Getting Around New Zealand
New Zealand is relatively small and extremely easy to travel around. There are good transport links whether you are travelling by bus, car, plane or train.
Travelling by bus or car / campervan are the two most popular options of transport. They’re the best way to see New Zealand’s spectacular countryside on your own terms, in your own time.
You can get trains and planes to travel around New Zealand but they aren’t as popular. However, if you’re short of time then you can fly from North Island to South Island (or vice versa of course).
Backpackers love hiring a car / campervan for a month or two, taking their time driving from North Island to South Island. The great thing about hiring a car / campervan is you can pick it up in the North Island and drop it off in the South Island, meaning you don’t have to worry about driving back to your original destination. The usual route is travelling between the two main tourist hubs of Auckland and Christchurch.
New Zealand by bus
Bus passes are becoming more and more popular in New Zealand and they are a fantastic way to see the country. Perfect for single travellers who want to meet like-minded people.
There are a number of bus companies to choose from in New Zealand. Most offer a hop on, hop off pass to allow travellers maximum flexibility. In Auckland there are buses that circulate around key attractions, allowing you unlimited travel for a fixed price.
If you’re travelling with a group then charter coach companies have the flexibility to adapt to your itinerary. The drivers are also guides, so you’ll have the added benefit of a commentary if you want it.
It’s hard to say which is the best bus company to go with, but Stray Travel have won the best ‘visitor transport’ award at the New Zealand Tourism Awards twice. In 2008 the award went to the Magic Travellers Network, so they deserve a mention too.
Here’s the full list of bus companies. We recommend that you shop around a little bit to see what the best deals are for your needs:
- Atomic Travel
- Backpacker Bus
- Flying Kiwi Adventure Tours
- Haka Tours
- InterCity Coachlines
- Kiwi Experience
- Magic Bus
- Naked Bus
- Stray Travel
New Zealand by car or campervan
A car / campervan gives you a huge amount of freedom to explore New Zealand at your own pace. Traversing both islands is trouble-free, easy to do and one of the most cost effective ways of seeing the country. A lot of backpackers use campervans as it includes your accommodation – all you have to do it choose a spot, park up and you’re done for the night.
Traffic is generally pretty low and drivers are fairly courteous. You need to be 18 to legally drive in New Zealand.
Any valid driver’s licence is accepted in New Zealand for up to 12 months, provided it bears the photograph and signature of the holder and is printed in English. After 12 months you’ll be required to convert to a New Zealand driving licence.
If you want to hitch a ride with someone then check out hostel notice boards in Auckland or Christchurch. Most people are driving either to or from these two places, and backpackers are always looking to split journey costs to keep the overall cost of a trip down.
The most common car / campervan hire agencies in New Zealand are:
- Hippie Camper
- Travellers Autobarn
- Wicked Campers
Campervans can cost as little as NZ$28 per day and a car NZ$18 per day.
New Zealand by train
Trains are the quickest way to travel overland between New Zealand’s three main cities of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
Travelling by rail is a great way to see the spectacular scenery. Some tourist trains have panoramic windows and open-air viewing carriages, making them popular with tourists and families, however intercity services can sometimes be limited. Trains may be a little bit more expensive than travelling by bus or car, but people pay for the comfort and views they get.
You can explore New Zealand with a 7 or 14 Day Scenic Rail Pass that allows you unlimited travel on the long distance passenger rail network on the Auckland to Wellington train, the Christchurch to Picton train and the Christchurch to Greymouth train and one ferry sailing between the North and South Islands.
These are the trains in New Zealand:
- Auckland Suburban Trains
- Interislander Ferry Wellington-Picton
- Taieri Gorge Railway
- Wellington Suburban Trains
New Zealand by plane
Domestic flights in New Zealand are often cheaper than driving or taking the train, especially if crossing between the North and South Island. Also, if flying to and from Australia, you can usually pick up a good deal.
Air New Zealand has the most extensive domestic network serving most cities over 20,000 people. Another airline is Fly Pacific Blue. Not many travellers opt to fly, but if you do, here’s all the infomation you’ll need to know.
The cheapest flights are found booking four to eight weeks in advanced. If you know what your itinerary is then it is worth booking to save time and money. Jetstar seem to be the cheapest.
Searching around we found some cheap flights with Jetstar (all prices quoted are booked between four to six weeks in advanced and are the cheapest seats available):
- Auckland to Christchurch – 1½ hours – NZ$50
- Auckland to Queenstown – 2 hours – NZ$90
- Auckland to Wellington – 1 hour – NZ$70
- Sydney to Auckland – 5 hours – AU$130
- Sydney to Christchurch – 5 hours – AU$120
- Melbourne to Auckland – 5 hours – AU$130
- Melbourne to Christchurch – 5½ hours – AU$130
New Zealand by ferry
Crossing between islands in a car / campervan requires you to take a ferry across the Cook Straits. Charter boats are available for those looking to go on expeditions, and commuter ferries run regularly from Wellington (in the North Island) to Picton (in the South Island). For sightseers, cruises to the Southern Lakes and Fiordland area are well worth checking out!
Ferry tickets between Wellington and Picton take a little over three hours and cost approximately NZ$65 as a passenger or NZ$208 with a small car / campervan.
Exchange rate (01/12/2011) = £1 ; NZ$2.02