Driving is by far the easiest and, in my opinion, the best way to explore New Zealand. I’m a big fan of travelling at my own pace, and renting a car in New Zealand will give you the freedom to structure your travels in a way that works best for you.
After all, visiting New Zealand is all about discovering those off the beaten track hidden gems, right? Renting a car in New Zealand means you can stop off wherever you like, whenever you like, and make the most of your (road!)-trip around this breathtaking country!
While there are some options for public transport, they’re honestly pretty limited. If you’re at all able and willing, I would definitely recommend renting a car. It will give you so many more options and will make your trip around New Zealand a truly unforgettable experience.
PS – This post may contain affiliate links: That means that if you purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Of course, I only recommend products/services that I have used and believe are great! Please read my disclosure for more info.
What To Expect When Driving In New Zealand
Ok, first things first – In New Zealand they drive on the left! Drivers give way (or yield) to all traffic from the right. Also, New Zealand uses the metric system so all signs will be in kilometres (km).
The majority of cars in New Zealand are Japanese imports. So, between that and driving on the left, you might find that the controls are in slightly different places than you’re used to. Take a minute or two to familiarise yourself with your indicators, windscreen wipers and lights before setting off on your self drive adventure!
Also note that many cars in New Zealand are automatic. But, some rentals will be manual and these may be slightly cheaper to rent. Make sure you’re happy driving a manual (stick) if you go for one of these!
Unless you’re on the motorway near the biggest cities, you’ll find the roads are mostly one lane going in each direction. However, there are semi-frequent overtaking lanes to help you get past those pesky trucks, buses and tractors!
Pro Tip: Always park your car in the direction the traffic is going! Otherwise, you risk being fined and/or having your vehicle towed away.
Who Can Rent A Car In New Zealand?
If you’re planning on renting a car in New Zealand, you’ll need a valid, full driver’s licence (I guess that much is obvious).
If your driver’s licence is not in English, make sure you bring an international drivers licence or an approved English translation of your licence with you to New Zealand.
Drivers with a full (foreign) driver’s licence can legally drive for up to 12 months from their date of arrival into New Zealand.
You’ll also need to be over 21 years of age to be able to rent a car in New Zealand. Although you may still be charged a “young drivers fee” even up to 25-30 years of age (depending on the rental company).
How Much Does Renting A Car In New Zealand Cost?
It can be easy to look up car rental costs and think “ah yeah, that seems reasonable!” But the cost of actually renting the car is only the beginning. In fact, it is most likely not even the most expensive part of your self-drive adventure! More on this below.
My top recommendation for renting a car in New Zealand is with Ezi Car Rental. We have rented with them the last 3 times we were in New Zealand and have found them both cost effective and friendly.
But, to make sure you get the best possible deal for your New Zealand car rental, I’d suggest you search through Rentalcars.com. They are the world’s biggest online car rental service, and will do all the hard work of searching for a rental car for you. Plus, they offer a price match guarantee. Meaning, if you end up finding it cheaper somewhere else, they’ll refund you the difference!
If you’re planning on driving around New Zealand, you might want to consider sharing the burden by adding on a second driver. But! Remember that most car rental companies will charge you for this privilege. (This is another reason we like Ezi Car Rental, because the second driver is free with them!)
You can obviously opt for the car rental company’s own insurance. This can range in price anywhere from NZ$10/day and up, depending on the conditions. If you don’t go for their insurance, you may be liable for at least the first NZ$2,500 for damages caused (whether it’s your fault or not!) As a result, you might want to consider getting your own (annual) car excess insurance from your home country. This will very likely work out much cheaper. Either way, I highly recommend getting some form of car rental insurance.
Pro Tip: In New Zealand there is no such thing as compulsory cover (even third party). So, you can lose money as a result of someone else’s poor driving… Always make sure you have suitable insurance!
Fuel has become pretty expensive everywhere over the years and New Zealand is no exception. The price of petrol (gas) in New Zealand is around NZ$2 per litre at the moment (June 2020), but you’ll find that it varies greatly by city. Auckland is notoriously expensive!
Pro Tip: Check if your car rental company offers pre-paid fuel (this means you bring the car back with an empty tank). If you’re dropping the car back off in a main center (e.g. Auckland or Wellington) and especially at or near the airport, fuel can be extra expensive. A pre-paid tank can actually work out more cost effective.
- Double check which location you are renting your car from. For example, if you are flying in to Auckland International Airport, it will be easiest for you to pick up your rental car at a location close to the airport, rather than downtown Auckland. Depending on the rental company, they may pick you up for free from the terminal. If you want to collect the car downtown, you’ll need to take either the SkyBus or a taxi which will set you back at least NZ$17 per person.
- Remember that car rental companies normally charge a one-way fee if you’re not returning the car to the same location as you picked it up from. This can be quite a substantial fee (meaning, a few hundred dollars) so make sure you read the conditions before booking!
- As I mentioned, if you’re under 30 years of age, some companies may charge you a young driver’s fee, which could be as much as $5 per day.
- And, as with anywhere, car rental companies will offer you all kinds of extras. Of course it’s up to you what you add on but bear in mind many of these charges are by the day and will quickly add up.
Pro Tip: Download a free offline map like Maps.me rather than renting a GPS
- Also, if you’re planning on taking on both the North and the South Islands of New Zealand, you’ll need to take the Interislander ferry across from Wellington to Picton. This is quite a hefty cost that you’ll definitely want to calculate into your New Zealand travel budget. Prices for 2 adults and a car start from NZ$273 one way.
- Of course, the alternative is flying but that would mean two separate car rentals and potentially two one-way rental fees.
- Finally, there are a few (though not many) toll roads in New Zealand. Make sure you check them out before you go, so you know how much and when you’ll need to pay, or how to avoid them altogether.
Is Driving In New Zealand Dangerous?
Driving in New Zealand is generally pretty easy and safe. The roads are mostly in great condition, although they can be a bit winding and hilly at times. The downside to the well maintained roads is that you’ll come across frequent roadworks which will add to your journey time.
On the whole, there’s a big (traffic) police presence all over New Zealand. You are likely to see both marked and undercover police cars multiple times a day as you drive around the country. There are plenty of stationary speed cameras too, especially in towns. But, as with anywhere, just keep to the speed limit and you’ll be totally fine!
Speaking of speed limits: For the most part, the maximum driving speed in New Zealand is 100km/hr, and this includes the motorways. There are some “safer speed areas” that restrict your speed to 90km though. In towns and cities, the speed limit is generally 50km/hr.
Pro Tip: Check out the official New Zealand Road Code to learn more about driving rules in New Zealand
How Long Does It Take To Drive Around New Zealand?
I’d say many people renting a car in New Zealand for the first time significantly underestimate driving distances.
Distances may not look very far on a map but driving in New Zealand takes time! I would encourage you to overestimate your driving times when planning your self-drive route around New Zealand to give yourself a good buffer. If nothing else, you’ll want to stop off all the time for amazing photo opportunities!
Need inspiration? I promise Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel won’t disappoint!
Even when the distance is short, hilly or winding terrain or narrow secondary roads can slow your journey. Especially if you get stuck behind a slow vehicle. There are overtaking lanes but never when you want them!
Also, Auckland traffic is a nightmare at all times. It is especially horrible during rush hour (7-8:30 am and 4-6 pm). Try to avoid it at all cost!
To help you plan your driving times around New Zealand, use the AA’s super handy time and distance calculator to get your started.
When Is The Best Time To Visit New Zealand?
Honestly, when it comes to visiting New Zealand, there isn’t really a bad time to visit. Being that it’s in the southern hemisphere, summers are opposite to what most of us (in Europe and America) are used to. So, summer runs from December – February. Not surprisingly, this is also generally the busiest and most expensive time to travel around New Zealand.
Many businesses in New Zealand close for a couple of weeks around Christmas and New Years. As a result, you’ll find things get extra busy with local holiday makers. Schools tend to start back up in late January or early February. So, late February and into March is actually an ideal time to visit New Zealand.
Winter can get cold, especially on the south island and especially at night. June, July and August can be cold and wet, though prices drop as a result. Unless, of course, you’re hoping to go skiing, in which case this is an ideal time but also more expensive… You get the idea!
Personally, I love New Zealand in March, when the weather is still warm and summer like. Alternatively, November can also be lovely, with spring well on its way.
Tips For Saving Money When Renting A Car in New Zealand
Self-driving around New Zealand is definitely an adventure of a lifetime, and the perfect way to see this spectacular country. But, (unfortunately!) New Zealand is relatively pricey… Here are a few ways to help you minimise the cost of renting a car in New Zealand, so you can spend more on making lasting memories!
- Book well ahead of time and for a decent amount of days (or even weeks). Most rental car companies offer discounts the longer you rent
- Check car rental prices from Christchurch to Auckland. Most people start their self-drive route in Auckland and car rental can be more expensive as a result. You can grab some great deals if you go in the opposite direction!
- Go to New Zealand in shoulder or low season (April – October). Rates can be slashed by up to 50%!
- Sign up for petrol discount cards like the AA Smartfuel Card or Mobile Smiles Card. In addition, many supermarkets will give you a discount voucher for 6 cents off per litre when you do your grocery shopping. If you need to fill up, make sure you do your food shopping first!
- As I mentioned earlier, see if your car rental company offers pre-paid fuel. (This means you bring the car back with an empty tank). This can surprisingly be quite cost effective, if you can handle the nerves of running the car back on fumes!
New Zealand is truly an incredible place to visit. And trust me when I say that renting a car there so that you can explore it inside and out will be so worth it! Enjoy!
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