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Hitching around New Zealand in fairly easy, most of us kiwis are very friendly and will go out of our way to help a traveller out. We do have our fair share of nutters though, so like hitching anywhere in the world you should always be weary.
Some places seem to be harder to hitch than others, just out of Blenheim at the top of the South Island is one such spot, the sign post just out of town has/had graffiti reading "been waiting for 5 hours now", "$#%$ someone pick me up" .... I can't quite remember the reason why, something about a hitchhiker stabbing and robbing the person who picked him up :( Easy Hitcher - Find or offer a lift.
This is the best way to see New Zealand, many of our more scenic areas are off the main highways. If you are travelling during our summer months you could save money on accommodation as there are loads of excellent camping spots throughout the county.
We drive on the left hand site of the road and the speed limit is 100km/hour on the open road and 50km/hour in urban areas, although you wouldn't think so as we have plenty of cowboys on the road.
Petrol varies from area to area and like all other countries varies from week to week, currently here in Christchurch it is $1.20 a litre.
Most valid international driving permits allow you to drive in New Zealand. Overseas licences accepted in New Zealand include Australian, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States. If you plan to stay long term and wish to get a New Zealand licence you may like to contact the Automobile Association. The minimum age for getting a car licence in New Zealand is 15.
The minimum age for renting a car in is 21. Some companies require you to have either a current New Zealand or international license while others will allow you to use your countries license if accepted in New Zealand. You also need a credit card for security.
Rental Car Companies
Every now and then rental car companies need a car relocated, keep a eye out on hostel message boards. You usually only have a few days to get the car from a - b and just have to pay for gas. There were some backpackers I meet a few years ago who got a luxury campervan, free petrol, free ferry crossing and 7 days to get the campervan from Christchurch to Auckland. It all depends on how desperate the company is to get it to the depot.
Buying A Car
Cars in New Zealand are reasonably cheap, NZ$1500 will buy you a reasonable car if you shop around, (Got my 1986 Honda Accord for $1500). The best places to buy a car is either through a classified paper like the buy, sell and exchange which comes out weekly in the major cities, through notice boards at backpacker hostels or car auctions (Turners car auction). Things your car is required to have by law - a current warrant of fitness (WOF) last for 6 months and a registration which comes in the either 3, 6 or 12 months. Insurance although not required is recommended, at least 3rd party.
Buses and Shuttles
The major bus companies in New Zealand are Intercity and Newmans, both these companies go to all the major destinations although Newmans is somewhat limited in the south island.
Another option is using shuttles instead and there are plenty of independent shuttle companies throughout New Zealand. They are smaller, sometimes cheaper and the drivers seem to be more friendly and helpful. The only negative point about using shuttles is that they often run a less frequent schedule compared to the larger bus companies. I have a few companies listed in the directory on this site.
The New Zealand train system is run by Tranzrail and just covers a few routes, The Northerner from Auckland to Wellington, the Southerner from Picton to Invercargill and the scenic Tranzalpine that goes from Christchurch to Greymouth.
Never done it myself, but the people I have meet that have all rave about it from a scenic point of view. Some of our roads are quite narrow and this combined with the large amount of clowns we have on our roads can make biking quite hairy in places.
Review of "Lonely Planet Cycling New Zealand" from Amazon's website.
"New Zealand is a wonder to cycle thru, like Yosmite Valley on a nation scale. But be fore warned! Amazingly, the New Zealand roads are anti-cycle,and you put yourself there at your own risk. 99% of the roads are single lane on each side, they are very skinny lanes. Designed for small cars. Full sized transport semis use these roads with a clearance of inches on each side of their lane. .The roads twist and wind like mountain roads do. There are very few straight stretches of road as you may see in the US. There are no bike lanes,few passing lanes, and no emergency lanes,you are in the path with traffic. Kiwis know their roads and consistently drive fast, 100-120kmph. The problem you are going to have over and over is cycling thru all this beauty in the same lane as cars and trucks...they barrel around a blind curve at 65mph only to find you in front of their windshield going 15mph and no safety margin for anyone. On my recent trip there, I can't tell you how many times I saw this scenario played out and how many near misses I witnessed. Local drivers, particularly commercial tdrivers have real contempt for cyclists. Get the book and dream, but I think I'd look into renting a convertible and live to cycle another day."
Here a are few links to travelogues that I dug up
Backpacker Network Buses
Perhaps the most popular way for backpackers to travel New Zealand is the network buses i.e Kiwi Experience and Magic bus being the major two. This mode of transport has the advantage of offering more freedom than conventional buses as you get on and off when you please. They are also more social. I often get asked which is the best, I usually just say that Kiwi Experience is like a large pub crawl for 18 - 22 year olds where as Magic has a wider age group.