New Zealand travel information Tourleader New Zealand

Getting around New Zealand
New Zealand is big enough but the main highlights can be visited in a reasonably short time. Covering an area bigger than the United Kingdom, the distance from Cape Reinga in the north to Invercargill in the south is 2,100 kms or over 30 hrs driving time!


1. Self drive brings you the closest to nature which is the unrivalled main attraction of New Zealand.

2. Due to the small population, public transport is rather restricted to good bus services in and between the main centres.

3. New Zealand has affordable rates for rental cars and good backpacker transport, as well as a range of travel passes.

4. Great chances to experience scenic highlights with ferries and train rides!

Travel tips for getting around:

  • Focus on some regions instead of shooting up and down the country, every region offers enough great highlights for weeks of travel (you probably won’t believe it beforehand). That’s why it is important to plan well ahead knowing both your preferences and what New Zealand has to offer. Some travellers return every year for 10 years and still haven’t seen everything.
  • If you’re here for less than 2 weeks consider domestic flights with breaks in 3-4 places with many organised activities and no need to rent a car (Bay of Islands, Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Queenstown, etc.). This way you can avoid long car journeys and you won’t be bored for sure.

Public transport

Bus or coach transport

Flexipass - New Zealand's National Bus Pass

The main towns and places in between are served by a network of reasonably priced and modern bus lines, with new discount companies emerging on some routes. The frequency depends on the route and season, prices can vary according to time of departure. The national bus network (Intercity) has some interesting hop on and off options. You can book tickets online.

Trains

New Zealand train tracksThe major trainlines run between Auckland and Wellington (The Overlander), between Picton and Christchurch (The TranzCoastal) and between Christchurch and Greymouth (The TranzAlpine). The main railway stations on these routes are Auckland (Britomart), Hamilton (Frankton Railway Station), National Park, Ohakune, Palmerston North, Wellington, Picton, Blenheim, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Arthurs Pass and Greymouth.

There are also dozens of vintage and short scenic trainlines in New Zealand and many train lovers come to adore the old steam engines which are often kept in perfect condition by volunteers.

Flights

Most larger towns in New Zealand have domestic flights to either Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch. Prices vary a lot, usually the sooner you book the cheaper the flight. A very uncomplicated and fast way to see very different parts of New Zealand, you could rent another car at every stage of your trip. Not all small airports are connected by public transport, sometimes shuttles and taxis are unavoidable.

Cruises

Sadly you can’t cruise up and down the beautiful coast of New Zealand but you’ll have plenty of chances to be on water! New Zealand is famous for its landscape, but the ocean is equally important for countless Kiwis who spend every free minute sailing, fishing or diving. Thousands come to watch dolphins, whales, seals, penguins or rare sea birds. You won’t forget a day out in the big blue, sometimes you can even take your car with you (for example on the Interislander Ferry or on the Northland car ferries of Russell, Hokianga Harbour and Waiheke Island).

Self-drive

Rental cars

If you are 2 or more passengers there’s a chance that you will find a rental car deal that’s better value than public transport. But don’t forget to consider the expected cost of petrol (see under Money, cost and prices).

Before you book make sure you understand all the conditions in the contract, the final price can be much higher than the advertised teaser offers:

  • Rental cars on the Cook Strait ferryInsurance (often included but sometimes you’ll have to decide on many options: excess reduction - you’ll have to cover any damages up to the excess amount, glass cover, headlights cover, tyre cover, unsealed roads, break-down service, exclusions to insurance etc.). Usually you are insured against damage you cause to third parties and personal injury is covered by the New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation ACC, but drivers who crash into you may not be insured!
  • Kilometre limits (if you surpass these you’ll pay dearly for every additional kilometre)
  • Bonds (fuel bonds in case you return an empty tank or bonds to cover any possible damage)
  • ‘Multi Island’: combining the North and South Island (the ferry itself can be very pricey)
  • What car you get (some rental companies offer very old cars, some tiny cars are not well suited for long overland trips)
  • Relocation fee (dropoff other than pickup destination)
  • Age surcharge for young drivers under 25 (minimum age is usually 21)
  • Other surcharges (premium location, high season, credit card, late return etc.)
  • Some companies offer discounts for certain memberships (i.e. AA, RAC etc.)
  • Take pictures or video of any damages you can find.

Offroad driving is generally not allowed, driving restrictions on certain roads may apply. Additional drivers may be allowed free of charge but have to be listed in the rental agreement. Driver’s licenses must either be in English or translated with an international driving permit (contact your local authorities).

Please note: New Zealand has some unique road rules!

Campervans

Independent from daily accommodation searches you can tour freely around the country, using the facilities of campsites. A motorhome doesn’t have to be huge, luxurious and bulky, there are many smaller options now, the backpacker models even come in cool graffitti designs. Then again, the smaller the motorhome the less comfortable and the less facilities...

Campervan on a New Zealand beachConditions are similar to rental cars with a few additional things to consider:

  • While free camping is still allowed in many places we recommended to overnight on campsites due to safety and convenience reasons (charging batteries, kitchen, laundry, toilets and showers).
  • In high season you may have to book ahead to secure a powered site.
  • Check with local i-SITEs (before they close) for your overnight options and regional safety considerations.

Other campervan tips:

  • Some rental companies offer relocation deals if you are ready to drive motorhomes back to their original offices, but you’ll have to be pretty flexible with your plans and it will take some organising beforehand.
  • See our Campervan rental booking page with its campervan rental checklist!

Motorbike

Basically New Zealand is a fantastic place for bikers, the roads are gorgeous, windy, hilly, scenic lookouts everywhere, lots of places to visit without going far from the vehicle, huge off-road New Zealand by motorbikepotential for enduros, not too much traffic, etc. On the other hand it’s not easy to find a cheap rental (best chances are in Auckland), the changing weather promises some wet stretches, not all roads are sealed and there’s the problem with baggage on the bike (limited space, theft risk, getting wet). If you dare you’ll feel like a true explorer.

Bicycle

Extremely strong sun, very hilly terrain, heavy winds (of course always blowing against you), the occasional rain in your face, drivers not used to bikes on the road, truck loaded State Highway 1 being your base and sandflies chasing your legs on the southern west coast, you should really think twice about exploring New Zealand on a bicycle...

New Zealand accommodationYes it’s tough. And probably so are you. If you’re made for it it can be a great experience and you certainly don’t have to worry about your carbon footprint. You’ll meet extremely friendly and trusting locals, fellow bikers to exchange stories with, you’ll be part of stunning scenery, lots of farm life and beautiful bush. Get up early to avoid the heat and traffic, find your way to unsealed rural roads, don’t be too ambitious with the mileage and take some time to relax when you find a scenic spot.

  • Rent or bring? Check airline charges to bring your bike and costs for the travel box. If your bike does not fit the X ray it may need a time consuming hand search. An alternative is to rent your touring bike in New Zealand, obviously you’ll have to return it to the shop.
  • Hostels or camping? A tent and camping gear are heavy to travel with, you’ll lose time setting up your tent site, there’s nothing worse than packing a wet tent, daily free camping is more of a dream than a reality and the cost difference to a backpacker’s is not that big. Although it does feel great sleeping next to native bush sounds or the sea, enjoying the well-deserved rest in your own little place after a hard day’s work. In any case plan your nights ahead because of some long hilly stretches without accommodation. Some holiday parks also offer cabins which are a welcome shelter in the rain.

If you’re a biker but can’t handle the idea to grind your way through a country the size of the UK then why not simply rent some mountain bikes on your way or join a guided tour?

Buying a car

You often hear about travellers who sold their car for more than they bought it for and who knows it may well happen. There is a level of risk involved (unexpected repairs, Warrant of Fitness outstanding, selling under time pressure etc.), but if you stay for a month or more and have 2,000 - 5,000 NZD cash handy you can consider buying your own second hand car and then selling it again. October to January are good times to sell, after February it will get harder.

Where to buy a car:

  • Hundreds of car dealers - the trouble is it’s not easy to get to them, they’re usually located at the outskirts of towns (for example Great South Road in Auckland), long walks from each other. In the big cities you can pick up classifieds magazines full of current offers that lead you to the major dealers.
  • Trademe is the e-bay of New Zealand and at least it will give you an overview of the selection.
  • Car auctions are organised regularly in most bigger towns, if you can get to one straight after arrival you can try your luck
  • Car fairs are big markets for individual sellers, it can be a very quick and efficient way to buy and sell a car, the biggest one is every Sunday morning at the Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland. Be careful of local dealers trying to take advantage of your lack of knowledge and time pressure.
  • Notice boards in backpacker accommodation or supermarkets.

Travel New Zealand ebookMore travel tips:

  • A Vehicle Information Report or an AA Lemoncheck can give you some security about your car and previous ownerships.
  • It is recommended to have the car checked by the AA or a mechanic before you buy it. If it turns out that the next Warrant of Fitness (WOF) requires expensive repairs it will also be harder to sell your car to the next buyer.
  • The change of ownership can be arranged at every post office.
  • Make sure the car is registered for the length of your stay, also at the post office.
  • Shop around for insurance. If you can take a certificate from your local insurer that proves an accident or claim free insurance history you may get a big discount.
  • Join the AA for their break-down service. If you have a membership at your local automotive club you might qualify for a free reciprocal membership at the New Zealand AA!
  • See the special rules for driving in New Zealand.

Organised transport

Backpacker hop on - hop off buses

Spanish course for travellers - Ebook Thanks to all the backpackers who travel to New Zealand on their world or overseas trips there’s a very good network of hop on - hop off buses, where tickets are valid for a route or time frame, pick up and delivery is included to hostel doors as are many activities and stops on the way (for example the smaller Stray Buses who go to surprisingly remote corners). A great way for young travellers to meet others and have fun, although if your party days are over it can also be too much of a good time... As an alternative check out the New Zealand itineraries from the regular national network (Intercity).

Organised tours

As in most countries you can book guided organised tours with companies based in New Zealand or elsewhere, in many languages and with all sorts of itineraries or specialisations. See our New Zealand group tours info.

 
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