Transport will take a big chunk of your New Zealand budget. For such a small country, the distances between main centres are reasonably large. Diversifying your travel options will most likely be your best option. I’ve already covered how to get cheap flights in New Zealand so now let’s cover travel hacking New Zealand via ground transportation.
New Zealand has some wonderfully scenic train rides. Travel by train often offers a slightly different perspective to travel by road. Just sit back and enjoy the scenery without having to worry about speed limits, toilet breaks and how much gas is left in the tank. The only downside? Rail travel in New Zealand ain’t cheap. You can, however, cut the costs with these simple tips:
- Book online using the Kiwi Rail website. There are three regular fare options available – Super Saver, Smart Saver, Fully Flexi and occasionally seasonal specials.
- Book in advance. Rail tickets get more expensive closer to the date of travel. If you book less than a week out, there won’t be any Super Saver tickets.
- Book from within New Zealand. I have it on good authority from the Man in Seat 61 that outside of New Zealand, if you search fares online, the Fully Flexi fare will be the only one displayed. If you want to book in advance outside of New Zealand use the Tor Browser to mask your IP address and give you access to the Super Saver and Smart Saver fares.
- Children get a slight discount but family passes are available for two adults and two kids or one adult and three kids.
If you’re travelling the whole of New Zealand by car or camper, you will need to use the Interislander ferry to hop between the North and South Islands. If you’re using public transport it less than half the price to fly between Wellington and Christchurch than it is to use the train & ferry combo. In fact, the ferry can be so costly that it might be cheaper overall if you hire a car an do a loop of the South Island and then fly to the North Island and hire a car there. For example, a one way ferry ride between Picton and Wellington with a car plus two adults and two children will cost over $250.
- Book online through the Interislander website. There are three fare options – Web Saver, Saver Change and Easy Change. Booking in advance doesn’t seem to alter the price. Web Saver fares always seem to be available, even when booking for same day travel.
- Once again, booking online within New Zealand (or Australia) displays the Web Saver fares while booking from overseas does not. Either book within New Zealand or mask your IP address as above.
- Sign up to the Interislander newsletter as they often email out promo codes.
- Children get a slight discount but family passes are available for two adults and two kids.
- See if your car hire company offers discounted ferry tickets. Occasionally deals will come up for car hire which includes a ferry ticket.
There are plenty of bus (coach) companies that will get you from A to B in Aotearoa either independently or as part of a tour. There are no glaring easy ways to save money on bus travel in New Zealand but if you’re travelling solo or are under 21 it might be worth adding a few bus routes instead of hiring a car.
- Naked Bus is the best option for intercity bus travel in New Zealand. You can get a seat for $1 if you book well in advance (like 3 to 6 months in advance) but typically booking a week or more in advance will save you $10 to $15 on each fare. There’s free wifi on board too.
- Intercity have point to point fares throughout New Zealand with some sale fares costing only $1 though these are tricky to find. There’s a night bus between Auckland and Wellington that can save you a night’s accommodation. There are travel passes available but at over $1000 a pop there are better ways to get around the country.
- Kiwi Experience buses are a hop on, hop off tour company that run set routes around the country. If you’re a young’un who likes being surrounded by other backpackers then give it a go. You can get from Auckland to Queenstown with at least a dozen stops for only $399 if you get it on sale through their website.
- Stray Travel is another hop on, hop off service that runs along a fixed route. Prices are around the $1000 for most routes but cover dozens of stops. Unless you got a great sale and were travelling alone, there are better options for getting around the country.
Car and Camper Hire
Getting around New Zealand by car or camper is a good option. All the value in coming to New Zealand lies outside the cities in the stunning scenery. You’ll find many little spots to pull off, take in a glorious vista, eat a picnic lunch and enjoy the journey. The downside? Petrol is expensive – currently $2.20 a litre and car hire isn’t nearly as cheap as the US. Pick and choose the times you’ll really need a car or camper.
- If you’re going to be in New Zealand for a long period, consider buying a car or camper. The market for backpacker vehicles is good and if you buy a camper you’ll get all the kit along with it. Here are some sites to get you started:
- Trade Me is the number one site in New Zealand for buying and selling online. It’s the Kiwi equivalent of Ebay. It can’t be used outside New Zealand – you can browse but you can’t register in order to contact sellers.
- Backpacker Cars in Christchurch
- Backpackers Car Market in Christchurch
- Backpacker Board has a great notice board for buying and selling cars and campers.
- For information on getting car insurance, registration and warrants check out this post on expat life in New Zealand.
- For short term travel, look for a relocation hire. If you’re flexible you can get relocations between main centres. Sometimes they’re free and include insurance, fuel and ferry tickets, sometimes there’s a small charge. Either way a relocation rental is by far the cheapest way to travel by car or camper. Here’s a list to the relocation pages of all the companies offering relocation cars and campers.
- Look on group booking sites for vouchers for car or camper hire companies. Jucy Rentals have had deals on Grabone for specific deals (like Queenstown to Auckland for $25 including ferry tickets) or vouchers for $100 worth of rental for only $50 with the ability to buy and combine up to 10 vouchers!
- Grabaseat have car rental deals as well. They’re not quite as cheap as a relocation but you don’t have to be as specific.
- If you do rent a car, have a look at these sites instead of the usual international car rental chains: