The Best Way to Travel Around New Zealand
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
New Zealand is a bucket list destination for many people. Since the Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand has experienced a substantial increase in tourism with over 3.82 million visitors in 2018. To put this in perspective, New Zealand has a population of only 4.7 million people which means that the population almost doubles when tourists come to visit.
New Zealand's dramatic and diverse landscape peaks the interest of many and often those that come to visit end up staying because they fall in love with this beautiful country. As a girl that loves being outdoors, New Zealand was high on my bucket list. So when Bryce and I planned our Round-The-World Trip, we made sure that New Zealand was one of the first places that we visited.
What is the Best way to Travel Around New Zealand?
Traveling around New Zealand is actually really easy! There are a lot of different transportation options available ranging from tour buses to trains to renting a camper van.
While planning our trip, Bryce and I created a list of criteria that was important for us to fully enjoy our time in New Zealand. I highly recommend doing this for any trip you go on as it will help you determine what is the best way for you to travel around a country.
Our travel criteria for New Zealand included:
1. We wanted to camp as much as possible.
2. We wanted to be on our own schedule (Travel Freedom).
3. As big outdoorsy people, we wanted to be able to access hiking trails and off-the-beaten towns/regions.
4. We had a moderate transportation budget ($2,500).
5. We had 2.5 months to travel around both the North & South Island.
With our criteria created, we then researched the different transportation options available in New Zealand to see which would work best for us. Below I have listed the 5 main ways in which you can travel around New Zealand based on cost, travel freedom, and travel time.
Cost: Cheapest Option (Free)
Travel Freedom: Limited
Travel Time: Slow
Overall: Best for those on a tight budget, that want an adventure, and who have the ability to travel around New Zealand for 3+ months.
If you have a limited budget and you feel comfortable meeting strangers, then hitchhiking might be your best option! Bryce and I never did try hitchhiking, but we heard that it is pretty safe in New Zealand. We even met a few people who were hitchhiking to get around the country while we were there.
I think this option could be fun, however, you are basically at the mercy of the driver that picks you up, and fingers crossed you don’t have to wait too long (or meet a crazy person). For all those people that have hitchhiked in New Zealand though, I bet they have some pretty interesting stories. If you consider doing this option, always put safety as your top priority and never be afraid to decline a ride if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
For more information on hitchhiking in New Zealand visit: https://www.backpackerguide.nz/hitchhiking-in-new-zealand/
2. Public Transportation (Bus, Ferry & Train)
Cost: Budget Friendly (bus/ferry) to Expensive (train)
Travel Freedom: Limited
Travel Time: Slow
Overall: Best for those on a tight/moderate budget (if you choose the bus/ferry) and who know the exact cities they want to visit. Also a good option for those who have the ability to travel for a few months.
(Note: The train is a very unique way to see New Zealand, however, it is a bit expensive).
Are you on a tight budget? Then choosing Public Transportation to travel around the North and South Island might be your best option. However, because of this countries small population size, the public transportation system in New Zealand is limited.
Depending on how many weeks/months you plan to travel around New Zealand, you might be able to get away with using their public transportation network. The buses do stop in all of the major cities and tourist attractions on both the North & South island, but I think the best adventures are the ones off the beaten track.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast or a big hiker, you may find that using public transportation to explore New Zealand to be extra challenging as most trail heads are located outside of the cities. This may restrict your ability to fully experience the wild landscapes that New Zealand is known for.
For more information on traveling New Zealand via public transportation visit: https://www.newzealand.com/au/public-transport-in-new-zealand/
3. Tour Companies/Hop-On Hop-Off Buses
Cost: Moderate to Expensive
Travel Freedom: Moderate
Travel Time: Fast or Slow
Overall: Best for those who are visiting New Zealand for a short period of time (ie. 2 - 4 weeks) and who are traveling solo.
Tour companies (like Kiwi Experience) or Hop-On & Hop-Off buses will get you to all of the major tourist stops around New Zealand. This makes for a very convenient travel experience as you do not have to worry too much about your travel route which will save you a lot of time when it comes to planning your trip. Traveling with a tour company is also a great way to meet people, especially if you are traveling solo.
It is important to note that most travellers that use this option tend to be between 21 - 35 years old, though I'd argue that most are under 26. Just make sure to do your research so that you don’t end up on a tour with a lot of 21 year olds who are ready to party each and every night…unless thats your style of travelling!
I have had a few friends who have chosen to travel around New Zealand with a tour company and they had a great time! I even met an older couple that said their son met his now wife on a Kiwi Experience tour. So if you are looking for love...or to at least meet a few people, this option would be great for you!
For more information on traveling New Zealand via tour/hop-on hop-off buses visit: https://www.newzealand.com/au/feature/hop-on-hop-off-buses/
4. Rent or Buy a Camper Van
Travel Freedom: High
Travel Time: Fast or Slow
Overall: Renting a Camper Van is best if you are visiting New Zealand for less than 4-weeks, otherwise, the cost really adds up - especially if you are visiting during high season (December to February)! If you are staying in New Zealand for over 3-months, then buying a camper van (or even a car) would be a better option.
On Instagram and blogs related to traveling around New Zealand you will often see beautiful photos of people living in a converted van staying in breathtaking spots around the Island - almost romanticizing the idea! And to be honest, Bryce and I started to fall for that iconic way of exploring the country too…that is until we looked up the price to rent a camper van/car that you could sleep in.
Since we were traveling around new Zealand for 2.5 months, renting a camper van was way too expensive for us! We also didn't think it financially made sense for us to buy a van, and I was a bit worried that we might purchase a vehicle that breaks down or that we were unable to sell at the end of our trip.
I think that if you have the budget available and you are only in New Zealand for a couple weeks, then renting a camper van would be a really fun way to see the country. Also, if you have a group of friends to travel with (3 - 4) or you are cool with picking up hitch hikers, a camper van could be more affordable as you could split the cost of the rental and gas. Below are the most common camper van rentals that Bryce and I seen while driving around New Zealand (Bryce was keeping a tally):
Britz - mostly rented by older couples.
Jucy - mostly rented by younger couples.
Maui - mostly rented by older couples.
Backpackers Guide NZ has a great post about Camper Van Rentals in New Zealand: https://www.backpackerguide.nz/things-you-need-to-know-about-camper-van-rental-in-new-zealand/
If you decide to buy a camper van or car, you might be able to get some money back when you sell it making this a cost effective option. However, there is always the risk of having your vehicle break down or selling it for much lower than you had purchased it for. Just be aware of the risks and choose whichever option you are more comfortable with.
5. Rent a Car
Cost: Budget Friendly to Moderate
Travel Freedom: High
Travel Time: Fast or Slow
Overall: Best for those who have a moderate budget, who are spontaneous, and who like to get off the beaten track (all my hikers and outdoor enthusiasts out there!). This is also a great option if you are in New Zealand between 1.5 - 3 months.
Initially when Bryce and I started to plan our trip to New Zealand we wanted to travel the most iconic way possible - in a camper van. However, we soon realized that renting a camper van for a long period of time is super expensive. So we scaled back our plan and decided to rent a car instead.
Having a car provided Bryce and I with the ultimate freedom to road trip around New Zealand. We could change our plans last minute, stay in a place longer if we liked, and visit small towns or hiking trails that can only be reached if you have your own vehicle. This allowed us to travel and explore this great country our way.
Bryce and I researched and compared a lot of car rental companies and ended up booking through Bargain Rental Cars ($17.67 CAN per day) and through Easy Rent with a company called Love Trip ($20.62 CAN per day). Depending on the time of year you are traveling and how early you book, you could probably get daily rental rates for less than what Bryce and I did.
Bryce and I made sure that our car rentals included two drivers in the price. We also declined the additional insurance and chose to use the car insurance provided by my AMEX Credit Card instead to save money. Note: This insurance only covers the cost of any damage done to the rental vehicle, not any injuries that happen to you or anyone else.
Bryce and I also did not purchase or have third party insurance. This was for a few reasons:
1. My car insurance from Canada would not cover me for third party insurance outside of North America.
2. It seemed like no car rental company offered Third Party Insurance in New Zealand.
3. New Zealand has a thing called the Accident Compensation Corporation which covers the cost of injuries to New Zealanders and Visitors. You can find more information on that here: https://www.acc.co.nz/
Being from Canada, not having Third Party Insurance really stressed me out as I didn't fully trust the ACC because that concept seemed so foreign to me. So Bryce and I drove very carefully and luckily we never got into any accidents.
Our total for renting a car in New Zealand for 70 days was $1,425 CAN. That price does not include gas. Gas in New Zealand is VERY expensive ($2.20 NZ - $2.35 NZ per litre in 2019), so make sure you account for that in your budget. Bryce and I drove all around both the North & South Island and gas came to $1,333 CAN (more than I had budgeted).
Final Car Rental Total: $2,758 CAN - slightly over our budget.
Again, if you book a few months early and are not picky on the type of vehicle you get, you can probably rent a car with a cheaper daily rental rate than we did.
If you decide to camp while traveling around New Zealand, be sure to download the awesome CamperMate app, which lets you find nearby campsites, gas stations, and dump stations.
*NOTE: If you decide to rent a campervan or car, be aware of the one way fee. You may want to travel in a loop so that you can drop-off your vehicle back where you picked it up to avoid paying that fee.
How to Decide?
Remember that this is YOUR trip! And you need to travel and explore this country in the way that best suits you and your budget.
If you aren't comfortable with hitchhiking, then don't do it! Nervous about driving in another country (remember they drive on the left side) then don't force yourself to do it. If you want to just hit-up all the "Must-Visit" tourist spots of New Zealand, then public transportation might work great for you! Coming to New Zealand to hike and see nature, then having your own ride will be best.
Also, keep your budget in mind as well! Remember that if you do decide to rent a vehicle, you will have to pay for gas which is very expensive in New Zealand (Approx. $2.20 NZ - $2.35 NZ per litre in 2019).
No matter what option you choose, New Zealand is truly a fun, safe, and beautiful country to explore.
What do you think is the best way to explore a country? Do you have any questions about New Zealand that you would like answered? Just ask in the comments below. :)
Brittany & Bryce