We develop a kinematic model for the transition from subduction beneath the North Island, New Zealand, to strike-slip in the South Island, constrained by GPS velocities and active fault slip data. To interpret these data, we use an approach that inverts the kinematic data for poles of rotation of tectonic blocks and the degree of interseismic coupling on faults in the region. Convergence related to the Hikurangi subduction margin becomes very low offshore of the northern South Island, indicating that in this region the majority of the relative plate motion has been transferred onto faults within the upper plate, as suggested by previous studies. This result has implications for understanding the likely extent of subduction interface earthquake rupture in central New Zealand. Easterly trending strike slip faults (such as the Boo Boo fault) are the key features that facilitate the transfer of strike-slip motion from the northern South Island faults further north into the southern North Island and onto the Hikurangi subduction thrust. Our results also indicate that the transition from rapid forearc rotation adjacent to the Hikurangi subduction margin to a strike-slip dominated plate boundary (with negligible vertical-axis rotation) in the South Island occurs via a crustal-scale hinge or kink in the upper plate, compatible with paleomagnetic and structural geological data. Despite the ongoing tectonic evolution of the central New Zealand region, our study highlights a remarkable consistency between data sets spanning decades (GPS), thousands of years (active faulting data), and millions of years (paleomagnetic data and bedrock structure).