New Zealand might not be the biggest country in the world, but there are so many places to see. But if you are really limited on time you really should try to see as much as possible, and that includes both the north and south islands.

Leona Duff shares her experiences and top tips for traveling from Auckland on the North Island to Dunedin on the South of the country in a week and on the cheap.


1. Arrival in Auckland

I landed in Auckland, this is the country’s biggest city and there are lots of things to do here. For me my stay was short, but I still got to discover the highlights of Auckland including the Sky Tower and Harbour.

I knew I had to head down to Dunedin by the end of the week for work, on the south island – the south of the south island. If going by “land”; which was my choice having just got two long haul flights out of the way; this meant catching a ferry across the Cook Strait.

When I asked at the office [of the host agency - support services for those like myself on working holidays how this worked/how it would fit around the rest of the journey, it would involve lots of transportation and also hostels along the way.


2. Distances and Stops

An American might scoff at this, but it was new to me. Auckland to Wellington takes 12 hours alone, and it was there I stopped for the night.

Early next morning, I caught the ferry to Picton (3 hrs), where the next coach met me to carry me to Christchurch (6 hrs). Another stopover before the final leg to Dunedin (& another 6 hrs). Granted, if you can drive yourself then you can take a more straightforward route, but it’s fair to say I saw a fair bit of the country in this time, with the landscape gradually changing from sub-tropical to temperate.

I started adding to my list of places to visit - Taupo and Kaikoura particularly caught my eye. The list has only got longer since.


4. Transport and Getting Around

I took three coaches, one sea voyage, five cities (with numerous rest stops along the way). Another option is flying down to the south island, or just self-driving.

This is where I should make note of the practical things: I travelled with Intercity Coaches (whose routes cover the length and breadth of the country), and Interislander Ferries (whose main competitor is Bluebridge).

Public Transport is privatised in New Zealand, so there’s a vast array of companies with differing services, much of it localised. I’ve since learned that Atomic Shuttles are the cheapest to go with for travelling between here, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Invercargill.

The only passenger trains between cities are run by Kiwi Rail, and these are on very restrictive routes. Each of these options is also limited by frequency (usually twice a day) and space.

To get to the more remote areas, which – let’s face it – are what this country is famed for, you have to hope there’s a tour company in New Zealand offering packages through your area of interest.


5. Overall

Is it possible to travel overland and see the north and south islands in just a week? Yes, well without many stops and by bypassing lots of popular tourism attractions in New Zealand.

Basically, it’s a country where it really pays to know how to drive. I’ve never needed to before (and I’ve not quite worked my way up to hitchhiking, despite how safe the country is considered).

Even then, the roads are of a slightly different nature than you might be used to. Void of traffic, yes, but if you venture away from the highways then you’re likely to be facing some very gravelly surfaces. But then, that’s got something of a romanticism all its own.


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