10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand
10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand

10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand 🚙🚍 [2022]

© Unsplash

What Transport to Use to Get Around New Zealand

Perhaps one of the biggest decisions you will make for a trip in New Zealand is how you are going to get around. Your transport method greatly shapes your experience, often determining what you see in New Zealand, who you meet and how easy, flexibly or stress-free your trip will be.

When starting to think about how to get around New Zealand, a quick pro and con list help narrow your options. So let us present to you a pro and con list of every transport method we could think of to get around New Zealand (excluding rollerblading or two springs duct-taped to your shoes). Because choosing a transport method is such a personal choice and really depends on your personality, we hope this pro and con list of the best way to get around New Zealand helps you work out which transport method is right for you!

Before we begin, be sure to bookmark The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand and 31 Tips for Travelling in New Zealand for even more tips.

1. Rent a Car

Every year, hundreds of thousands of New Zealand trips start with picking up a rental car. For shorter trips in New Zealand (less than two months), renting a car is the way to go for that freedom and independent travel. While there are many car rental companies in New Zealand, picking a company can be a comparison mission. To make things easy, take a look at our The Cost of Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand so you know what costs to expect and Compare Car & Campervan Hire in New Zealand: The ULTIMATE Guide to see how to compare rentals.

The Pros of Renting a Car

  • Ultimate freedom – You can go where you want when you want apart from areas where the rental agreement restricts you from such as certain dangerous roads
  • Convenient – Not only is it convenient for even short trips to the supermarket, but pick-up locations are usually close to arrival airports in New Zealand with free shuttle services to the rental depots so you don’t waste any time picking up your car
  • No worries about maintenance – Roadside assistance and insurance are usually included in the rental. Plus you don’t need to worry about putting money into the car to maintain it.

For more pros of renting a car, check out 15 Things We LOVE About Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand.

The Cons of Renting a Car

Get started on planning your car rental experience with Renting a Car in New Zealand: The Essential Guide.

Jucy Rentals© Jucy Rentals

2. Rent a Campervan or Motorhome

Another great way many New Zealand trips start is by picking up a rental campervan. For the ultimate outdoors experience and the adventure of staying in campsites and freedom camping areas, why not rent a campervan? Campervan rentals come in a huge variety of sizes and facilities, as well as price ranges. If you want to freedom camp while in New Zealand, i.e. camp anywhere for free, then you need a vehicle which is certified self-contained – find out more in What it’s Really Like to Freedom Camp in New Zealand.

The Pros of Renting a Campervan

  • Ultimate freedom – Like having a car, a campervan means you can go where you want when you want
  • Convenience – There’s no need to unpack and repack your luggage or carry bags around, everything you need is in your campervan as it is also your accommodation
  • Less money spent on accommodation – Staying in campsites or even freedom camping (if you have a self-contained campervan) are some of the cheapest accommodation types in New Zealand. However, the price of renting and buying a campervan is higher than a car so we recommend weighing up these costs to see if you really have made a saving. Check out Campervan Rental Vs. Car Rental + Stay in Hotel, Hostel or Airbnb in New Zealand for a comparison of costs.

For more pros of renting a car, check out 15 Things We LOVE About Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand.

The Cons of Renting a Campervan

  • Pricey – Rental costs for campervans are much higher than car rental
  • Working out the logistics of freedom camping – Laws on freedom camping in New Zealand are different between districts so figuring out where you can camp for free legally can be a logistical nightmare. Check out What it’s Really Like to Freedom Camp in New Zealand for more info
  • Being a responsible driver – You need to follow the New Zealand road rules and drive responsibly
  • Driving a campervan can be challenging – Campervans are harder to drive than cars and can be tiring to drive on long trips (but check out tips in 10 Ways to Handle the Long Drives in New Zealand).

For more on the campervan experience, check out The Essential Guide to Renting a Campervan in New Zealand.

THL© THL

3. National Coach

The only fully national coach service in New Zealand is InterCity. They offer cheap bus tickets from A to B to most towns and cities in New Zealand making the bus network the most extensive public transport method in New Zealand. Plus, there are the options to get bus passes to save a bit of cash if you use the bus network a lot. Compare the bus passes at What’s the Difference Between InterCity Backpacker Bus Passes?

The Pros of Travelling by Coach

  • Cheap – It is the cheapest way to travel around New Zealand
  • Relaxing – With no responsibility or having to drive yourself, you can just sit back and enjoy the New Zealand scenery
  • Gets you to most towns and cities in New Zealand.

Check out more pros in the 10 Reasons to Travel by Bus or Coach in New Zealand.

The Cons of Travelling by Coach

  • Not as flexible as your own transport – While the coach will get you to the centre of most towns, they will not take you to out-of-town attractions, which many attractions in New Zealand are. Plus, you can only take your coach at a certain time and place with most locations having only one departure a day.

Find out more about how the national coach buses work in the How to Travel by Bus in New Zealand: FULL Guide.

InterCity© InterCity

4. Guided Bus Tours

Don’t feel like being alone during your New Zealand trip? Following set routes around the country! Bus tours are a stress-free way of seeing New Zealand in a limited amount of time. Bus tours are usually all-inclusive with accommodation and some meals and activities included. They are a good way to travel with like-minded people while your itinerary is pretty much sorted for you. However, this does mean that bus tours tend to be a little more expensive than other methods of travel.

The Pros of Taking a Bus Tour

  • All-inclusive – You don’t need to worry about making your own travel itinerary and booking your own accommodations and activities
  • Stress-free – Following on from the previous point, you basically get looked after while travelling around New Zealand
  • Meet like-minded people on your bus
  • See the country quickly – Ideal to see as much of New Zealand as possible in a very limited time.

The Cons of Taking a Bus Tour

  • Expensive – Not ideal for those on a super tight budget
  • Inflexible – There’s limited time to do your own thing.

Check out The Best Bus Tours in New Zealand for New Zealand bus tour comparisons. We also have more details on how they work in How to Travel by Bus in New Zealand: FULL Guide.

Wild Kiwi© Wild Kiwi

5. Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours

Like a bus tour, hop-on hop-off buses follow a set route but allow passengers to hop off at most locations along the route for as long as they want and catch another bus at a later date. It is a more flexible version of a bus tour with accommodation and activities available to be booked by your driver but not compulsory. Plus, you are in charge of your own food. To learn more about this transport method for getting around New Zealand, see how they compare to the national coach in our guide, InterCity Coach Buses or Hop-On Hop-Off?

The Pros of the Hop-On Hop-Off Buses

  • The travel itinerary is planned for you – With the option to hop off the bus for more independent travelling
  • Transport right to accommodation – (If you are staying at bus company-chosen accommodation)
  • Pit stops to attractions along the route
  • Meet like-minded travellers on the bus with you

For more pros, check out 10 Reasons to Travel NZ on Hop-On Hop-Off Buses.

The Cons of the Hop-on Hop-off Buses

  • More expensive than taking a coach
  • Less flexibility as you have to travel a set route in one direction
  • Hop-on hop-off only works well in the quieter seasons – Hopping on and off the bus during the summer season can be a logistical nightmare when buses are often fully booked and you have to wait for the next available bus.

See if hop-on hop-off is the right way for you to travel around New Zealand by checking out our full guide, Hop-On Hop-Off Buses in New Zealand: Complete Guide + How Do They Work.

THL© THL

6. Buy Your Own Car

Doing a gap year or an extended trip in New Zealand, perhaps for more than a couple of months? Buying your own car gives you the ultimate freedom to travel around New Zealand independently. By selling your car at the end of your trip, buying your own vehicle can be extremely cost-effective. However, there’s the hassle of buying/selling a car and the risk of breaking down which can be expensive.

The Pros of Buying Your Own Car

  • Ultimate freedom – You go where you want when you want. Although there are not any other major pros of buying your own car, this freedom and independence is a huge factor for many travellers
  • Convenience – Going to the supermarket is no longer a mission as it would be if you had to rely on public transport or walking
  • Social catalyst – Offer rides in your hostel or on Facebook Groups and you’ll have friends in no time.

The Cons of Buying Your Own Car

Sounds like the way you want to get around New Zealand? Start planning at Travel By Car in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide.

10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

7. Buy Your Own Campervan

Again, if you have plenty of time to spend in New Zealand and you want to always have a place to stay, then consider buying yourself a campervan. Of course, there’s more maintenance required than a car as you will need to look after your amenities. Plus, it’s more money to pay up-front when you buy the campervan. However, by freedom camping (for certified self-contained vans only) and using cheap campsites, you may save a significant amount of money on accommodation over time. All in all, buying a campervan is one of the best ways to make your gap year or extended trip in New Zealand trip unique.

The Pros of Buying a Campervan

  • Ultimate freedom – Like having a car, a campervan means you can go where you want when you want
  • Convenience – There’s no need to unpack and repack your luggage or carry bags around, everything you need is in your campervan as it is also your accommodation
  • Less money spent on accommodation – Staying in campsites or even freedom camping (if you have a self-contained campervan) are some of the cheapest accommodation types in New Zealand.

The Cons of Buying a Campervan

  • Pricey – The upfront cost of campervans, as well as maintenance costs, can be pricey
  • Working out the logistics of freedom camping – Laws on freedom camping in New Zealand are different between districts so figuring out where you can camp for free legally can be a logistical nightmare. Check out What it’s Really Like to Freedom Camp in New Zealand for more info
  • Being a responsible driver – You need to follow the New Zealand road rules and drive responsibly
  • Driving a campervan can be challenging – campervans are harder to drive than cars and can be tiring to drive on long trips.

For more on what it’s like to live in a campervan, see Vanlife: The Guide to Living in a Campervan, as well as how to travel around in How to Plan a Campervan Trip in New Zealand.

10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand© Unsplash

8. Train

Although a stunning way to travel in New Zealand, the train network is pretty small with limited departures in New Zealand, making it an unpopular way to travel around New Zealand as a transport method. However, the train journeys in New Zealand are seen as more like a scenic experience and a fun way to get between the likes of Christchurch and Greymouth on the South Island or Auckland and Wellington on the North Island. For the rest of your travels, however, it’s likely you’ll need to pair train travel with another transport method in this list.

The Pros of Taking the Train

  • Scenery – Often passes through scenic landscapes not seen on the roads
  • Quick – A quicker way of getting from one end of the country to the other than by road
  • Relaxing – You are not responsible for driving and can get up and stretch your legs on the carriages.

The Cons of Taking the Train

  • Small network – There are only three major train lines and a few smaller commuting networks around Wellington and Auckland
  • Costly – More expensive than buses
  • Inconvenient – Would need to work out transport to get to train stations
  • Inflexible – With very limited departures and a fixed route, it’s not a flexible way to get around New Zealand.

For more information, head on over to our complete guide to the Train Network in New Zealand.

KiwiRail© KiwiRail

9. Plane

With around 25 domestic airports connected by flights in New Zealand, plane travel is certainly an option to get around New Zealand. Planes are usually a quick and cost-effective way to travel long distances (usually between the North Island and South Island). On the other hand, they work out more expensive when travelling less than a four-hour drive, so we would recommend only travelling by plane for long distances accompanied by other forms of transport to get around New Zealand. In short, planes are the fastest way to travel in New Zealand but you’ll miss out a lot, so use them sporadically.

The Pros of Travelling by Plane

  • Quick – It’s the quickest way to travel between great distances
  • Cost-effective when flying between islands – You can often get some good deals working out to be cheaper than taking the ferry between islands
  • Views from the sky – They are pretty impressive in New Zealand
  • Relaxing – It’s so quick and you have no responsibility for driving that you often leave the plane feeling refreshed.

The Cons of Travelling by Plane

  • Inconvenient to travel shorter distances – Flying between destinations with a short distance (under four hours drive) can turn out to take longer than driving with many flight connections to take
  • Expensive – Between some destinations, it’s more expensive than taking the bus, such as destinations on the same island
  • Need to work out transport to the airport.

Learn more about flights in New Zealand in our complete guide to Domestic Flights in New Zealand.

Pixabay© Pixabay

10. Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is completely legal in New Zealand and pretty common practice. Of course, there’s always an element of risk when hitchhiking as you don’t know who you are getting the vehicle with. Nevertheless, if you are cautious and follow the tips in Hitchhiking in New Zealand: FULL Guide you’ll have an awesome time meeting new people and getting around the country for free. Hitchhiking, however, can be time-consuming as you don’t know when you will be able to get the next lift.

The Pros of Hitchhiking

  • It’s free! – Need we say more?
  • Meet some interesting people
  • Adventurous.

The Cons of Hitchhiking

  • Risk – There’s an element of risk in hitchhiking as you never know who you are getting in a car with
  • Time-consuming – You could be waiting a while for a lift and you may need to find several lifts to get to your destination.

You may also like to look into carpooling too, as described in A Guide to Carpooling, Car Sharing & Ride Sharing in New Zealand.

Pixabay© Pixabay

[Bonus] Hike the Te Araroa Trail

The Te Araroa Trail is a 3,000 km (1,864 miles) thru-hike from the very top of the North Island at Cape Reinga following the centre of New Zealand all the way down to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. For the adventurous and fit type, this certainly could be a way to travel New Zealand over the 120 days it usually takes to complete the trail. All you will need is to take the ferry between the North Island and South Island, rent a canoe for the Whanganui Journey portion and get a water taxi from Picton to the Marlborough Sounds and you’ll be able to travel in New Zealand mostly on foot.

The Pros of Hiking the Te Araroa Trail

  • Unique challenge
  • Time to embrace the environments you pass through
  • Cheaper travel costs – Not much money is needed to spend on transport.

The Cons of Hiking the Te Araroa Trail

  • Tiring – Hiking for 120 days is not easy
  • Slow – Did we mention it takes 120 days?
  • Inconvenient – Extra energy will need to be burned finding places to eat and accommodation
  • Other travel expenses – The cost of a 120-day trip, staying in different huts, accommodations and the track fee, can be pretty expensive.

We know hiking for 120 days is not for everyone, so check out The Top 50 North Island Walks and The Top 50 South Island Walks for amazing shorter alternatives.

Pixabay© Pixabay

More About the Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand

That’s it for our guide to the best ways to travel around New Zealand. For more transport comparisons, take a look at the following:

Plus, have you planned your route yet? Check out the following itineraries for the best road trip routes!

Finally, find more essential travel advice in the 31 Tips for Travelling in New Zealand plus, don’t forget to get the New Zealand ETA prior to your adventures in NZ!

Author

Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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