Lions in Auckland 2005

09 Jun Following the Lions tour to New Zealand: the AA Roadwatch guide

Main image by Melanwell, used under CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

The British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand is underway, with the three test matches against the All Blacks scheduled for Auckland and Wellington at the end of June and beginning of July.

Whether or not the Lions roar on the pitch, it’s set to be a trip of a lifetime for those fans fortunate enough to be heading down under to follow the team. If you are one of them, read on for our practical guide to visiting the country!

Image used under CC0 licence.

Image used under CC0 licence.

Most international flights arrive at Auckland Airport, around 20km outside Auckland in the far north of the country. From there, you can catch domestic flights to towns and cities all over New Zealand.

To get into the city centre from the airport, catch the SkyBus which operates two different routes. Whichever one you’re on, it should take between 40 and 60 minutes depending on traffic conditions. You can buy tickets from kiosks at the bus stops outside the terminal, from the driver (cash only) or online. Naked Bus and Intercity also operate bus services between the airport and city centre.

You can connect to the Auckland rail network (see the Public Transport section below) by taking the 380 Airporter Bus to Papatoetoe station on the Southern Line and Eastern Line. Plan your journey here.

Taxi ranks are located outside the arrivals area (door 8) at the international terminal and outside door 4 at the domestic terminal. A taxi journey into the city could cost anywhere between NZ$38 – NZ$75. The airport’s website has more information on the specific companies and their pricing. Find it here.

Car hire is available on the ground floor of international arrivals. For more on hiring a car and driving in New Zealand, check out the Renting A Car section below.

The first stop of your Lions tour is unlikely to be Wellington or Christchurch unless you are travelling via Australia. However, their airports’ websites provide information on onward travel. Find it here for Wellington and here for Christchurch.

Road towards mountains in New Zealand
Renting a car

Image used under CC0 licence.

If you’ve travelled all the way to New Zealand, the chances are that you’ll want to get out of the cities and explore the country’s stunning and varied countryside – at least for a day or two. And while the country does have a reasonable public transport system (read on for more on that), nothing beats the freedom of hiring a car and hitting the road.

Car hire is available from our preferred car hire partners, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Alamo. AA members save year-round on car hire and get a free additional driver – click here to learn more. You can also find Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz or Thrifty at airports and in city centres.

Most companies in New Zealand require you to be over 21 to hire a car. It’s worth noting that if your driving licence is not in English, you will need to carry an accurate translation. See NZ Transport Agency for more information.

One handy thing about New Zealand’s roads is that they drive on the left, so you’ll feel immediately at home in your rental car and on the road. There are some things to bear in mind, though:

  • New Zealand is a much larger country than Ireland, which means it can be easy to underestimate distances by just looking at a map.
  • The roads in rural areas are often narrow and winding, so you should always leave more time than you expect to need. Use AA Routeplanner for accurate journey planning.
  • A tired driver is a dangerous driver, particularly on unfamiliar roads, so don’t be overly ambitious when planning your journeys and take regular breaks.
  • Changeable weather is always likely in New Zealand, so make sure you check the forecast before setting off on any journey. Of course, it’s currently winter which means that snow is a real possibility if you’re on the South Island. Check out the Weather section below and read our winter driving tips.
  • Beware of rail crossings – only half of the 1500 crossings in New Zealand have automatic alarms. Flashing red lights means a train is approaching, so stop and only proceed once the lights have stopped flashing. Other crossings have a ‘Railway Crossing’ sign and give way (equivalent to our yield) or stop signs only. If you see this, stop, look both ways and only cross the track if there are no trains approaching.
Public transport

You can get around New Zealand by bus and, less commonly, train and ferry. Bus is the cheapest and most readily available way to travel between cities, with the two main providers being Intercity and Naked Bus.

Rail travel is much less common, but there are three main lines operated by KiwiRail: Auckland to Wellington on North Island (Northern Explorer), Picton to Christchurch (Coastal Pacific), and Christchurch to the West Coast (the famously scenic TranzAlpine), both on South Island. However, they don’t intersect and services are infrequent.

Ferry is a fun way to travel between North and South Island (try InterIslander and Bluebridge) and a convenient way to reach some of the many islands off the coast.

Within the cities, Wellington is surprisingly better served than Auckland, but both have their own bus, rail and ferry networks – Metlink for Wellington and AT for Auckland. Christchurch is also served by buses and ferries – Metro.

Domestic flights

Flying is a popular and convenient way to get around the country. There are 25 airports that have regular scheduled domestic flights (16 on North Island, 9 on South Island), and no flight is longer than two hours – the Auckland to Wellington services takes just one. There’s more information on flying around New Zealand here.

Rural New Zealand

Image used under CC0 licence.

The Kiwi winter generally runs from June to October, though around Auckland, cold days are actually quite rare. It’s a different story on South Island, where alpine regions often experience significant frosts and heavy snowfall and skiing is possible – especially in the Canterbury, central Otago and Southland regions. Your itinerary will have a large bearing on the weather you encounter, but definitely bring some wet weather clothes at the very least as rainfall is high all year round.


Image used under CC0 licence.

If you’re heading to New Zealand, chances are you will be spending a fair bit of time in its largest city, Auckland. Located on North Island, its 50,000 capacity Eden Park stadium is the home of the All Blacks and will host the first and third tests on 24th June and 8th July.

Fortunately, there is plenty to see and do in the so-called City Of Sails when you’re not cheering on the Lions. It’s extremely beautiful, squeezed in between two stunning natural harbours and blessed with a balmy, sub-tropical climate which means it never gets too chilly – even in winter. It’s also vibrant and cosmopolitan, with a population of more than a million people and a strong Maori and Polynesian character.

Sky Tower

Standing 328m tall, the Sky Tower dominates Auckland’s skyline and is the perfect vantage point from which to take in some amazing 360 degree views. At the base of the tower, there are restaurants, a casino and a theatre. There are more restaurants near the top, as well as a viewing platform. And if you’re a real adrenaline junkie you can even walk around the edge or throw yourself off – harnesses provided!

Harbour Cruise

Auckland is every inch a maritime city, with Waitemata Harbour to the north and Manukau Harbour to the south. So whether you fancy taking in the city skyline from the water or exploring some of the many small islands, there are boat trips and cruises to suit all budgets. Auckland’s tourism site has a range of options.

Waiheke Island

Take a 40-minute ferry east of the city and you’ll arrive at Waiheke Island – a dream for wine lovers. The beautifully green island has a number of wineries and vineyards that offer guided tours and food along with the obligatory wine-tasting. There’s more to it than just vino though – a mixture of farmland, beaches, forest and seaside villages; outdoor activities such as horse riding, ziplining and clay pigeon shooting; and a thriving arts scene mean you may want to spend longer than a day there.

Wellington, New Zealand

Image used under CC0 licence.

Located at the south-western tip of North Island, New Zealand’s capital is known as Windy Wellington, but don’t let that put you off – it was recently named the world’s most liveable city. That should make for a pleasant stay if you happen to be in town to watch the Lions take on Super Rugby side Hurricanes on 27th June or the All Blacks in the Second Test on July 1st.

Wellington is the second largest city in the country, but with a population of around 400,000 it’s less than one-third the size of Auckland, which makes it compact and practical for a short stay. It’s a picturesque place, surrounded by a large natural harbour on one side and hills on the other three, and as it’s known as the country’s gastronomic and cultural capital, there’s plenty to do.

Food and drink

With more cafés and restaurants per capita than New York City, it’s no surprise that Wellington is New Zealand’s culinary capital. Fans of Asian flavours will be impressed by what’s on offer – Indian and Malaysian cuisine is especially popular here – while you will have no trouble finding good quality seafood, thanks to the city’s seaside location. In fact, good old fish and chips is incredibly popular in Wellington – perfect if you are on a budget and fancy something familiar. The city also has a buzzing café scene, with a wide variety of cool coffee shops offering quality coffee, snacks, brunches and light meals. Vegetarians and vegans are very well catered for too.

After dark, check out the city’s vibrant nightlife. Wellington was an early convert to the craft beer revolution and as a result there are plenty of cool little bars to explore, each serving a variety of local brews that you won’t find at home.

Lord Of The Rings

When director Peter Jackson needed to find the right locations for his depiction of Middle Earth, he didn’t have to look far – the areas around his home city of Wellington fitted the bill perfectly. As a result, the city has become a mecca for fans of the Lord Of The Rings films. A number of tour companies are now well-established, offering trips to see filming locations near the city such as Kaitoke Regional Park (Rivendell) and the Hutt Valley (Great River Anduin), as well as Weta Studios.

Take a cable car to Kelburn

You can of course explore the hills around Wellington on foot, but there’s no easier way to do it than with the Wellington Cable Car. This funicular railway (‘cable car’ is actually a misnomer) whisks you from Lambton Quay in the city centre, past Victoria University and up to the hillside neighbourhood of Kelburn, offering magnificent views over the city and Wellington Harbour.

Once you arrive you can find out more at the Cable Car Museum, check out the astronomy museum Space Place and explore the beautiful Wellington Botanic Garden – all within walking distance of the cable car terminus.


You can get cover up to 60 consecutive days away with AA Travel Insurance, giving you peace of mind on your Lions adventure. Click here to find out more!

Chris Jones