6 Australia and New Zealand cities by price: Backpacker Index for 2016

Queenstown ViewUpdated and expanded for 2016, the Australia and New Zealand Backpacker Index now includes 6 cities after we added Brisbane and Cairns for this year. The currencies of both countries have come down to more realistic levels as of early 2016, so budget travelers can move about freely without breaking the bank like a couple years ago.

More good news is that both countries have a robust infrastructure for budget travelers, with more hostels (called ‘backpackers’ usually) than almost anywhere else in the world. Self-catering will cut costs in both countries since even fast-food restaurants tend to be quite expensive. Camping or going with a group in a campervan is another good way of seeing a lot while spending less money.

How the Backpacker Index works

Prices for most things are fixed and certain, but prices for a “budget lunch” or a pint of beer can vary depending on whom you ask. Still, our estimates are based on a lot of research, and should be very close if not right on.

Costs for each city

  • One night in the cheapest bunk at the least expensive hostel with a good location and good reviews
  • Two public transportation rides per day
  • One paid/famous attraction per day (Every city is loaded with free things to do for budget-conscious travelers, but here we take the average cost of a major attraction in each city for each day.)
  • Three “budget” meals per day.
  • Three cheap, local beers each day as an “entertainment fund.” Non-drinkers might have dessert and coffee or attend a local music performance instead, so this is a general benchmark that should be proportional for each city.

NOTE: In Australia and New Zealand the prices tend to be similar no matter where you go, so all 6 cities below are very well bunched.

Australia & New Zealand Backpacker Index for 2016

1Auckland, New Zealand (Cheapest)

Thanks to an incredibly wide range of hostels and budget hotels, Auckland is reasonably priced in general. Most backpackers only stop in the city for a day or two on their way in or out of the country anyway, but still it’s nice that budget options are out there. Fortunately, renting a campervan or taking the backpacker bus to the holiday parks can make visiting these islands quite cheap compared to staying in the cities.

  • Currency: New Zealand dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: frienz.com Backpackers Accommodation Auckland – 28.90/night
  • Transportation: 3.00
  • Meals: 27.60
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 18.00
  • Attractions: 15.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: NZ$92.50 – US$61.67/day

>>>Auckland prices and weather

2Cairns, Australia

CairnsCairns is most popular as the staging area for visits to the nearby Great Barrier Reef. As a smaller city with lower real estate prices, Cairns tends to be a bit cheaper than the huge cities on the list. Still, prices of most things tend to be quite uniform throughout Australia, so hostels and pints of beer are among the few things that are a bit cheaper here.

  • Currency: Australian dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Caravella Backpackers Cairns City Waterfront – 21.37/night
  • Transportation: 7.50
  • Meals: 31.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 15.00
  • Attractions: 12.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: AU$87.07 – US$61.75/day

>>>Cairns prices and weather

3Sydney, Australia

Sydney is the first stop of most international toursts arriving in Australia, and prices here can be reasonable as long as the Australia dollar doesn’t shoot back up like it had not long ago. Things like fast food tend to be weirdly expensive here, so finding bargains is challenging. Once you get outside the largest Australian cities the prices go down by a bit, but only by a bit.

  • Currency: Australian dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Chili Blue Backpackers – 26.70/night
  • Transportation: 7.20
  • Meals: 31.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 19.50
  • Attractions: 10.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: AU$94.60 – US$67.09/day

>>>Sydney prices and weather

4Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne also has a wide variety of hostels and that helps keep prices reasonable. Overall, prices of most things in all large Australian cities will be simiilar, so it’s pretty easy to figure out your budget once you land in your first stop. Fortunately, there are plenty of free things to do in both Melbourne as well as Sydney, though unfortunately most of the major attractions are fairly expensive in both.

  • Currency: Australian dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Flinders Backpackers – 29.92/night
  • Transportation: 0 (Free trolley in the center)
  • Meals: 31.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 19.50
  • Attractions: 14.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: AU$94.62 – US$67.11/day

>>>Melbourne prices and weather

5Brisbane, Australia

BrisbaneFar more popular with Australians than international travelers, Brisbane is known for its warm and pleasant climate most of the year. The beaches through the whole area are among the best public beaches in the world, but they may not make up for a lack of cultural attractions for some visitors. And again, prices all over Australia tend to be similar, and Brisbane is not a cheap place for most things.

  • Currency: Australian dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Brisbane City Backpackers – 26.70/night
  • Transportation: 8.00
  • Meals: 34.80
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 19.50
  • Attractions: 10.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: AU$95.37 – US$67.64/day

>>>Brisbane prices and weather

6Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, in the heart of the South Island, is one of the most popular stops in all of New Zealand. If you are coming just to chill out the price is quite reasonable and the surroundings are stunning, but if you are coming to snowboard or bungy jump and so forth, be prepared for astronomical prices for those things in almost all cases.

  • Currency: New Zealand dollar
  • Cheap/good hostel: Nomads Queenstown – 32.14/night
  • Transportation: 7.00
  • Meals: 31.20
  • Drinks/Entertainment: 24.00
  • Attractions: 16.00
  • Daily Backpacker Index: NZ$110.34 – US$73.56/day

>>>Queenstown prices and weather

Also check out Backpacker Indexes from the rest of the world

9 Responses to “6 Australia and New Zealand cities by price: Backpacker Index for 2016”

I want to go to ALL of these cities so badly!! I’ve been watching the Australian Open, and Melbourne seems awesome!

Arjun says:

In New Zealand, how can we get across cities, or across islands, spending least money? I tried to find different routes on the Rome2Rio website, and each time, flights turn out to be cheapest. Am I missing something there? Does New Zealand have a travel pass similar to EuRail and every European country’s rail pass? That may save some money, so that I can travel to and from Auckland, as against enter at Auckland and leave at Queenstown/Christchurch.



    The cheapest way to get around New Zealand is by bus. There are many companies that run what are known as backpacker buses that go between all the main sightseeing cities, and they also have InterCity Coachlines, which is the main national bus company. There are passes available on the backpacker buses similar to Eurail-style passes.

    The cheapest way to go between islands is by ferry. From the North Island the ferry leaves near Wellington, and goes to a town called Picton on the South Island. If you book early you can get a cheap crossing, and I think you can do that through the backpacker bus companies as well. Good luck with this. -Roger

      Arjun says:

      Thank you, Roger. My calculation was based more on the price of a trip between Auckland and Christchurch. Here, flight is cheapest. The idea was an eight-day tour, with four days in either island. Going through these articles you’ve written about cities here, it may be advisable to spend little time in the big cities. I’m looking at getting the best out of both islands, in scenery/wildlife/adventure, at the best price.

      KiwiRailScenic has some interesting train tours, but these may be a bit too expensive as stand-alone purchases. I’d like to know of cost-effective alternatives that serve the same purpose, as well as any schemes where I can get a discount on these routes.



        As much as I loved my own 9-day visit to New Zealand, I don’t really consider myself an expert on the country. If I were you I’d have a look at the New Zealand wikitravel page, which is great for up to date info on all of this.

        But I can definitely re-confirm that the charms of New Zealand are almost all found in the scenery and outdoor attractions, and that Auckland and Christchurch are best used as staging areas for visiting everything else. My original plan was to just stop in Auckland for a few days on my way to Tahiti because I tend to like cities. But I researched and found out that Auckland isn’t really all that special compared to the rest of the country, so I only stayed for 2 days before renting a little motor home for a solo tour of the islands that lasted a week. It was the shoulder season so rental prices were pretty low, and I’m extremely glad I did it. Since you sleep in the thing, and can cook in the thing as well, it’s easy to keep other expenses quite low as you drive around appreciating the scenery and such. If it’s possible, you might even consider something like that yourself.

        Best of luck. -Roger

Geoff says:

Hey there,

Any thoughts on adding other countries in the pacific? There’s a few major destinations in the region like Fiji and Tahiti and some of us backpackers are now finding our way out to less obvious places too like Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu or Palau.

Would be interesting to see as there’s mixed information about this region, for example with PNG, I’ve seen some estimates putting it as one of the most expensive place on the planet – costing more than Norway(!) and yet most accommodation prices I can find listed are only expensive by developing country standards.

    Geoff says:

    Oh wait… you do have information on Tahiti. I was just confused as it doesn’t seem to fit into any of the categories you have (not Aus/NZ, not Asia)



    Yes, you’ve noticed that we’ve added a page for Tahiti, and I will add it to the Australia/Pacific Backpacker list soon. We’ve added quite a few other cities that will be added to the main lists as well.

    Unfortunately, Tahiti is really the only island that will likely be covered on the site, although Moorea will be included with Tahiti. It’s just not easy to gather up to date information on islands like Vanuatu. Fiji might be easier, but as you know, very small numbers of backpackers go there. Right now we have about 200 cities on the site, and a place like Fiji is not major enough to make the list, at least at this time. Thanks for your interest and I appreciate any constructive criticism and general feedback. -Roger

      Geoff says:

      Thanks a lot for your reply,

      That’s ok – I assumed that was probably the case anyway – just thought I’d ask on the off chance.


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