then but rarely goes to the extreme.

The months of May (end of fall) and November (spring) are the most highly recommended because the weather is still great but you can avoid thick tourist crowds.



How to Get a New Zealand Visa

If you’re a Philippine passport-holder, here are the things you need to successfully get a visa for New Zealand:

  • Accomplished visa application form – you can find it here
  • Valid Passport
  • Two (2)-Passport size photos
  • Evidence of financial capacity, showing you have sufficient funds in your name to support yourself (Bank Statement, etc.)
  • Evidence that you have the means to leave New Zealand: e.g. Pre-purchased travel ticket out of New Zealand, Evidence that you have sufficient funds in your name to purchase travel out of New Zealand.

You can submit applications at:

VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc.,
Mezzanine Floor Unit M01, Ecoplaza Building,
2305 Chino Roces Avenue Extension Makati City, Metro Manila 1231

Visa processing usually takes 20-25 days.

Tip: If you’re a Mabuhay Miles Elite or Premiere Elite member, or a Million Miler, you and your partners and dependents traveling with you will have their visa applications processed within five (5) days.


How to Get to Auckland

There are no direct flights from Manila to Auckland, so you will have to make a connection somewhere else. But that’s when it gets tricky. A good connection to Auckland from Manila is hard to find if you’re traveling on a tight budget. But here are a few reminders:

  • As much as possible, book the legs of your journey with the same airline. Why? So you don’t need to worry about your luggage. You just check it in and pick it up in Auckland. This also gets you covered in case the first flight gets delayed and you miss the next flight. The airline will accommodate you in their next flight for FREE. If you book the second flight with a different airline, they’re not under any obligation to provide new tickets.
  • If you’re booking the connecting flight separately, ask if that airline has some sort of partnership with the other airline. Some carriers have agreements that might include seamless baggage transfer. Also check the layover time. Know that if you book flights separately, in many cases you will have to collect your baggage and check in again before you can board the next flight. ALSO, if it’s connecting in a city that requires a visa, you might need to pass through Immigration first before the baggage pick-up so check the visa policy of that country.
  • If you’re on a holiday, take TIME as currency too. It’s not always about the price. Consider the travel time. Some fares are so low but they entail a super-lengthy layover. You don’t want to spend more than 20 hours en route when you could have used that time to explore New Zealand.

This makes the Philippine Airlines offer, which connects in Cairns, attractive. It is pricey, like most flights to New Zealand, but it’s stress-free. The travel time is also just a bit more than 13 hours while other airlines would take as much as 34 hours.

Also consider the travel time.
Also consider the travel time.

Philippine Airlines flies to Auckland from Manila every:

PR 218 – ETD 11:15pm
ETA 4:30pm +1 day after

Important! New Zealand is very strict with biosecurity. Be sure to declare or dispose of the following items before entering New Zealand. False declaration can incur a nz$400 fine:

  • Any food – includes cooked, uncooked, fresh, preserved, packed, or dried.
  • Animals or animal products – meat, dairy, fish, honey/bee products, eggs, feathers, shells, raw wool, skins, bones, insects
  • Plants or plant products – fruit, flowers, seeds, bulbs, wood, bark, leaves, nuts, vegetables, parts of plants, fungi, cane, bamboo or straw
  • Animal medicines, biological cultures, organisms, soil, water
  • Equipment used with animals, plants or water, including for gardening, beekeeping, fishing, water sport, or diving activities.
  • Items used for outdoor activities such as footwear, tents, camping, hunting, hiking, gold, or sports equipment.
  • Prohibited / restricted goods – medicines, weapons, indecent publications, endangered species of flora or fauna, illicit drugs, or drug paraphernalia
  • Alcohol more than 3 bottles (not exceeding 1.125 litres each) and 4.5 litres of wine or beer
  • Tobacco more than 50 cigarettes / 50 grams of tobacco


How to Get from Auckland Airport to City Center

From the airport to Auckland CBD, you can take the SkyBus, which operates 24/7 to and from the airport.

One way ticket prices:
nz$18 – Adult
nz$6 – Child (5-15 years old)

Return ticket prices:
nz$32 – Adult
nz$ 12 – Child (5-15 years old)


Where to stay in Auckland

From budget hostels to luxury hotels, there are a lot of accommodation options for everyone in Auckland.

Mid-range to Luxury Options

If comfort is your priority and budget isn’t a problem, here are some of the Auckland hotels and resorts with the best reviews on TripAdvisor.

Okura River Estate B&B. Check rates here or book here.
Okura River Estate B&B.
Check rates here.
Eden Park Bed and Breakfast Inn.  Check rates here or book here.
Eden Park Bed and Breakfast Inn.
Check rates here.
Mairangi B&B. Check rates here or book here.
Mairangi B&B.
Check rates here.
Swiss Belsuites Victoria Park Auckland. Check rates here or book here.
Swiss-Belsuites Victoria Park Auckland.
Check rates here.
Posonby Manor Guest House. Check rates here or book here.
Ponsonby Manor Guest House.
Check rates here.
Hotel Debrett. Check rates here or book here.
Hotel Debrett.
Check rates here.

Budget Options

If you’re on a budget, consider hostels. But don’t expect hostel rates that can match those in Southeast Asia. A dorm bed here costs around NZD 30 (USD 22, PHP 1100) per night. The cheapest is at around NZD 22 (USD 16, PHP 780).

Private rooms at a hostel usually entail a NZD 150/night (USD 110, PHP 5300) damage to your wallet.

Here are the best rated hostels in Auckland that are below USD 55 (PHP 2700) per night.

Nomads Fat Camel Backpackers
Check rates here.
Haka Lodge Auckland Check rates here or book here.
Haka Lodge Auckland
Check rates here.
City Garden Lodge Check rates here or book here.
City Garden Lodge
Check rates here.
Retreat on the Park. Check rates here or book here.
Retreat on the Park.
Check rates here.
Shoorters Salon.  Check rates here or book here.
Shooters Salon.
Check rates here.
Princeton Apartments. Check rates here or book here.
Princeton Apartments.
Check rates here.
For more Auckland hotels, check rates here: AGODA


How to Get Around Auckland

Walk if you can especially for short distances. It’s healthy and free. And the city isn’t that big. But you can also take these other modes.

By bus

The bus is the most popular mode of transportation. You can use the Link Bus Service to get around.

  • CityLink Bus (Red) will take you around the city center.
  • InnerLink Bus (Green) will take you around the inner city.
  • OuterLink Bus (Yellow) will get you around the inner suburbs of Auckland.

No need to check the timetables because a new bus arrives every few minutes.

For more information, visit the following:

You can also visit the Auckland Transportation website to plan your journey. Just enter your origin and destination and their app will tell you how to get there, what time, and how much to pay. Check it out here.

If you think you’ll be taking a lot of bus, train or ferry rides in a day, you may purchase an AT HOP Day Pass, which will give you unlimited access to most of Auckland’s public transportation systems. It costs NZD 18 and expires at midnight of the day you first use it. So if, say, you use first use it at 8am on a Saturday, it will expire at 11:59 of the same day. Similarly, if you first use it at 11pm, you only have an hour left before it becomes invalid.

By bike

There are bikes available for rent at Devonport Wharf. Here are the rates.

Day Bike – from nz$14
Road Bike – from nz$59

By Uber

If you prefer traveling by Uber, here are the rates:

Fare breakdown for UberX
Base fare nz$1.30
per Minute nz$0.30
per KM nz$1.35

Minimum fare: nz$5.00
Cancellation fee: nz$10.00


Places to Visit in Auckland

MT. EDEN (250 Mt. Eden Rd)
At 196m, Mt. Eden is the tallest volcano in Auckland. You can enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the summit of the mountain. Just a five-minute drive from Auckland CBD. Admission is free.

View from Mt. Eden
View from Mt. Eden

The Wintergardens houses a lot of vibrant plants, mostly flowering. There are two Victorian styled glass houses in the area. One shelters tropical types while the other houses those that thrive in colder environments. If you are already in the area, it is a nice place to check out. Admission is free.


SKY TOWER (Victoria St W & Federal St, Auckland 1010, New Zealand)
If you’re in Auckland, the Sky Tower is very hard to miss since most of the time you look up, you’ll see the tower. The tower has been one of Auckland’s icons for 20 years. Activities on the highest level of the tower include dining in a revolving restaurant, SkyJump, and the Sky Walk to name a few.

Waikehe Island
Waikehe Island

Just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke Island gives you access to a number of vineyards, olive groves, and beaches.

Here are a few tours from Auckland to Waiheke Island:

Wine On Waiheke (includes Ferry, Tour, and All Day Bus Pass)
Departs Auckland 1pm Wednesday to Sunday
Return Ferry Ticket & Tour – nz$130
Tour Only – nz$110

Taste Of Waiheke (includes Ferry, Tour, Light Lunch, and All Day Bus Pass)
Departs Auckland 11am Daily
Return Ferry Ticket & Tour – nz$140
Tour Only – nz$120

Other than wine tours, there is also a tour that shows you the beautiful views of the island

Waiheke Explorer (Ferry, Guided Tour, and All Day Bus Pass)
Departs Auckland Daily at 10am, 11am, and 12pm
Return Ferry & Tour –
Adult nz$57
Child nz$ 28.50
Family nz$143

For people who want to explore the island on their own, there is also a car hire available.

Wheels On Waiheke (includes Ferry and All Day Car or Scooter Hire)
Departs Auckland Daily
Returrn Ferry Ticket & Car Hire – nz$99 per adult



How to Get from Auckland to Hobbiton and Rotorua

Most tourists in Auckland also visit the neighboring lands, especially Rotorua and Matamata, which is home to the famous Hobbiton (Lord of the Rings).

Day tours from Auckland are available, but they are ridiculously expensive. What we recommend is that you go to Matamata, tour Hobbiton, and then proceed to to Rotorua by bus after the tour, spend a night there, and take the other tours from there.

To go to Hobbiton, you can book an Intercity bus to Matamata. Fare: NZD 22 (USD 16, PHP 780) . Once in Matamata, you can go to the Hobbiton Tour pick up spot which is either of the following, depending on what you booked.

From Shire’s Rest
501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata.

From Matamata i-SITE
The Matamata i-SITE, 45 Broadway, Matamata.

To book a Hobbiton tour, visit

After your tour, you can make your way to Rotorua. Fare from Matamata to Rotorua is NZD 15 (USD 11, PHP 532).

Note that when you book with InterCity online, you are charged a one-time NZD 3.99 booking fee so best if you could plan your trip well and book all your tickets at once.


Places to Visit from Rotorua

WAITOMO GLOWWORM CAVES (39 Waitomo Caves Rd, Waitomo Caves, Otorohanga 3943, New Zealand)

Waitomo meaning ‘water entering a hole in the ground’ is home to the Arachocampa Luminosa (spider-like, light-producing larva) is a Glowworm species unique to New Zealand. To be what it is now, it took 24 million years to actually shape the caves through natural occurrences such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

There are buses like Intercity and GreatSights that take passengers from Rotorua to Waitomo Caves. Fares vary depending on availability and date of travel. InterCity’s 7:45am bus can sometimes go as low as NZD 39 but it can also reach up to NZD 88. But it seems to be generally cheaper than the afternoon bus.


Tours for Waitomo:

Glowworm Caves Only
Adult nz$50
Child nz$23
Family nz$124 / nz$16 per extra child

Glowworm Caves + Ruakuri Cave:
Adult nz$87
Child nz$32
Family nz$188 / nz$19.5 per extra child

Glowworm Caves + Aranui Cave:
Adult nz$72
Child nz$32
Family nz$157/ nz$19.5 per extra child

Glowworm Caves + Ruakuri Cave + Aranui Cave:
Adult nz$95
Child nz$42
Family nz$209 / nz$30 per extra child


HOBBITON (501 Buckland Rd, Hinuera, Matamata 3400, New Zealand)
If you’re a Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit fan, this place is definitely a must-see attraction when you’re in New Zealand. Construction of the place was started in 1999 for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and was refurbished in 2011 for The Hobbit trilogy.

Tour prices are:
Adult (17+ yrs) – nz$79
Youth (9-16 yrs) – nz$39
Child (0-8yrs) – Free with paying adult

Te Puia
Te Puia

TE PUIA (Hemo Rd, Tihiotonga, Rotorua 3040, New Zealand)
Five minutes away from Rotorua’s city center, Te Puia is home to the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute established in 1920.It is a place to learn more about the Maori culture. Aside from this, you will also see the famous Pohutu geyser, the largest geyser in the southern hemispehere, in Te Puia.

Tour prices are:
Adult (17+ yrs) – nz$ 46.80
Child (5-15yrs) – nz$ 23.4

Te Puia
Te Puia

There is also a luxury tour that packs Waitomo, Rotorua, and Hobbiton in a 2 days Tour.
It includes hotel pickup, return transport, 1 night accommodation in Rotorua, guided cave tour, Te Puia entry, Maori performance, Hobbitton tour, morning tea and lunch on day 1 and an afternoon snack on day 2. Tour departs 7:30am and ends 8:15pm on the 2nd day

Tour prices are:
Adult nz$569
Child (5-14yrs) nz$284.50


Where to Stay in Rotorua

Mid-range to Upscale Options

Tihi Retreat. Check rates here or book here.
Tihi Retreat.
Check rates here or book here.
Rosie's Rotorua Homestay. Check rates here or book here.
Rosie’s Rotorua Homestay.
Check rates here or book here.
City Lights Boutique Lodge. Check rates here or book here.
City Lights Boutique Lodge.
Check rates here or book here.
Quest Rotorua Central Apartment Hotel. Check rates here or book here.
Quest Rotorua Central Apartment Hotel.
Check rates here or book here.
Sport of Kings Motel. Check rates here or book here.
Sport of Kings Motel.
Check rates here or book here.
Arista of Rotorua. Check rates here or book here.
Arista of Rotorua.
Check rates here or book here.

Budget Options

Here are the best-reviewed, top-rated hostels and B&Bs in Rotorua.

Crash Palace Backpackers Inn. Check rates here or book here.
Crash Palace Backpackers Inn.
Check rates here or book here.
Astray Motel and Backpackers. Check rates here or book here.
Astray Motel and Backpackers.
Check rates here or book here.
Mokoia Downs B&B. Check rates here or book here.
Mokoia Downs B&B.
Check rates here or book here.
Rotorua Downtown Backpackers. Check rates here or book here.
Rotorua Downtown Backpackers.
Check rates here or book here.
Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park. Check rates here or book here.
Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park.
Check rates here or book here.
The Backyard Inn. Check rates here or book here.
The Backyard Inn.
Check rates here or book here.


Sample 5D-4N Itinerary and Expenses

This itinerary assumes you are taking the Philippine Airlines flight from Manila, staying in a twin room at City Garden Lodge in Auckland (NZD68/night) and a double room at Crash Palace Backpackers (NZD70/night) in Rotorua, and traveling with one companion with whom you could split the cost of accommodations.

11:00pm – Depart Manila via PR218

3:15pm – Arrive in Auckland, transfer to hotel (NZD 18)
5:00pm – Check in Hotel (NZD 62/room/night or NZD 31/person)
7:00pm – Dinner
9:00pm – Night walk back to hotel

6:00am – Quick breakfast, go to Mt. Eden (NZD 3)
8:00am – Visit Mt. Eden / Wintergardens (FREE admission)
10:40am – Go to Ferry Terminal (NZD 3)
11:00am – Board ferry to Waiheke Island (Explorer Tour: NZD 57)
11:40am – Arrive at Waiheke Island
3:40pm – Head back to ferry terminal to go back to Auckland.
4:00pm – Board the ferry to Downtown Auckland.
4:40pm – Arrive in Auckland
5:00pm – Walk around the city / (window) shopping in Downtown Auckland.
7:00pm – Dinner
8:00pm – Back to hotel (NZD 62/room/night or NZD 31/person)

6:30 am – Breakfast
7:30am – Check out hotel & depart for Hobbiton (NZD 22)
12:00am – Quick lunch
1:00pm – The Shire / Hobbiton movie set tour (NZD 79)
04:10pm – Transfer to Rotorua (NZD 15 + NZD 4 Booking Fee)
5:30pm – Check-in at hotel (NZD 70/room/night or NZD35 per person)
7:15pm – Dinner

6:00am – Breakfast (NZD 4)
7:45am – Transfer to Waitomo Caves (NZD 39 or NZD 77)
9:00am – Waitomo Caves (NZD 50)
10:58am – Depart for Te Puia (NZD 88), lunch
02:00pm – Te Puia Tour (NZD 46.8)
04:00pm – Free time + dinner
7:00pm – Back to hotel (NZD 70/room/night or NZD35 per person)

6:30am – Breakfast (NZD 4)
7:45am – Depart for airport (NZD 28)
12:20nn – Arrival at airport
6:15pm – Depart Auckland via PR219

If you follow this itinerary and you limit your meal expenses to only NZD 30 per day, prepare to shell out NZD 742.8 (USD 543, PHP 26,300).

This does not yet include the airfare and visa fees.

Also, it depends highly on your spending habits and where you would stay. You can still bring down the cost by picking cheaper accommodations (like staying in a dorm instead) and booking your tickets in advance.


More Tips for the Poor Traveler

  • Set ample time from the airport to your hotel since it might take you a while to get out of Auckland’s airport due to their very strict bio security checks.
  • Most hostels have an open kitchen that you can use. Instead of eating out, head over to the supermarket and buy ingredients. It’s a lot cheaper this way.
  • When walking around Downtown Auckland, I found it helpful to use the Sky Tower as reference to my location.
  • If you’re booking with InterCity, plan your trip well and book all your tickets at once. They charge a one-time NZD 3.99 booking fee.

This is a work-in-progress. We will be updating this travel guide as we receive more info and experience more of New Zealand.

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  • Austin Velazquez

    A cheaper method for getting from the airport to the city centre is by taking bus 380 from either terminal (cost $1.80 NZD, duration 25 min) to Papatoetoe train station. From there take the train to Britomart station (cost $4.90 NZD, duration 35 min), which is right at the city centre. For all this you will need the Hop card, so be sure to buy at the airport or convenience store before boarding.

    • Hi Austin! Thanks for sharing! We’ll add this to the post! 😀

  • Adrenaline Romance

    This is very informative. NZ is one of our target out-of-the-country destinations. We will definitely use this information when we plan our NZ adventure. 🙂

  • Dylan Dcosta

    A very informative post. I was planning for a short vacation in New Zealand next year. This makes my holiday planning so much easier. Thank you!

  • Pingback: On visiting New Zealand. | handwritten-stitches-blog()

  • Thanks, Vanj! 🙂


    was great to stumble upon this post. I need help with this too! I’ve
    forgotten the last time I filled out a form on paper. I mostly use
    PDFfiller to edit. You can easily fill NAVMED 1300/1 here

  • Jafet John M. Jong

    Hi, do you recommend renting a car for the tour? Because places are far apart. And do you recommend to do the 3 cave package or only the gloworm cave? Because we have the same tour of 5days and 4nights. Thanks in advance.

  • Excellent guide! I’m sure you’ll help a lot of people with this post. Rotorua, and New Zealand in general, is absolutely fantastic. The geothermal wonders here are mesmerising, it really makes you feel as though you’ve been transported to an entirely different planet!

  • Awesome tips. Definitely helpful for a poor traveler especially for an expensive place such as New Zealand.