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New Zealand Transportation

Transport in New Zealand, with its mountainous topography and relatively small population, mostly located close to the a long coastline, has always faced many transport challenges. Before Europeans arrived, Ma-ori either walked or used watercraft on rivers or along the coasts. Later on, European shipping and railways revolutionised the way of transporting goods and people, before being themselves overtaken by road and air, which are nowadays the dominant forms of transport.

However, bulk freight continues to be transported by coastal shipping and by rail transport.



The New Zealand State Highway network, which provides the backbone infrastructure between towns, is administered by Transit New Zealand. While its origins are earlier, the system was strongly extended after World War II. Other roads and streets are managed by city or district councils. Some roads are under the control of the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

All funding for state highways and around 50% of funding for local roads comes directly from road users through the National Land Transport Fund. Road user revenue directed to the fund includes all fuel excise duty on LPG and CNG, around 55% of revenue from fuel excise duty on petrol, all revenue from road user charges (a prepaid distance/weight licence that all vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, and all non petrol/LPG/CNG vehicles are liable to pay) and most non ACC revenue from motor vehicle registration and licensing fees. In addition, in the last three years the government has increasing allocated additional funds to land transport, to the extent that today the total expenditure by Land Transport New Zealand on land transport projects exceeds road tax revenue collected.

The remainder of funding for local city and district roads primarily comes from local authority property rates.

The maximum speed limit on the open road is 100 km/h, with 50 km/h the common limit in residential areas. Speed limits of 60, 70, and 80 km/h are also used. Speeds are often reduced to 30 km/h beside roadworks.

New Zealand Railroads


There is a total of 3,898 km of railway line in New Zealand, built to the narrow gauge of 1067 mm. Of this, 506 km is electrified (2002 data). The national network is owned by the New Zealand Railways Corporation trading as ONTRACK, a state-owned enterprise. The national network consists of three main trunk lines, seven secondary main lines and during it's peak in the 1950s, around ninety branch lines.
The majority of the latter are now closed. Most lines were constructed by government but a few were of private origin, later nationalised. In 1931, the Transport Licensing Act was passed, protecting the railways from competition for fifty years. The transport industry became fully deregulated in 1983. Between 1986 and 1993 the rail industry underwent a major overhaul involving corporatisation, restructuring, downsizing, line and station closures and privatisation. In 1993 the network was privatised, and until 2003 the national network was owned by Tranz Rail, previously New Zealand Rail Limited. The government agreed to take over control of the national rail network back when Toll Holdings purchased Tranz Rail in 2003.

New Zealand Water Transport

Water transport

New Zealand has a long history of international and coastal shipping. Both Maori and the European settlers arrived from overseas, and during the early European settler years, coastal shipping was one of the main methods of transportation.

The two main islands are separated by Cook Strait, 24 km wide at its narrowest point, but requiring a 70-km ferry trip to cross. This is the only large-scale long-distance car / passenger shipping service left, with all others restricted to short ferry routes to islands like Stewart Island or Great Barrier Island.

New Zealand has 1,609 km of navigable inland waterways; however these are no longer significant transport routes.

Ferry services

Regular roll-on roll-off ferry services link the North and South Islands between Wellington and Picton. Toll NZ, a division of Australian firm Toll Holdings, owns the main inter-island ferry service, the Interislander.
Two of the three ferries used by the Interislander, the Arahura and the Aratere, are rail ferries with special rail decks. The largest and newest ferry, Challenger (marketed as Kaitaki) came into operation in September 2005. A competitor service is operated by Strait Shipping Ltd, using ex-French ships Santa Regina and Monte Stello (not yet in service), under the Bluebridge brand.

Depending on the vessel, usual transit time between the North and South Islands is between three hours and three hours twenty minutes. Faster catamaran ferries were used by Tranz Rail and its competitors. To reduce voyage times, Tranz Rail proposed to relocate the South Island terminal of its services to Clifford Bay in Marlborough, which would also avoid a steep section of railway. This proposal has been shelved since the takeover by Toll Holdings in 2003.

New Zealand Airport


There are 113 airports in New Zealand (2002 est.). The main international airport is Auckland Airport, which handled about 11 million passengers in 2005. Christchurch Airport and Wellington Airport each handle about 4 million passengers per year.

Nearly one-third of those surveyed in the International Visitor Survey in 2000 had used domestic air services; rental cars and coach tours were each used by one-quarter. Transport by private car and ferry were the fourth and fifth most common means of transport, ahead of scheduled bus and train.

Rental car was the preferred method of transport for visitors from Australia in 2000, by 30%. Next in importance were domestic air travel (18%) and private car (17%). Rental cars, private cars and ferries were the top three methods of transport for visitors from the United Kingdom and Canada. The popularity of private cars for visitors from Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada could be attributed to the high proportion of visitors from these countries who come to visit friends and relatives.


New Zealand Ministry of Transport
Land Transport New Zealand
Maritime New Zealand
Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand


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