When looking on a world map to check out New Zealand, the ‘land of the Kiwis’ seems so tiny. It looks so easy to navigate this little country in a matter of days. But this perception is so very wrong! Our big Australian neighbour calculates distances in the thousand kilometers (or miles). In New Zealand its more in the hundreds. But the key difference is that New Zealand has a) lots of hills and mountain ranges and b) very few highways. So its very important to factor in travel times and distances in New Zealand to make an itinerary work!
In fact our max. speed limit is 100 km/h (approx. 60 miles/h) – and that’s everywhere (note: this is currently being reviewed to 110 km/h for some parts of the road network).
Based on incorrect assumptions, international travellers often plan their New Zealand holiday with insufficient time. Travel time and distances in New Zealand are grossly underestimated. It often turns out visitors spend more time on the road than they initially bargained for. Local New Zealanders frequently use domestic flights to cover those long distances, especially between the North & South Island. This saves not only time, but also money. If you book airfares in advance, they become quite affordable. And if you compare it with other modes of travel like ferry crossings plus the price of petrol, airfares compare very well.
There are a number of online calculators available online. They are good and give a first impression on these subjects. The key issue is time (not the distance). Generally speaking, when travelling with a rental car, calculate on 80 km/h on average. And with a motorhome, calculate on 60 km/h. There is always a hill, windy road or a truck you have to pass. You really don’t want to do more then 250-300 kilometres (165 – 200 miles) on the road per day. Believe me, this will get very tiring and dangerous. Also, you want to have plenty of time to ‘stop and go’ at view points, scenic walks and guided tours. Rushing through New Zealand is not a good idea!
Very few travellers to New Zealand have more then 2-3 weeks to cover all of New Zealand. Within this time frame we recommend this:
> use 1/3 of your time in the North Island and 2/3 in the South Island
> use a one-way rental – say between Auckland and Rotorua
> then take a domestic flight to one of the key airport in the South Island
> pick-up another rental car at the airport and continue your journey
By international standards, New Zealand airports are much smaller and that makes check-in and luggage procedure much shorter and really easy. Air New Zealand is a well regarded local carrier.