New Zealand packs a staggering amount of diversity into one relatively compact country, from craggy coastlines to fairytale forests to snowcapped mountains. You can tick off most of its main sights on a two-week trip, but it takes months to really get to grips with this jaw-dropping scenery. If you’re headed to New Zealand and want to find out the best ways to get around, we’ve got you covered with these tried-and-tested top tips on how to travel around New Zealand.
Top tips on how to travel around New Zealand
1. Travelling by plane
Most people fly into Auckland, though there are airports in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown and Rotura. Internal flights are affordable when booked in advance, though you’ll miss most of the country’s most spectacular scenery along the way. Air New Zealand is the biggest domestic operator, though Jetstar offers competitively priced airfares too. There’s also a whole string of regional airlines, charter companies and scenic flight operators too.
2. Taking the bus in New Zealand
Busses are the slowest and cheapest way to travel around New Zealand. There are two main bus operators in the country: InterCity and Newmans. InterCity operates a wide range of high-quality, full-size busses across the country with great value discounted bus fares and bus passes. With the FlexiPass, you can hop on and off at any stop on the network, book and change your ticket up to two hours before departure, top-up any time and book onto great value day tours. Newmans often shares the same timetable as InterCity, but offers more luxurious coaches. These tend to target sightseeing excursions too.
There’s a whole string of private bus and shuttle companies peppered across the country too. Head to an official visitor centre for a current timetable.
3. Taking the train in New Zealand
New Zealand’s train network is limited and expensive. There are a few commuter services in Wellington and Auckland, and a handful of inter-city trains but little beyond that. Most long-distance trains are scenic routes, used exclusively by tourists. These tend to be very expensive, but more luxurious than your average train carriage. Most have buffet cars, panoramic windows, reclining seats and glass-backed observation carriages. Tranz Scenic operates most of these long-distance passenger routes. It’s worth researching ticket options in advance as you might be able to swing a reduced fare with advance booking. Taieri Gorge Railway, between Middlemarch and Dunedin, is another popular route.
4. Driving in New Zealand
The best way to travel around New Zealand is by car, particularly if there’s a group of you. It offers the most flexibility, as well as more options when it comes to accommodation. Roads are well signposted and spectacular scenery awaits around every corner. There’s a huge number of rental car companies in New Zealand too, ranging from big names to local operators. One way hire is easy to organise too.
That said, you’ll need to keep a few rules in mind. Drivers will need a valid driver’s license from their home country, as well as an International Driver’s License valid for up to a year in New Zealand. You drive on the lefthand side of the road, occupants must wear seatbelts and must park in the same direction as that in which they’re travelling. Traffic is only an issue around Auckland and Wellington during rush hour and most roads are paved.
5. Motor homes and campervans
In the summertime New Zealand is heaving with campervans, many of them hired by foreign travellers. They’re popular for good reason, offering the opportunity to save on accommodation and transport in one go. There’s usually a minimum rental period of one week, but it might be possible to find shorter-term rentals with local operators. You don’t need a special license to drive a campervan either.
6. Push your pedal power
Cycling is an excellent way to travel around the country, though you’ll need to carve out a little more time for travelling. Generally speaking, travelling around the South Island is easier than the North Island, though you’ll need to be fit enough to contend with its alpine terrain. The North Island is hillier and its road network is more skeletal.
7. Ferries in New Zealand
Travelling between the North Island and the South Island is easily done by ferry or water taxi. Sailing time averages 3.5-hours, though might take longer in poor weather. Bluebridge and Interislander operate ferries between the two islands throughout the day. Bluebridge also offers overnight sailing, where you can book a private sleeper cabin.