Most backpackers in New Zealand want to see as much of the country as possible, therefore knowing about transport in New Zealand is absolutely essential. Getting from the tip of the North Island all the way down to the southernmost point of the country isn’t a short journey either, so it’s best to evaluate all the different transport options – in terms of speed, comfort and cost – before you set off. That’s why we’ve done some digging and found all the information you are likely to need about the different methods of travel, and you can find it all right below…
Travelling by Car
Hiring a car is perhaps the best way to see New Zealand, as it provides the freedom to stop when you want, or make a detour to one an interest point on the route. It isn’t hugely expensive to travel by car in New Zealand either, especially if you get yourself a camper van, as all accommodation costs are covered then as well! Cars can be hired from the usual suspects – Hertz, Avis etc – and can be returned to different points, although a fee usually applies. Budget about NW$20 per day for car hire in New Zealand.
The best thing about driving, however, is that the more of you there are, the less it will cost! Many people staying in hostels will be looking for others to share the costs with, so why not hop in with them? You might even make some great new mates on the way! You should be able to get everywhere pretty quickly too, as there isn’t a huge amount of traffic to worry about in New Zealand.
When it comes to drink driving, there is absolutely no tolerance for those under 20 years of age. This means that even a sip of alcohol will put you over the limit, as will having alcohol in your food. This means that those under 20 must be extremely careful. Those aged 20 and over should also exercise caution, as they would in their own country. The penalties for being caught drink driving include on-the-spot fines and imprisonment. Additionally, the legal age to drive in New Zealand is 18.
Taxis are also found across New Zealand and all the usual rules apply – only use licensed ones and don’t travel in one if you don’t feel comfortable. There’s a good chance you’ll need one when you land in the country, so take a look at this site before you get there, so it’s often a good idea to pre-book, meaning no waiting in queues at the airport.
Travelling by Plane
If you’re in a hurry, planes are usually the best choice. In fact, they are also sometimes the cheapest form of transport, especially when looking to make the journey from the North Island to the South Island. You might be surprised by the statement that it’s cheap, but it is often possible to get domestic flights for less than NZ$60-NZ$100. We wouldn’t recommend flying though, as you’ll miss all of the amazing sights you can stumble on when travelling by car or bus.
Many of the towns and cities in New Zealand have their own airports, as New Zealand is one of the best countries in the world for domestic plane travel. If you want to book a plane ticket, the best places to start are Air New Zealand and Jetstar, with the latter offering the cheapest flights (although perhaps not the most comfort). Make sure you watch out for any hidden extras though, such as credit card charges and baggage charges.
Travelling by Bus
Taking a bus trip across New Zealand is one of the most popular ways to see the country, and there are a number of well-regarded companies offering this service to backpackers. Buses are also a really affordable option for those looking to make short journeys in the bigger cities, with tickets costing as little as NZ$1. They are safe too, and give you the chance to see the real New Zealand, albeit it through a window.
For longer journeys, such as Wellington to Auckland, buses also come pretty cheap, although they aren’t quite as comfortable as travelling by train. For these longer journeys, we’d recommend checking out Kiwi Experience, Stray and Naked Bus. The price of crossing from the North to South Island (or vice-versa), is usually included in tickets that require it. Booking tickets in advance is recommended, although not always needed.
Travelling by Train
Trains are, without a doubt, the most relaxing and luxurious way to travel across New Zealand – plus they give you the chance to take in some amazing scenery and catch up on the all-important sleep you’ve missed while staying in a hostel. They are, however, also possibly the most expensive way to travel, which undoubtedly puts of many budget conscious backpackers in New Zealand. You can buy a Scenic Journey Rail Pass for 7, 14 or 21 days though, which brings the cost of rail travel down (although the seven day pass still costs NZ$599). You can find out more about this pass by visiting KiwiRail Scenic Journeys. The pass can also be used on the Interislander Ferry between the North and South Islands.
It should be mentioned that the train is only really good when looking to go from one major town/city to another, as it is not particularly far-reaching into rural areas. If you want the freedom to head into the wilderness, a car is a much better option.
If you are in Auckland or Wellington, you will also be able to use the train to head around the city – they are the only places in New Zealand to have an urban train system. While this is useful in Auckland, it is pretty pointless in Wellington, as you can walk from one end of the city to the other in around 30 minutes!
Travelling by Ferry
As you might have already worked out by reading above, getting between the two islands requires the use of a ferry, unless you use a plane. The ferry travels between Wellington and Pickton and costs around NZ$75 per foot passenger, and expect to add about NZ$250 to this price if you want to take a car over (be careful with cars, as any cars with a height of more than 1.8m will be subject to further charges).
Because of the charges, a plane is often the cheaper option. Making the trip over the Cook Strait by boat though is often a highlight of the trip to New Zealand, so the extra cost is worth it for many! To find out more, including prices and sailing times, please visit the Interislander website.