Last Updated: 1/4/21 | January 4th, 2021

New Zealand is an easy country to navigate. Buses go everywhere, cars constantly pick up hitchhikers, campervans are easy to rent, and backpacker bus tours zigzag around the country.

Plus, there are trains and planes.

In short, there’s no shortage of transportation options.

On my last trip to New Zealand, I used almost every one of these options. Today, I want to share the pros and cons of each (as well as some estimated prices) so you know how to get around New Zealand in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible!
 

Backpacker Tours


One of the most popular ways travelers get across New Zealand is by backpacker bus. These buses offer a hop-on/hop-off service that allows travelers both the flexibility to go at their own pace and the convenience of having activities and accommodation organized for them. New Zealand has two major hop-on/hop-off buses: The Kiwi Experience and Stray.

  • The Kiwi Experience – The Kiwi Experience is the biggest and most popular backpacker bus in New Zealand. It attracts mainly young gap-year travelers. I like how they go out of their way to make sure everyone socializes and gets to know each other: the drivers play a lot of games and icebreakers, and there are group dinners most nights. The downside is that: (a) the buses seat around 55 people, and when they’re full, they get a little bit cliquey (and during the busy season, the bus is pretty much always full); and (b) the passengers are really focused on getting drunk (the bus’s affectionate nickname is “The Green Fuck Bus”), hence why so many young people take it. I’d say if you’re 25 or younger (or just looking for a party), this bus is for you. Tours range from 2-28 days and cost between 85-1,799 NZD per person.
  • Stray Travel – Stray has smaller buses, providing a more intimate setting and making it easier to meet people. While there are many gap-year travelers on the bus, Stray get more older, independent travelers. The bus drivers don’t play as many games or have as many icebreakers, making it a bit awkward when you first step on the bus alone and aren’t an extrovert. If you aren’t really looking to party a lot or want to spend time with more mature travelers, Stray is for you. Tours range from 10-24 days and cost between 1,000-2,400 NZD per person.

For a small-group tours that caters to more than just the backpacker crowd, check out Haka Tours. They offer some epic adventure tours all around the country and are a good choice for travelers looking to get their adrenaline pumping.
 

Trains


New Zealand has three train lines: Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific, and TranzAlpine. These are not commuter trains but scenic train rides: they come with viewing platforms, audio commentary, information packets, and big windows for taking photos.

Here are some example prices (in NZD):

Route
Adult (One-Way)
Child (One-Way)
Northern Explorer
(Auckland-Wellington)
159
79
Coastal Pacific
(Christchurch-Picton)
99
69
TranzAlpine
(Christchurch-Greymouth)
109
76

 
Prices will vary based on when you book. Expect prices to be upwards of 50% more expensive if booked last minute.

I took the TranzAlpine across the South Island. It had been a dream of mine to do since my first visit in 2010 and I loved every minute of it. It lived up to all the hype. You pass rivers and mountains, cross gorges, and roll through vibrant green farmland. It was a really peaceful, informative, and scenic way to get across the South Island and made me wish there were more trains around the country (come on, NZ, you can do it!).

This isn’t the most efficient or cheapest way to get around (heck, the Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington is 11 hours!) but it’s worth every penny. It’s an incredibly scenic way to see the country.


 

Buses


If you aren’t renting a car, buses are the best and cheapest way to get around New Zealand. Buses stop in every town, and there are frequent departures from even the smallest cities.

InterCity, New Zealand’s largest public bus network, is your main option. Skip Bus, a low-cost coach bus similar to Megabus, is available on the North Island and has over a dozen stops, making it another budget-friendly choice if you’re shopping for tickets. (Note: As of January 2021, Skip Bus service is suspended due to COVID-19).

These are some example InterCity ticket costs for sample routes to help you budget (prices in NZD):

Routes (One-Way)
Last-Minute Booking
Advanced Booking
Christchurch-Picton
81
61
Christchurch-Queenstown
115
57
Auckland-Wellington
76
46
Auckland-Taupo
70
42
Franz Josef-Wanaka
55
35
Auckland-Rotorua
58
32
Auckland-Bay of Islands
43
29
Taupo-Wellington
78
57

Prices exclude booking fees.

InterCity has two travel passes, both of which valid for up to 12 months: FlexiPass, an hours-based bus pass (10-80 hours) designed for backpackers and independent travelers; and the TravelPass, a fixed-route pass that’s only good for spots on that specific route.

The FlexiPass costs between 98-561 NZD ($69-395 USD). You can top up your hours if you run out. The TravelPass costs between 125-549 NZD ($88-386 USD).

With the InterCity TravelPass, you can stop anywhere along the route. For example, if your pass includes travel between Picton and Christchurch, you could do Picton to Blenheim, Blenheim to Kaikoura, and Kaikoura to Christchurch all on one trip.

I bought a 15-hour FlexiPass. Adding up my journeys on the South Island individually, the price of my tickets would have been 172 NZD. I paid 135 NZD so the pass did save me money. However, there’s a caveat: you can only use the FlexiPass on InterCity buses, and on the South Island they contract out a lot of routes, so I couldn’t use my pass on most of the routes to Milford Sound, Mt. Cook, or Bluff (to get to Stewart Island).

So what’s a traveler to do?

If you’re booking far in advance and getting the cheap discount fares, don’t buy a pass. I’d also skip the big fixed-route pass, as they don’t offer value when compared to other giant passes or tour operators.

I’d buy a FlexiPass since it is hours-based and valid for up to twelve months. Combine that with other cheap tickets bought far in advance, ridesharing, or anything else. Mix and match what you do for optimal savings. Use the pass for expensive routes and cheaper options for other, shorter routes!
 

Flying


Flying in New Zealand isn’t that cheap, as there are only two companies that dominate the entire market: Air New Zealand and Jetstar — and on most routes, it’s just Air New Zealand. While you can find some cheap fares on shorter routes or by booking a few months in advance, unless you are really pressed for time or traveling from island to island, I’d skip flying.

Here are prices for some popular one-way routes when booked in advance (prices in NZD):

Routes (One-Way)
Air NZ
Jetstar
Auckland-Queenstown
65
44
Auckland-Christchurch
98
41
Auckland-Wellington
60
39
Queenstown-Christchurch
49
163
Queenstown-Wellington
54
49
Christchurch-Wellington
50
35
Auckland-Queenstown
71
52

 

Campervans and Car Rentals


Campervans litter New Zealand, especially on the nature-heavy South Island, where people hike and camp, because they serve as accommodation and transportation all in one, and for budget-conscious travelers, that’s a win-win. There are five main rental agencies:

  • Jucy
  • Travellers Autobarn
  • Spaceships
  • Britz
  • Wicked Campers

Jucy is the most dominant in the country; I saw more of its cars and vans than any other company.

Prices vary a lot. Your daily rate will change depending on where you pick the vehicle up, if you are dropping it off at a different place, how long you are renting it for, how far in advance you book, and when you book (going during the high season? Prices seem to double!). You need a degree in accounting to figure out how these companies price their cars!

Here are sample daily rates for when you pick up and drop-off at the same location (prices in NZD):

Rental Type
Jucy
Wicked
Spaceships
Britz
Traveller’s Autobarn
Car
29/day
for a week
25/day
for a month
23/day
N/A
N/A
44/day
for a week
33/day
for a month
2-Person
Camper
50/day
for a week
46/day
for a month
38/day
for a week
26/day
for a month
46/day
for a week
37/day
for a month
170/day
for a week
145/day
for a month
86/day
for a week
45/day
for a month
3-Person
Camper
140/day
for a week
130/day
for a month
N/A
84/day
for a week
78/day
for a month
159/day
for a week
132/day
for a month
104/day
for a week
75/day
for a month
4-5-Person
Camper
120/day
for a week
111/day
for a month
N/A
N/A
170/day
for a week
142/day
for a month
131/day
for a week
80/day
for a month

 
Here are sample daily rates for when you pick up and drop-off at a different location:

Rental Type
Jucy
Wicked
Spaceships
Britz
Traveller’s Autobarn
Car
29/day
(when booked
for a month)
23/day
N/A
N/A
49/day
for 10 days
33/day
for a month
2-Person
Camper
47/day
(when booked
for a month)
38/day
for a week
26/day
for a month
46/day
for a week
37/day
for a month
262/day
for a week
185/day
for a month
71/day
for 10 days
45/day
for a month
3-Person
Camper
130/day
(when booked
for a month)
N/A
78/day
for a week
84/day
for a month
160/day
for a week
132/day
for a month
104/day
for 10 days
60/day
for a month
4-5-Person
Camper
111/day
(when booked
for a month)
N/A
N/A
172/day
for a week
145/day
for a month
120/day
for 10 days
73/day
for a month

 
If you drive, getting a campervan is going to be one of the most economical way to get around. You’ll be able to use your van/car as accommodation, pick up travelers to split the cost of gas, and maybe find travel partners to split the cost of the vehicle itself. If you are spending $70 NZD per day for a Jucy campervan that can fit three people, that’s a savings of up to 50% compared to a hostel and daily bus ride, which will set you back $30-50 a day.

If you use a campervan, be sure to download the awesome CamperMate app, which lets you find nearby campsites, gas stations, and dump stations.
 

Hitchhiking


Hitchhiking is easy in New Zealand. It’s one of the main ways to get around and there are plenty of people who will pick you up (if you’re traveling solo or with someone. Groups bigger than 2 people will struggle to find a ride).

Additionally, you can just ask around any hostel for a ride — everyone is doing the same circuit and will be happy to have another person to split gas costs with. Hostels usually have boards where you can find rideshare offers as well. I hitchhiked from Wanaka to Queenstown to Fiordland on a whim and didn’t have any trouble (I saw tons of other backpackers doing the same thing as well).

Additionally, check out the Thumbs Up NZ or Carpool New Zealand ridesharing apps.

***

There are a lot of ways to get around New Zealand. If you’re OK driving, rent a car or campervan. Don’t want to drive? Bus it or get rides with other travelers — someone is always looking to split the cost of gas!

No matter what, you’re not going to have trouble getting from point A to B, even if you wake up and need transport that very day! New Zealand is an easy country to travel and, with some planning, it doesn’t have to break the bank!

Book Your Trip to New Zealand: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:

  • Nomads (Queenstown)
  • Urbanz (Christchurch)
  • Rainbow Lodge (Taupo)

If you’re looking for more places to stay, here is a complete list of my favorite hostels in New Zealand.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
  • Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
  • Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

Want More Information on New Zealand?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on New Zealand for even more planning tips!

Photo credits: 2 – Stray Travel, 4 – Intercity

New Zealand
30.04.2018 / New Zealand / transportation
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