New Zealand seems a lot smaller on the map than it really is. This is partly due to the way world maps are projected, and partly due to the fact that our close neighbour Australia is gigantic in comparison.
The three biggest New Zealand islands (the South Island, the North Island and Stewart Island respectively) are spread over a rectangle 1600km long by 400km wide (995 miles by 250 miles) but none of the islands measures more than 200km wide (125 miles).
The mode of transport that you choose for getting around New Zealand will have a big impact on your itinerary and the time that you will need to set aside for each stretch of your trip and stay.
There are several bus companies that, between them, service most towns and cities approximately once or twice daily. However, the buses stop a lot along the way to pick up extra passengers and you are subject to the bus timetables so it’s a very time-consuming way to travel.
Travelling by bus also means you don’t have the ability to stop where you like and you have to lug your bags from the bus stop to your accommodation. At the end of the day, the average bus fare for two people is equivalent to paying a day of economy car rental.
Train travel is also an option but the network is limited and we would only recommend travelling by rail for particular scenic stretches. The TranzAlpine (Christchurch-Greymouth) and Coastal Pacific (Picton-Christchurch) are great examples of this.
Domestic flights are a good way to avoid doing too many long car journeys but keep in mind that there are mainly only direct and affordable flights linking the main centres; Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. Outside these routes, you will need to make one or more connections and the fares are much higher.
Driving on the left hand side of the road isn’t a problem unless you try and jump in a car as soon as you get off the plane. And to join up the islands you can simply drive on and off the ferries that link the North and South Islands.
Campervan or motorhome hire is very popular for tourists in New Zealand but it’s not necessarily an economical option in the peak summer season. It’s also not an ideal way for families to travel, especially with very young ones that you need to keep a close eye on, or with teenagers who need their space.
The idea that a campervan provides you with lots of flexibility holds true when you’re here for a month or more but with shorter stays, getting between the main pickup and drop off points in Auckland and Christchurch can feel constraining.
Motorcycle hire is becoming a more popular way to get around - let us know if you’re a biker.
Rental car hire is the option that will allow you to plan a self drive New Zealand tour at your pace, including all your choices of destinations and activities. In our opinion, it is the best way to crisscross the country.
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Thanks for your arrangements for our trip to New Zealand, Carolyn. What a fabulous place and great people! The b&bs were terrific, particularly Carol and Craig in Lake Tekapo. T... - John Larson, USARead all reviews