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New Zealand is a small country with well-connected urban areas. When it comes to day-to-day travelling, expats will find that all New Zealand cities, and most towns, have buses that are convenient to use. Auckland and Wellington even have city-suburban rail services.
On the other hand, those travelling long distance or to more rural cities will find public transport lacking; indeed, most people in New Zealand drive their own car for convenience's sake.
Despite the occasional narrow mountain road, it's easy to get around New Zealand by car. The North and South islands are connected by ferries which cross the Cook Strait several times a day. These ferries are used to transport both cars and people between the islands.
Public transport in New Zealand
Cities in New Zealand are compact and pedestrian-friendly, with good public transport options. Comprehensive maps and timetables for the different modes of public transport are usually available for free at libraries, convenience stores and stations. Fares and timetables for buses, trains, ferries and dedicated school buses are also available online for most cities.
The state-owned KiwiRail operates both freight and passenger trains in New Zealand. The company provides long-distance services across the North Island and the upper part of the South Island.
It's easy to purchase single tickets and multiple-ride passes both online and at train stations across the country. Single tickets can usually be purchased when boarding a train, except in Auckland where tickets have to be bought in advance. Auckland also offers commuters a prepaid smart card for travel on different modes of transport called the AT HOP card.
Buses in New Zealand form the backbone of the country’s various public transport networks. They are often the primary or only mode of transit in cities such as Christchurch, Hamilton and Dunedin. Local bus services are often contracted to private companies. The largest of these companies is NZ Bus, which operates services under different brand names in Auckland and Wellington.
It is usually possible to get single-ride tickets and multiple-ride passes. Buses in Auckland also accept the AT HOP card.
There are many private bus companies in New Zealand that offer intercity travel. While some of these are primarily aimed at tourists, expats will find that it should still be possible to find affordable one-way tickets between towns and cities.
Taxis in New Zealand
Expats will have access to a wide range of taxi services in New Zealand. There are plenty of operators in different areas of the country. Commuters are also able to make use of single taxis as well as group transport and shuttle options. New arrivals who want to get to know their surroundings can also take advantage of services such as day-tour packages.
The most reliable way of getting a taxi in New Zealand is to book with a local service in advance, either by phoning the company directly or booking online. That said, taxis can be hailed in the street or found at taxi ranks, especially in larger cities. Government bodies such as Auckland Transport provide taxi information online.
App-based rideshare services such as Uber and Zoomy are also active in New Zealand. Many expats prefer using rideshare apps as they allow for automatic credit card billing, and a greater control over their route.
Ferries in New Zealand
Owned by KiwiRail, the Interislander ferry service has three vessels that regularly travel across the Cook Strait between Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South Island. An alternative service is the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry, which is run by Strait Shipping Limited, a privately owned company.
The journey takes around three hours, and it's possible to transport goods that range from cars to livestock. Ferries offer onboard services such as WiFi, restaurants and play areas for young travellers.
Driving in New Zealand
It is possible to get just about everywhere on both islands in a regular car. Crossing between the North and South islands on a ferry is also fairly easy.
Expats can drive in New Zealand for up to a year with a driver’s licence from their home country as long as it is in English. Otherwise, they will need to carry an official translation of their licence or acquire an International Driver’s Permit. After living in New Zealand for more than 12 months, an expat would need to apply for a New Zealand driver's licence.
Road rules in New Zealand are similar to those in the UK, and cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. Driving in New Zealand is not usually stressful, except perhaps during rush hour in big cities. Drivers exploring the country should exercise caution as many roads in New Zealand's rural areas vary in condition and can be narrow or winding.
Domestic flights in New Zealand
It's often cheaper to travel between cities using domestic flights in New Zealand, especially when travelling from one island to the other. Regular domestic flights operate between large airports at Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown, as well as smaller regional airports. The larger airports also have shuttle buses that run from town to the airport.
► See Keeping in Touch in New Zealand for an overview of internet and phone options in New Zealand.
"I think Wellington Public transport is great, but all the locals seem to think it’s rubbish. I think that, because I came from a country where public transport is so horrific and not a safe option for travel, the transport is so much more incredible to me. I have taken the bus, train and ferry, and all have been pretty enjoyable." Learn about South African expat Savannah's life in New Zealand in her interview.
"Public transportation within Christchurch is good if you’re heading into town. I take the bus to work and it’s an easy 20-minute ride to the Bus Interchange (the main city bus terminal in central Christchurch). It does get trickier if you’re trying to go somewhere on the city periphery, so having a car can definitely come in handy. If you don’t have a car or haven’t yet mastered driving on the left, bikes are also a good way to get around." See what else Eve, an American expat living in Christchurch, has to say about life in New Zealand.
"We do need a car still, although we do have everything on our door step - but we do like to escape the city at least once a week, we usually head out west where there are some beautiful beaches like Piha and Bethall’s Beach – we are from a beach side town so we miss the sand in between our toes! Generally we both cycle to work as we’re just outside of the CBD and the cycle network we think is excellent!" Dawn and Isaac, two British expats, share their experience of life in Auckland.
Are you an expat living in New Zealand?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to New Zealand. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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