New Zealand's land mass is long and thin with small winding roads and frequent ridges and mountains. A common mistake for overseas travellers is to expect distances to be covered as quickly as in their home country. This is definitely not the case. There is also a remarkable amount to be seen in a relatively small area. You can spend the night in an urban centre in a luxury lodge and be in the middle of pristine wilderness with a helicopter 20 minutes later.
Roading in New Zealand still lacks many of the safety features taken for granted in the US and Europe. Corners can seem sharp, and most of the time there is no barrier separating traffic flows. Care needs to be taken when driving around the country, which further reduces travelling time. On the other hand, we have some of the most beautiful open roads available for motoring in the world today. So - bearing in mind that it takes longer to get around, and that one needs to focus while one is doing so - we highly recommend driving yourselves around the country, especially away from the main centres.
At the same time, the country is ideally suited to flightseeing and the use of helicopters. Many tourism destinations can be linked together with a one-hour helicopter transfer which combines an A to B transfer with some lovely scenic flying. Helicopters are an integral part of high-end transportation in New Zealand and we have the highest number of helicopters per capita in the world.
Scheduled airlines Air New Zealand and Jetstar provide standard domestic services between the major centres which work fine if a major city is involved. Going from minor place to minor place can result in difficult and time-consuming connections.
You can expect to rent a standard car for about NZ$60-NZ$200 per day, depending on quality. Luxury cars go for NZ$300 - NZ$500 per day. A chauffeur (you are paying for guide, vehicle, fuel, guide accommodation) comes in at around NZ$900+ per day depending on the vehicle selected. Apart from the standard line-up of rental cars, there are now also Porsches, Range Rovers, a number of luxury convertibles and some isolated classic cars available.
With helicopters, we tend to use Aerospatiale Squirrels at NZ$2000+ per hour. These seat 5-6 passengers but are most comfortable with 4. The machines have excellent visibility and the pilots we use are highly experienced and sociable (rather than the standard uncommunicative A to B "I am the pilot" type one often gets). Some machines we use have specially designed luggage pods which can take everything from a compact camel train through to surfboards and windsurf gear. Helicopters, if used throughout your stay, will roughly double the cost of your itinerary. To have your personal helicopter throughout your stay will cost a two to three flying hour minimum per day plus pilot expenses.
There are a number of charter aircraft in the country, with about 95% of them being turboprops. A jet's efficiencies make economic and time-saving sense on routes over about an hour. Most routes in this country are under that. Some jets are available but they tend to be quite expensive and need to be booked in advance in order to ensure availability.
Public transport, except for a few isolated operations, is very rudimentary and slow. The rail network has picked up its act recently and offers a viable and often scenic alternative.