Getting Around New Zealand

Rambling through Aotearoa by Bus, Bike, Boat, and Rail: Top New Zealand Transport Picks

By Marie Javins

Beautiful view of the town of Aotearoa.
Beautiful view of the town of Aotearoa.

New Zealand is one of the most popular destinations in the world today.

It's beautiful, compact, and inexpensive. Getting yourself around New Zealand is easy -- most roads are sealed, the signs are in English, and an efficient tourist infrastructure caters to travelers.

Getting off the tourist path is tougher -- unless you have your own wheels and can drive on the left.

Drive Yourself

Dozens of agencies rent cars or motorcycles. Bring a tent, or just stay in the inexpensive cabins available at nearly all holiday parks, and you'll save hundreds on hotel costs.

Nearly all private Kiwi campgrounds feature kitchen facilities in addition to modern ablution blocks with hot showers, Buy a campground guide on arrival. There are dozens of internet databases detailing rental car options in New Zealand. New Zealand Tourism is a good place to start.

Drive Your Home

Motor home travel  is hugely popular in New Zealand. You can take your kitchen, your bed, your bathroom, and your entire family with you, and stay in holiday parks or remote areas. Remember that motor homes can be unwieldy to drive, and Kiwis drive on the left. Familiarize yourself with driving rules before you leave home.

Leave the Driving to the Kiwis

InterCity operates New Zealand's biggest coach network, with Newmans also running several routes. Both companies offer advance-purchase discounts as well as several flexible passes and sightseeing options. Cyclists can bring their bicycles and transport them in the luggage bays for a small fee.

Backpack by Bus

Kiwi Experience and Magic Bus offer low-cost hop-on/hop-off travel passes. Passengers tend to be young backpackers but all are welcome and the atmosphere is inviting. Backpacker buses visit some remote areas not reachable without a car, and are best for those wishing to meet other travelers or for backpackers on a tight budget of time and money.

Travel by Rail

TranzScenic operates a limited network of lines through stunning scenery on both islands, but their pride and joy is the TranzAlpine journey over the mountains from Christchurch to Greymouth. The train crosses plains, gorges, and the massive Southern Alps, leaving passengers on the western beaches just four hours later.

Between Islands by Ferry

Cross the 83-kilometers of sea between the North and South Islands by "Interislander" ferry (3 hours) or "The Lynx" catamaran (135 minutes). Foot passengers and vehicles are both welcome. If you're renting a vehicle, avoid the pricey auto fare by leaving your car/motorhome on one side and picking up another on the other shore. Both sides have shuttles to local towns and train stations. Try to make the trip during daylight hours to see the Cook Strait's fantastic scenery.

Mix it Up

The New Zealand Travelpass combines a bus pass with one ferry crossing and rail options. Passes are available in 5-22 day increments. Travel days do not have to be consecutive.

Under Your Own Steam

For the energetic of all ages, New Zealand is best seen by bicycle. The South Island, with its lack of traffic and spectacular scenery, is better for cycling, while the North Island has some busy roads perhaps better visited by throwing your bike in the cargo hold of a bus.

Kiwi cyclist Nigel Rushton runs a website resource for cyclists, as well as a Lake Tekapo hostel. His book "Pedallers' Paradise" is available in New Zealand as well as in some outdoors stores abroad. For the less-than-fit, it can take a few weeks to gain strength and confidence on the bike, so if you are on a brief trip, leave the bike at home, or consider joining a cycling tour that supplies a "sag wagon" for those hefty mountainous inclines.

The Southern Alps, on the South Island of New Zealand. photo: Marie Javins.
The Southern Alps, on the South Island of New Zealand. photo: Marie Javins. Hitching

While GoNOMAD does not recommend hitchhiking, New Zealand's reputation as a hitcher's paradise is unavoidable. Increase your chances of success and decrease the odds of spending a lot of time by the highway by asking around for rides at hostels. Many travelers are happy for some company and extra fuel funds. Try to avoid hitching out of heavily-touristed regions as there will be lots of competition.

Local Options

All major tourist routes are serviced by dozens of private shuttles. Some regions, such as "Abel Tasman National Park," feature water taxis. Auckland is home to a ferry network as well as unique ocean voyages on tall ship "Soren Larsen." Most cities have public buses. Inquire at visitor's centers for local details.

Reader Feedback

I thought you might be interested in a couple of further sites for this page.

KiwiCombo Pass New Zealand

Combines New Zealand transport and accommodation into one convenient,
cost-effective travel pass for independent vacations with a choice of coach
travel & self drive car rental, motels & hotels.

Flexi-Pass New Zealand Bus Travel Pass for independent travellers

Flexi-Pass is an innovative bus travel pass from Intercity Coachlines
allowing travellers to buy hours of travel to get around New Zealand - the
most flexible and comprehensive New Zealand travel pass.

Kea Motorcycles New Zealand Motorbike Rental

Banbury Bicycle Tours & Cycle Rental New Zealand

Also this is another excellent New Zealand travel resource site and
directory you might like to consider adding along with Jasons, AA Guides etc.

Destination New Zealand Travel & Accommodation Directory

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