The best way to discover New Zealand is by road and there are plenty of choices available. But sometimes, the real beauty of this country can only be appreciated by air.
New Zealand is made up of three main islands – the North Island, South Island and Stewart Island – and several smaller islands including the Chathams, to the east of the country.
Road travel offers tourists the chance to explore the places that make New Zealand unique. However, with a population of just 4 million people and a land mass similar to that of Japan, New Zealand’s roading network is not too sophisticated compared to many other developed nations.
Campervan New Zealand
Hiring a campervan to tour New Zealand is a popular option. It offers travellers a mode of transport and their accommodation all in one. Luxury motorhomes are totally self-contained and include sleeping berths, cooking facilities plus a toilet and shower.
At the budget end, there are vans which include limited cooking and sleeping facilities but it is generally illegal for people travelling this way to “freedom camp” – many regions prohibit people camping in public places where there is no access to toilet facilities.
Rental Car Hire New Zealand
Another great way to see New Zealand is to hire a rental car. A range of vehicle types for all budgets are easily available. Self-drive holidays are very popular given the excellent range of New Zealand accommodation available.
Bus New Zealand
New Zealand offers a variety of bus travel. Many people book a tour package which includes flights to New Zealand, airport transfers, accommodation, sightseeing and bus travel.
Many popular tourist destinations offer bus day trips to popular attractions which don’t need to be booked in advance. There is also the option of exploring New Zealand by scheduled bus services – several operators offer backpacker travel too.
Train New Zealand
Train travel in New Zealand is limited in many places but there are some fabulous scenic train trips available. In particular, the Tranz Alpine Express and Taieri Gorge trip are highly recommended as unique ways to experience New Zealand’s natural beauty.
Bicycle New Zealand
Due to New Zealand’s lack of decent roading, cycling in New Zealand – especially on main roads and highways – can be dangerous. The death of a German cyclist in January 2010 highlighted the difficulty many touring on bike experience. Be sure to research your cycle route thoroughly – get it right and it’s a fantastic way to explore New Zealand.
Scenic Flights New Zealand
There are many places in New Zealand that are best seen by air. Helicopter and fixed-wings flights are popular, for example, round Queenstown. Fiordland is another area where scenic flights are in demand.
Again, research your itinerary and, if a scenic flight is possible, try and get at least one in during your stay!
Sea Travel New Zealand
Ferry travel is a necessity in New Zealand for those travelling between the islands by road. There are numerous ferry services (includes vehicles) across Cook Strait each day – it’s the body of water that separates the North and South Islands. There is also a catamaran service to Stewart Island while numerous ferry services operate in areas where there are bays dotted with islands.
Also worth considering are the various cruises available in areas round New Zealand’s coast.
Planning New Zealand Road Travel
One of the best things you can do when planning your road travel is to research the route you intend to take. Travelling times in many areas can take longer than anticipated because of the terrain to be covered and the amount and types of traffic on the roads.
In some places passing opportunities can be limited and drivers in a hurry often take risks that cause accidents. The open-road speed limit is 100km/h.
When travelling during the winter especially, keep an eye on the weather forecast and road conditions. If you intend to be in a high-country or alpine area be sure to carry chains. New Zealand does not apply salt to the roads and rain and snow can quickly turn to ice.
Take advantage of the many public rest areas and lookout spots spread throughout the countryside – they allow drivers to safely pull off the road and rejoin the traffic.
In some places, particularly the road to Milford Sound, in Fiordland, it is recommended tourists avoid driving and take a bus service instead – the scenery is captivating, the road challenging in the best of weather and in spring, avalanche danger is often high.