Many travellers take on the big ol’ journey down the bottom of the world in search of the most majestic mountains and crystal clear waters in the world. And boy oh boy does New Zealand pull through.

If you manage to score yourself your own backpacker-mobile (I’m talkin’ a car or van), New Zealand is an absolute DREAM. Get yourself lost in some remote mountains and sleep the night away in the comfort of your own home on wheels. 

However, not all of us are blessed with the confidence, driver’s license or budget to take to the roads of New Zealand. Other modes of transport in New Zealand will need to be called upon… from buses and scenic trains to flying through the air, I’m coming to you with all the options! 

For the true travellers among us, you’ll be happy to know it’s a fairytale land for sticking your thumb out and hoping for the best. Friendly Kiwis and fellow travellers pick up smiley backpackers like us all the time. 

To journey across the incredible little islands of New Zealand is one of the best decisions you could make in your life. But how you choose to journey is a different story and completely depends on YOU, your travel needs and of course, your budget. 

Lucky for you, you have me (The Broke Backpacker’s resident Kiwi). I’ve taken nearly every mode of transport available in New Zealand and I come to you with a lifetime of knowledge… well 27 years worth anyway! 

danielle hitchhiking with a trolley full of backpacks hoping to be picked up
Let’s dive into the best ways to get you (and all your stuff) around NZ
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

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What’s the Best Way to Get Around New Zealand?

Slinging a backpack over your shoulder and heading on the long ass journey down to the bottom of the planet to marvel at some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world is bucket list shit, right?

But guys, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, although backpacking in New Zealand is EPIC, New Zealand’s transport can be preeeeetty shit.

Compared to the likes of the UK, EU or the USA, getting around our seemingly little country can be a right ol’ mission. Unless you have your own set of wheels, you’ll have limited options for getting around. But never fear, my friend, it’s still totally doable and today I’m gonna show you how!

campervanning in NZ
Photo: Jakub Macak

As your local Kiwi guide, I’m going to give you an insider view of the best modes of transport no matter where you’re staying in New Zealand. Whether you want to go from North to South, East to West, or just go all over – I’ve got you covered.

I’ve listed the transport options below. These can be you can create your own combination of these to suit your travel needs and budget.

  • Buses
  • Backpacker/ Tourist Buses
  • Trains
  • Domestic Flights
  • Rental Cars
  • Campervanning
  • Ferries
  • Hitchhiking

Whether you’re after the cheapest option, the scenic route or the fastest way, I’ll take you through em’ all. So, jump onboard amigo and let’s dive into each in more detail.

The Best Modes of Transport in New Zealand

Ok, it’s time for the good stuff. From buses and trains to hitchhiking and planes, I’m going to take you through all the options for modes of transport in New Zealand and help you figure out which ones suit you best. Here we goooo.

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    1. Intercity Buses

    Let’s kick off with one of the best bang for your buck in terms of transport in New Zealand, the buses!

    You will not be spoilt for choice when it comes to New Zealand bus companies, the Intercity Bus is New Zealand’s largest public bus network and kinda your only choice. However, it does have a shit load of routes that can get you to most towns across the country.

    The Intercity buses are used by travellers and locals alike to get cross country. So, why not nestle up with some local Kiwis and see where they’re off to?

    A road with a lake at the side of it and towering mountains in the background in Wanaka, New Zealand
    Be sure to nab yourself a window seat.
    Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

    Intercity has a few passes to help us travellers save a few bucks on their services:

    • Flexipass: This is an hour-based bus pass that allows you to build your trip around New Zealand flexibly. It also includes day trips with Intercity AND the Interislander ferry (the boat that takes you from north to south).
    • Travelpass: These are pre-planned itineraries that you can choose from, however, you also have some flexibility to adjust them to suit your time frame and where you want to go.

    If you know your plans, you can book tickets at pretty low prices if you book far enough in advance. If this is the case, I wouldn’t worry about the passes.

    But if you do buy a pass I’d recommend the Flexipass over the Travelpass, it’s hours-based and valid for up to 12 months. You can use the pass for the more expensive routes and opt for cheaper transport routes (like ridesharing or hitchhiking) or short routes.

    Here are some prices in NZD that you can expect to pay for some of the most popular routes with Intercity. Booking last minute ain’t cheap, peeps:

    Intercity Bus Prices
    Routes (one-way trip)Advance booking (3 months prior)Last minute booking (1 week prior)
    Auckland to Bay of Islands3454
    Auckland to
    Wellington
    5982
    Auckland to Rotorua4461
    Auckland to Taupo5374
    Taupo to Wellington5063
    Picton to Christchurch4777
    Christchurch to Queenstown79105
    Queenstown to Milford Sound8787
    Queenstown to Wanaka2837

    Pros: It can be cheap if you book in advance, it’s comfortable and can get you around most towns across New Zealand.

    Cons: It can take a looooong time to get from place to place. It takes 4.5 hours to get from Auckland to (my home town) Tauranga by bus but it’s less than 3 to drive yourself.

    2. Backpacker/ Tourist Buses

    Backpacker or tourist buses are often overlooked. They can be fantastic options for groups or solo travellers in New Zealand who are looking to join in on some pre-planned action. Butttt, they ain’t always cheap. Anyway, here are a couple of New Zealand’s favourite tourist buses.

    The Kiwi Experience – Group Travel for the Youngsters and the Young at Heart.

    If you wanna get down and dirty on a true traveller bus, the big ol’ green ones slapped with the name The Kiwi Experience are where you’ll wanna be. These guys go out of their way to give travellers a social experience while visiting some of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. Be prepared for a load of ice-breakers and social nights, it can be a lot of fun on these buses.

    However, it’s important to note, The Kiwi Experience buses are also lovingly nicknamed “the green fuck bus”. Mainly filled with a load of youngsters, usually those on a gap year, partying their way around the country. With up to 55 seats that are all usually booked out in high season, this can be SUPER fun if you’re looking to meet new friends, drink too much and see some cool shit.

    a group picture being taken in the mirror of a hostel in costa rica
    Group travel = instant friends
    Photo: @amandaadraper

    The idea of these buses is pretty cool, they are a hop-on, hop-off service. They have set routes and you can jump on and off when suits you. They book your accommodation for you and organise things like group dinners to really embrace that social aspect.

    You can book on The Kiwi Experience hop-on/ hop-off tours from 2-28 days, the cost will set you back between 99-1,760 NZD. Whereas, their smaller group tours range from 2-18 days and are more expensive at 1,650-3,950 NZD.

    Stray – The Group Bus Travel for the Rest of Us

    For those of you who don’t want to drink your nights in New Zealand but you’re after a group tour vibe, Stray is who you’ll want to book with. These guys have smaller buses, which can make it easier to make friends. However, they don’t have as many ice-breakers or social games to help you get acquainted. So, it’s a catch-22.

    You’ll often find a good mix of travellers on a Stray bus tour. From the young gap-year travellers to the older, independent travellers.

    Travelling in New Zealand can be pretty expensive as it is, but these tours really slap a high price tag on it. The tours range between 8 and 24 days and they will set you back between 2,770-5,950 NZD. Yep, you’ll wanna start saving if you want to do a group tour.

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    3. Trains

    For those of you from the EU/ UK, these are not what you would expect. They are not commuter trains; you won’t find any locals using rail transport in New Zealand to get to work and back. These are by no means the cheapest or fastest way to get around. It’s a pretty unique thing to do in New Zealand.

    But these scenic trains will show you a truly BEAUTIFUL side of New Zealand. Taking you past rivers, mountains, gorges and so much more that you may never see otherwise. You’ll want to have a good camera at the ready at all times. My fav travel-sized camera is the Panasonic LUMIX ZS100, she takes some bloody good shots.

    Northern Explorer (Auckland-Wellington), Coastal Pacific (Christchurch-Picton), and TranzAlpine (Christchurch-Greymouth) are the three big companies that operate these tours. The prices in NZD of these vary each season and also depend on how early you book your tickets.

    Scenic Train Prices in New Zealand
    Route/ CompanyOne way ticket price
    Northern Explorer (Auckland to Wellington)299
    Coastal Pacific (Christchurch to Picton)177
    TranzAlpine
    (Christchurch to Greymouth)
    239

    4. Domestic Flights

    Obviously, flying is the most expensive transport option in New Zealand. But it’s also the easiest and fastest option to get from A to B.

    The two main carriers are Air New Zealand and Jetstar. You can often find cheap flights and bargains with Jetstar, but you get what you pay for. Jetstar is the low-cost carrier and Air New Zealand is the boujee one.

    The cities in New Zealand are pretty well-connected across these two carriers. You’ll also find smaller planes to get to small areas and islands across New Zealand such as Great Barrier or Stewart Island.

    But to be honest, land travel is the best in New Zealand. There’s a reason why “roadies” are so popular, you get to take it all in from the roadside window seat. Even if it does take a bit longer to get there.

    Here are some prices that you can expect to pay when flying across the country. These prices in NZD and are priced for bookings 3 months in advance, including one checked bag and on a weekday:

    Domestic Flight Prices in NZ
    Air New ZealandJet Star
    Auckland to Wellington10986
    Auckland to Christchurch12779
    Auckland to Queenstown153115
    Wellington to Queenstown123101
    Christchurch to Queenstown131202
    Christchurch to Wellington9989

    Fun fact: If you book an Air New Zealand flight between Monday to Friday between 4:35 pm and 7:05 pm, it’s more than likely you’ll be flying Koru Hour… which in layman’s terms means FREE booze.

    5. Rental Cars

    Having your own transport in New Zealand is a serious game-changer. Sure, buses can get you from A to B, but if you want to get off the beaten track or drive through rivers, having your own wheels is crucial.

    A car crossing a river on a dirt track with mountains in the distance near Queenstown, New Zealand
    Scenic drives.
    Photo: Nic Hilditch-Short

    There are some pretty EPIC, remote Airbnbs to stay in New Zealand that will be a heck of a lot easier to get to with your own transport.

    New Zealand has a load of global car rental companies, such as Budget, Hertz and Avis. But JUCY Rentals will forever hold a special spot in my Kiwi heart. These cars are ICONIC on New Zealand roads in the summertime. You can’t travel far without spotting the bright purple and green colours of a juicy car or van.

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    6. Vanlife <3

    Most travellers head down under with the dream of campervanning around New Zealand. And oh what a worthy dream that is! There is nothing better than the freedom of a camper to explore the incredible landscapes of New Zealand.

    No time constraints, no racing for the bus. Just you and your house on wheels looking for the next park-up spot on your South Island road trip. When it comes to campervanning in New Zealand, you’ve got a couple of options:

    jucy campervan rental in new zealand and australia
    JUCY, JUCY.

    Option 1: Rent Yo’ self a Van!

    JUCY Rentals are my favourite, as with their cars, the colours really POP on the roads. With their bright green and purple branding, you’ll be driving a Kiwi icon around the New Zealand roads. Most of the time, you can pick up in one location and drop off in another (however, you’ll pay a bit more for this).

    Although vanlife seems like a low-cost adventure, the cost of hiring a van can add up pretty fast. Renting a campervan in New Zealand can vary from 50NZD to 500NZD a night depending on the length of the rental, the season and the type of van you decide to go with. To get more of a cost breakdown, check out our full guide on campervanning in New Zealand.

    Option 2: Buy a Van, Explore the Country, And Sell It Before You Leave!

    Assuming you can find someone to buy it at the end of your trip, this is the cheapest option as (in an ideal world) you will get your money back. If you’re going to be travelling in New Zealand for at least a few months, I’d recommend looking into this option.

    You can find some goodies on buy-and-sell platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Trademe (New Zealand’s version of Gumtree). But be sure to do your due diligence and check the vehicle is in working order before you pay the bill, friends!

    van parked up on a beach in New Zealand
    Now that’s freedom, baby.
    Photo: @danielle_wyatt

    Although van life isn’t always the cheapest option, it’s the BEST way to explore New Zealand, especially over the summer period. You can get to some incredible, remote locations and sleep the night here.

    7. Ferries Between Islands

    Getting between north and south, you only really have two options. Fly or catch the ferry from Wellington-Picton (and visa versa).

    Bluebridge and the Interislander are both ferries that travel between the two islands daily. Both are car ferries that welcome humans, vehicles, motorbikes and even pets!

    They have private cabins if you want to sleep but overall they are pretty comfy for the 3.5-hour journey. I usually book with the interislander but they are the same. I’d just compare the prices on the day you want to leave.

    two friends on a windy boat ride with hair blowing everywhere
    Windy ride through the Cook Strait.
    Photo: @danielle_wyatt

    If the seas are choppy, I’d recommend waiting for a calm day to book your Interislander Ferry or stocking up on some sea legs and a sick bag. This is a gnarly ride on a rocky day.

    You’ll also find ferries are common for getting to all popular island locations. For example, Great Barrier Island, the Bay of Islands, Waiheke Island and Stewart Island.

    8. Hitchhiking & Ridesharing

    Ok, budget backpackers. This one is for you! Hitchhiking your way around is the best budget-friendly way to explore New Zealand.

    New Zealand is a great country to stick your thumb out and hope for the best. If you have a friendly smile on your face, it usually doesn’t take long to get a ride from a fellow traveller or friendly Kiwi.

    Solo female hitchhiker takes selfie as she waits for a ride in Japan.
    Stick that thumb out, smile and wait.
    Photo: @audyscala

    Another option is to get chatting around your hostel and make some travel buddies. There will more than likely be other travellers heading in your direction that you can share a ride with.

    If someone else has a van or a car, I don’t think they will be complaining if you’re pitching in for some gas money (and providing some great chat).

    Hostels are a bloody great way to make friends to travel with and bring the costs down. My favourite hostel in New Zealand is Absoloot Hostel, Queenstown. This hostel is a bit of a flashpacker hangout, with Playstation, X-Box, and Wii. Plus, some pretty EPIC views over the lake and mountains.

    However You Travel, Travel Insured

    Good travel insurance is essential for any adventure. The last thing you want is to be calling a rescue helicopter as your mode of transport and realising you’re gonna have to pay for it!

    ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.

    They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

    SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

    Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

    Final Thoughts on Transport in New Zealand

    However you choose to journey across this Kiwi land, you’re in for an absolute banger of a trip.

    You could be in the window seat of a busy bus, gazing down from the sky or hand out the window as you drive your camper down the windy roads. As long as you’re in New Zealand, in some mode of transport, exploring this incredible country, you’re a step ahead of the rest.

    I hope you’ve found this article helpful in planning how you’re going to get around New Zealand. Although New Zealand transport doesn’t compare to the likes of Europe or the USA, it does the job.

    If I had to recommend one mode of transport for getting around NZ it would 100% be to rent or buy your own set of wheels through a company such as JUCY Rentals. Campervanning or van life in New Zealand is simply unbeatable.

    Enjoy your escapes down under. New Zealand’s excited to have you!

    Will with a car on the beach in New Zealand
    Pick up a pick up and GO!
    Photo: @willhatton__
    Looking for more info on travelling to New Zealand?

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