Let’s be frank, travelling to New Zealand and not having a car to drive around would be an absolute shame. There are few places in the world that can match the absolutely stunning nature that can be found in the country. The only reasonable way to experience it is by driving, which is why we are sharing this New Zealand Car Rental Guide.
Many travellers visit the country for a significant amount of time (partly due to the expense of reaching it). They almost always want a car to drive and there are two options for this: renting a car or buying one. Buying a car and selling it before leaving has long been popular. But the hassle of registration and selling the car, along with the reasonable prices for car rentals, generally make this the better option only for those that are going to be in the country for two months or more.
Renting a car is not necessarily expensive in New Zealand. The best thing you can do to save money on this is to compare car rental prices of different companies. Also, if possible, try to pick up your rental car at a location other than an airport. The fees rental companies pass on for the usage of the airport facilities in New Zealand are quite high. Finally, be sure to know the requirements of the rental company and the fees for things like tolls and one-way rentals. You can find more details about these below
Getting Between the Islands
You are probably aware that you can only travel between the two main islands by air or sea. What you probably don’t realize is that although locals take their cars with ferries all the time, most car rental companies do not allow their cars to be taken on board the ferries. Notable exceptions are the low-cost local companies Aerodrive, Hitch, Lucky, and Nu which do allow renters to take their car on the ferry.
With traditional rental companies, you must drop off your car at one port and pick up another one on the other side of the Cook Strait. This may be worthwhile anyway since taking a car on one of the ferries is expensive.
It is very popular to begin a trip to Auckland on the North Island and end it in Christchurch on the South Island. Most rental companies will allow you to make this one-way trip (with dropping off on one side of the Cook Strait and picking up a car on the other side as mentioned above). There is always an additional fee. If you want to save money, consider making the reverse journey as the fee will usually be lower (or there won’t even be one) since the rental companies need to get their cars back to Auckland. Also, be aware that there is usually a minimum rental period for this.
License and Age Requirements
Foreign driver’s licenses are both valid for driving and accepted by car rental companies. The general rule, though, is that if the license is not in English, then an International Driving Permit or other certified translation is needed. This means Americans and Brits DO NOT need an IDP. In all cases, though, you will have to have held your license for at least a year.
Most car rental companies require drivers to be at least 21 years old. Hitch and Luck Rentals are exceptions, both allowing those as young as 19 to rent. As in many other countries, most rental companies charge an additional fee for those that are under 25.
All of the toll roads in New Zealand are in the northern part of the North Island. They all serve as short bypasses of congested areas. The tolls are therefore quite low. The toll roads use a license plate capturing system with no physical booths. Payment can be made either by having an account set up already, by paying online before or within five days of using a toll road, or with cash in some BP and Caltex petrol stations (though a small fee will be added).
Many rental companies offer some system, with a fee, to pass on toll payments to you without you having to do anything. Of course, it may be better just to pay the toll yourself and save on paying that fee. The toll roads can also be avoided quite easily by avoiding the bypass roads and transiting through the towns.
Tips for driving in New Zealand
Driving in New Zealand is simply a pleasure. The country’s roads are well-maintained and the scenery many of them pass through will leave your jaw on the floor. Just remember to take it slow and keep in mind a few simple rules of the road.
As in Australia, driving takes place on the left side of the road in New Zealand. Though it may take some time to get used to if you are from a country like the United States, most eventually adjust and don’t have a problem. You might think that no one could ever forget this, but there are countless cases of tourist driving down the wrong side of the road on lonely, rural roads. Make sure to stay on the left side of the road so you don’t end up on Youtube!
Though you may have seen videos of people driving along beaches in New Zealand, don’t plan on doing so yourself. No rental company allows their cars to be driven on the beach. Also, most won’t allow any travel on unsealed roads, of which you’ll find many in the mountainous areas of the country. Don’t worry, there are still many paved roads to get you to those lonely, scenic mountain vistas.
One of the peculiarities of driving in New Zealand is the one-lane bridge found on many roads around the country. Some tourists like to think that the first person to reach the bridge has the right of way; however, this is not the case. All drivers approaching the bridge from one direction must give way to those that are coming from the other. Signs before the bridge indicate which direction must give way. If you see the give way sign, be sure to stop and allow any traffic coming in the opposite direction to cross first.
Finally, if renting during winter, be sure to ask the company about snow chains. You will want to go into the mountains, perhaps to ski, and you will need snow chains for this. Almost every rental company will be able to provide them for a reasonable fee. Don’t get caught without them!
Now that you know the ins and outs of renting a car in New Zealand, you can get to planning the most awesome road trip of your life!