Transport in New Zealand

Transport in New Zealand

Transport in New Zealand, with its mountainous topography and relatively small population mostly located on a long coastline, has always faced many challenges. Before Europeans arrived, Māori 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 still continues to be transported by coastal shipping and by rail transport.

Road transport

The State Highway network, which provides the backbone road traffic infrastructure connecting New Zealand towns, is administered by Transit New Zealand. Other roads and streets are managed by city or district councils. Some roads are under the control of the New Zealand Department of Conservation.


The road network of New Zealand has its origins in the tracks and paths used by both Māori and Europeans in their early travels through New Zealand. Several major Māori tracks were known, such as the western coastal track was used along the whole length of the North Island, and the track on the East Coast, which however left the coast near Castlepoint and rejoined it near Napier. In the South Island, another significant track existed down the east coastwith tributiary tracks following streams up to the mountain passes to the West Coast." [ Roads - Development] " (from Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 1966 Edition. Accessed 2008-07-19.)]

Initial roads, such as the Great South Road southwards from Auckland, were often built by the British Army to move troops, and were constructed to a comparatively high standard. Early sheep farming required few high-standard roads, but the strong increase in dairy farming in the late 19th century created a strong demand for better links on which the more perishable goods could be transported to market or towards ports for export.In many cases, later roads for motor vehicles follow paths used by bullock carts [ [ Why does Transit build roads where it does?] (from the Transit New Zealand website. Accessed 2008-06-07.)] which followed tracks made for humans. These in turn in some cases became highways - with attendant problems all over New Zealand (but especially in the more mountainous regions), as the geography and contours of a slow-speed road laid out in the first half of the 20th century usually do not conform to safety and comfort criteria of modern motor vehicles. [ Road Engineering - Design of Highways] (from Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 1966 Edition. Accessed 2008-06-07.)]

Early road construction was both hindered and helped by rail transport during the first half century of European settlement. Authorities were reluctant to expend large amounts of capital on more difficult sections of a route where there was a hope that a railway might instead be built. However, where railways were constructed, roads often either preceded them for construction or quickly followed it when the newly accessible land started to be settled more closely.

While its origins began some decades earlier, the New Zealand Highway system was strongly extended after World War II. The first motorway was built in the environs of Wellington and opened in 1950, between Takapu Road and Johnsonville. [ [ When did New Zealand first have a motorway?] (from the Transit New Zealand website)]


New Zealand has a State Highway network of 10,895 km (5,974 km in the North Island and 4,921 km in the South Island, as of August 2006) of which 170 km are motorways. These link to 82,000 km of local authority roads, both paved and unpaved. The state highways carry 50% of all New Zealand road traffic, with the motorways alone carrying 9% of all traffic (even though they represent only 3% of the whole State Highway network, and even less of the whole road network). [ [ How many kilometres of state highways are there?] (from the Transit New Zealand website)] [ [ How long are New Zealand's motorways?] (from the Transit New Zealand website)]

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, but there are few to no areas of the country's road network where speeds below 50 km/h are mandatory at all times.


Historically, most roads in New Zealand were funded by local road authorities (often road boards) who derived their income from local rates. As the need for new roads was often most urgent in those parts of the country were little rate income could yet be collected, the funding was at least partly dependent on national-level subsidies, for which much lobbying was undertaken. Many acts and ordinances were passed in the fist decades of the colony, but lack of funds and parochialism (the desire to spend locally raised money locally, rather than use it to link different provinces) hindered the growth of the road network. This lack of larger-scale planning eventually led to increased public works powers given to the Central Government." [ Roads - Administration] " (from Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 1966 Edition. Accessed 2008-07-19.)]

Today, 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.

Vehicle fleet

One of the earliest counts/estimates of motor vehicles in New Zealand had them at 82,000 in 1925. This soon increased to 170,000 on the eve of World War II in 1939, continuing to 425,000 in 1953 and increasing to 1,000,000 in 1971. Today, the New Zealand vehicle fleet (as of June 2006) counts 3,226,614 vehicles, an increase of 2.42% compared to the previous year. Of the fleet, 2,232,915 were cars and 408,757 trucks. [ [ Total licensed vehicles, by vehicle type as at year end June 2006] (from the Land Transport New Zealand website] The mean age of a New Zealand car (as of end of 2006) was 12.1 years, with trucks at 12.7 years. [ [ Age profile of major vehicle types, by type and age group, as at year end 2006] (from the Land Transport New Zealand website)]

Most cars sold in New Zealand are used imports, of which 94.6 per cent come from Japan. [ [ Main countries of previous registration of ex-overseas (used-imports) cars] (from the Land Transport New Zealand website)] In 2006, 123,390 such vehicles were registered, compared to 76,804 brand new vehicles first registered in New Zealand.

The three most popular new cars in 2006 (excluding sales of ex-overseas vehicles) were the Holden Commodore (5,375), the Toyota Corolla (5,297) and the Ford Falcon (4,199). [ [ Top 20 cars of 2006] (from the Land Transport New Zealand website)]

Road safety

In 2005, 405 'road users' were killed in New Zealand, while 14,451 were injured. The age group most represented in the death and injury statistics were the 15-24 year olds. The most typical causes of death or injury were "head-on collisions (while not overtaking)" as well as "loss of control (while cornering)". [ [ Reported Injury Crashes 2005: Section 2 - Casualties and Crashes] (PDF) (from the New Zealand Ministry of Transport)] In terms of deaths per 10,000 population, the most dangerous areas were the Waitomo District (110 deaths) and the Clutha District (89 deaths). Larger cities were comparatively safe, with Auckland City having 36 deaths per 10,000 population, Manukau City 22 deaths, Wellington 24 deaths and Christchurch 29 deaths while Dunedin had a very high rate of 63 deaths. [ [ Reported Injury Crashes 2005: Section 7 - Local Body Casualties and Crashes] (PDF) (from the New Zealand Ministry of Transport)]

The total road deaths in New Zealand are comparatively high. The fatality rate per capita has been quoted as being twice the level of Germany's, and blamed on aggressive driving behaviours and insufficient driver training. [" [ Lousy NZ drivers blamed for high death toll] " - "The New Zealand Herald", Monday 18 February 2008]

Rail transport


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 its 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. In May 2008 the Government agreed to buy Toll NZ's rail and ferry operations for $665 million [citeweb|url=|title=Rail buy back marks new sustainable transport era|date=5 May 2008|accessdate=2008-05-05] .

Operators and services

Bulk freights dominate services, particularly coal, logs and wood products, milk and milk products, fertiliser, containers, steel and cars. Long distance passenger services are limited to three routes - the TranzAlpine (Christchurch - Greymouth), the TranzCoastal (Christchurch - Picton) and the Overlander (Wellington - Auckland). Urban rail services operate in Wellington and Auckland, and interurban services run between Palmerston North and Wellington (the Capital Connection) and Masterton and Wellington (the Wairarapa Connection).

For most of its history, New Zealand's rail services were operated by the Railways Department. In 1982, the Department was corporatised as the New Zealand Railways Corporation. The Corporation was split in 1990 between a limited liability operating company, New Zealand Rail Limited, and the Corporation which retained a number of assets to be disposed. New Zealand Rail was privatised in 1993, and renamed Tranz Rail in 1995. In 2001, Tranz Rail's long-distance passenger operations, under the guise of Tranz Scenic, became a separate company; Tranz Rail chose not to bid for the contract to run Auckland's rail services, and the contract was won by Connex (now Veolia Transport Auckland). Proposals to sell Tranz Rail's Wellington passenger rail services, Tranz Metro, did not come to fruition, although the division became a separate company in July 2003. In 2003 Tranz Rail was purchased by Australian freight firm Toll Holdings, which renamed the company Toll NZ.

The only other significant non-heritage operator is the tourist oriented Taieri Gorge Railway in Otago, which runs regular passenger trains on part of the former Otago Central Railway and some on the Main South Line.


The Federation of Rail Organisations of New Zealand coordinates the work of approximately sixty heritage railways and rail museums. Most of these are operated by groups of volunteers and have a historical or tourist focus.

Water transport

New Zealand has a long history of international and coastal shipping. Both Maori and the New Zealand European settlers arrived from overseas, and during the early European settler years, coastal shipping was one of the main methods of transportation, [" [ New Zealand's Burning: Overview of coastal shipping 1885] - Arnold, Rollo, Victoria Press, Victoria University of Wellington, 1994] while it was hard to move goods to or from the hinterlands, thus limiting the locations of early settlement. 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.

Coastal shipping

As noted above, coastal shipping has long played a significant role in New Zealand. The industry has however faced a number of troubled times as well, such as during World War II when ship requisitioning caused shortages in the transport operation. [ [ War Economy - Coastal Shipping] (from "Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45", BAKER, J. V. T.; Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs Wellington, New Zealand 1965)]

After cabotage was abolished in 1994, international shipping lines became able to undertake coastal shipping as opportune to them on their international routes to New Zealand. While reducing the cargo reshipment rates for New Zealand industry, this is seen by some as a heavy blow for local competitors, who, specialised in coastal shipping only, are less able to achieve the costs savings of large lines - these can generally operate profitably even without cargo on New Zealand-internal legs of their routes, and are thus able to underbid others. The law change has been accused of having turned the New Zealand business into a 'sunset industry' which will eventually die out. [ [ New Zealand Shipping] (DOC) (from the 'New Zealand Shipping Federation' website)]

In the financial year 2003 / 2004 coastal cargo in New Zealand totalled around 8.6 million tonnes, of which 85% was still carried by local, and 15% by overseas shipping. [ [ Coastal Shipping Cargo - 2003/03] (PDF) (from a Ministry of Transport report, March 2005)]

Ferry services

Regular roll-on roll-off ferry services link the North and South Islands between Wellington and Picton, since 1962."A Wheel on Each Corner", The History of the IPENZ Transportation Group 1956-2006 - Douglass, Malcolm; IPENZ Transportation Group, 2006, Page 12] 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.

Smaller ferries operate in the Bay of Islands, Rawene (Northland), Auckland, Wellington, the Marlborough Sounds and Lyttelton (Christchurch), and between Bluff and Half Moon Bay (Stewart Island/Rakiura).

Ports and harbours

*Container ports: Ports of Auckland (Auckland), Port of Tauranga (Tauranga), Napier, Wellington, Lyttelton (Christchurch), Port Chalmers (Dunedin)
*Other ports: Whangarei, Devonport (Auckland), Gisborne, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Nelson, Picton, Westport, Greymouth, Timaru, Bluff
*Freshwater: Rotorua (Lake Rotorua), Taupo (Lake Taupo), Queenstown and Kingston (Lake Wakatipu), Te Anau and Manapouri (Lake Manapouri)

Merchant marine fleet

; Ships by type : bulk 3, cargo 2, container 1, petroleum tanker 2, roll-on/roll-off 1 (2002 estimate); Total : 9 ships (1,000 GRT or over), totaling 69,685 GRT/DWT|106,627|metric|first=yes

Air transport


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

With paved runways

"total:" 46
10,000 ft (3048 m) or more: 2
8000 ft to 9999 ft (2438 m to 3047 m): 1
5000 ft to 7999 ft (1524 m to 2437 m): 10
3000 ft to 4999 ft (914 m to 1523 m): 28
under 3000 ft (914 m): 5 (2002)

With unpaved runways

"total:" 67
5000 ft to 7999 ft (1524 m to 2437 m): 2
3000 ft to 4999 ft (914 m to 1523 m): 26
under 3000 ft (914 m): 39 (2002)


1 (2002), Auckland, Mechanics Bay


Petroleum products 160 km; natural gas 1,000 km; liquified petroleum gas (LPG) 150 km.

Overseas visitors

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.

ee also

*Airports in New Zealand
* [Bridges in New Zealand]
*Tunnels in New Zealand
*Public transport in New Zealand
*Trolleybus systems in New Zealand
*Trams in New Zealand



External links

* [ Ministry of Transport]
* [ Interislander - Cook Strait Ferries]
* [ Bluebridge - Cook Strait Ferry]
* [ "Cook Strait Rail Ferries" (from NZ History online)]

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