New Zealand

Travelling Around New Zealand – Your Aotearoa Transportation Guide

March 13, 2022

New Zealand is widely recognised as being a friendly, safe country; because of this, there are many options available to travellers looking to make their way around.

Cars, campervans, tours, buses and trains are all common forms of transport within the country – and each have their own benefits and shortcomings.

Join us as we compare different ways of travelling around New Zealand, to establish which modes of transport might best suit your needs.

Travelling Around New Zealand: Transport Tips To Help You Get Around Aotearoa

How Can I Get Around New Zealand?

Travelling by car in New Zealand is very common. In fact, most New Zealanders own their own cars, using them frequently.

Travel by car is also a great option for many tourists.

Travelling by Car

Advantages
  • Driving in New Zealand is safe and fairly easy – we have clear road rules and an orderly manner on the road. 
  • You’ll be able to stop at any point on your trip to check out points of interest.
Disadvantages
  • Having a car will limit your ability to fly from place to place (particularly if you choose to buy a car).
  • If you’re travelling in a small group (or as a solo traveller), you won’t have many people to share the cost of the car and fuel with – and petrol is a significant cost in New Zealand.
  • You’ll need to have a good understanding of the stops you want to make, as without a guide, you might drive right past them.

If you’ve got time on your hands (and the budget), the flexibility and ease of a car makes it one of the best ways to get around.

Related: Book discounted ferry crossings between the North and South Island.

Should I Buy a Car?

For long-term visitors to New Zealand, purchasing a car is likely to be a great solution to transport needs.

Advantages
  • Purchasing a car be more affordable than a rental in the long-term.
Disadvantages
  • You’ll be responsible for any issues should the car break down (and if you end up backpacking in New Zealand and buy an affordable ‘backpacker’ car, that’s quite possible).
  • You will need to sell your car when you’re due to leave – and you may well have to do so at a loss.
Should I Rent a Car?

By comparison, car rentals are the most common transport solution for short-term travellers visiting New Zealand (that favour the flexibility that cars offer).

Advantages
  • You’ll have support on the phone right away should you encounter any issues. 
  • If you have a break down, repairs/a replacement will be organised by the car rental company.
  • You will have the use of a late-model car that is likely to be safe and comfortable to drive.
  • You are able to drop your rental off at one airport, before flying to your next destination and picking up your next rental car.
Disadvantages
  • If you’re travelling for an extended period, the price of a rental can add up.
  • You’ll likely be charged additional fees if you want to pick your rental up from one location and drop it off in another.
What About Car Relocation?

If you’re looking to keep your costs low, are happy to travel at speed, and have flexibility on dates, a car relocation can be a fantastic way to save money whilst getting around New Zealand.

Advantages
  • Car relocation is free or incredibly low-cost (and often comes with a tank of fuel and ferry crossing, if required, too) – won’t that be amazing for your budget?!
Disadvantages
  • You’ll be held to a fairly tight timeframe.  As a general rule, free relocations are over a short period, whereas paid (but cheap) relocations often give you a little more time.
  • You may not be able to secure a car relocation deal during your travel dates, as they do not run all the time.

If you’re looking to relocate a car, we first recommend you check out Transfercar as they work with a number of NZ rental operators. 

You can also apply for a rental relocation directly through these operators: Thrifty, Ace Rental Cars, Omega Rental Cars, Go Rentals and Juicy Rentals.

What Do I Need to Know About Travelling with Children in a Car in New Zealand?

There are a few things you’ll need to know!  All children under 7 years of age need to be seated in an approved child restraint whilst travelling in a motor vehicle (buses are exempt).  It is important to check that your carseat meets our minimum safety requirements (which fortunately includes approved seats from New Zealand/Australia, Europe and the United States).

If you’re unsure of the requirements, we suggest you continue your research, before picking up a light-weight car seat that’s perfect for your next adventure.

Travelling by Campervan

Whether you call it a motorhome, campervan or RV, these vehicles can be a wonderful way of combining transport and accommodation in one.

Plus, Kiwis love camping, so you’ll fit right in!

Whether you choose to rent a campervan or buy one, many enjoy the convenience of combining transport and accommodation in one.

Either way, you’ll want to ensure you have a number of these essential motorhome accessories to make your trip enjoyable.

Advantages
  • You’ll have the flexibility of a car with the added bonus of travelling with a fully-stocked fridge/pantry.
  • You won’t need to unpack at each and every stop.
  • Save money on accommodation by freedom camping along the way.
Disadvantages
  • Parking in larger towns can be challenging. 
  • Motorhomes/RVs are expensive to rent (and even more expensive should you have an accident without an excess waiver on your insurance).
  • Some people will not feel comfortable driving such a large vehicle (though it is actually easier than you might expect).
Save Serious Money on your RV Hire with Motorhome Relocation

If you’ve got flexibility in your schedule and are happy to see the countryside fairly quickly, a free (or heavily discounted) motorhome relocation could be perfect for you.

Again, we recommend checking out Transfercar to see what’s available across the different RV rental companies. 

Likewise, these companies offer direct relocation – Spaceships, Juicy Rentals, Apollo, Wilderness and Hippie.

Book: Discounted campervan hire right across New Zealand with NZTT.

Related: Book discounted ferry crossings between the North and South Island.

Travelling New Zealand by Group Tour

If you’d enjoy joining a group of like-minded travellers, whilst experts get you from A to B, an organised small-group tour could be the perfect way to see Aotearoa.

Advantages
  • You’ll be led by a fun, knowledgeable guide to all of the must-see spots in New Zealand. 
  • You’ll also have a ready-made group of friends, keen to explore alongside you. 
  • Accommodation is included and thanks to big-group buying power, you’ll likely pay less for the total tour than you would have for standalone bus tickets and accommodation.
  • Take the stress out of organising your own itinerary.
Disadvantages
  • Set routes can sometimes mean you don’t get as much time in each individual spot as you’d like.
  • The initial financial outlay can be significant.
  • Departure dates might not be ideally suited to your travel plans.

Our favourite tour company in New Zealand is Haka Tours.  They offer great value for money, amazing tour guides and a fun, social atmosphere.  Some tours focus heavily on drinking and we just love that although these tours make a real effort to bond groups, their focus is on showing off the best sights.

Join a small-group tour travelling in New Zealand. Photo credit: Haka Tours New Zealand.

Travelling by Hop-On Hop-Off Tour

For many, hop-on hop-off bus tours are the ideal solution. They give more flexibility than a standard tour, whilst offering social and cost-saving benefits that are a struggle when travelling solo.

Could this be your preferred way of travelling in New Zealand?

Advantages
  • You’ll have more flexibility than you would on a set tour without the cost of hiring/buying a car by yourself. 
  • You’ll learn from your guide and enjoy local commentary. 
  • If travelling with Stray, you’ll have guaranteed accommodation reservations right throughout the year, even in peak season.
Disadvantages
  • Because people hop-on and hop-off at different times, you may not get to know one guide or group of people very well. 
  • You’ll also limited in your ability to stop whenever/wherever you like whilst travelling – in this regard, nothing compares to driving your own car or campervan. They do make a great effort to include worthwhile stops though.

Travelling in New Zealand is like a road-trip experience, we’re pretty flexible. We make stops for the bathroom, food, supermarkets, interesting sights and activities along the way.

Stray Adventure Travel

If you’re looking for flexibility whilst travelling the country but don’t want the expense and hassle of travelling solo, a Stray hop-on hop-off bus tour is just the ticket!

Stray NZ - NZ Backpacking Tours
Photo credit: Stray Adventure Travel

Travelling by Public Bus/Coach

One of the most cost-effective ways to travel in New Zealand, public buses and coaches are a reliable way to move about the country.

Advantages
  • Catching normal buses will help keep costs down if you’re travelling solo/as a couple.
  • Intercity coach services are more affordable than tourist-focused hop-on/hop-off buses.
  • Modern coaches and comfortable and include useful luxuries, such as charging points.
Disadvantages
  • Normal intercity buses aren’t as social as hop-on/hop-off buses our tours, so your chances of meeting other travellers may not be as great.
  • You won’t have flexibility in your route or the ability to make small stops at points of your choice.
Photo credit: InterCity.

Travelling by Plane

Without a doubt, plane travel is the fastest way to move between different regions in New Zealand.

Advantages
  • You’ll obviously move through the country very quickly, giving you more time for fun activities and exploration.
Disadvantages
  • Flights can be expensive, especially if booked at the last minute. Keep an eye on grabaseat to score yourself a deal, or try to book in advance through AirNZ or Jetstar when possible. 
  • When you land, you’ll have to rent a car or use a bus service – this isn’t as convenient or affordable if you’ve already got a car elsewhere.

Travelling by Train

Though New Zealand does not have the train network that many other countries enjoy, trains are a great way to travel between some parts of the country.

Advantages
  • Sit back and relax with no need to navigate or drive yourself. Instead, use the time to enjoy stunning scenery, plan the next part of your New Zealand travels or just to enjoy a book or Netflix movie.
Disadvantages
  • Passenger train transport in Aotearoa is limited with few services running.
  • Our trains are relatively slow too – you won’t find any bullet trains here.
  • Tourist-centred trains (like the incredible TranzAlpine) are fairly expensive as they are an attraction in themselves.

Getting Licensed to Drive in New Zealand

If you decide to drive yourself, either of all of part of your visit to New Zealand, you’ll need to ensure that you’re correctly licensed.

What Licence Do I Need to Drive in New Zealand?

Whilst travelling as a tourist in New Zealand, there are three different drivers licence options.

  1. Use your existing licence.  Your existing drivers licence (from your home country) is suitable for use in New Zealand.  If it’s not issued in English, you will need to carry a translation with you at all times.  Suitable for up to 12 months from your date of entry.
  2. Get a IDP (International Driving Permit).  It is also possible to have an IDP issued before you arrive in New Zealand.  This document serves as an official translation for your drivers licence (in and out of a number of languages) and must be carried alongside your home licence to be valid.  Suitable for up to 12 months from your date of entry.
  3. Convert to a New Zealand drivers licence.  The least likely option for visitors, this is really only worth considering if you plan to stay in the country for longer than a year.  If that’s on the cards for you, you’ll convert your licence with a registered provider in New Zealand and be able to drive without needing a passport or IDP from abroad.  Valid indefinitely.

Do I Need an International Driving Permit for NZ?

No, an IDP is not required whilst visiting New Zealand, assuming that you are already carrying a drivers licence from abroad and an English translation (should your licence not be printed in English).

Once you’ve ensured you have the right kind of licence to drive in New Zealand, you’ll want to figure out how exactly you’ll get around.

Is Driving in New Zealand Difficult?

Driving in New Zealand is not difficult; we have similar road rules and mannerisms to many other western countries, including Australia, the United States and the UK.  In New Zealand we drive on the left-hand side of the road at all times and have speed limits that range from 50km/h to 110km/h.  If you are driving slowly on the open road, it is wise to pull over to let faster traffic past.  When travelling on the motorway (highway), keep to the left unless passing.  Finally, we use roundabouts frequently in New Zealand so it’s worth learning about how to use them safely and efficiently – as a general rule though, you give way to your right.

Basic Road Rules in Aotearoa – Important New Zealand Travel Tips

  • Drive on the left hand side of the road at all times.
  • Give way to your right.  This is especially true at roundabouts; look to your right – if there is a car about to move or already doing so, wait for a gap.  Assuming the path to your right is clear, you’re free to go.
  • If turning onto a side road, cars doing so without crossing traffic have the right of way.  Should you need to cross traffic, you’ll need to wait until you have a suitable gap to do so.
  • Whilst on the motorway or a multi-lane road, stay on the left, unless passing.  If you do wish to pass another car, move into the right-hand lane, overtake and then return to the left.
  • If you’re driving a large/slow vehicle, use the slow vehicle lanes and/or pull over on the open road to allow others to pass.
  • Observe the sign-posted speed limits.  You’re allowed to go up to 10% over before getting a ticket, with some odd exceptions (around public holidays and long weekends, for example).  As a general rule, travel is 50km/hour around residential areas and 100km/h on motorways and open roads.
  • Be mindful of those on bikes.  Give them a wide berth, especially on the open road or when driving on a road that has parked cars.

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