Most people in New Zealand find driving easier and more convenient for much of their getting around.
In rural areas, it’s often the only option. So, although public transport is available in the larger centres, you’ll almost certainly need a vehicle here - and probably sooner rather than later.
All New Zealand cities and most towns have buses, and Auckland and Wellington both have city-suburban rail services. Check out the Regions section for more detail.
You’ll see that peak hour services are generally good. But New Zealand is a land of wide open spaces and low population density. They make it impractical to provide the extensive public transport systems you find in more built-up and crowded cities.
That’s why so many of us find a car essential. (Some Kiwis would also say we like driving because it reflects our independent streak.)
Getting a car
Organising transport may be a priority, but don’t pick up a car the moment you land.
Driving when you’re tired can be dangerous, even fatal, especially if you’re not used to driving on the left as we do in New Zealand. Take the shuttle, bus or cab from the airport when you first arrive.
Renting a car
Buying will cost you less but while you’re starting out, it could be smart to rent at first.
There’s a good list of the car rental companies in New Zealand on Auckland Airport’s website. Most of them have depots in town where you can pick up your car after a good night’s rest.
Alternatively, check the website of the airport you’re arriving at, or search the internet for ‘New Zealand rental cars’.
Buying a car
There are several ways. You can:
- Buy privately, dealing direct with advertisers in car sale magazines or on websites like Trade Me Motors
- Buy from a second-hand car dealer. In New Zealand they’re called ‘LMVDs’ (Licensed Motor Vehicle Dealers)
- Larger centres also have car fairs and auctions that are advertised in car magazines and newspapers.
Any car you buy:
- Must have a WoF (Warrant of Fitness, the government’s safety check) that is less than a month old. Alternatively a vehicle may be sold ‘as is, where is’. That means its WoF is more than a month old and any risk of not getting a new one is your problem
- Should be currently registered with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). Look for the expiry date on the white licensing sticker in the left of the windscreen. No matter how long the registration has to run, once you buy, you must re-register the vehicle in your name.
Before you start your search for a car, check out NZTA’s advice on what to look out for in terms of safety and mechanical condition.
Vehicle insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand.
However ‘third party insurance’, which insures you against having to personally pay the cost of damage to someone else’s vehicle, is recommended as a minimum.
Find out more about your vehicle insurance options from the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ).
Driving in New Zealand
New Zealand roads are generally good, though some of our long distance ‘state highways’ are only two lanes.
Traffic volumes are light by international standards, although cities can get very busy in rush hours. Motorways in and out of Auckland and some of the other main centres can get severely congested at these times.
You must have a current driver’s license to drive in New Zealand. Find out about license requirements from the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Tip: Getting started with driving can be easier if you bring an international driver’s license with you.
Stay safe on New Zealand roads
The NZTA has produced a must-read booklet about driving in New Zealand. It explains everything you need to know about staying safe and obeying New Zealand’s driving laws..
Translations are available in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Gilbertese, Samoan, Tongan, Tuvaluan, Bislama, Solomon Islands, Thai and Arabic.
Remember, keep to the left of the road when you’re driving a car in New Zealand. When you’re parking a car, make sure it’s facing the direction of the traffic. And don’t park over a driveway, even your own.
Full New Zealand driving rules are in the New Zealand Road Code.
Getting around the country
Flying is popular for longer trips, for both personal and business travel.
It’s only an hour to fly between Auckland and Wellington, compared to nine or so hours driving. The Wellington-Christchurch flight is about 50 minutes, compared to a six or seven hour driving plus a three hour ferry trip. Of course, if you have time and want to see New Zealand, you may prefer the drive.
Check out booking costs and times for the two main domestic carriers, Air New Zealand and Jetstar.
Rail, bus, ferries
Intercity rail travel in New Zealand is largely limited to services between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Greymouth. However there are extensive bus services that can take you to just about anywhere you want to go.
Buses link with the ferries that also take cars and passengers regularly between our North and South Islands.
For information about our train service and the bus network associated with it, visit RailBus.
RailBus New Zealand
For information about other bus services, check Intercity or Nakedbus.
For ferry information, visit Bluebridge or the Interislander.