Traveling between the cities of New Zealand

When looking at New Zealand on a map, it can seem deceptively small. The country may have more sheep than people, but it is by no means a short trip to get between the various cities of New Zealand. In fact, a bus from Auckland to the nation’s capital is an 11-hour ride, and they’re located on the same island. There are several options for getting around, and it’s worth spending a bit of time doing some research to see what your best option is. Like with many places, overland travel may not be your cheapest choice.

cities of New Zealand


There are a few bus companies traversing the country. Naked Bus (don’t let the name bother you) is one of the better known companies for budget travel, but InterCity also has some great fares. Both companies also offer passes that could save you some money.

If you’re planning on bus travel, make sure to check out discount sites like GrabOne Escapes which often has some super deals on Naked Bus. I utilized one of their recent deals to book roundtrip travel between Christchurch and Queenstown for $45 NZD total, which was for 2 people (normally one would spend that for 1 person just one way).

As stated previously, bus trips can be very long hauls. Our bus didn’t have a bathroom on it, but they did make a few short bathroom stops along the way as well as a 30-minute lunch break during our 9-hour journey.

Booking with Naked Bus is quite easy. You can do it online, and they don’t require a paper ticket. All you need is the unique number they give you which is great for travelers. I hate having to pay to print out a ticket, especially in this day and age with so much technology.

Planning in advance can help you save lots of money as there are $1 deals quite often.


Really not your best option. Train prices are much more expensive than flights for almost every route I’ve investigated. Depending on your itinerary, you may also have to take a combination of train and bus which ends up requiring about the same amount of time as the bus for a lot more money.

cities of New Zealand


Flying around New Zealand can be surprisingly inexpensive and shouldn’t be overlooked as a viable option, especially if you factor in transit times. Going from Auckland to Christchurch overland would cost over $200 NZD and require more than 1 day of travel. Flying that same route can be done for $44 NZD per person or lower, and that’s including the baggage fees. The flight will take about 1-1/2 hours.

When considering flights, make sure to check out Grabaseat (which offers more than just discounts on airfare). The further in advance you can plan, the greater the chance for big savings.

Flying within New Zealand is pretty easy. We flew with Jetstar from Auckland to Christchurch, and I not only didn’t need a paper ticket/printout, I didn’t even have to show ID at the ticket counter, when passing through security, or when boarding the plane. It’s a lot more relaxed!

cities in New Zealand, Lake Tekapo

Between the islands

If you want to travel between the north and south island and aren’t planning on flying, you’ll also need to figure in a ferry crossing. The crossing takes about 3 hours, and it is not cheap at $52 NZD per person. That price is only for traveling by foot.

Something to consider

You will obviously see much more of the country if traveling overland, and there is definitely some incredible scenery. So if you have the time, money, and temperament, it may just be worth going overland between cities of New Zealand. You just have to factor it all in.

When given the choice between flying or taking a half-day bus ride, which is your preference?

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  1. I grew up in NZ, then moved to Japan and then to the US. I don’t drive, and find NZ to be extremely difficult to get around, even though it is about the same size as Japan or Britain which are a dream for a non-driver. The population density (or lack thereof) means it’s really hard to get from one town to another, or from a town to the best attractions once you get there. I loved the trains in Japan and the UK, but going Auckland to Wellington on a train during one of my trips back was incredibly slow, expensive and frustrating (all assigned seating on a half empty train? why?!) – but then again it was amazingly scenic. I’m glad I did it once. I think most people conclude that renting a camper van is the best way to see the country.

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  2. New Zealand was our introduction to driving on the “wrong” side of the road! Not only are you driving on the wrong side of the road, you’re also sitting on the wrong side of the car and everything on the dash is backward – blinkers and windshield wipers = mass confusion!

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    • Yes, I had that fun in Australia. The first few days I kept turning on the wipers whenever I was trying to signal a turn.

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  3. We appreciate your honesty, Talon. This is a great guide for those planning on spending some time in NZ. It’s a shame about the prohibitive cost of travelling by train though. That’s one of the things we miss most about our past life in the UK: rail travel.

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    • We much prefer trains to buses. It’s our favorite overland way to travel. And often I’ll choose train travel over air. And here it would be so nice because of the great scenery.

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