The best way to see New Zealand is by long drives to every corner of the country’s two islands. From the road, people can make the most of this country’s scenery. Rolling mountain ranges, crystal clear lakes and waterfall after waterfall, you really shouldn’t miss a single sight here.
But not everyone can travel this way. Depending on who you’re traveling with and how much money you have to burn will determine how you travel New Zealand. People have a few options of transportation while touring the country, each has its pros and cons. One or many could be right for you.
Car or campervan
Freedom! You have your own wheels, which means you can go where you want, stop wherever and always have a place to sleep. Not to mention you no longer have to lug around all your bags and with a car you can collect as many souvenirs as you’d like.
Having your own car or campervan will allow you to see a side of the country that all other means of transportation cannot. Sure you can stick to the normal route and visit Franz Josef Glacier or Milford Sound, but you can also visit less-traveled spots such as Tasman Glacier and Hokitika Gorge.
With freedom comes responsibility. When you travel New Zealand in your own vehicle or a rented vehicle, someone has to drive. Plus, you should consider travel insurance. It’s not a huge deal, but some might not want to even bother during their vacation.
The price of private transportation is another con and even a deal breaker for some. It’s possible to keep this option cheap if you have enough people pitching in, but petrol is expensive in New Zealand as is buying or renting a vehicle. Even if traveling this way works out to be more affordable in the end, a large sum of money is almost always required up front.
This is usually the most affordable way to travel the country. Companies like Intercity or Naked Bus offer bus fares as low as $NZ1. Of course you’ll have to be pretty lenient to get a rate this low, but it’s all part of the adventure right?
On top of cheap fares, you’ll get your fill of scenery during long coach journeys in which you won’t have to drive. Make sure to get a window seat!
Lack of freedom. Not only will you have to plan your travels around the company’s timetable, but you also won’t be able to stop wherever and whenever you please. It’s a pretty big negative considering all the scenic lookouts and trails located directly off the main highways here.
Like with public buses, this is a relaxing and stress-free way to travel the country. Unlike public buses, private tour companies stop for some things along the way to a destination, such as scenic lookout points.
Another upside to these tours is that it’s easy to get to know people on them. Imagine a group of travelers in your age group all holidaying together on one bus and making the same stops. For some people this is a huge asset.
However some may not enjoy traveling with a group of fellow travelers. They may prefer to be on their own or travel more like the locals would.
Some might also want to have a bit more control of their trip. A lot of these tour companies stick to the accommodation or restaurants they have partnered with and either include these places in the cost or use these places as drop off and pick up points. Again this could be a pro or con, on one hand everything is planned for you, on the other you don’t get a lot of freedom or spontaneity in your trip.
What could also be considered a pro or con is the price of these tours. Usually they work out to be a lot more expensive than public transportation. However, sometimes depending on where or how many places you want to visit, certain hop-on, hop-off bus companies can actually be more affordable.
This option is more practical in New Zealand than anywhere else I’ve traveled. Driving around the country, you’ll see loads of people sitting on their bags, holding a piece of cardboard box with places like “Queenstown” or “Wellington” written on it in black marker.
Obviously the big perk here is free travel, though you should really give the driver a few dollars. Another big perk is the thrill. It’s exhilarating, waking up with no plans but to get somewhere, hanging out on the side of a road hoping for the best and taking off with a random stranger. Hitchhikers always seem to have the best stories.
It’s a risk. You’re taking a chance hopping into a car with a stranger, that is if anyone even offers to pick you up. The fear factor is on both sides and a lot of people can’t be bothered. This means waiting in the rain or snow, sometimes getting stuck somewhere for longer than you’d like.
Chances are if you chose to travel this way you’re doing it more so for the journey, not the destination. Routes like Christchurch to Arthurs Pass aren’t just a way for getting somewhere, but popular activities in the country. The five-hour journey leads passengers through the Canterbury Plains, past the Southern Alps, gorges, lakes and more. Even if you don’t need to travel by train, I would recommend looking into what scenic routes this country’s railway system has to offer.
New Zealand’s railway network is not very big. Sure it can take you from Wellington to Auckland or from Greymouth to Christchurch at a pretty fair rate too, but it’s not a practical way to travel the whole of the country.
This is the quickest means of travel, especially because you’re not required to arrive extremely early to get through security for most domestic flights around New Zealand. You’ll also get aerial views of places like the Marlborough Sounds or Queenstown traveling this way.
It’s expensive. Plus you’ll miss out on a lot. Sure you’ll see some things from above on short flights or at the end of long flights, but you’ll miss out on the sights that make traveling New Zealand so special.
Not to mention that this option is pretty impractical for people wanting to stop at a lot of destinations in the country. All airports in the country besides Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are quite small and only offer a few flights a day to only a few domestic locations. This means you might have to switch flights in Christchurch for what should only be a one hour flight from Queenstown. It just doesn’t make sense.
The best way to see New Zealand is by using more than just one of these means of transportation. Weigh out which options fit best with you time, budget and expectations of the trip.