…A guide to getting around New Zealand’s North Island.
One of my favourite things about New Zealand (apart from the scenery, the people, the activities, I could go on….) is just how easy it is to get around. The North Island is just 665 miles long and about a 13 hour drive (without stopping) and there are so many ways to get around, but which is best?
There are small regional airports all around the North Island but the two major ones are handily located near the top and the bottom of the island in Auckland and Wellington. Flights between the two cities take just over an hour and can be picked up from around just £50 return when booked in advance (this rises to up to over £150 to make sure you get your tickets early). Flights to regional airports such as Taupo, and even the South Island can be picked up for as little as £20 one way too, a really economical way to get around if speed is a top priority, however flying will mean you will miss out on getting to stop off and explore this beautiful island.
PROS: Economical, Quick, See NZ from above.
CONS: Miss out on seeing the sights, Can be very expensive.
TOP TIP: Use Skyscanner to search for flights as they can vary quite a lot depending on provider, Jetstar normally has the best prices.
The Northern Explorer train runs between Auckland and Wellington, with 7 stops along the way, three times a week (Monday, Thursday and Saturday), and back again a further three times. The journey is almost 11 hours long and takes you right down the spine of the North Island. You literally see every type of topography on this trip, from the rugged coastline to snow covered volcanoes and lush rolling hills, and you can see, and photograph, it all from the open air viewing carriage.
With a buffet car on board serving hot and cold food and drinks, commentary of places of interest provided on your complimentary headphones, and fantastic staff, you’re fully looked after on this trip, but it does come at a cost. A one way trip between Wellington and Auckland costs between £65 and £120 depending on the ticket type you purchase.
PROS: An amazing experience, see the country without distractions
CONS: Expensive, takes a long time
TOP TIP: Booking is cheaper while in New Zealand but tickets do sell out so consider changing your location online and booking before you go.
Speaking to NZ residents who had also lived in the UK I was constantly told not to drive the island, how bad the roads were, and travelling the island by road would take forever as there are no motorways, and do you know what, that was the very best thing about it. After about 2 hours of motorway driving I’m usually bored to tears but in NZ not once did I get fed up of driving, even during a 6 hour stint, thanks to the amazing scenery. And apart from a little traffic heading into Auckland I didn’t get stuck in a jam once! Though I did have to pull two fallen down trees out of the road which I admit I don’t normally have to do on my daily commute! With around 4 million vehicles in New Zealand compared to 37 million on UK roads, (despite NZ being fractionally bigger) you really notice the difference.
The best thing about driving however is the flexibility it offers. You can make your own plans on your own time and you’re not reliant on timetables. Plus if you see something of interest or get a bit peckish, just pull over, not so easy on a bus!
I was originally planning on hiring an SUV to get around the island and was looking at the international car hire companies like Hertz but I quickly realised both those options were going to massively blow the budget so I looked around until I found Omega, it had good reviews and importantly for me it charged me no more to drop my car in Auckland after picking it up in Wellington. Fully insured it cost me under £100 to hire our budget option car for 5 days, which though small and well used was clean, reliable and even hooked up to my phone to the car’s stereo. Even better, and I’m not sure if it was because Maui (our hire car) was so economical, or because the petrol is cheaper in NZ but we drove the best part of 1,000 miles for about £60 of petrol!
PROS: Flexible, Can be really economical
CONS: You don’t get as much time to take in the scenery if you’re the one driving, less relaxing.
TOP TIP: Check out Omega Car Rental. It was by far the cheapest I found and the staff were lovely.
InterCity is New Zealand’s most popular and largest bus company and has services that run all over the North Island. They offer single & return trips as well as a FlexiPass which is an hours based bus pass. Unless you’re going to take the bus a lot it’s probably a better option for longer term visitors to the country but even one way tickets are really economical, between £13 – £30 for a one way trip between Auckland and Wellington, and some services have tickets for just 50p! However it does take it’s time, with the trip taking between 11 and 11 and a half hours. However there is a sleeper service with bunks, which could be a great option as long as you’re able to sleep anywhere.
PROS: The cheapest option for getting around the island, you can sit back and enjoy the ride, lots of different services running.
CONS: You have to travel according to their schedule, you can’t just stop off if you see something you want to see.
TOP TIP: Try the sleeper service on the long trips, saves you the cost of a hotel and you’re not missing out on a days adventures while you travel.
Oh and don’t forget the BOATS! Being an island only 280 miles wide at its widest point and copious amounts of rivers and lakes, you are never far away from the water in New Zealand so make the mot of it. From lake cruises on Taupo, white water rafting in Waikato or dolphin touring in Auckland, make sure you take to the water at some point during your New Zealand adventure.