However you choose to get around New Zealand, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views and amazing experiences.
Be aware though, that New Zealand isn’t as small as it seems on the map — distances can be long! Plus, since there’s a low population density, public transport services don’t run as often as you might expect. Prepare in advance to make the most of your New Zealand trip.
Travel New Zealand by car: borrow, hire or buy
Our preferred form of transport in our home country is to drive. For shorter distances, it’s the easiest, fastest, and (usually) the most economical option, especially if someone lends us their car! If you can’t borrow one, car hire is straightforward, and many of the international companies have a presence here. If you’re staying for a longer time, consider buying a car through a website like Trademe, at the Auckland Backpacker Car Fair, or through local contacts (for example, your hostel).
If you buy a car, make sure to get a roadworthiness check done, and make sure the car has a valid Warrant of Fitness and registration.
Insurance isn’t compulsory in New Zealand, but we’d recommend you get it! At the very least, get third party insurance to cover the costs to any other cars involved in an accident where you’re at fault. We also use the AA for their roadside assistance service.
Hire a campervan
We love small campers that are the size of large cars. In New Zealand you can rent this kind of camper from Spaceships, Jucy and Wicked; they tend to be affordable to rent and easy to drive. Of course, you could choose a larger camper, but New Zealand roads can be very windy, and the larger the vehicle, the slower you go!
One of the benefits of a larger campervan is that you have more options for parking. Freedom camping (just parking anywhere) isn’t allowed in much of the country, and where it is permitted there’s often a rule that the vehicle must be self contained. (Have a toilet, in other words.) However, Department of Conservation campsites around the country provide basic facilities and a place to park or pitch a tent for a very affordable price.
One way to keep the price down is to look for relocation deals. Car and camper hire companies often want to move their vehicles between hubs (usually from the South Island to the North Island) and so they offer very cheap rates if you’ll pick up your car in one specified location and return it to another.
Travel by bus
If you don’t want to drive, the bus is a good choice — New Zealand’s intercity bus network is reliable if a little infrequent due to the low population density, and the bus drivers tend to be helpful and friendly. The two main bus companies are Intercity and Naked Bus/ManaBus. Both offer $1 fares, but you’ll have to book well in advance to get those!
A new addition to the options is a sleeper bus from Auckland to Wellington, which starts at $26. If you like overnight bus journeys, this could be a great option for you! (Disclaimer: I hate overnight bus journeys.)
Join a hop-on-hop-off bus tour
While it’s not the cheapest option, hop-on-hop-off bus tours are hugely convenient. Each company has its own routes, which tend to go to all the places you’d like to see, and you buy a pass for a certain route and can hop off and on as you like along the route. The two main players are Stray (our favourite) and Kiwi Experience — great for the party crowd.
Do a full tour of New Zealand
If you’d like everything to be planned out for you, a full tour might be a good choice. Many major companies (like Intrepid, G Adventures, or Contiki) have tours here, or choose a local organisation like Haka Tours or Flying Kiwi.
See New Zealand by train
Train travel in New Zealand is slow, pricy, infrequent… and stunning. After a recent earthquake destroyed a large area of track, we’re down to just two routes: the Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington and the Tranz Alpine from Christchurch to Greymouth. Both are amazing journeys, but run just once a day in each direction. Book in advance!
If you’re looking for the fastest way to get from point to point, air travel is likely to be your best option. You’ll find good prices on key routes like Auckland to Wellington or Christchurch, but getting to smaller cities can be pricy due to a lack of competition. Grabaseat can be a great way to find cheap flights, or use Skyscanner, Momondo, or Webjet to find the best prices.
Walk or cycle
There are many great walks and cycling paths in New Zealand, but many are self-contained. Hiking between cities is not easy, so use public or private transport to get to trail heads. We’re super keen to do Te Araroa, the long pathway, from the top of the North Island to the tip of the South; but at 3000km, we’ll need to find the time first! If you want to do some walking, check out the Department of Conservation website and always prepare well.
Outside of Auckland, cyclists are well respected by road users and, outside of winter, there are plenty of people exploring the country on bike. The New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga, is definitely something to keep an eye on.
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