How to Get Around New Zealand

A campervan on Wanaka Lake in New Zealand
It’s easy to get around New Zealand. 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.

When I was in New Zealand recently, I used nearly every one of these options so, today, I want to share the pros and cons of each so you know how to get around New Zealand the most (cost) effective and efficient way possible!

Backpacker Tours

Stray Bus, New Zealand
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’d say it’s about 50% 18-22-year-olds, 40% 23-27-year-olds, and 10% 28+. 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.
  • 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 picks up 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.

Trains

the Tranz Alpine train route in New Zealand; Photo by Johannes Vogel (flickr: @vogeljohannes)
New Zealand has three train lines: Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific (currently closed because of the earthquakes), 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 the prices:

New Zealand train routes

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.

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