What is the Best Way to Get Around New Zealand?
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 are going to get around. Your transport method greatly shapes your experience, often determining what you see in New Zealand, who you meet, 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 helps 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!
10 Ways to Travel New Zealand
We’ll go into greater details below, but for now, here are the ways you can get around New Zealand that most of us seriously consider when coming to New Zealand.
- Buy a car
- Rent a car
- Buy/rent a campervan
- National coach
- Hop-on Hop-off Bus
- Tour Bus
Buying your own Car
Travelling by car to get around New Zealand provides the ultimate freedom but there are a few logistics to figure out as well. If staying in New Zealand for more than a couple of months, then buying your own car is by far the most cost-effective way to travel. A great place to start for understanding the experience is in Travel By Car in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide.
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 to 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 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
- Buying and selling process – this can be pretty time consuming. However, we have loads of tips at 10 Tips for Buying a Secondhand Car in New Zealand and How to Sell Your Car in New Zealand.
- The possibility of breaking down – not only is it inconvenient but it can be expensive.
- Costs of maintenance – find out how to maintain your car here.
- Your responsibility – you need to be aware of the New Zealand road rules, park and drive responsibly.
- Long trips are tiring – driving for long periods can be tiring. You can’t relax while on the move like a bus passenger.
Renting a car
If you’re in the country for less than 2 months then consider renting a car. That way, you avoid the lengthy buying/selling process of having your own car and can hit the road as soon as you want. For tips on renting a car in New Zealand, check out Guide to Renting a Car/Campervan in New Zealand.
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, 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 is usually included in the rental, plus you don’t need to worry about putting money into the car to maintain it.
The cons of renting a car
- Pricey – renting a car works out to be more expensive than buying a car
- Be a responsible driver – you need to be aware of the New Zealand road rules and drive responsibly
- Long trips are tiring – being alert for a long trip can make it tiring, unlike the relaxing experience of being passenger.
travelling by campervan
To make your transport around New Zealand your accommodation, then consider travelling by campervan. Either rent or buy your own campervan baring in mind the points we mentioned above about buying your own vehicle and renting a vehicle. For more of an idea of what it’s like to travel by camper, take a look at Travel by Campervan in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide.
The Pros of Travelling by Campervan
- Ultimate freedom – like having car, and 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.
The Cons of travelling by campervan
- Pricey if you are renting, or maintenance costs can be pricey if you own the campervan
- 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.
New Zealand’s most extensive public transport network is the bus network or coach network. InterCity has a huge network over both the North Island and South Island, while Atomic Shuttles has services in the Canterbury and Otago regions of the South Island. You can either buy individual bus tickets from A to B or get nationwide bus passes. For more information, check out Bus Networks in New Zealand.
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
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 of the 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.
Travelling by hop-on hop-off bus
Hop-on hop-off is a style of bus tour in New Zealand where you can hop-off the bus along a set route and stay longer in a location, hopping back on the bus at a later date. Bus companies that offer this service in New Zealand are Kiwi Experience, Flying Kiwi and Stray. For more information on how the hop-on hop-off buses work, see here.
Pros of the Hop-on Hop-off Buses
- 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
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.
Travel by Bus Tour
Finally on the bus portion of this article, bus tours are another way to travel New Zealand. They follow a strict travel itinerary in a certain number of days which means it’s worth considering if you have limited time in New Zealand. Bus tours often have inclusions like meals, accommodation and some activities.
The Pros of taking a bus tour
- All-inclusive – you don’t need to worry about making your own travel itinerary
- 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 not much time to do your own thing
Travelling by train
Yes, you can even travel by train in New Zealand. However, because train travel is seen more as a scenic experience in New Zealand, rather than a means of transport, there is a limited number of train networks in New Zealand. Trains are a popular mode of transport in Wellington and Auckland. The rest of the networks are three train lines that operate nationally and the rest are short scenic tours. To help you understand further, take a look at Train Network in New Zealand.
The pros of taking the train in New Zealand
- Scenery – often passing through scenic landscapes not seen on the roads.
- Quick – a quicker way of getting from one end of the country than 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 in New Zealand
- Small network – there are only three major train lines
- 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
Travelling by plane
The plane network in New Zealand is pretty decent with around 25 destinations across the country. It’s a solution to get somewhere far as quickly as possible. While Air New Zealand and Jetstar take you to the main destinations in New Zealand, like Wellington, Queenstown, Auckland and Christchurch, there are other smaller airlines going to more remote locations.
The pros of travelling by plane in New Zealand
- 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 in New Zealand
- Inconvenient to travel shorter distances – flying between destinations with a short distance (under 4 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.
Yep, this is an actual way to travel New Zealand and quite a few backpackers do it to save the cents and get a sense of adventure! Hitch-hiking is legal in New Zealand and pretty common practice. Find out more about it in Hitchhiking in New Zealand
The Pros of Hitch-hiking
- It’s free! – Need we say more?
- Meet some interesting people
- Sense of adventure
The cons of Hitch-hiking
- Risk – there’s an element of risk in hitch-hiking 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
For the truly adventurous, a popular way to see the country is via the Te Araroa Trail, a 3,000km trail from the northern tip of New Zealand at Cape Reinga all the way to Bluff in the South Island. It follows the centre of New Zealand from top to bottom, usually taking 120 days to complete.
The pros of Hiking in New Zealand
- Unique challenge
- Time to embrace the environments you pass through
- Cheap – no money is need to spend on transport
The cons of hiking in New Zealand
- Tiring – hiking for 120 days is not easy
- Slow – did we mention it take 120 days?
- Inconvenient – extra energy will need to be burned finding places to eat and accommodation
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