When flying to New Zealand from anywhere else in the world, you’ll likely get the best flight deals if you head into Auckland Airport. This is because it’s the biggest airport in New Zealand, with about 17.2 million passengers passing through its doors in 2017 alone. If you compare this number to the next busiest airport, which is Christchurch International Airport — with about 6.3 million passengers each year — you can see how Auckland Airport is New Zealand’s transport hub when it comes to international travel.
With its 1.6 million people, and reputation as an ethnic and cultural melting pot, it should come as little surprise that Auckland is a popular spot. There are few areas in the world that offer so many activities in one place, including restaurants, beaches, shops, museums, galleries and surf breaks to entertain the visitor.
You can fly between all New Zealand cities and most major towns using domestic air services. Domestic flights in New Zealand are easy to organise and very affordable, making air transport a popular choice for traveling around the country. If you’re on a tight time limit, then flying makes the most sense. This option isn’t as cheap as catching a bus, but it will save you a lot of time. For example, flying from Auckland to New Plymouth takes about 40 minutes, whereas a bus trip takes five hours. Flying may be a better option for someone who is only visiting Aotearoa for a fortnight, but if you’re backpacking for a few months, you may want to save money and travel on wheels. Air New Zealand and Jetstar are the main providers for most primary routes, and their services are complemented by regional airlines, charter companies and scenic flight operators. Some of the main spots in New Zealand that you can reach from Auckland are Napier, Rotorua, Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington, Taupo and Queenstown, as well as smaller towns such as Hokitika, Picton, Whangarei, Blenheim, Invercargill and Palmerston North.
Speaking of buses, it will be music to the ears of seasoned travellers that the New Zealand bus services are well organised, with services transporting you to the far reaches of the North and South Island (including the start or end of various walking tracks). InterCity and Naked Bus are the two most popular companies that offer services from Auckland. These providers offer fares as low as 1 NZD (0.68 USD), if you’re lucky enough to get in first for a particular route.
There are no allocated economy or luxury classes on New Zealand buses (very democratic), and smoking on the bus is a definite no-no.
If you’re covering a lot of ground, both InterCity and Naked Bus offer bus passes that are priced by hours and number of trips. This can be cheaper than paying as you go, but do the math before buying and note that you’ll be locked into using one network. Passes are usually valid for 12 months.
Perhaps the best way to experience New Zealand — if you’re not worried about time — is to rent or buy a car or campervan. Either option will grant you more freedom than a plane or bus, and you can stop wherever you want to capture the perfect photograph or indulge in a gourmet roadside pie. The favoured option is a campervan though, as it doubles as your accommodation and kitchen which, when you’re on a backpacking budget, is key to saving pennies so that you can go bungee jumping in Taupo or shark diving in Dunedin.
Deciding whether you should hire or buy a car or campervan depends on how long you’re staying in the country. If you’re staying in New Zealand for a decent amount of time, buying one may be a smarter choice, as hiring charges can add up if you’re on the road for two or three months. An advantage of flying into Auckland and starting your trip from there is that, as the biggest city in New Zealand, it offers the largest selection of campers, which means the prices are more competitive.
However, keep supply and demand in mind. If you’re traveling through New Zealand in the summer, there will be a lot of crowds. This means there is a squeeze on the campevan market and prices will be at a premium. Do some research early on and try to get a camper secured during the winter season.
Likewise, if you have to sell your van, remember that a lot of other people try selling vans during certain seasons. Many backpackers have spent 5,000 NZD (3,300 USD) on a van, but received less than 1,000 NZD (677 USD) when they sold it back during the winter.
Whether you fancy flying, catching the bus, hopping on a train or buying your own little home on wheels, Auckland is the most convenient place to travel from. Take a little stress out of your trip and start here. Remember, it’s just the beginning of an amazing time.