Things to do in New Zealand without a car


The first thing that comes to mind when touring New Zealand is that it’s a place destined for road trips. Vrooming around in a 4-wheel speedster to hop from one attraction to another is a no-brainer way to travel if you’re not one to follow a fixed tour group itinerary.

But for the few of us without a licence – guess what – it’s still possible to explore both North and South Islands on your own. From winery tours to whale-watching, here are 8 things to do in New Zealand without a car.

P.S. If you do want to drive around one day, check out these guides to getting your driver’s licence or motorbike licence in Singapore.


Alternative travel options


Hop on, hop off buses


As one of the OG backpacker destinations, New Zealand has long accommodated carless nomads with one simple solution: backpacker buses. These run all across the country, picking up and dropping off vacationers in major cities, small towns, and other popular travel spots. 

intercity bus
Image credit:
InterCity NZ

One of the most connected networks is InterCity, which has bus routes on the North and South Islands. Plus, the buses allow for check-in luggage and come with WiFi for a Netflix binge on long rides.

Detail-oriented travellers who plan their itineraries down to the minute will do well to book the TravelPass for specific routes. But for those who like to go where the vibes take them, the FlexiPass might be more suitable. Instead of paying for destinations, you pay for the number of hours you’ve travelled instead.

InterCity
TravelPass: From NZ$125/pax (~S$106.90)
FlexiPass: From NZ$98 for 10 hours (~S$83.81)

Opening hours: 7am-6pm, Daily
Contact: +64 9 583 5780 | InterCity website


Ferries


Quick geography lesson: New Zealand is made up of 2 islands separated by the Cook Strait. You could fly from one island to another or take a ferry to travel between Wellington up north and Picton down south.

Interislander
Image credit:
Interislander

If you already hold an InterCity bus pass, you can include the Interislander Ferry as part of your journey. Otherwise, book directly online with Interislander or Bluebridge ferries. Although the ferry takes about 3.5 hours each way, the latter carrier also has a 6-hour sleeper ferry with private cabins.

Book tickets for the Bluebridge Ferry.

Interislander Ferry
Adult (18 years & above): From NZ$70/pax (~S$59.87)
Child (2-17 years old): From NZ$35/pax (~S$29.93)

Opening hours: 8am-5pm, Daily (Closed on 25th December)
Contact: +64 4 498 3302 | Interislander Ferry website

Bluebridge
Adult (18 years & above): From NZ$62/pax (~S$53.03)
Child (2-17 years old): From NZ$29/pax (~S$24.80)

Opening hours:
Wellington Terminal:
Sun-Thu 6am-1.45am | Fri 6am-11pm | Sat 6am-8.15pm
Picton Terminal: Mon-Fri 6am-8pm | Sat-Sun 8am-6pm
Contact: +64 4 471 6188 | Bluebridge website


Day tour packages


There still can be freedom in travelling even if you do follow a tour group. Day tours save all the hassle of booking transport and attraction tickets, but you’re still free and easy when moving from one city to another.

Day tours are a dime a dozen in New Zealand, covering all sorts of interests across both islands. Whether you’re a LOTR nerd, landscape photographer, or adventure junkie, there are pre-planned day tour itineraries you can book.


– North Island –


1. Free-fall 53 floors off the Auckland Sky Tower


Thrillseekers needn’t venture far from the city for a shot of adrenaline. It’s available right in the heart of the Auckland CBD at the Sky Tower. Just take the lift up 53 floors then walk off the platform to free-fall 192m down.

sky jump auckland
Image credit:
Sky City Auckland

Before you start panicking, you’re hooked up to a harness and a rigged cable that slows your descent as you reach the ground. It might be tempting to close your eyes as you fall, but keep them open to enjoy views of Auckland and its surroundings.

sky walk auckland
SkyWalk around the Sky Tower.
Image credit: Sky City Auckland

If reading that has already given you sweaty palms, go for the safer walks around the observation decks for 360˚ panoramic views of the city, where you can spot landmarks and even volcanoes in the distance.

Getting there: Take the train to Britomart Station in Auckland, and walk 4 minutes to the Albert Street/Customs Street West bus stop. Then take bus 105 to Victoria Street West bus stop.

SkyJump admission: NZ$158/pax (~S$135.14), includes free Sky Tower pass
Adult Sky Tower admission: NZ$25/pax (~S$21.38)
Child (6-14 years old) Sky Tower admission: NZ$13/pax (~S$11.11)

Address: Victoria Street West, Auckland CBD, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
Opening hours: 10am-6pm, Daily
Contact: +64 9 363 6000 | Sky Tower website


2. Tour wineries on Waiheke Island


Whether you’re a pro at sniffing out a merlot from a caub sauv or just really into adult grape juice, you’ll want to make it to Waiheke Island. Although barely 10% of the size of Singapore, there are some 30 odd wineries that produce their own reds and a couple of whites here.

mudbrick vineyard
360˚ ocean views from Mudbrick Vineyard.
Image credit: @mudbrick_nz

Most of these are open to the public for touring, and of course, a taste test too. If you need a quick bite in between sips of chardonnay, ones like Mudbrick Vineyard and Tantalus Estate have their own restaurants you can dine at. These mostly serve farm-to-table entrees that go best with their wines. 

tantalu estate
Expect farm-to-table fresh from restaurants here.
Image credit: @tantalusestate

To move about between wineries, there’s an all-day bus pass you can use to travel around the island.

Book tickets for the Fullers Ferry to Waiheke Island.

Getting there: Take the train to Britomart Station in Auckland, and walk 2 minutes to Downtown Auckland Ferry Terminal to board the ferry to Waiheke Island.

Adult (aged 16 years & up) fare: One-way NZ$30 (~S$25.66) | Return NZ$46 (~S$39.35) | Bus + return ferry NZ$68 (~S$58.17)
Child (aged 5-15) fare: One-way NZ$14 (~S$11.98) | Return NZ$23 (~S$19.68) | Bus + return ferry NZ$35 (~S$29.94)

Opening hours: 7am-6pm, Daily
Contact: +64 9 367 9111 | Fullers Ferry website


3. Bike, walk, or white water raft at the Rotorua Redwood Forest


We’re willing to bet that if you clicked into this article on New Zealand, you’re hoping to see outdoor activities that don’t require a car to get to. Well, the Rotorua Redwood Forest is it. 

redwoods treewalk
Walk among giants with the Redwoods Treewalk.
Image credit: @suyuhwu

There are multiple ways to explore this evergreen woodland of giant redwood trees. Get really up close and personal with a Redwoods Treewalk for a great view of native silver ferns and the redwood canopy.

altitude walk
Altitude Walk.
Image credit: Redwoods Treewalk

The regular walk crosses 28 suspension bridges up to 20m above ground, but if that isn’t extreme enough, there’s an altitude walk for adrenaline junkies. This one brings you up 25m and includes 3 flying foxes for you to swing through the forest.

Being up that high may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so for something closer to the ground, opt to take the biking trail or white water raft your way through the forest instead.

Getting to Treetop Walk: Take CityRide bus route 03 in Rotorua to the Tarawera Road bus stop. Follow the “The Redwoods” sign to reach the Redwoods Visitor Centre and I-Site.

Redwoods Treewalk
Adult (16 years & above) admission: NZ$37/pax (~S$31.65)
Child (5-15 years old) admission: NZ$22/pax (~S$18.82)

Address: 1 Long Mile Road/Tītokorangi Drive (access off Tarawera Road), Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, 3010, New Zealand
Opening hours: Sun-Fri 9am-9pm | Sat 9am-9.30pm (Closed on 25th December)
*Hours may vary – refer to Redwoods Treewalk’s website for more details
Contact: +64 27 536 1010 | Redwoods Treewalk website

mountain biking in rotorua
Image credit:
New Zealand

There’ll be no need to bring your own bikes or worry about finding the trailhead without a car. Mountain Bike Rotorua rents out bikes (from NZ$39, ~S$33.45) plus provides a shuttle service from the forest’s car park to the start of the trail.

When you’re done whizzing through the challenging terrain of the forest floor, the shuttle will swing by to pick you up from the other end of the biking trail. 

Getting to biking trail: Take buses 11, 12, 102, 104, or 105 in Rotorua to Toi Ohomai – Mokoia Campus bus stop. Walk 9 minutes to Wheelhouse Coffee for the shuttle bus to the biking trailhead.

Mountain Bike Rotura
Bike rental rates: From NZ$39 for 2 hours (~S$33.35) | From NZ$49 for half day (~S$41.90) | From NZ$60 for full day (~S$51.31) | From NZ$50/day for 3 or more days (~S$42.76)
Shuttle pass rates: From NZ$12/way (~S$10.26)

Address: Whakarewarewa Forest, Waipa State Mill Road, Rotorua, New Zealand
Opening hours: 9am-4pm, Daily
Contact: +64 7 348 4295 | Mountain Bike Rotura website

white water rafting kaituna
Image credit:
Kaituna Cascades

As for white water rafting, that’s easily done at Kaituna River under the guidance of the Kaituna Cascades Rafting Company. Kaituna River wooshes through varying degrees of rapids, going up to grade 5, which is marked by steep drops and turbulent water. Truth be told, it sounds more dangerous than it actually is, as long as you pay attention to safety precautions.

Book white water rafting with Kaituna Cascades Rafting Company.

Getting to white water rafting: Take the InterCity bus route Wellington – Central – Tauranga to the Okere Falls bus stop. Walk 4 minutes to Kaituna Cascades Rafting Company.

Kaituna Cascades Rafting Company
Adult (13 years & above) rates: NZ$115/pax (~S$98/37)
Youth (10-12 years old, raft only after waterfalls) rates: NZ$70/pax (~S$59.88)

Address: 18 Okere Falls Road, Okere Falls 3074, Rotorua, New Zealand
Opening hours: 8am-9pm, Daily
Contact: +64 27 276 5457 | Kaituna Cascades Rafting Company website


4. Join a DIY craft beer walking tour


Drink driving is a big no-no, but drink walking? That’s an easy yes-yes, especially when that involves a pub crawl through Wellington. 

craft brewery wellington
If you’ve ever wondered what goes into beer, many craft breweries hold BTS tours of their facilities.
Image credit: Benjamin T.

It’s considered the Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand, and for good reason. There are about 19 bars and 15 breweries dedicated to craft beer here – all of which you can tour on foot just by downloading the Craft Beer Capital Trail Map.

beer paddle
The easiest way to sample as many beers as possible is through a flight or paddle.
Image credit: @chris.meets.beer

The trail details the best routes to cover as many places as possible, which you’ll want to do to get a free souvenir t-shirt. At each location, buy a beer or plate of food to collect a stamp. Get 8 to claim your tee, and visit at least 2 breweries in the suburbs for even more freebies.

Getting there: Take any public bus in Wellington that goes through Courtenay Place, including 1, 2, 12, 14, 21, and 35. Stop at Courtenay Place – Stop C and walk 1 minute to Mockingbird, the first stop on the CBC Classic Trail. 


– South Island –


5. Go whale-watching at Kaikoura


After Free Willy, it’s hard to imagine whales being held captive against their will. Thankfully, you’ll be able to catch whales and dolphins in their natural habitat over at Kaikoura, a coastal town on the South Island.

whale watch kaikoura
Image credit:
@whalewatchkaikoura

Plenty of these majestic sea mammals call the waters near Kaikoura home. The most common species that hang around Kaikoura are sperm whales, although humpback whales and even common dolphins occasionally make an appearance.

humpback whale kaikoura
Humpback whale spotted breaching waters in Kaikoura.
Image credit: @whalewatchkaikoura

If you want to spot one, just hop onto a whale-watching boat like the ones from Whale Watch Kaikoura. They have a 95% success rate in spotting whales and dolphins. But on the rare chance that luck isn’t on your side the day you visit, you’ll get 80% of your ticket refunded.

Book tickets for Whale Watch Kaikoura.

Getting there: Take the InterCity bus route Christchurch – Picton to the Kaikoura bus stop. Walk 11 minutes to Whale Watch Kaikoura.

Adult (16 years & above) rates: NZ$150/pax (~S$127.54)
Child (3-15 years old) rates: NZ$60/pax (~S$51.02)

Address: Whaleway Station Road, Kaikōura 7340, New Zealand
Opening hours: 9am-3.30pm, Daily
Contact: +64 3 319 6767 | Whale Watch Kaikoura


6. Traverse the South Island via a scenic alpine train ride


tranzalpine train
Image credit:
@sheldabunny

One thing drivers in New Zealand will gush about nonstop is the picturesque landscapes you’ll come across on the road. For non-drivers, you’ll still be able to enjoy New Zealand’s great scenery just by hopping onboard the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth.

tranzalpine in winter
Come during winter (June to August) for views of snow-covered mountains.
Image credit: New Zealand

The carriages have large glass windows for a panoramic view of the mountains and lakes in the distance. You can even enjoy the crisp mountain air by stepping into the open-air viewing carriages. Since you’re not driving, your hands are free to take all the pics you want of the gorgeous view right in front of you.

Book tickets for TranzAlpine.

Getting there: The TranzAlpine train departs Christchurch from the Christchurch Railway station.

Adult (18 years & above) rates: NZ$179/pax (~S$153.10)
Child (2-17 years old) rates: NZ$40/pax (~S$34.21)

Opening hours: 8am-5pm, Daily (Closed on 25th December)
Contact: +64 4 495 0775 | TranzAlpine website


7. Soak in pure mountain water at the Onsen Hot Pools


With all the adrenaline-filled activities you’ll be doing in New Zealand, a dip in a heated pool will give your achy muscles a break. Enter Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown, where cedar wood tubs are filled with water collected from the nearby mountains.

onsen hot pools
Image credit:
@pignic_

Onsen Hot Pools isn’t here to replicate an authentic Japanese onsen experience. Instead, what they offer are private pools that have been heated to a comfortably warm 38.5˚C for 1-4 pax to soak in. 

onsen hot pools lounge
The lounge area is free to use after your onsen soak.
Image credit: Onsen Hot Pools

The pools are perched right on a cliff, which faces uninterrupted grand views of Queenstown’s hilly landscape, no matter if you pick an indoor or outdoor soak. Each session lasts for an hour but you can extend your time at this idyllic resort by hanging around the lounge to take in one last look at the postcard-perfect vista.

There are limited sessions available daily, so it’s best to book well in advance before you make a trip down. We hear there’s a 6-month waitlist right now.

Make a reservation for Onsen Hot Pools.

Getting there: Take bus route 2 in Queenstown to Arthurs Point (Coronet Hotels). Then walk 1 minute to Onsen Hot Pools. Alternatively, book the complimentary shuttle when making your reservation. Pick-ups and drop-offs are at the Station Building in central Queenstown.

Outdoor onsen rates: From NZ$87.50/pax (~S$74.85)
Indoor onsen rates: From NZ$107.50/pax (~S$91.96)

Address: 160 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point, Queenstown, New Zealand
Opening hours: 9am-11pm, Daily
Contact: +64 3 442 5707 | Onsen Hot Pools website


8. Catch glowworms in Lake Te Anau


There is no lack of natural wonders in New Zealand. Heck, even their bugs are gorgeous, like the glowworms that are native to the island country. In bright daylight, these little critters won’t stand out much, but put them in a completely dark cave, and these light up like stars in the night sky.

glowworm cave lake te anau
Image credit:
RealNZ

The bioluminescent glowworms shine bright like diamonds in limestone caves like the ones at Lake Te Anau. Getting to the worms requires a bit of an adventure, starting with a short cruise to cross the glacial lake.

glowworms
Tiny galaxy made of worms.
Image credit: RealNZ

Then, follow a guide who’ll lead you through the caves’ complex passageways to other geological phenomena like whirlpools and an underground waterfall. The pinnacle of the voyage is a boat ride into a hidden grotto where the glowworms glitter in complete darkness.

A full package that includes to-and-fro cruises across the lake, plus a tour guide through the caves can be booked online for convenience from RealNZ.

Book the Te Anau Glowworm Cave Tour.

Getting there: Take the InterCity bus from the Athol Street bus stop in Queenstown to the Kiwi Country Cafe bus stop in Te Anau. The pick-up point for the RealNZ tour is up ahead by a 3-minute walk.

Adult (16 years & above) rates: NZ$99/pax (~S$84.70)
Child (5-15 years old) rates: NZ$35/pax (~S$29.95)

Address: 85 Lakefront Drive, Te Anau 9679, New Zealand
Opening hours: By appointment only
Contact: +64 3 249 6000 | RealNZ website


Getting around New Zealand without a car


Somebody wise once said that it doesn’t matter how you get to your destination, as long as you make it. And they’re quite right. There’s no need for a car to take you all over New Zealand when backpacker buses and day tours abound.

All it takes is a little careful planning. Oh, and an updated guide on travelling from Singapore to New Zealand in 2022.

Other cool places to collect passport stamps:


Cover image adapted from: @sheldabunny, @pignic_, @erich_santiago

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