Traveling New Zealand without a car

Learn which transportation options are available when it comes to traveling around New Zealand when you do not have a car or do not want to rent a car.

If you cannot or do not want to rent a car or are afraid to drive in New Zealand – which is perfectly understandable – you have the option to travel around New Zealand without having to drive.

However, you must be aware that you will not be able to get to everywhere, that you must plan your trip around cities and towns in New Zealand that offer public transport, and that you will be bound to the time schedules when trying to get around New Zealand.

The three most common modes of transport you can make use of if you do not have a car are: airplanes, buses, and trains. These modes of transport will still not get you to remote places but at least you will be able to get around New Zealand and have a decent vacation.

Traveling without a car between New Zealand cities

I am assuming that after you arrive in New Zealand, you will want to go places and see things in different cities in New Zealand.

If that is not the case, you can skip this section and move on to the next section about Traveling without a car within cities.

The transportation options you have available to you to cover larger distances between cities are: airplane, train, bus, or ferry. You could also travel by bike if you wanted to, but I’ll exclude that option for the time being.

Air travel

There are a couple of airlines that operate daily flights between major cities in New Zealand. Major cities in New Zealand include: Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown, and Wellington.

Traveling to smaller cities or towns in New Zealand is also possible, but the amount of air carriers diminishes the less popular the destination is. Air New Zealand [] offers by far the greatest range of flights and destinations around New Zealand.

Therefore, if you want to fly to a minor city or town, check whether it is possible with Air New Zealand.

[Photo: Bus stop in Wellington, New Zealand (28 KB)]

Note that domestic flights are often faster and may sometimes be cheaper than catching a train, bus, or ferry between cities.


Train travel

While cities such as Auckland and Wellington have train services within the city and to selected places in the direct area, New Zealand does not have trains that travel on a regular schedule throughout the country.

However, KiwiRail has a couple of trains that run between a few selected cities along scenic routes. These scenic train routes include:

  • The Northern Explorer between Auckland and Wellington: Auckland – Auckland Papakura – Hamilton – Otorohanga (Waitomo) – National Park – Ohakune – Palmerston North – Paraparaumu – Wellington.
  • The Coastal Pacific between Christchurch and Picton: Christchurch – Rangiora – Waipara – Mina – Kaikoura – Seddon – Blenheim – Picton.
  • The TranzAlpine between Christchurch and Greymouth: Christchurch – Rolleston – Darfield – Springfield – Arthur’s Pass – Otira – Moana (Lake Brunner) – Kokiri – Greymouth.

Unlike local trains in Auckland and Wellington where you can purchase a train ticket on the day you travel, you must book a train journey with KiwiRail in advance.

All of the KiwiRail Scenic Journeys [] trains run according to a limited timetable and only once a day between cities. If there is enough time left in a day, they tend to return.

For example, because the train ride from Auckland to Wellington takes almost an entire day, the same train does not return on the same day.

This is in contrast to, for example, the TranzAlpine that departs from Christchurch in the morning and returns to Christchurch in the afternoon.

So theoretically speaking, you could catch the train to Greymouth and return on the same day. You cannot do that when catching the Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington or vice versa; you would have to return on a different day.


Bus travel

Just like trains, there are buses that run within cities and surrounding suburbs, and there are buses that run between cities.

Buses that run between cities are often operated by private companies, although there are some long-distance buses that are part of the public transport system.

If you want to go from city to city, you can catch a bus such as the InterCity [] bus. Advance bookings are essential and these buses generally drive on a particular route only once a day so their timetables are limited.

You just have to make sure that you do not miss the only bus that is available to your destination on a particular day otherwise you will have to wait till the following day to be able to catch the next one out.

Ferry travel

Ferries can be used to go from the North Island to the South Island or the other way around, and to travel to smaller islands off the coast of mainly the North Island.

For example, you can catch a Fullers [] ferry in Auckland to go to Rangitoto Island, Waiheke Island, Coromandel, Motutapu Island, etc. Likewise, you can catch a ferry [] from Central Wellington to go to Petone, Eastbourne, Seatoun, or Matiu / Somes Island.

These Auckland and Wellington ferries are smaller ferries that run on a more regular schedule than the larger ferries that cross Cook Strait to go from the North Island to the South Island [Video].

Traveling without a car within New Zealand cities

The transportation options you have available to you for traveling within a city are: bus, train, taxi, shuttle, or tour operator.

Larger cities in New Zealand offer public transport, which is a relatively cheap way to get around. The most expensive options are probably taxis and tour operators.

Buses and trains that are part of the public transport system tend to run on a regular schedule throughout the day, week, and year.

Timetables are often adapted to suit demand with less buses or trains driving during off-peak hours than during peak hours.

However, unlike buses and trains that run between cities, you are almost guaranteed to be able to catch a bus or train on the same day if you miss one.

Taxis generally hold a maximum of four people and are quite expensive. You must see catching a taxi as renting a car with your own personal chauffeur. Another thing is that taxis generally serve larger cities.

A cheaper option is to catch a shuttle. Shuttles can hold more people and are generally cheaper. The only thing is that you share the ride with other people who might be strangers to you, and shuttles generally wait until they have enough people to fill the van before they leave, so you might lose some time.

[Photo: Beach in New Zealand accessible without a car (29 KB)]

Useful links to public bus and train services in New Zealand

Below you will find a list of links to bus and train services that are part of the public transport system in New Zealand.

North Island

South Island


This article falls under Travel Guide.

Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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