New Zealand is a paradise, a country full of surprises, ranging from endless ocean views to skies so dark you feel as though you can walk across the Milky Way. While we usually focus on where to go, today, we will explore how to go, as there are plenty of options for getting around New Zealand.
Slow and steady, our preferred travel makes the journey as important as the destination. We like to drive. New Zealand roads will take you through subtropical rain forests, around extinct volcanos, along cliff tops, over mountains, and through modern metropolises.
The country’s travel options offer anything from luxury transport to basics. We will be the first to admit we prefer to travel in comfort.
Despite this, we have tried to include all the options for getting around New Zealand.
How to get around New Zealand
Filled with epic road trips and stunning scenery, New Zealand’s landscapes are beautiful and easy to traverse. When you’re ready to hit the road, you can drive, hire a driver, or take a bus. But these are only some of the options. Check out this list of ideas for getting around New Zealand, some of which will take you everywhere, while others will just hit a few highlights.
- Private guide
First, be inspired . . .
Getting around New Zealand via car
Self-driving is our favourite way to get around.
We love the flexibility inherent in having our own vehicle. Personally, we prefer an upscale lifestyle, including luxury hotel stays and unique dining, rather than cooking ourselves. As we live in New Zealand, we can take our own vehicle when we road trip.
However, if we are headed to the other island, we often fly, hire a car, and drive around New Zealand, usually starting and ending in different cities. Therefore, the larger international rental car companies serve us well, as they often have multiple locations. This allows for drop-off in a different city from pick-up.
To find the best options, we use Rental Cars.com, a rental car aggregator. They provide a list of major players and local shops that have vehicles during our time period, providing us with cost, dealer ratings, and even available car information. They are a great place to start, even if you don’t book through them.
We have been using them in New Zealand and around the world since we discovered them years ago. To date, we have always found great pricing as well as excellent customer care.
If you are thinking about an electric car, check out our complete guide to renting a Tesla in NZ.
Note: Drivers must be at least 21 to rent a car in New Zealand. While some companies require drivers to be 25, others add a surcharge to those under 25.
Bring your own accommodation: Getting around New Zealand via campervan
New Zealand is extremely well-suited for a campervan experience. Good roads, plenty of campsites around the country, plus the ability to freedom camp in many destinations allows for total flexibility.
Some of the advantages include only having to unpack once, having everything you need with you, and, if you are freedom camping, the ability to change your schedule as the mood hits.
While the campervan rental will be higher than a car rental, you need to remember that it includes your vehicle, your accommodation, and a place to prepare your food. If you are looking for a small camper, check out Spaceship rentals.
Key things to remember when travelling via motorhome:
- Most campervans in New Zealand are designed to hold between two and six people. The maximum number of people travelling in your campervan is determined by the number of seatbelts.
- Read the rules on freedom camping. Violations can result in an instant fine of $200.
Read next: Renting a Campervan in New Zealand: Everything You Need to Know
Flying within NZ
New Zealand has three international airports, plus regional airports in most major cities and resort areas. Air New Zealand and Jetstar are the primary domestic carriers in the country.
Prices vary quite a bit based on availability, so being flexible on days and times will often get you the best prices, although flying is generally a more expensive way of travelling around New Zealand.
Getting around New Zealand via bus
We have personally never taken a long-distance bus (coach) in New Zealand, but our adult children have reported it to be a great way to travel. They described the buses to be clean, reliable, and easy. It’s an option that fits into most budgets and allows passengers to relax as they enjoy the New Zealand scenery.
Bus travel is one of the least expensive ways to get around the country. The primary bus companies are:
- Intercity: New Zealand’s largest long-distance bus service with high-quality, full-size buses offers point-to-point, Flexi-passes, travel passes, and tours.
- Skip: Marketing themselves as cheaper, faster, funner.
- Kiwi Experience: Targeting backpackers, the bus drivers often add commentary. Hop-on hop-off resumes Jan 1, 2021
- Stray: Currently, Freestyle Travel is suspended, and there are only a few select tours in New Zealand.
- Flying Kiwi: Award-winning adventure tours via coach in New Zealand.
Train travel in NZ
To be honest, train travel in New Zealand isn’t a super popular option despite the country being home to one of the world’s most scenic train trips. Four services to consider:
- Northern Explorer: A fun way to travel from Auckland to Wellington, the train will get you there in a day.
- Coastal Pacific: Timed with the Inter-island ferry, this train runs in the morning from Christchurch to Picton and in the reverse direction in the afternoon.
- TranzAlpine: This stunning journey from Christchurch to Greymouth is often rated among the world’s most beautiful train trips. While many people make the return trip in a day, we did it as part of a loop around the South Island, hiring a car in Greymouth to continue our journey. Reserve your TranzAlpine day trip here.
- Taieri Gorge Railway or Seasider: Two stunning train trips embark from the Dunedin railway station. We opted to do the half-day return trip through the Taieri Gorge (not currently running), the other is the Seasider heading north along the coast.
Taking a ferry between islands
There are two ferries that travel between the North and South Islands and one ferry that travels from the South Island to Stewart Island. From Wellington to Picton, both ferries can take passengers and vehicles, however, if you have a rental car be sure to check if it is okay to take it across.
Interislander ferry: Offers 11 daily sailings between Wellington and Picton. The trip takes about 3.5 hours, with optional onboard entertainment, although I prefer to spend my time on one of the observation decks. Reserve the Interislander ferry here.
Bluebridge ferry: Also crosses the Cook Strait, travelling the same route from Wellington to Picton. Reserve the Bluebridge ferry here
Stewart Island ferry: Passengers can cross the Foveaux Strait between Bluff (South Island) and Stewart Island. Check here for times and prices.
Cruising around New Zealand
Cruising to and around New Zealand is a popular way of getting here and travelling, as well as being a lovely way to enjoy the country.
Most visit some combination of the key cities of Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin.
Smaller ships also go to the Bay of Islands, Napier, one of the fiords, and a few other spots around the country.
If you are thinking about cruising, we always start our search at Cruise Direct, for they offer a list of ships headed to our destination, usually at the lowest price around.
Other ways of getting around New Zealand
- Sailing around New Zealand: If you have a yacht, sailing around New Zealand is a great way to see the coastal communities, but be advised, some of the waterways are notoriously rough.
- Cycle around New Zealand: This a great way to see the country, or at least portions of it.
- Hiking: While the Te Araroa Trail runs the distance of the country, there are also nine great walks that range from one to several days.
- Hitchhiking: While popular amongst some groups, even in New Zealand, hitchhiking carries more risk than many other methods.
Save on your NZ trip with these resources
We usually start with aggregator companies as they do the work for us by providing a list of options, prices, and reviews. However, we also added a few personal NZ favourites:
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Hotels: we use Booking.com as they consistently return the best rates and their reviews are from actual guests. However, for self-contained lodging in New Zealand, we use Bookabach.
- Cars and Campervans: we use RentalCars to find the best deals and dealer ratings. Use Jucy for small campervans.
- Activity discounts: we always check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on selected tours, activities, restaurants and more.
- Travel Insurance: we start at InsureMyTrip as they are the best option to compare plans and find the right coverage for you.
Before you book the rest of your trip: Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
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How will you be getting around New Zealand?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …
Photos on this page are either shot by our team and watermarked as such, credited appropriately, or stock photos supplied by DepositPhotos.
Would love to do those train rides, they sound so good.
Rob + Ann
We are huge fans of train travel, and would love to enjoy the New Zealand countryside by train! Given the natural beauty throughout the country, we can’t imagine it being anything less than awesome. Of course, we like a good road trip, too, and again, can’t imagine it not being super scenic! Bottom line: We want to visit New Zealand by car, bus, train…on foot…not picky! 😉
Wow…really amazing blog.
I really like the way you describe the post..
We flew the last time we were here, but I’d love to do a road trip in a campervan the next time I’m back! 🙂
New Zealand has always been an interesting travel location for me. Would love to explore the natural beauty of this place!
Met someone from New Zealand, and we hit it right off from the beginning. She could have been an American with similar life views:) But there’s not much chance I’ll make it to New Zealand. The USA is already the third continent/2nd state I am living in, and since I am retired no extra funds for travel
Definitely would love to campervan or road trip South island one day in the future! Great post!
Having just finished a camper trip in the South Island, I can highly recommend people jump on the offer above. Travelling in a camper is a wonderful way to enjoy the beautiful NZ scenery, and have the freedom to modify your itinerary as you go. Great tips above.
Thank you for sharing your travel tips.
Well done for getting the discount for campervans if people book before November! I would loooove to do that if we could return to Kiwiland.
I had no idea about the options of trains in NZ! All the other options sound great fun (apart from maybe cruises- I tend to avoid them due to the pollution they emit.) I like that you are considering the journey as part of the adventure – I definitely travelled like that in NZ.
L. Diane Wolfe
I think a campervan would be fun. Plus you could take bikes with you, too.
Completely agree that New Zealand is a paradise. I managed to get around with the Kiwi Experience. It made it pretty easy! Just not always flexible.
I’d love to do a campervan tour!
AWESOME! Thanks for all these fabulous resources. New Zealand is on our bucket list (post COVID) someday!
This is a great resource! I’m hoping to make it to NZ before too long 🙂
Teri (TL Travel)
Such an informative post with some great inspiration! It has always been on my bucketlist to drive a campervan around NZ and hopefully I will still get the chance! Will also be saving this post for later – thank you for sharing!
I’ve known many folks that have visited New Zealand and they all say it’s natures paradise. I hope folks will get to travel again soon.
Great shots as always, Rhonda.
Have a fabulous weekend. ♥