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The Best Way to Travel Around New Zealand

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TranzAlpine along Waimakariri River in New Zealand.  Photo courtesy KiwiRail

TranzAlpine along Waimakariri River in New Zealand. Photo courtesy KiwiRail

New Zealand has plenty of options for getting around, and this guide highlights the best ways to travel during your next adventure.

Whether you opt for travel by train to enjoy the countryside or via boats or helicopters to showcase the scenery from unique vantage points, there is an ideal way to travel for you. There is much to enjoy along the journey as you travel between islands, over mountains, and along the shimmering seas.

Understanding the best ways to travel between the cities and the many remote locations will enhance your whole trip.

Best for Long Distances: Trains & Flights

Scenery on the Coastal Pacific in New Zealand.  Photo courtesy KiwiRail

Scenery on the Coastal Pacific in New Zealand. Photo courtesy KiwiRail

Trains:

The train system in New Zealand is great for scenic rides that show off the spectacular landscapes around the country. With over 2,565 miles of track,  the train can take more time than flying. However, the scenery found along the three main train routes on the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific, and TranzAlpine lines covers both the North and South islands for a pleasant journey.

Flights:

Flying is the main gateway into and around New Zealand, with approximately 62 airports that connect the various islands. Flights are fast, efficient, and take much less time than driving. For example, you can hop onto a 50-minute flight between Auckland and Wellington, versus a six-hour drive. Trains can be more scenic, but flying is generally your best option when you have a specific schedule, especially when traveling far distances like Auckland to Christchurch or Wellington to Queenstown.

Best for Short Travel: Private Chauffeur, Cars, and Buses

Gimblett Gravels vineyard in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand.  Photo courtesy Tourism New Zealand / Chris McLennan

Gimblett Gravels vineyard in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. Photo courtesy Tourism New Zealand / Chris McLennan

Private Chauffeur:

A private driver often serves as not just a driver, but also a tour guide as you travel for a more personalized experience. Whether you are enjoying a wine tour of the Otago Valley or touring the shores of Lake Wakatipu, wish to reach a secluded beach at the Bay of Islands or have an early departing flight, a private driver will give you personal service in a safe and luxurious environment.

Car Rental:

Traveling by car is a great way to see the country with flexibility. Many destinations between the North and South islands are manageable in distance allowing you to escape the beaten path on quality roads with little traffic. It is important to remember that cars drive on the left in New Zealand, and conditions during certain seasons can change quickly as the weather shifts. Still, a road trip in New Zealand is generally comfortable, beautiful, and with dramatic views.

Buses:

Traveling by bus in New Zealand is an equally dramatic way to experience the country’s landscape while someone else does the driving. The great public transportation network on the North and South islands easily connects cities and popular tourist destinations. Busses also connect with ferries so that you can effortlessly transfer between the North and South islands. When not traveling between nearby cities or when transferring between islands, it’s generally much faster to fly, especially if you have a tight schedule.

Best for Urban Travel: Taxis, Buses, and Ridesharing Apps

The Tram in Wellington, New Zealand

The Tram in Wellington, New Zealand

Taxis & Buses:

Taxis and buses are an easy and efficient way to travel inside New Zealand’s cities. The low density inside the cities and wide-open spaces outside of the urban settings make public transportation easy to manage and access with extensive networks connecting a city’s major points. Larger cities such as Auckland and Wellington also have suburban rail systems that help bring together the cities' outer corners with the active centers. Taxis do charge specific fees and tariffs for every ride and may not accept all forms of payment, with some taxi drivers not accepting credit cards or payment transfers.

Ridesharing Apps:

Ridesharing apps are legal in New Zealand but not very prominent outside of larger cities like Auckland and Wellington. You can request services such as luxury vehicles, but ridesharing apps are not always cheaper than traditional taxis when flex pricing occurs throughout the day.

Best Alternative Travel: Boats & Helicopters

InterIslander ferry in the Marlborough Sounds

InterIslander ferry in the Marlborough Sounds

Boats:

With approximately 9,300 miles of coastline, travel by boat or ferry brings fantastic scenery and a wonderful experience. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean wrap around the shores of the two main islands to reach Surville Cliffs in the north and Slope Point in the south. Boating, sailing, cruising, and ferries give you access to offshore islands and otherwise hard to navigate coastal areas. When you experience New Zealand from the water, you can enjoy sites like the Marlborough Sounds, Picton, Waiheke island, and Rangitoto island with an expansive panoramic view.

Helicopters:

Charter helicopter flights around New Zealand are quite common and can cut down travel time between destinations significantly. Helicopter services are luxurious and can reach desirable destinations such as vineyards, private lodges, or the center of a city. The most popular places for a helicopter transfer is around the Bay of Islands, or across the contrasting scenery of the South Island.

More Travel Information & Tips

Helicopters over Queenstown, New Zealand.  Photo courtesy Destination Queenstown

Helicopters over Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo courtesy Destination Queenstown

New Zealand has great transportation options that make it easy to discover the country depending on your travel schedule and budget. With so many wonderful natural sites and welcoming cities, you can easily enjoy the best times to visit places like Queenstown, diverse wine regions, or Fiordland National Park. Our New Zealand Travel Guide offers you more tips on how to explore the islands depending on your goals. If you want to plan a trip, you can speak to a New Zealand travel expert by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.

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