I'll be visiting Auckland in September and am interested in doing a day tour out of the city, potentionally to Rotorua. However I noticed all the formal day tours seem rather expensive (>$200 USD). Is there a cheaper tour company someone can suggest? Are there other transportation options (other than the obvious rental car)?
Flying is no option price-wise as the cheapest flights I have seen in a week in September is 168 return, and you would have to get to the airports which is another cost and waste of time.
So you could consider a trip on a public bus, for example InterCity. I checked how much a seat would cost on 23 Sept. The cheapest option would be NZ$ 10 for a trip that departs at AKL Sky City at 9.30am. You just have to book in advance to get the lowest possible fare.
The attractions in Rotorua are rather wide-spread, so you cannot get there just walking around. But there is rather a cheap shuttle service to the attractions close to the city, for example Whakarewarewa, the Agrodome, the Zorb, etc.
If you check the travel packages and find out if 220 is really expensive you have to check out the attractions that are included. The entry fees for some of the attractions are rather steep, so at the end those 220 could still be a good deal even if you would get InterCity bus trips for next to nothing. And of course, as the bus trips take 4 hours each way there would not be a real lot of time left to get to all the places. With depending on public transportation in Rotorua you really waste a lot of time.
That is why I would still recommend to rent a car ;-) But again: Calculating the rental cost, the petrol, plus the entry fees you might not end up saving a lot of money compared to a stressless organised bus tour. Some of the budget rental companies even charge extra if you return the car after hours.
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