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Getting Around New Zealand: Transportation Tips

Located in the southwestern Pacific, New Zealand gives many travelers the impression that it’s incredibly remote, as far away as it’s possible to go. In reality, however, it’s only three hours from Australia’s eastern cities, and 12 from the West Coast of the U.S.A.

Getting around New Zealand isn’t difficult once you’re there either. In this small country divided into two main islands, key areas to visit are well connected by air and by road, and there are plenty of choices for how to move between destinations. Below are some key New Zealand transportation tips.

Flying to and Around New Zealand

The main gateway for foreign visitors is Auckland Airport, though other cities also have international airports (including Christchurch, Wellington and Queenstown). They’re served by a variety of international airlines including United, Air China, Emirates, LATAM, Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and the country’s national carrier, Air New Zealand.

The east coast of Australia is only a three-hour flight across the Tasman Sea, with multiple daily direct flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and other major cities. The main carriers are Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jetstar.

Getting around New Zealand by plane is also easy, with domestic airports at many locations making almost every part of the country accessible. Air New Zealand is the primary local carrier, while Air Chathams provides scheduled flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to the Chatham Islands, and Stewart Island Flights links Invercargill, on the South Island, to Stewart Island.

One tip: If you’re flying with Air New Zealand or Jetstar domestically, your flight will not include baggage or in-flight services such as food; these are extra. The planes used by Air Chathams and Stewart Island Flights are small and can get booked quickly, and they also have strict size and weight restrictions for both carry-on and checked luggage.

New Zealand Air Travel Resources:

Renting a Car in New Zealand

Many visitors prefer to rent a car because it allows for greater flexibility than taking public transportation. There are other bonuses: the driving distances between many places usually aren’t that great compared to some countries, and you can get away from the typical tourist traps. There’s also a wide range of vehicles available to suit all budgets, and the quality of roads in New Zealand is generally high, with traffic light outside of the major cities.

Most of the big international car rental companies are represented, including Avis, Budget and Thrifty, as well as locally owned companies such as Ace Rental Cars and Apex Car Rentals. Generally, the longer your rental period, the cheaper the daily rate. If you need a one-way rental between locations, choose one of the larger companies, as the smaller ones may only allow for return journeys.

You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have a current driver’s license from your home country, but if it isn’t in English, bring a translation with you. To rent a car, you need to be 21 or older; some companies may ask drivers under age 25 to pay a young driver surcharge, and restrict them to certain types of vehicles. Finally, remember that Kiwis drive on the left, the same as in Australia and the United Kingdom.

New Zealand Rental Car Resources:

New Zealand by Bus

Traveling by bus and coach is ideal if you’re on a budget or you prefer to sit back and enjoy the passing scenery while someone else does all the work. Fortunately, New Zealand has a good public transport system, connecting cities to popular tourist destinations.

InterCity Coachlines offers point-to-point service around the country, while Kiwi Experience is aimed largely at backpackers, with drivers doubling up as tour guides. If you’re planning to visit multiple places, “hop-on, hop-off” passes are available, offering unlimited travel for a fixed price. InterCity offers discounted prices for travelers age 60+, called Golden Age fares, and they are available on selected services.

New Zealand Bus Resources:

Renting a Campervan in New Zealand

A campervan, or motorhome, offers flexibility on a driving holiday while providing a home on the road. All the major companies are represented including Britz, Maui Motorhomes, Jucy, KEA Campers, Apollo and the budget operator, Wicked Campers. There are hundreds of holiday parks across New Zealand offering powered sites and facilities, and there’s free overnight camping at local homes through special networks.

Campervans are available in New Zealand’s main cities and tourist centers. Some companies offer flexible pick-up and drop-off options, allowing one-way journeys, and daily and weekly rental rates vary according to the time of year. For travel during peak times, book in advance. Other costs to consider include insurance and the refundable bond, which you get back when you return the undamaged vehicle at the end of your trip. You can pay an optional fee to reduce the bond and your liability in the event of an accident. As with renting a car, the minimum age to rent a campervan is 21 or older.

When comparing prices, make sure you check what is included in the rate, such as free unlimited kilometers, and whether you need to pay for extras like outdoor tables, chairs, grill, snow chains and so on. Also, check whether the vehicle comes with linens such as sheets and towels.

New Zealand Campervan Resources:

New Zealand Motorcycle and Bicycle Hire

Another way to traverse New Zealand’s famously scenic roads is on two wheels. Exploring by motorbike or bicycle allows for flexibility with your itinerary, and the option to venture off the beaten track at your own pace.

Motorcycle rental companies have a range of popular rides on offer, including Harley-Davidsons. One-way rentals may be available, depending on the company you choose, and you can ride for up to 12 months if you have a current motorcycle license from your home country.

Traveling by bicycle is another great way to get around New Zealand, especially if you love the great outdoors, getting close to nature and being active in the process. Bike rental is available from cycle shops and bike hire operators in major cities and tourist destinations. (For one idea, read about biking the Otago Central Rail Trail.)

New Zealand Motorcycle and Bicycle Resources:

New Zealand by Train

New Zealand’s trains cater largely to tourists and sightseeing. They are undeniably scenic journeys, however, showing off the most spectacular of the country’s landscapes.

KiwiRail Scenic Journeys operates three routes. The Northern Explorer links Wellington and Auckland through the volcanic heart of the North Island, with highlights including Tongariro National Park and the famous Raurimu Spiral, while the Coastal Pacific hugs the coastline between Christchurch and Picton on the South Island. The TranzAlpine is arguably the most famous route, linking Christchurch with Greymouth across the breathtaking Southern Alps.

New Zealand Train Resources:

New Zealand Inter-Island Ferries

The country’s most famous ferry route is across the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton. It’s a three-hour journey that not only transports you and your vehicle between the North and South Islands, but also shows off the natural beauty of the Marlborough Sounds. Sightings of dolphins, whales and fur seals are common.

New Zealand Inter-Island Ferry Resources:

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–written by Joanna Hall

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