This is a popular option for anyone who likes to do their own thing. New Zealand’s roading network is excellent. Most roads – even smaller rural thoroughfares – are paved, though small, scenic, back-country roads may have unsealed, gravel surfaces, and some are four-wheel-drive territory.
Vehicle rental companies usually have 4WD vehicles in their range, along with every shape and size of car. Some companies specialise in motor homes, from small, budget vans to luxury self-contained models.
Major international car-rental companies are represented here and home-grown firms often have very good deals.
Distances between major places of interest are never great, so driving is a leisurely affair. There is plentiful accommodation on routes throughout the country. Remember, New Zealanders drive on the left-hand-side of the road!
Dollar Car Rental
Travelling from south to north can save on your rental car costs. Some companies offer better rates if you pick up in Christchurch or Queenstown and drop off in Auckland.
Check out their website.
An increasing amount of motorhomes and campervans are seen on Kiwi roads these days. Little wonder: not only do they provide mobile accommodation; the view from your bedroom window is often nothing less than spectacular.
Campervans range in size from the small, economical vans with a bed, sink and bucket and gas cooker, such as those offered by Spaceships, through to larger 4 or 6 berth campers with full kitchens, toilet and shower. A good option for those chasing a bargain is Mighty Campers. Part of the group of companies that includes Maui and Britz, they offer older campervans with higher mileage but with all the bells and whistles of their larger, more expensive stable-mates. Or smaller outfits like PiwiWiwi Campervans cater specifically to surfers.
Most hire companies provide maps and detailed information about campgrounds and holiday parks around New Zealand and there are many other less formal (and usually more basic) sites open to self-contained motorhomes. The Auckland Council, for example, allows camping in several regional parks and the Department of Conservation manages some 240 vehicle-accessible camping areas on conservation land.
Beware, though: some jet-lagged long-haul visitors have got in a pickle by attempting to drive long distances in big, unfamiliar vehicles as soon as they step off the plane. Better to spend the first night near the airport and then get on your way.
Milford Sound Coach and Cruise, Southern Discoveries
Kiwi Experience, Stray Travel and Magic Travellers Network offer budget package options, and regular scheduled bus services operate between towns and cities, and also link with inter-island ferry services. InterCity visits more than 600 towns and communities throughout New Zealand every day. Even scheduled services usually have a commentary, so you will still learn about the country as you travel.
Local towns and cities have public transport networks, and several have city sightseeing tours and/or convenient hop-on, hop-off options that loop around the main attractions. Try CitySights in Rotorua and Wellington and Citibus in Dunedin.
Water transport ranges from high-thrill jet boats that race over river rapids, to stately steamers, ferries, launches and large yachts, available either for excursions or charter.
Ferries link the North and South islands of New Zealand, crossing Cook Strait daily between Wellington and Picton in the Marlborough Sounds. The Interislander operates three ferries, the Arahura, Kaitaki and Aratere, all of which carry passengers and vehicles. In good weather the trip takes three hours, with up to five return sailings between Wellington and Picton each day, depending on the season. The crossing has been described as “one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world”. At the bottom of the country, there’s a launch service across the Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island.
TranzAlpine Train, Waimakariri Bridge
The Great Journeys of New Zealand take in some of the most beautiful stretches of countryside. The daily TranzAlpine service from Christchurch to Greymouth over Arthur’s Pass in the Southern Alps is a great example of this. The train crosses breath-taking scenery and its service has earned international accolades. You can travel there and back in the same day.
The Northern Explorer links Auckland and Wellington via the Central North Island. The scenic 12-hour trip passes through some of the North Island’s most inaccessible areas, and includes many amazing tunnels, viaducts and bridges. The Coastal Pacific journey along the magnificent Kaikoura coastline reopened on the 1st of December, after many, many hours of intensive repair work following the 7.8 earthquake in 2016. For dates phone 0800 872 467 or visit the website
Rail buffs head for Dunedin to catch the daily Taieri Gorge scenic rail experience, travelling across the Taieri plains and over the spectacular gorge on a four-hour return journey into the past. The Track & Trail coach/rail option from Citibus offers a link to and from Queenstown. Around the country, societies of rail enthusiasts operate short excursions on restored engines and trackImage.
Header image: Interislander Marlborough Sounds