TranzAlpine Train The TranzAlpine train – Image courtesy of newzealandrail.com

How to get around New Zealand

New Zealand is very easy to get around, with an extensive air and bus network throughout the country. All the major cities and towns, including Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown are linked by frequent scheduled flights.

Reliable bus services connect most destinations in the country (and is usually cheaper than flying), though services are fewer in rural areas.

Train routes offer regular services along specific routes on both islands.

Cars, motorcycles and bicycles are easily hired and allow you to travel at your own tempo, explore remote areas and visit regions with limited or no public transport.

A regular ferry service operates between Wellington in the North Island and Picton in the South Island, with two ferry companies operating several large ferries daily on the three-hour crossing.


Transport options in New Zealand

Air: Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.co.nz) and Jetstar (www.jetstar.com) operate domestic flights between the major cities and key tourism centres, including Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown, Nelson, Napier, New Plymouth and Palmerston North.

In addition, several small-scale regional airlines provide essential transport services to outlying islands, such as Great Barrier Island (in the Hauraki Gulf), Stewart Island and the Chathams. There are also scenic- and charter-flight operators around NZ.

Smaller airlines include the following:

Air Chathams (www.airchathams.co.nz) services the remote Chatham Islands from Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. Auckland–Whakatane flights are also available.

Air2there.com (www.air2there.com) connects destinations across the Cook Strait, including Paraparaumu, Wellington, Nelson and Blenheim.

Barrier Air (www.barrierair.kiwi) flies to/from Great Barrier Island, Auckland and Kaitaia (and seasonally, Tauranga and Whitianga).

FlyMySky (www.flymysky.co.nz) offers flights daily from Auckland to Great Barrier Island.

Golden Bay Air (www.goldenbayair.co.nz) flies regularly to Takaka in Golden Bay from Wellington and Nelson. Also connects to Karamea for Heaphy Track trampers.

Sounds Air (www.soundsair.co.nz) offers numerous flights daily between Picton and Wellington, plus flights from Wellington to Blenheim, Nelson, Westport and Taupo.

Sounds Air also flies Blenheim to Christchurch, Kaikoura, Paraparaumu and Napier, and Nelson to Paraparaumu.

Stewart Island Flights (www.stewartislandflights.com) operates daily services between Invercargill and Stewart Island.

Sunair (www.sunair.co.nz) flies to Whitianga from Ardmore (near Auckland), Great Barrier Island and Tauranga, plus numerous other North Island connections between Hamilton, Rotorua, Gisborne and Whakatane.


Sea: The North and South Islands are linked by modern passenger and vehicle ferries operating across the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton.

The Interislander (www.interislander.co.nz) and Bluebridge (www.bluebridge.co.nz) ferries run several times a day, year round, taking 3 hours 30 minutes for the Cook Strait crossing.

Various boat services operate between Auckland and islands in the Hauraki Gulf. A passenger ferry also sails between Bluff on the South Island and Oban on Stewart Island.

Reservations on all ferry services are highly recommended, particularly if you're taking a vehicle.


On land

New Zealand is best explored by road, allowing you to travel at your own pace. There is a good choice of car and campervan hire options, including Apollo, Britz, Maui and Wilderness Motorhomes.

New Zealand has a good, well-signposted road network, with motorways and main roads connecting the major centres. However, many smaller roads that provide access to less-visited areas are often narrow and unpaved.

Traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road. Drivers give way (or yield) to all traffic crossing or approaching from the right. The speed limit is 100kph (62 mph) on the open road and 50kph (31mph) in built-up or urban areas. Speed cameras and radars are used extensively.

Both driver and passengers must wear a seat belt in both front and back seats. Child restraints must be worn by all children under 7 years of age when travelling in cars or motorhomes. Children from their 7th birthday to 8th birthday must either user a child restraint; or if not use a seat belt.

Signposting follows the standard international symbols and all distances are displayed in kilometres. Drinking and driving laws are strictly enforced. Cyclists and motorbike riders must wear helmets when on the road.

At single-lane bridges, a smaller red arrow pointing in your direction of travel means that you give way.

Be aware that not all rail crossings have barriers or alarms. Approach slowly and look both ways.

Don't pass other cars when the centre line is yellow.

It's illegal to drive while using a mobile phone.

Car hire: Several international and local car hire firms have offices at airports and most major cities and towns.

Note: International car-hire firms don't usually allow you to take their vehicles between islands on the Cook Strait ferries. Instead, you leave your car at either Wellington or Picton terminal and pick up another car once you’ve crossed the strait. This saves you paying to transport a vehicle on the ferries, and is a pain-free exercise. However, some local car-hire firms (such as Apex) are fine with you taking your rental vehicle on the ferry and may even help you book your ferry ticket.

New Zealand has great terrain for motorcycle touring, despite the fickle weather in some regions. Most of the country’s motorcycle-hire shops are in Auckland and Christchurch, where you can hire anything from a little 50cc moped to a throbbing 750cc touring motorcycle and beyond.

International driving licences are recognised in New Zealand. If your licence isn't in English, you must bring an accurate translation. Alternatively, use an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Bus: Bus and coach services operate throughout the North and South Islands. The largest national operator is InterCity (www.intercity.co.nz), which has main offices in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

There are also numerous regional shuttle buses operators providing services linking destinations around the country, including the following:

Abel Tasman Travel (www.abeltasmantravel.co.nz) operates between Nelson, Motueka, Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park.

Atomic Shuttles (www.atomictravel.co.nz) has services throughout the South Island, including to Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, Picton, Nelson, Greymouth, Hokitika, Queenstown and Wanaka.

Catch-a-Bus South (www.catchabussouth.co.nz) from Invercargill and Bluff to Dunedin and Queenstown.

Cook Connection (www.cookconnect.co.nz) runs between Mt Cook, Twizel and Lake Tekapo.

East West Coaches (www.eastwestcoaches.co.nz) offers a service between Christchurch and Westport via Lewis Pass.

Go Kiwi Shuttles (www.go-kiwi.co.nz) links Auckland with Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula daily.

Hanmer Connection (www.hanmerconnection.co.nz) has daily services between Hanmer Springs and Christchurch.

Headfirst Travel (www.travelheadfirst.com) does a loop from Rotorua to Waitomo (with an option to finish in Auckland).

Manabus (www.manabus.com) runs daily between Auckland and Wellington via Hamilton, Rotorua, Taupo and Palmerston North. Also runs to Tauranga, Paihia and Napier. Some services operated by Naked Bus.

Trek Express (www.trekexpress.co.nz) provides a shuttle service to all tramping tracks in the top half of the South Island, including Heaphy, Abel Tasman, Old Ghost Road.

West Coast Shuttle (www.westcoastshuttle.co.nz) Daily bus from Greymouth to Christchurch and back.

There are no seat classes on coaches. Smoking is strictly prohibited on board.

Main towns and cities also provide a good local bus services, as well as trolleybuses in Wellington and historic trams in Christchurch. Both Auckland and Wellington have zonal fares with pre-purchase tickets and day passes.

For public transport information and advice on journey planning in and around Auckland, contact Auckland Transport (AT) (at.govt.nz); and buses, trains and ferries in and around Wellington, contact Metlink (www.metlink.org.nz).

Rail: While the bulk of New Zealand's passenger train service is limited to commuter trains in Auckland and Wellington, there is a choice of scenic routes for overseas visitors.

KiwiRail Scenic Journeys (www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz) operates three scenic long-distance routes.

The Northern Explorer runs between Auckland and Wellington, stopping at Palmerston North, Ohakune, National Park and Hamilton.

The rail journey passes through Tongariro National Park, offering spectacular views of volcanic mountains – Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe and Ruapehu – as well as scenic views of forests, gorges, volcanic peaks and ancient lava flows.

The Northern Explorer runs southbound from Auckland on Monday, Thursday and Saturday departing at 7:45am, arriving in Wellington at 6:25 pm.

The Coastal Pacific travels between Christchurch and Picton (September to May only) along the east coast taking in the Canterbury Plains and the Kaikōura Coastline alongside the Pacific Ocean.

Combined with the Interislander Ferry, the Coastal Pacific is the perfect way to connect between Wellington, Blenheim, Kaikoura and Christchurch.

The Coastal Pacific Christchurch to Picton train runs daily each morning from late September to late April, taking just over 5 hours.

The TranzAlpine runs between Christchurch and Greymouth through a spectacular landscape of native beech forest, deep gorges, river valleys and the snow-capped Southern Alps.

The TranzAlpine is one of the world's great train journeys covering 223km (139mi) one-way, taking around 5 hours.

The TranzAlpine departs Christchurch at 8:15am, daily. It stops at Greymouth for 1 hour before departing Greymouth at 2:05pm and arriving back at Christchurch at 6:31pm.

The Scenic Rail Pass offers unlimited travel on KiwiRail trains available for seven, 14 or 21 days, and includes a journey on the Interislander ferry.

Taxi: There are metered taxis in urban areas throughout the country.

Bicycle: Bicycle hire in New Zealand is widely available. By law, all cyclists must wear an approved safety helmet.

A wide variety of terrain awaits the cyclist in New Zealand, from hills to wide-open plains. Popular scenic trails include the Hauraki Rail Trail, Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest and Huka Falls Trails.


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Latest update: How to get around New Zealand: 13 June, 2020


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