For those of you who have been spending too much time on the blog, I just wanted to quietly let you know that summer is coming. And if the early spring weather patterns are any indication then it’s shaping up to be a cracker, which is quite a relief given last year’s disappointingly wet affair.

As a car-free household summer holiday travel plans are always a challenge. My main objectives are to try to save money and carbon and try to have a bit of fun along the way. Today I just finished booking my summer holiday travel plans and what a success. I’ve also learnt some things along the way that have, well, pleasantly surprised me about bus travel in New Zealand.

First some context to this year’s challenge: My lovely mother has rented a bach at Oakura Bay from 23 December all the way through to 4 January. For those unfortunate enough not to have visited Oakura Bay, it’s located about 2.5 hours drive north of Auckland on the wondrously spectacular east coast of Northland, between Whangarei and Russel. Plenty of fun to be had in these blue waters!

Finding my way Oakura from Auckland was the easy bit: Good old fashioned car-pooling with whanau all the way, replete with nostalgic childish teasing.

But from here things get decidedly trickier, because I needed to get my blessed behind from Northland to the Southern Alps (for a friend’s wedding) and back again, in the space of 4 days and without a car. I was able to grab some cheap flights from Auckland to Christchurch and back. The Christchurch end was sorted by car-pooling with other people who were headed for the wedding. But then came the trickier question of how to get from Northland to Auckland, and vice versa?

First port of call is the Naked Bus or InterCity websites . I was thinking that a bus fare from Whangarei to Auckland would cost around $40 each way, which was about what I paid 10 years ago when I lived/worked in Kerikeri for the summer. Quite simply, I was astounded at how cheap the bus fare from Whangarei to Auckland was: Approximately $40 for a return trip. That’s approximately 320km at a costs of $0.13 per km. You would pay almost twice as much just for the fuel to drive that far. And it’s cheaper than when I last used buses to travel north, despite 10 years of inflation and higher fuel prices.

All this got me thinking: If it’s basically cheaper for two people to catch the bus rather than drive long distance, then why don’t more people do it? I suspect some of it is just people not liking buses and/or car-habit. The primary downside is that you need to deal with “last leg” connections from where the bus drops you off and where you are staying; not usually so much of an issue if you’re staying with other friends and family, who in my case will come pick me up.

And on the other hand I’m sure there’s lots of people out there like me who probably would prefer to let someone else drive through the crazy summer traffic while they kick back and do some work, read, and/or snooze. Speaking for myself, I know that I’ll be that much more relaxed travelling by bus rather than driving myself through all the traffic and heat.

So aside from whimsical dreaming about summer swimming, the main point of this post was to point out that if you’re making summer travel plans over the next few weeks then just check whether you can leave the car at home and travel by bus. This is particularly cost-effective if there’s only 1-2 of you, plus you save some carbon. The best place to start is one of those two websites, and the best place to finish is somewhere like Oakura Bay.

P.s. Bravo to Naked Bus and InterCity for making the booking process so easy, and bravo to the bus operators who are providing such an efficient and well-priced travel option for car-less households such as myself. I wish you the best of business over the summer break; hopefully some of which stems from this post :).

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  1. FYI your links to Naked Bus aren’t working as you left out the http:// and hence they are being treated as relative not absolute links.

    1. Funny – I needed to make that very same trip a while back and ended up renting a car, but will think again in the future. Yes, the trip from Whangarei to Aucks is about 2.5 hours for $20 too; I think it’s a good deal too.

  2. Buses are fine, bring a good book, and/or something to chat about. Use taxis for last legs when available. In many countries every car is a “taxi”, just put you hand up while standing by the curb 🙂

    Nakedbus should have been tasked with setting up the AT HOP system, they obviously know how to run a transport company, and make it customer friendly!

    1. Now there’s an idea – how about getting long distance buses onboard with the HOP card? We can push for that once the system itself is up and running.

  3. Naked Bus is a very good option, however the tricky part is if your summer destination is not so populated, quite common in New Zealand, the last part of the trip is not very easy to make, unless your fortunate enough in having a ride at the other end. If you want to taxi you would be paying twice as much!

  4. Stu. I generally try to do something similar, but with two basic differences. 1) there will be several of us travelling (family group), and 2) my aim is to avoid long car journeys and any prerequisite of car-ownership. However I accept that a rental car for local travel at the destination may be necessary. And perhaps I should mention a third difference: my overwhelming preference is to use trains for the long-haul, not buses or planes if I can help it. Unfortunately KiwiRail’s (=National government’s) passenger rail policy in recent years has largely screwed this, both in terms of cutting travel options to a mere vestige, and of failing to cater for a budget-travel market.
    This year’s travel plans are quite simple: A return trip Wgtn to Kaikoura, and then another Wgtn to Hamilton. The latter may not work out because of the 3-days-only-per-week constraint of the new Northern Explorer. And of course there are some scary costings for these sort of trips. 5 return fares Wgtn-Hamilton will set you back $1400-1500, even taking the best deals on offer. Gone are the days of “backpackers carriages” which used to be slung on the backs of certain Tranz Scenic trains offering no-frills, cut-price travel.

    But I am reminded of a lovely trip we did many years ago (one of many) when the children were in their teens. Here was our itinerary: Leg 1: Wellington-Hamilton (Overlander), Hamilton-Tauranga (Kaimai), rental car waiting at Tauranga Station for a week’s use around the Coromandel Peninsula; Leg 2: Tauranga-Hamilton (Kaimai), Hamilton-Ohakune (Overlander), rental car (available in Ohakune back then) for a week in the Tongariro area; Leg 3: Ohakune-Wellington (Overlander). Even then the price was high: train fares came to $900 for 5 of us (may have included a couple of child fares, I can’t really remember), and yes, it would have been far cheaper for us simply to rent a car from Wellington for 2 weeks and drive all the way. But we had a great holiday and thoroughly enjoyed being able to integrate travel by train into it. Sure beats being cooped up in a car for hours on end.

    Unfortunately since then, successive “owners” of the railway in New Zealand have openly declared their lack of interest in running a passenger rail service and have allowed it to wither away. Now the message is that our kind of travel is not the high-value sort that Tranz Scenic is interested in providing and anyway, “locals do not want to travel by train anymore” – or so they say.
    In common with the South American countries, we in New Zealand have lost the plot when it comes to passenger rail, the most civilised and environmentally-benign means of transport that there is. Shame on all responsible.

      1. I don’t – planes provide an even better ride quality. They may be tight but often they only take 1/10 time, and are a lot cheaper if you get a good deal.

        1. If you are in a hurry then planes obviously win over trains, at least at the speeds ours travel. If you want to travel by land there is no question in my mind that rail travel beats road, provided you are comparing like with like, and not expecting a clapped out, run-down, rail-service to out-perform luxury cars or coaches running on trillion-dollar highways. I seek to use rail instead of making long-distance road trips which I do not particularly like, neither physically nor ideologically. And of course there are places which air travel just does not serve – like Ohakune! And keep in mind that from a global and environmental perspective, air-travel for the masses may not be sustainable beyond the next major oil price hike or climate-change scare. In spite of its low ebb at the moment, I believe rail has a bright future and may ultimtely be the mode that rises to the top in a post-cheap-oil world.

        2. Also ATM when comparing other travel modes Air travel is actually quite environmentally viable. That is when comparing the amount of miles per person for the fuel used, Also have to note that airline fuel is cleaner than regular as well. But agreed it depends on what you want, for me its air travel.

    1. I’m looking forward to a trip with the family, on an EMU, all the way to Marsden along the upgraded and faster Northern Line. (snap out of it!)

      1. Imagine the difference if we applied the same logic to straightening out the rail network between major centres as we do to roads? Now I’m really dreaming of course 🙂

        1. Feel free to dream about a better rail network as much as you like. It can be no worse than Steven Joyce dreaming of his pet Roads of National Significance, 0.2 BCR and all.

    2. I’m fairly ambivalent between trains and buses for distances of up to 3 hours. As someone who does a lot of cycle touring, I’ve usually found that buses are more accommodating, but I do understand the value of being able to walk around like you can on a train for long distances. And there’s definite economies of scale with trains that you don’t get on a bus, e.g. onboard cafes.

      But you know, as some of these other people have commented: If I sat around waiting for rail to somewhere like Oakura Bay I’d never get there :). So bus it is, and I’m not too bothered – especially given the price.

  5. The downside of the very cheap intercity bus fares is the corners that sometimes get cut. Naked bus outsources some of their services. Last time I travelled with them (Palmerston North to Wellington), the bus was old, in poor condition and dirty. Also, as the previous bus had failed to turn up it had about 5 more people than seats. (As i was being picked up outside Massey, waiting by the side of the road for 2 hours ata night wasn’t really an option either). I spent about half the trip sitting on the floor in the aisle of a very hot bus, before someone kindly swapped places with me.

    My experience was complete when I lodged a complaint and received no apology, but a discount of 25% if I travelled with them in the next six weeks (which as I had no travel planned in that time frame I was unable to take advantage of).

    All in all it was disappointing, the service was crap and the customer service was laughable. I won’t be travelling with again

  6. Are the bus costs (including transfers in AKL – or does Nakedbus go to the Airport?) less than additional cost of flying Kerikeri to CHC?

    1. Hi Axio, good questions.

      Yes I believe some of the Intercity buses go through to the Airport for about $12 more, or you can connect downtown. I’m doing the latter because I have a bit of time before flight leaves, which I’d rather spend downtown rather than out at the airport.

      When I checked flights from KKI to CHC were quite steep: From memory about $250 each way and you’d have to travel for an hour to get to KKI airport and then connect flights through Auckland anyway, so would not save any time at all for about twice the cost.

      1. I’m not surprised KKE-CHC was quite steep if you were only booking now. Though there are actually quite a few AKL-KKE and rt services, KKE would definitely be one of the busier regional destinations/origins and particularly in summer around Xmas-New Year. Air NZ is about to bring into service the first of a new batch of ATR72s which at 68 seats have the biggest capacity of turbo-prop aircraft in service in NZ. that will allow the company to offer more capacity on a number of regional services in the coming year-two years. Domestic air travel in NZ has grown hugely and overall prices (particularly on the main routes) have on average come down a lot as well in the last decade. Additional capacity on regional routes will of course help the airline to offer a larger number of lower-priced fares on those routes.

        1. I actually first looked at KKE-CHC flights ~4 months ago and they were expensive even at that stage. But good to hear that Air New Zealand is adding capacity – from time to time I’ve found a number of regional airports to be relatively under-cooked with their current fleet.

  7. Intercity train Auckland to Whangarei; then catch a local all stops to Kawakawa DMU to Whakepara; then a bus, one preferably driven by a local character, to Oakura Bay. Repeat trip back to Auckland. Catch an overnight intercity sleeper to Christchurch; then a Tranzalpine to the Alps. Repeat trip back to Auckland. Relax, own a bit of the country that you’d never see travelling on a road; have a bit of room to wander around while you’re en route; read a book or two; write a couple of blog posts; eat a couple of decent meals, etc. Civilized travel but, of course, not available here and never will be, certainly not while we run a Pike River of a national transport network.

  8. InterCity usually has the same, if not lower, prices as Nakedbus on most routes – with a much higher standard of service. Like Air New Zealand and Jetstar, the former has been driven to reduce prices – however is still known for better service.

    1. I just checked and it was $24 for Intercity ticket each way, so a little more expensive. Will make sure I check there next time before booking …

  9. I’ve been a coach booster for a long time. This dates back to travel I did around Australia in 2001 and 2002. The coaches are generally cheaper, faster, and more frequent than the rail services. And they don’t require subsidy. I liked the backpacker and coach culture too… especially the overnight services where you stop at places like Airlie Beach at 2am, and half the passengers have pillows with them.

    I think coaches are a great method of connecting NZ towns that don’t warrant an air service. I shake my head when people here dream up phenomenally expensive railway schemes to connect towns like Auckland and Hamilton or Auckland and Rotorua, when there are perfectly good un-subsidised coach services already in place.

    1. Coaches are pretty good for holiday travel, especially between smaller towns as you have mentioned. They are less good for commuter travel – and I think commuter travel is the motivation behind a lot of the Auckland-Hamilton rail proposals.

        1. What is environmentally unsound is mass road transport in all of its forms. Predominantly because car-use, especially at typical low occupancies, is phenomenally wasteful. And yet our transport infrastructure is designed and sized to accommodate this. This, and that other wasteful monster, long-distance trucking. And without these two activities to provide a HEAVILY SUBSIDISED roading system (think for starters: does trucking pay its fair share? how are all non-State-highways paid for?…), then coaches would be unable to tag on to the back of this. Mass road transport survives in its present form only because many of its costs and externalities are shoved onto other sectors of society and few people bother to question this. Rail has to pay virtually all of its costs and externalities and whatever subsidies or bail-outs it may receive only go a small way towards balancing up the huge hidden subsidy to mass road-transport. If coaches had to support their fair share of the real costs of the road transport system (including all the fearsome environmental externalities) then they would be up against the same hurdles that passenger trains face.

          1. OK so road travel is subsidised also. Why don’t you focus on removing those subsidies rather than propping up the rail argument? Then instead of speculatively waving our arms in the air about visions of environmental unsoundness, we can let people (users) decide the most efficient decision economically and environmentally.

            Using subsidies to solve subsidies? Stooopid.

          2. Filde, why do you think that the road subsidies are unwanted? I think both rail and road should be subsidised, and most importantly to the same amount.

        2. @Obi Mmm, strange that if long distance rail commuting is so enviromentally unsound that many people do it 5-6 days a week all over the world. The place I lived in Japan (50,000pop) was a dormitory town where many people commuted to work by train into either Kyoto (30mins) or Osaka (1hr) each way. The same thing for thousands of people commuting from cities and towns outside Tokyo, often up to 2-2 and a half hours by train away. just think if those people commuted by car – now that REALLY would be enviromentally unsound! And you’d need a hell of a lot of buses if you were to try that option!

          I think the saddest thing for North Island passenger rail is that the NIMT was built through the King Country rather than going down via Lake Taupo. With a key tourist destination like Lake Taupo, as well as Rotorua, I think passenger rail would’ve been able to maintain a good level of demand and therefore service. The fact that rail has never reached Lake Taupo is an absolute shame. I would love to be able to take the train down there from Auckland for a holiday.

    2. I’m afraid I disagree with this. I live in a country with a similar population density to New Zealand and only 9.5 million people in it. We run a train system that is profit making and have a regular and reasonably priced system in place with at least hourly connections to most places around the country (as well as ultra cheap offers like 320kr ($57) return from Stockholm to Malmö (a distance of 482km as the crow flies) in 4 hours and 30 minutes, appearing very frequently). It is perfectly possible to provide a high quality network in a country lacking density as long as one can make the services attractive by using aggressive and competitive pricing and still ensuring that quality is present. As for comfort there is no comparison – spacious seats and lots of leg room, plug sockets for laptops, free wifi, a cafe/restaurant car and a much smoother non stop start ride that one experiences with a train compared to a coach. Oh, and not to mention the fact that we also have a burgeoning coach system here running alongside rail that complements and competes with the service in equal measures. Competition is healthy as it forces both modes to better themselves.

      To also mention the other benefit; many people also commute between Uppsala and Stockholm for business by train rather than by car. Why? Because it is actually faster. One can cover the distance in 40 minutes using a standard regional train with trains leaving at least every half an hour (and soon there will be slower trains complimenting the service that stop at all stations thus providing better local transport connections leaving every half an hour off-peak and every 15 minutes at peak). This is between a city of a similar size to Auckland to a city smaller than Hamilton at a similar distance between the two so I don’t buy the argument that one cannot provide a decent level of service for such a situation either.

      For a final benefit one has the climate cost. If one were to electrify the network (as here largely has) one can tap the renewable energy available readily in New Zealand (as we have done given we don’t really burn fossil fuels at all). NZ has the possibilities (in the North Island at least) for a good network of train lines given the focused populations at particular points. What it doesn’t currently have is the willpower to accomplish that.

      1. Exactly! New Zealand’s problem is one of attitude not practicality. The great Kiwi “Can’t-do” culture! Actually I think this stems from our British roots. All the English-speaking countries of the world seem to have pared back their long-distance and rural pasenger rail services, in contrast to places such as Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria etc which have retained and developed theirs.

        An even closer comparison to New Zealand is Norway, where country size, shape, terrain, and population are very similar to ours. Yet they also manage to sustain a successful passenger rail network. Sure, Norway is now a richer country due to its oil reserves. But prior to the formation of the EEC, we too were a rich country with assured markets for our agricultural produce in Britain. What did we spend our riches on back then? Obviously not on improvement and electrification of our railways.

        The countries named above are now far better positioned than we are to cope with likely future oil-price hikes. We have squandered, and continue to squander, our wealth on highways and unsustainable road-transport.

  10. Its’s always worth checking out the rental car companies for north bound trips. They can be very cheap. And sometimes just pay for the gas.

    Last summer 2 of us had to go to Christchurch. We found $69 fares on Air NZ with 1 weeks notice. Then on the way back got a free rental car from Christchurch to Picton. We just had to fill up with gas. Then had a really nice cruise on the interislander…
    I have also used the free rental cars Wellington to Auckland (dropping of family in Taranaki along the way)

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