Best Ways to Get Around New Zealand for Backpackers

New Zealand is known for a lot of things; Sheep lovin’ (according to Aussies), adrenaline sports, Lord of the Rings locations, an exciting warrior culture, and its diverse and ravishing natural beauty. But deep down at its heart, New Zealand has become a country made for travelers.

The country boasts a wildly transient population, with 25% of the 4 million people in New Zealand being travelers, backpackers, and individuals on working holidays.

And with THAT many travelers in the country, it has evolved itself to cater to this, making it incredibly easy to get around both the North and South Island.

After a year traveling the Land of the Long White Cloud myself, I’ve tried and tested (and failed) at the many ways to get from one amazing destination to the next. So I’ve compiled a somewhat unorthodox list of the easiest ways to get around New Zealand to make it less of a stress for you.


Rental Car

Obviously a no-frills  way to get around without having to worry about insurance and finding a car to buy (if you trust rental companies).

I had a few friends that went the rental car route, but it seems like it’s only good if you will be needing a car for a couple of weeks to a month. After that, it gets a tad bit pricey.

If you land in Auckland, there are literally 8 rental car companies at the bottom of Queen Street, so make sure to compare prices and quality of the rentals offered.

Prices will range from $400-$1000 for a month.


No no no, this is not a bus filled with nudist touring New Zealand. Nakedbus is to New Zealand as Megabus is to the United States. Offering up mystical fares of $1 (though I’ve never met someone who found it that cheap) it does offer quite inexpensive fares for getting all around both islands.

Just like most charter buses, the accommodation are basic and the stops are few, but you get what you pay for right?

Most legs were around $20-$80 depending on the distance.

Guided Bus Tours

This is probably my favorite way to get around New Zealand, but slightly more expensive. Companies like Stray Bus, Magic Bus, and Kiwi buses have expert drivers who know tons of information about New Zealand and constantly update you on what you are seeing on the road.

They offer travel packages based on legs of a journey, and along the way you make stops often at well-known hotspots, as well as secret places the drivers only know about and stop at.

If you don’t want to worry about driving yourself around, and if you will be doing a lot of activities and would really like the advice of a local, this is the best option. Drivers also have deals with hostels they stop at, as well as deals on excursions and activities.

I used Stray Bus extensively and absolutely loved their services.


Unlike most American horror movies, hitchhiking isn’t that terrifying or dangerous, and is quite common in New Zealand. Many backpackers will scoop up other backpackers looking for a lift to a place along their own route, and sometimes just offering beer or gas money goes a long way.

As always, be smart if you are hitchhiking. If a driver stops and they sketch you out, you have no obligation to get in the car.

Ride Share/Couch Surfing

Another popular way to get around is with other backpackers. Many travelers will join up in a Couchsurfing group and post in a forum that they are looking for, or offering a ride to somewhere in the country.

When I was in Auckland, another backpacker read that I was looking to head North and contacted me offering a ride in exchange for splitting gas money.

Buy a Car

One of the absolute most popular ways to traverse New Zealand is by getting a set of your own wheels and seeing where the road takes you.

In Auckland, you will find huge car auctions going on year round offering decent cars and vans to get your around. Yes, you can find a ride starting at around $500 but think to save up $1500-$2000 to get a roadworthy car that won’t die out on you.

Another option is scouring hostels and message boards for other backpackers selling their own cars. Usually, in the winter months, you’ll notice tons of backpackers who are headed home listing their cars, and they are willing to take offers.

The awesome thing about having your own ride will be the ability to explore anywhere your lil’ heart desires, and most of these caravans are stocked with mattresses, stoves, camping gear, extra gas tanks, and everything else you may need on a road trip.

Have you been to New Zealand? What was the best way you found to get around?


  1. Kristin of Be My Travel Mues August 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Definitely appreciated all of your advice when my Mom and I did NZ! We went the rental car route, which was a pretty penny. Solo I probably would have taken the bus. The countryside is so beautiful, seeing it during the drives was part of the fun!

    1. JustChuckinIt - Site Author August 15, 2013 at 2:04 am

      So glad it helped you and Mum Kristin! I was super stoked when you said you were going and asked for advice, and even though the rental was expensive, it was probably best given your short time with here there!

  2. Laura August 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I bought a station wagon while I was there and my boyfriend and I camped in that for 6 weeks! It was a beautiful way to see the north island especially during the very expensive World Cup year!

    I always recommend the car for anyone who is going to be there for a little while. The country has so many amazing sights I think you should be in control of when you get to stop and see them.

    1. JustChuckinIt - Site Author August 15, 2013 at 2:14 am

      Hey Laura, that sounds totally rad! What an awesome way to explore, and when I was in the Northland I saw just how convenient it is to have a car.

  3. Mary @ Green Global Travel August 14, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    Great job of detailing the options. New Zealand is unusual due to the fact that most of the major attractions are at a distance from the larger cities and as a result, offering advice on the best options for getting to New Zealand’s out of the way wonders and finding the locals-only hideaways is priceless!

    1. JustChuckinIt - Site Author August 15, 2013 at 2:22 am

      Glad you dig the guide Mary! I took all sorts of modes of transport and I thought it would be super useful to tell others so I’m glad you think it is!

  4. Dan August 16, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Jade hitchhiked most of the South Island. She found it really easy.

    1. JustChuckinIt - Site Author August 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      That’s rad, I totally failed at hitchhiking!

  5. Stef August 17, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Hi! I travelled through New Zealand with the Magic Bus and it was the right decision for me. I only had one month in New Zealand and loved this tour. Of course it was more expensive than the Naked Bus but Magic Bus gave you information on the places you visit, what you are able to do and visit places along the way which is in my opinion a very good way to explore the country. Additionally i made a lot of good friends on this trip as we all had the same route (even though we split up sometimes) and it sometimes felt like a school trip or something. I really had a great time and would everyone recommend to do the same. Btw I heard that Kiwi Experience and Magic Bus became one company. Have a nice weekend!

    1. JustChuckinIt - Site Author August 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      I totally agree Stef, even though I was on Stray it was an awesome experience and I met heaps of amazing new friends.

  6. BakoymaTravels September 2, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    We picked up a hitchhiker on our way through to Cape Reinga – We’re still in contact with her today, three years later.

    Best thing we ever did 🙂

    Thanks for the bus tips though, hadn’t heard of all of those!

    1. JustChuckinIt - Site Author September 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Ha, yes I was picked up for Cape Reinga, but via a couchsurfer who emailed me. But we did scoop a Canadian Backpacker though!


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