New Zealand for non-drivers: how to get around without a car

Most people think you need a car or motorhome to travel in New Zealand.

It is true that having your own vehicle has certain advantages. You can access remote areas and small towns, discovering all the hidden gems along the way, with frequent stops to take in the scenery we are so famous for.

But if you can’t drive or don’t want to, there are some options available to you. They may cost you more in time or money, but it is possible to get around without a car.

Here are some things to consider.

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Flying

New Zealand has four main international airports: Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Queenstown. But there are also regional airports scattered throughout the country.

Air New Zealand offers frequent flights between all major cities and regular flights from major cities to most regions – a total of 20 domestic destinations.

Be prepared to take small planes if you are traveling in the regions.

Provided

Be prepared to take small planes if you are traveling in the regions.

low cost airline Jetstar also offers flights from Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown and Wellington.

There are also smaller airlines that serve more distant routes, such as Sounds Air, Originair and Sunair.

Flying is by far the fastest way to travel between centers – and certainly the islands. A flight from Auckland to Wellington, for example, takes about an hour, while the journey would take you eight hours.

But domestic flights can be expensive. One-way flights start around the $50 mark, but you need to book months in advance to get the best deals. If you’re booking for a weekend or an event is going on, thefts can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars.

Getting from the airport to the city, and vice versa, can be a hidden expense. Buses from Auckland and Wellington airports are not currently operating, meaning travelers will need to take a taxi, Uber or shuttle.

The buses

You can also travel around the country by bus. Long distance is the largest bus network, and also used by locals, with stops across the country from Kaitaia to Invercargill – although some routes are currently not operating or have very limited times due to Covid.

You can purchase tickets for specific routes, or travelers can purchase a FlexiPass which allows you to purchase a certain number of hours on the road and then reserve your routes. Pricing ranges from $98 for 10 hours or $561 for 80 hours.

InterCity also offers a TravelPass where you can choose from a range of pre-planned routes. Many of them also include tourist activities.

Kiwi experience is another national bus network, although more aimed at backpackers. They are scheduled to resume their hop-on hop-off bus service in November 2022, but they also offer group tours.

The trains

The TranzAlpine is considered one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.

Great NZ Trips

The TranzAlpine is considered one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.

There are only a handful of long-distance passenger rail services in New Zealand.

There are three great train journeys known as “Great Journeys”, which are considered more scenic rail journeys than commuter trains – but there’s no reason you can’t use them for yourself get from A to B.

here are the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth, the Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington, and the Coastal Pacific from Picton to Christchurch (the last two routes are expected to resume in September 2022).

A one-way ticket for TranzAlpine starts at $109, for the Northern Explorer at $219 and for the Coastal Pacific at $159. So it will certainly be more expensive than flying, but it’s a nice way to travel.

It is possible to stop at some stations along the routes and re-board the train at a later date. Just let them know before you travel.

Auckland and Hamilton are linked by the new Te Huia train, with return services twice a day during the week and once on Saturdays.

You can take the Capital connection train between Wellington and Palmerston North. There are also regular trains from Wellington to Wairarapa and the Kapiti Coast.

Ferries

There are two ferry companies that connect the North and South Islands via the Cook Strait – the inter-island and Bluebridge.

The crossing time is about 3h30. Prices vary, but you’ll pay around $60 for a walk-in fare.

If you have an InterCity FlexiPass or TravelPass, the ferry is included, so you can continue your journey by bus to the other island.

It is also possible to travel from Auckland to the west coast of the South Island using a combination of the three Great Journeys scenic trains and the Interislander ferry.

Guided tours

Even if you decide to stay based in the main hubs, many operators offer transfers or guided tours to major attractions that would otherwise be difficult to access without a car.

There are several options if you want to get to Hobbiton, with transfers available from Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton. Milford Sound is also well served, with day trips from Queenstown and Te Anau.

If you explore New Zealand’s wine regions, you’ll find an abundance of wine tours – which are also ideal for those who know how to drive, but want to indulge in some tasting. There are different options, ranging from guided tours, hop-on hop-off buses that do tours around the vineyards, and bike rentals so you can cycle through the vineyards.

Private drivers

If you don’t feel like taking public transport and you have the budget for it, you can consider hiring a private driver instead.

There are a number of companies offering this service across the country. You can either come up with your own itinerary and send it for a quote or they will prepare one for you.

Since it’s such a personalized service, prices vary widely, but be prepared to pay around $1,000 per day. Keep in mind that the price will also include accommodation and meals for your driver.

Great walks and great walks

Some of New Zealand's most spectacular scenery can only be reached on foot.

123rf

Some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery can only be reached on foot.

One of the best ways to see some of the most spectacular parts of the country is to get off the beaten path.

New Zealand has an excellent network of walking and cycling trails. There are 10 great walks and 23 big ridesscattered throughout the country.

You may need to do a bit of planning ahead – some tracks and trails are only open at certain times of the year – and you’ll need to make sure you have the right gear. There are also operators who can help you organize your trip and arrange transfers at the start and end of your trip.

It is even possible to walk the entire length of the country, following Te Araroa, which means “The long way” in Maori. The 3000 km trail stretches from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south. It’s for those with a lot of free time – it takes four to six months to do everything.

hitchhiking

While hitchhiking is legal in New Zealand and it is not uncommon to see travelers waiting to be picked up on the side of major highways, Tourism New Zealand strongly advises against it.

“While New Zealand is a safe country to travel, hitchhiking carries certain risks,” his website says.

“Unfortunately, as in all countries, there are untrustworthy people who can take advantage of hitchhikers if given the chance. Take responsibility for your personal safety by seeking reliable transportation.

Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider alternative ways to travel, bundle your trips and, when you have to fly, consider offsetting emissions. To offset your carbon emissions, go to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset.

What are your tips for getting around New Zealand as a non-driver? Share them in the comments.

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