walking along road

Car-free access to the outdoors

New Zealand’s trail network is steadily growing, but if you’ve ever tried to reach a national or forest park without a car, you may have found your options extremely limited. 

You might want to enjoy the outdoors without a car because:

  • you don’t have a vehicle – perhaps you’re on a tight budget or you’ve chosen not to own a car, or maybe you don’t have a licence
  • your chosen track isn’t a loop – a vehicle isn’t much help if you want to start in one location and finish in another (and if a mid-way key swap with friends isn’t possible)
  • you want to limit your contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, noise pollution or car park overcrowding.

Problems faced by the car-free

Local tracks

  • Some areas offer a range of tracks, but the New Zealand trail network has many gaps where only roads connect key locations.
  • Access can be unclear – unformed legal roads in particular can look like private land and they don’t show on Topo maps.

Buses and trains

  • Bus and train routes largely serve built-up and residential areas, with the aim of getting you to work, shops and school, but not into nature.
  • Drivers often aren’t allowed to pull over between stops, meaning that even a trail near a bus route might be too far from the nearest stop to be practically accessible.
  • Some useful routes only run midweek when most of us are working.

Track transport and taxis

  • Scheduled shuttles tend to run only in summer from a small number of tourist hotspots to a limited selection of the nearby tracks.
  • On-demand shuttles are few and they carry a steep minimum fare that effectively prohibits solo trampers or even couples from accessing them. And if carbon is your concern, an on-demand shuttle can ruin your good intentions unless it’s for a small proportion of your overall trip. The same goes for taxis.

Road walking to the trailhead

  • Walking roadside is unpleasant – noisy, smelly and hard on your feet.
  • Not allowed on motorways.
  • Unsafe in some places.
  • Usually impractical.

Cycling (or paddling) to the trailhead

  • You might not have a bike, less likely a pack raft or kayak.
  • Buses and trains have limited places for bikes and these usually can’t be booked.
  • You may be nervous to leave your bike at the trailhead during your hike.
  • With nowhere to securely stow extra gear, such as a change of clothes, you can either hide it in the bush and cross your fingers or go without.
  • Not a pleasant option in high wind.


  • Hitching requires time, luck and a good pull-in area, usually making it an undesirable Plan A.
  • In some places, hitching may not feel, or be, safe.

How to improve car-free access

At Herenga ā Nuku, we create and sustain public access to the whenua. We work with communities and across boundaries to provide outdoor access maps and advice, including support for people negotiating new access.

We envision a comprehensive and safe network of tracks and trails across Aotearoa, accessible from big cities and small towns as well as our wilder places. It will provide for a range of activities, from walking and biking to horse riding. It will connect us to each other and with te taiao by enabling healthy ways to spend time together and with nature.

  • We urge local authorities and trail groups to consider sustainability and access equity issues when planning new trails or redeveloping land.
  • We advocate for better public transport to trailheads and improved trailhead facilities.
  • We celebrate the progress already made — a recent example being Te Ara Pātaka — and acknowledge the setbacks caused by weather events.

Check our maps to see public access areas near you.

Contact your regional field advisor to get advice and support.