How to Travel New Zealand

by | Mar 29, 2020 | 0 comments

Man at beach with sunhat

When preparing for our trip to New Zealand, we looked into all possible ways of traveling around the country. From renting a campervan to bus travel, there are options to fit all touring styles and budget. If you’re struggling to pick which route you’ll go, then this article is for you! In it we break down the pros and cons for each method of travel, so you can make an informed decision on how you’ll tour New Zealand.

Rent a Campervan

Man freedom camping in New Zealand campervan.

Renting a campervan is perhaps the most iconic way of traveling New Zealand.

Best For: People who want to see many destinations and desire the utmost freedom with their itinerary.

Pros

  • Your transportation also doubles as your accommodation, meaning you don’t have to pack and unpack every time you move locations. This enables you to cover more ground in a shorter period of time.
  • You’ll have a kitchen in your vehicle, allowing you to cook your own meals and save money on dining out.
  • Many companies offer early booking deals. If you plan well in advance of your trip, you can snag one of these offers and get a better rate than if you waited until the last minute.
  • There are campervans of all sizes and levels of outfitting. Pick the one that fits your needs, travel style and budget accordingly.

Cons

  • Gas is expensive, and so the bigger the campervan you rent, the more you’ll spend on travel between destinations.
  • It’s hard to freedom camp in New Zealand, so most people end up paying additional costs to park each night at a holiday park, adding extra expenses to the trip.
  • Smaller campervans require the trunk to be open while cooking. In the winter, spring or fall this could get uncomfortable if it’s cold or raining outside. In the summer you instead have mosquitoes and sandflies to deal with.
  • Space is limited. You’ll get to know the people you’re traveling with very well, including all their habits and body odors.
Lots of campervans touring New Zealand

Campervan Rental Companies

Here’s a list of campervan companies to consider based on your budget:

Low Budget

Mid Range

High End

Buy a Campervan

Buy a campervan. It's the best way to travel New Zealand

It takes time and money to purchase a campervan in New Zealand. Do not expect to hit the road a few days after your arrival. After doing the math, we found it was only worth purchasing a campervan if traveling the country for 3 months or longer; any shorter of a trip and it’s cheaper to just rent.

Best For: People traveling New Zealand on a working holiday visa or retirees.

Pros

  • Your home is on wheels! Go where the wind takes you.
  • Maximum flexibility in staying where you like, for however long you’d like (assuming it fits within the campsite regulations).
  • Most of the campervans for sale are smaller in size (converted Toyota Previa and the like), meaning better fuel efficiency.

Cons

  • It can take weeks upon arrival into New Zealand to find and buy the right campervan. We ran into a few long-term travelers that experienced this lag time and said they paid high costs to stay in Auckland during that period. If you do plan to purchase a vehicle, budget some extra money for the start of your trip.
  • Even if you buy a vehicle, it’s likely you’ll need to outfit it to fit your exact needs. This may include repairs, building out the interior, or gathering supplies. These expenses add up quickly and aren’t cost effective for a time sensitive holiday.
Woman using self-contained toilet in campervan traveling around New Zealand
Not Pictured: The self-contained toilet that I’m using since there’s no public restroom onsite.
  • Space is limited. You’ll get to know the people you’re traveling with very well, including all their habits and body odors.
  • Smaller campervans require the trunk to be open while cooking. In the winter, spring or fall this could be uncomfortable if it’s cold or raining outside. In the summer you instead have mosquitoes and sandflies to deal with.
  • You’ll need to be prepared to either pay for campsites with hot showers, or get used to bathing in more public spaces. Either way, you likely won’t be taking one every day.

Buying Resources

There are multiple resources available for people looking to purchase a campervan in New Zealand. Try these out:

Relocate a Car or Campervan

Many rental companies offer relocation deals for helping them move a vehicle from one branch to another.

Best For: People on an extremely tight budget and who don’t mind moving fast.

Pros

  • Extremely discounted rental rates. Often you can find a relocation for only a couple of dollars a day in exchange for moving their vehicles for them.
  • You get to dictate your own itinerary. While the rental will specify a pickup and drop-off location, you get to determine where to go and what to do/see in between.
  • Some relocation deals come with additional perks, such as $100 NZD toward gas, or a free ferry ticket if moving from one island to the other. Make sure to read the offer’s details to know exactly what is or isn’t included.

Cons

  • Relocations are time restrictive, often giving travelers only a few days between the pickup and drop-off dates to complete the journey. This means you’ll be moving fast and may spend most of your time on the road versus out sightseeing. While some offers allow people to tag on extra days at the regular rental rate, it still makes for a high-paced vacation.
  • Relocation offers aren’t typically listed until 1-3 months before the pickup date. You’ll need to check the deals page often and jump on any that interest you because they get booked quickly.
  • Relocations are often from less desirable locations to more popular ones. Getting to the initial pickup spot may be challenging and cost a pretty penny.
  • Many rental companies offer early booking deals to people. If you don’t get a relocation offer, then you could end up paying higher rates for a last minute standard rental.

Relocation Websites

Here are a few relocation websites to get you started:

ProTip: Check for relocation deals on brand specific websites as well.

Car Camp

Morning view over rotorua

Car camping provides a similar experience to traveling by campervan, but in a more compact space.

Best For: Solo travelers or couples who pack minimally, seek freedom and don’t mind spending lots of time in nature.

Pros

  • Car camping is extremely budget friendly. You can easily fit your camping gear into the back of a small rental car, which has a cheaper rental rate and more fuel efficiency than campervans.
  • Camping equipment can be purchased in country (or brought from out of country if you follow these rules).
  • You’ll get up close and personal in nature. The outdoors will become your home.
  • Cars will still provide the utmost flexibility to travel where you want, when you want.
Sign pointing the way to a nudist camp.

Cons

  • Freedom camping isn’t available in many locations for Non Self-Contained vehicles (including tent campers). You’ll likely end up having to pay for campsites more often than not. Hopefully the costs for a holiday park will be offset by the savings you receive from a cheaper car rental.
  • Camping in inclement weather can suck. Especially when having to cook or setup your tent in it.
  • Fitting everything into a small car may be difficult. You’ll need to travel light.
  • You’ll be outside more often, getting exposed to any sandflies and mosquitoes around. In some weather and parts of the island this may become overwhelming.
  • Storing food will be difficult. At best you’ll have a cooler (aka chilly box). This means you’ll be more limited in what you can cook, relying on shelf stable ingredients, or purchasing cold ingredients on the day of.

Rental Companies

Although there are some brand name rental companies you’ll recognize from home (such as Enterprise and Hertz), don’t be afraid of the more local car rentals. They tend to have better rates since their reach is greater around the islands. Here are some companies to consider:

City Hop by Car

Renting a car is the best way to see New Zealand.

Traveling New Zealand by car allows you to enjoy the amenities of a city while still having the freedom to do as you please.

Best For: People with a larger budget who prefer to stay in hotels, hostels or Airbnb’s.

Pros

  • The daily rental rate for a car is better than that of a campervan.
  • Rental cars are also more fuel efficient, meaning you’ll spend less overall on gas.
  • Cars are nimbler than campervans and easier to drive without experience.
  • You’ll have to rent rooms in either a hotel, Airbnb or hostel. These come with all the regular amenities one could need while traveling (bed, bathroom, shower).

Cons

  • You’ll need to book a hostel, hotel or Airbnb in each location you plan to base yourself. These aren’t cheap and can add quite a lot of cost onto your overall budget. As a couple, we found this route to be more expensive than renting a campervan.
  • Many nature sights are hours away from a city, meaning you may spend half the day (if not more) in the car getting there and back. Be prepared for long hours on the road and early wake up calls.
  • You may not have access to a kitchen, meaning you’ll be dining out for meals, which adds up quickly.

Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before heading out on vacation. Covering everything from lost bags, to canceled flights and injuries on the road, this is one item we never leave home without. Our favorite travel insurance is World Nomads. Learn more about their coverage policy, or get started with a quote.

Tour by Bus

Man riding Intercity Bus in New Zealand

If you’re looking to tour around without the hassle of renting a vehicle, then using one of the country’s bus services will be your best bet.

Best For: Budget travelers that don’t want the added cost of renting a vehicle.

Pros

  • You’ll save heaps of money from not renting a vehicle or paying for fuel.
  • Your housing will be rented rooms in either a hotel, Airbnb or hostel. These come with all the regular amenities one could need while traveling (bed, bathroom, shower).
  • You’ll get to meet other travelers also using the bus and possibly make some long-term friends.
  • Not having to drive is stress free when getting from one destination to another. Just hop on board and let the driver do the rest.

Cons

  • Tickets for popular routes may sell out, especially in high season. This could make traveling without a set itinerary difficult.
  • Once in a city you’re then stuck paying for guided tours or finding friends which vehicles in order to get out and see the sights.
  • Bus rides can take a long time. If you’re vacation days are limited, then you may not want to spend many of them sitting on a bus.

Bus Companies

If planning to travel by bus, consider getting a bus pass. These companies are good ones to check out:

  • InterCity
    • We used InterCity for one leg of our journey and found them reliable and comfortable. They operate on both the North and South Islands.
  • Skip Bus
    • Skip Bus is similar to InterCity, allowing you to purchase one ticket at a time. However, they only operate on the North Island.
  • The Kiwi Experience
    • This is for people looking to do a multi-city tour by bus. It’s made for backpackers, so you’ll be traveling with and meeting like-minded individuals.

Hitchhike

Man walking down Mount Cook Road. Hitchhiking best way to see New Zealand.

The most budget savings of all options is to skip renting or paying for transit and instead hitchhike across the country (yes, hitchhiking is legal in New Zealand).

Best For: Extreme budget travelers, those with a sense of adventure and aren’t concerned about min/maxing your time.

Pros

  • It’s an extremely inexpensive way of traveling. Although you may be requested to help pitch in for gas, you’ll still save heaps of money compared to having a full rental of your own.
  • Getting to your final destination is half of the adventure. You never know where exactly you’ll end up each day.
  • You’ll get to meet new people. Everyone who picks you up is a potential life-long friend!

Cons

  • Hitchhiking is best for solo or paired travelers. Larger groups (3 or more) will find it difficult to find people with enough space in their vehicle.
  • It could take you a long time to reach your desired destination. There’s no guarantee of when you’ll get a ride, or how far they’re traveling.
  • You may find yourself stuck on the side of the road in inclement weather.
  • Even though hitchhiking is legal, there’s also some risk involved. You never know who’s picking you up. Trust your gut, and don’t get into the car with someone if the situation feels off.
  • You’ll be limited to only traveling with what you can carry (ideally in a backpack). The lighter the better. The more gear you have, the less appealing you’ll be to drivers.

Still debating on how to see New Zealand? Save this article for later!

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