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17 Things to KNOW About Renting a Car in Christchurch (2024 Guide!)

17 Things to KNOW About Renting a Car in Christchurch (2024 Guide!)

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So, you plan to rent a car during your holiday to Christchurch! Awesome choice – Christchurch and the South Island as a whole are best explored on a road trip, as then you can stop when and where you please and get to those incredible off-the-beaten-path spots that public transport doesn’t reach!

If you’re coming from overseas, it’s highly likely you’ll enter Christchurch via the Christchurch International Airport. Handily, there are plenty of car rental companies at the airport, so you can drive off to explore the South Island straight off your flight or head into the city for a couple of nights and then rent a car from one of the CBD locations. The choice is entirely yours!

But before you hit the open road, there are some essential things you need to be aware of (17, to be precise!) For example, you may wonder what side of the road they drive in New Zealand (it’s the left, FYI), what the prices are like, and whether or not you need to hire a 4WD for driving around the South Island. Well, I’ve covered all that and more in this blog post!

I lived on the South Island for a time and rented several cars during my time there, so, not to toot my own horn, but I think I have lots of helpful tips!

So, let’s dive in or hit the ground running, as they say, with this – the ultimate guide to renting a car from Christchurch!

Table Of Contents
  1. 1. Why rent a car in Christchurch?
  2. 2. What do you need to rent a car in Christchurch?
  3. 3. What side of the road do you drive on in New Zealand? 
  4. 4. Where can I rent a car from in Christchurch?
  5. 5. How much does it cost to rent a car in Christchurch?
  6. 6. Do you need to rent a 4WD in Christchurch?
  7. 7. Best places to drive to near Christchurch with a rental car
  8. 8. Tips to save money on a rental car in NZ
  9. 9. Do you need to put down a deposit when renting a car in Christchurch?
  10. 10. What extras are available when renting a car in Christchurch?
  11. 11. Can you trust online websites when booking?
  12. 12. Tips to follow when renting a car in Christchurch
  13. 13. What are the major hazards on the roads in Christchurch
  14. 14. Do you need insurance to rent a car in Christchurch?
  15. 15. What are the road conditions like near Christchurch?
  16. 16. Is it safe to leave luggage and valuables in your rental car?
  17. 17. What should you do if you get in a traffic accident in Christchurch?
  18. Renting a Car vs Renting a Campervan
  19. Must-do Activities in Christchurch
  20. Where to Stay in Christchurch
  21. Thanks for reading!

1. Why rent a car in Christchurch?

Driving on a road near Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand
Heading to the beach!

New Zealand, especially the scenic South Island, is one of the best places in the world to do a road trip. And the biggest city on this island (the second largest in the country, behind Auckland) is a popular starting point for a South Island road trip, as most international visitors will fly into Christchurch International Airport to kick off their holiday here! If you need route ideas, check out the best 10-day South Island itineraries here!

There are positives and negatives to renting a car in New Zealand. For example, renting a car in Christchurch (and New Zealand as a whole) is expensive. In fact, it’s one of the priciest countries in the world to rent a car. But, the positive side to allocating part of your budget to renting a car means you have the freedom to go where you want to go. It’s especially handy if, like me, you love exploring those hidden gem, off-the-beaten-path locations!

To save a bit of money, avoid renting your car for the duration you’re staying in Christchurch itself. It’s a very walkable city, and the public transport here is reliable. Plus, parking costs here are high! So, wait to rent your vehicle until the day you plan to leave Christchurch. 

While I lived on the South Island, I was lucky enough to undertake heaps of awesome New Zealand road trips, and I’ll be honest, if I didn’t have a car, I wouldn’t have been able to reach some of my favorite destinations like Moke Lake and Cathedral Caves and Nugget Point in the Catlins. FYI, public transport outside of the big cities isn’t very reliable! So, if you want to see the best of the South Island, renting a car from Christchurch is a MUST! 

Related Read: If you plan to spend a few days in Christchurch and love coffee, check out my blog about the best cafes and coffee shops in Christchurch!

2. What do you need to rent a car in Christchurch?

Bailey in the drivers seat of her rental car while on the North Island of New Zealand
I’m not the fastest driver but to date, no accidents!

There are several essentials the car rental companies require before you rent a car in Christchurch, for example, you must have a driver’s license and a credit card. I’ve listed exactly what you need to rent a car in Christchurch below –

To be at least 21

The age limit to drive in New Zealand is just 16 years old, but you’ll find it very hard to source a car rental company that will rent to anyone under the age of 21. As a matter of fact, most companies have a preference to rent to drivers over the age of 25, and many will charge you a “young driver’s fee” if you’re between 21 and 25.

In short, if you’re under 25, do your research and make sure you read the rental company’s fine print or check if they charge a young driver’s fee before booking.

Driver’s license  

To rent a car in Christchurch, you’ll need to have a valid driver’s license, which should have a license number, photo, and expiry date. If your driver’s license is from a non-English speaking country, you must get it translated or obtain an international license before arriving in Christchurch.

A credit card

Unless you plan to take out full coverage insurance, you’ll likely need to give the rental company your credit card information for a holding deposit. Therefore, it’s best to check with your bank what your credit limit is to ensure it’s big enough for the deposit!

Confidence to drive on narrow and winding roads

Okay, this one isn’t required by the rental company, but I think it’s a good idea to be confident driving on winding or narrow roads. The South Island is full of such roads, especially the further south you go (e.g. Glenorchy and Wanaka). And if you’re only used to driving the wide roads common to North America, you may get a surprise when you first start driving in Christchurch. 

I don’t want to scare you because driving in and around the South Island is, for the most part, easy; however, in more rural areas, the roads tend to be single-lane and can be steep and narrow. In short, provided you’re careful and drive to the speed limit, you should be fine driving in New Zealand. 

3. What side of the road do you drive on in New Zealand? 

Driving the beautiful roads near Whangarei, NZ
We drive on the left!

In New Zealand, they drive on the left-hand side of the road.

That means, in your rental vehicle, your steering wheel will be on the right side, and if you hope to hire a manual car, you will use your left hand to switch gears.

If you’re visiting from countries such as Australia or the UK, you’ll feel right at home, as these countries also drive on the left. However, if you’re coming from North America, it will take some getting used to as there you drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Thankfully, I got used to driving on the left pretty fast. But if you’re feeling nervous about how you’ll adjust, I recommend easing yourself in with shorter journeys from Christchurch, take it slow, and make sure you don’t drive when tired, as you’re more likely to make mistakes then.

4. Where can I rent a car from in Christchurch?

Bailey poses for a photo with her rental car in NZ
I love small cars!

Christchurch is home to heaps of highly-rated car rental companies, and most are based either in the CBD or at Christchurch International Airport. 

I highly recommend using Discover Cars because it’s super-easy to use, and they work with most of the rental companies in Christchurch. You can use their filters to search for exactly what you want for the cheapest price. 

Discover Cars also offers a wide selection of pick-up and drop-off locations. So, remember to tick this option when searching! Which is handy if you want to pick your car up in Christchurch and drop it off in Queenstown

Related Read: If you plan to head to Auckland and want to rent a car from there too, read my blog on renting a car from Auckland!

5. How much does it cost to rent a car in Christchurch?

Bailey at the Otira Viaduct Lookout while on a road trip of New Zealand in a rental car
Otira Viaduct Lookout while on a road trip of New Zealand in a rental car

Rental car prices in Christchurch vary drastically depending on the time of year you’re visiting – for example, in high season (typically December through March), prices will be much more expensive than in low season (which runs from March to May and again from September to November).

For a small basic economy car, expect to pay anywhere between $150 NZD for one day or $280 NZD per week in the low season. In the high season, prices start from $175 NZD for one day or $400 NZD per week.

Medium-sized cars start from $170 NZD for one day or $308 NZD per week in the low season. In the high season, medium-sized car prices start at $178 NZD for one day or $580 NZD per week. For a large car or SUV, prices start at $205 NZD daily or $620 NZD weekly in the low season. In the high season, they can start at around $210 a day or $700 NZD per week.

P.S. There are many ways to lower the cost of your rental, which I’ll delve into later in this blog post!

Please note: Prices have risen a lot recently and seem to fluctuate much more than they used to. This is why the prices above are just general and based on the current market.

Related Read: On a budget and planning to spend a couple of nights in Christchurch? Check out the best free and cheap things to do in Christchurch!

6. Do you need to rent a 4WD in Christchurch?

Driving the mountain roads around Christchurch, New Zealand
You don’t need a 4WD!

If you plan to just drive to the typical tourist spots on the South Island, then hiring a 4WD is unnecessary. However, if you want to go off-the-beaten path (i.e., drive on gravel roads like the road into Moke Lake) or plan to go skiing, then having a 4WD will be helpful. 

If you plan to visit Christchurch in the winter, so between June and August (remember the seasons here are opposite to the Northern Hemisphere), keep in mind that 4WDs are great for driving in snowy or wet conditions. Some sections of road on the South Island, such as the Lindis Pass, Arthur’s Pass, and the Crown Ranges, tend to receive high levels of snowfall, so if you plan to drive on these during the colder months, it may be helpful to hire a 4WD as opposed to a standard car. That’s because a 4WD offers better traction and will make climbing up these steep roads easier.

Overall though, the roads on the South Island are easy to drive in a standard car. And, in fact, steep and windy roads are actually easier to maneuver in a smaller vehicle! Plus, when you consider that 4WDs are more expensive than a standard car, not hiring one will save you money that you can use towards awesome activities instead!

Another popular choice is to hire a campervan, especially if you’re traveling with family or friends or want to save on accommodation costs and go freedom camping! Honestly, the time I spent exploring New Zealand in my campervan was so incredible and unforgettable!

7. Best places to drive to near Christchurch with a rental car

Akaroa

Akaroa Bay New Zealand
Akaroa Bay, New Zealand

Located just under a 1.5-hour drive (81 km/50 miles) from Christchurch, Akaroa is widely regarded as one of the prettiest small towns on the South Island. It’s also known as the most “French town in New Zealand,” and you’ll see plenty of French Street names and colonial buildings here. So, if you love Europe, visiting here from Christchurch is a no-brainer. 

But it’s not just the streets that are pretty in Akaroa. The harbor (and jetty) are backed by the volcanic Banks Peninsula and are a photographer’s dream come true. An interesting fact is that Akaroa Harbor is located within a sunken volcano and it’s a haven for marine life like whales and dolphins. 

This is why one of the most popular things to do in Akaroa is to swim with hector dolphins. When I visited, I did this boat cruise and got to swim safely with these friendly creatures. I also saw fur seals and penguins from the boat. It was definitely a bucket-list-worthy experience and one of my favorite activities in New Zealand! If you want to book the exact same tour, it’s available online here for $210 NZD!

Waipara Wine Region

Just over a 45-minute drive (58 km/36 miles) from Christchurch is one of my favorite wine destinations in New Zealand – the Waipara! It’s regarded as the fastest-growing wine region in the country. That’s because the climate here is ideal for wine growing, thanks to its year-round low rainfall and high summer temperatures. 

I think some of the best New Zealand wine is from Waipara. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling are the most common varieties grown here. What I really loved is that most of the 90 wineries here are family-run. Some of my favorites include Waipara SpringsWaipara Hills, and Terrace Edge Winery

If you’re keen to do a wine tour from Christchurch so that one of you doesn’t have to be the designated driver, I did this 5.5-hour tour from Christchurch and had an incredible time! It includes visits to three wineries and includes hotel pickup. You can even add on a tasty lunch at one of the wineries which I highly recommend!

Arthur’s Pass

Scenic road along Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Scenic road along Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

One of the most scenic drives on the South Island is the drive from Christchurch over Arthur’s Pass. This drive is 45 km (28 miles) long, but it will take you an hour to drive to the start of Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch. 

Arthur’s Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps and climbs up to an impressive 900 meters (2,953 feet). It’s regarded as an engineering masterpiece! But it’s not only the road itself that’s impressive – there are some seriously wow-worthy stops along the drive. Some of the must-sees on Arthur’s Pass include Bridal Veil Falls, one of New Zealand’s best waterfalls. This stunning waterfall is 108 meters (354 feet) tall, and the 10-minute walk into this waterfall is super-photogenic too!

Another must-visit waterfall you must stop at along Arthur’s Pass is the Devils Punchbowl, a 131-meter (430-foot) waterfall that you can reach via an easy 20-minute walking trail. In fact, I reckon this is one of the best hikes on the South Island.

Other noteworthy stops along Arthur’s Pass include the hike to Avalanche Peak, the tiny town of the same name – Arthur’s Pass, and hiking the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track

Hanmer Springs

The alpine town of Hanmer Springs is best described as a mini Queenstown, so if it’s an adrenaline-pumping adventure you’re after, you should definitely drive the hour and 45 minutes here from Christchurch.

You’re spoiled for choice in Hanmer Springs with plenty of thrilling activities on offer, such as a jet boat ride on the Wairau River or a 35-meter bungy jump from a bridge over a fast-flowing river! In fact, it is the only bungy in Canterbury and one of the best places to bungy jump in NZ! If that’s not enough, you can also try out quad biking, white water rafting, paintballing, and helicopter tours in Hanmer Springs.

Kaikoura

Bailey looks out over the coastline from the other side of Kaikoura Lookout
Kaikoura Lookout

Kaikoura is a small seaside town located a 2 hour and 20-minute drive from Christchurch. It’s a wildlife haven and is home to unique and magnificent creatures like sperm whales, blue-eyed penguins, dusky dolphins, and fur seals!

As you can guess, most of the best activities in Kaikoura involve wildlife. In Kaikoura, you can go on a whale-watching tour or go kayaking to see the native fur seals and even swim with wild dolphins!

Tekapo

The popular tourist town of Tekapo is a 2 hour and 45-minute drive from Christchurch (or 225 km/140 miles). There’s so much to do in Tekapo, from stargazing from the comfort of a hot pool at Tekapo Springs to visiting the most beautiful church in the whole of New Zealand – the Church of the Good Shepherd, right on the lakefront! 

If you’re keen on some blood-pumping fun, then consider this 4×4 adventure, which accesses private backcountry farms and offers phenomenal views along the ride of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook! 

It’s also famous for its lupin flowering season – the peak lupin season runs from mid-November to the end of December, and it really is a photographer’s idea of heaven!

For such a small town, there’s a surprising amount of excellent restaurants in Tekapo, so if you’re a foodie, you’ll be delighted you made the drive here!

Queenstown

View of the Remarkables from Queenstown waterfront
Summer’s day in my hometown!

The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is a rite of passage for most visitors to the South Island, but it’s a long one at just under 500 kilometers (311 miles). It will take between 6 and 7 hours to complete, without stopping – which I definitely don’t advise doing! After all, Queenstown to Christchurch is one of the most scenic drives in the country! Instead, take your time along the way and spend a couple of nights in Queenstown.

At the end, you can even drop your rental car or campervan back to Queenstown (for an additional fee) and fly out of Queenstown Airport, if you wish!

I’m certain you’re familiar with Queenstown. It’s one of the most important tourist destinations in the country and attracts close to 1.5 million visitors annually! This is no surprise to me because there’s so much to do in Queenstown, and it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful!

This alpine town is often referred to as the adventure capital of New Zealand, and you can try out bungy jumpingziplining, and jet boating here, to name but a few! But it’s not just adrenalin-pumping activities available in Queenstown; there are also scenic hikesexcellent restaurants, and some awesome places to stay.

One of my favorite things in Queenstown is riding the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak and taking in the picture-perfect views. While you’re up here, you can grab a coffee at the cafe, try out the unique luge ride, or go on a hike!

Another absolutely must-do in Queenstown is to book a scenic cruise on the TSS Earnslaw. This is a cruise with a difference, as the boat itself is the last remaining vessel from the gold rush. Fascinatingly, it’s a traditional coal-powered ship where you can actually observe workers shoveling coal into the burner as you cruise along. 

Note: For a longer, more epic road trip, consider driving from Christchurch all the way to Milford Sound. You’ll basically drive the same route to Queenstown and then continue on to Milford Sound from there.

Related Read: Honestly, I could talk all day about Queenstown, and I’ve written heaps of other blogs about this tourist town, such as the best helicopter tours in Queenstown and the best wine tours in Queenstown!

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8. Tips to save money on a rental car in NZ

Bailey with her rental car in the Eglinton Valley, NZ

As you plan your vacation to Christchurch you’ll find that renting a car will be one of your biggest expenses. But, lucky for you, I’ve listed below some tips and tricks to help you save money!

Visit in low season

Visiting Christchurch in the low season (March to May and September to November) will mean that not only will you save money on activities and accommodation, but you’ll also save a bunch in car rental costs. In the low season, many car rental companies reduce their prices to attract more customers during this “slow” period. 

The high season in Christchurch runs from December to March. So, if you plan to rent a car during this time, book well in advance to get the best rate. 

Rent a manual 

While most rental companies in Christchurch only offer automatic vehicles, renting a manual car will be a lot cheaper. So if you can drive a stick shift, it’s worth looking around as to what rental companies offer this.

Keep in mind, if you’re used to driving on the right-hand side, you’ll need to use the gear stick with your left hand!

Don’t rent a 4WD 

As I said, unless you’re planning to drive on lots of gravel roads or drive to the ski resorts on the South Island, you won’t need to hire a 4WD in Christchurch. These are a lot pricier to hire than a standard car, and anyway, a standard car will serve you just fine on the majority of roads on the South Island.

Use credit card insurance to save money 

Before paying for separate car rental insurance, check whether your credit card covers it. Many credit cards offer some type of rental coverage. However, it’s best to look into it further and note if you need to add on any extras. 

If your credit card doesn’t offer insurance, you can still purchase it from the car rental agency. I recommend using Discover Cars and opting for their full rental protection as this removes financial obligations from the driver in case of an accident. Giving you major peace of mind!

Drop off in the same location 

If you can, return your vehicle to the same location in Christchurch, as it’ll save you money! Often rental companies will add extra charges associated with a different drop-off point, making for a more expensive vacation!

Rent a car from Christchurch Airport

A good idea if you want to save some dough is to rent a car from Christchurch Airport. There’s so much competition at the airport that nine times out of 10, the prices here are much more appealing than in the Christchurch city location.

9. Do you need to put down a deposit when renting a car in Christchurch?

Bailey fills up her rental car in Mossburn in New Zealand
Your deposit will cover damage and things like not returning your vehicle with fuel!

Yes, you will very likely need to put down a deposit when you rent a car in Christchurch. The cost of the deposit depends on the insurance deductible through the rental company. But, it generally tends to be around $200 NZD.

As well as that, most companies will require that you use a credit card as your payment method. That’s because it’s easier for the company to refund the deposit to a credit card than other methods. Note, you may come across companies that will let you pay the deposit with a debit card or cash.

10. What extras are available when renting a car in Christchurch?

View of the road into Kingston, NZ
What a place to road trip!

Additional driver

Adding an additional driver to your booking will be useful if you’re planning to do lots of road trips from Christchurch. Trust me, when I hired cars in New Zealand, I found it so helpful that my partner was able to take over when I needed a break. Plus, it was nice to be able to admire the stunning scenery from the passenger seat for a change instead of just concentrating on the road ahead.

Many of the car rental companies in Christchurch offer cheap rates for additional drivers, and some even offer it complimentary! In my opinion, if it’s free, go for it. If not, decide if the additional cost is really worth it for you.

DiscoverCars has a filter so that you can view prices depending on the number of drivers, which is handy! 

Child seats

Traveling with child seats can be a bit of a hindrance, therefore, you might find it easier to add one to your car rental booking. Thankfully, this service is quite reasonable, costing between $40-$70 NZD per week.

It should be noted that child seats are mandatory in New Zealand for any child under 7 years of age, and this is strictly enforced! The child seat must also be suitable or rated to their age. I recommend specifying which child seat you require when booking your rental vehicle

Discover Cars has a “child seat” filter and factors the child seat into the total cost. To see the cost of the child seat, scroll down on the rental page.

GPS

GPS doesn’t come as standard with rental cars in New Zealand, and adding one to your booking will cost you an extra $8-25 NZD per day!

I know what you’re thinking – “I’ll just use Google Maps,” but keep in mind that if you plan to road trip outside the major urban areas, your reception will be spotty. So, it’s best not to depend solely on Google Maps.

If you have a New Zealand SIM card, I advise downloading a maps app to your phone. Don’t use the app on your mobile data if you have an international SIM card, as you’ll accrue some hefty data roaming charges. Instead, download the maps when you’re on WiFi and then use them offline on the road.

Another alternative to the above is to bring your own GPS with you.

In short, if you have the budget for it, add GPS to your car rental, as it will be helpful for finding your way around the more remote parts of the South Island!

Snow chains

If you’re planning a South Island itinerary for the winter, it’s a great idea to add snow chains to your reservation. 

Snow chains offer extra grip on snowy and icy roads and are fitted to your tires. You likely won’t need to use them if you plan to stick to the urban area of Christchurch, but if you want to visit Queenstown, drive on the Lindis Pass or Crown Range road between Queenstown and Wanaka, then you’ll need snow chains! 

As a matter of fact, some roads on the South Island and ski resorts here require you to carry snow chains. You’ll see the signs as you drive!

11. Can you trust online websites when booking?

Bailey looks out the window of her rental car in NZ
It’s not that expensive when you realize how much more you get out of your trip!

Yep, I feel that booking a car rental online is the best way! Because when you book online, you can compare prices more easily and ensure you’re getting the cheapest price available!

Every time I’ve rented a car from Christchurch, I’ve used Discover Cars, and I can’t fault them. They offer competitive prices, with car rentals ranging from $50-$160 NZD daily. 

Having a user-friendly website was a big plus for me, and their search function is very efficient! You can filter your options for different pick-up and drop-off points and tick if you want an automatic or manual vehicle. They make it easier than ever to find the right car for you! 

I’ll be honest. In the past, I tried renting directly through rental companies, and it was very time-consuming, so booking via Discover Cars will save you time. 

I know there are several other car rental sites where you can book a rental car in Christchurch, but in my experience, Discover Cars is the best. And it’s not just me who thinks they’re the best, because they have loads of excellent reviews. 

Their customer service is top-notch, and I can speak from experience as I had to cancel my reservation last minute. Discover Cars refunded me my money the next day and didn’t ask any questions about why I had to cancel. In fact, you should know that many of their car rentals offer free cancellation! 

Another big benefit is that you can pay in your home currency on Discover Cars, meaning you won’t be charged conversion or international transaction fees!

12. Tips to follow when renting a car in Christchurch

Bailey inside her rental car in New Zealand
Without your own wheels, you’ll miss so many of the best places – just check out my road trip blogs!

Take your own photos when doing the inspection

I highly recommend doing a full check of your rental vehicle before leaving the car rental company’s parking lot if you see any marks, scratches, or bumps, take lots of photos and email them to the rental company immediately. By doing this, if they try to charge you for damages, you have it on record that the damage was already there.

Another top tip is to take a photo of the mileage meter and ensure the number matches the records the company gave you.

Follow the road rules

New Zealand has stringent road rules, and you must follow them at all times. Most of the road rules are the same as in other countries, but here are some reminders:

  • Seatbelts are compulsory for everyone traveling in the car. 
  • Children under 7 need to be in a car seat. 
  • It’s illegal to drive with your phone in your hand. If you need to make a phone call, connect it to your car’s Bluetooth, pull over. or use the hands-free option.
  • Always follow the speed limit. These are shown on signs with red circles around the number, and they often change (so keep your eyes peeled!). 
  • They are super strict on drinking and driving. For drivers over the age of 20, the limit is 0.05%. 

Another thing to remember is that, unlike in the US or Canada, you can’t turn on a red light. So even if there’s no oncoming traffic, you must wait until the light is green!

You can read more about New Zealand’s general road rules online here.

Check what roads you can drive on

Look at the fine print of your rental agreement to see which types of roads you are not permitted to drive on – it’s typically off-roading or gravel roads that are not allowed, but it’s best to double-check. 

This rule more than likely applies to only campervan rentals or motorhome rentals from Christchurch, but again, double-check the fine print before driving on any roads you’re unsure of. 

Child seats are required

As I mentioned above, all children under the age of 7 need to be in the correct child seat for their age and size. You can find the full legal requirements for New Zealand here

13. What are the major hazards on the roads in Christchurch

Scenic road on Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Arthur’s Pass near Christchurch is a fun place to drive!

The roads in New Zealand are mostly safe and easy to drive along. However, from my experience, I’ve noticed there are a few hazards you should be aware of.

Wildlife

Wildlife and New Zealand roads go hand-in-hand, or to put it simply, you’re highly likely to see animals like rabbits, small birds, cows, sheep, and possums when driving on the roads here. That’s why you need to be prepared if an animal suddenly runs out in front of your vehicle! 

It’s more likely to happen in rural areas, so drive slower if you’re approaching a farm or driving through a national park like Fiordland National Park or Mt Aspiring National Park

Don’t worry if you hit a possum. They regularly run into the road, and people always hit them. They are actually classed as an invasive species. So, if you see a possum, do not touch it, as it can carry a disease such as tuberculosis! 

Single-lane bridges 

You might come across single-lane bridges during your road trip around the South Island. These might be confusing at first, but they are pretty simple to use. Look for a sign indicating which direction has the right of way. And make sure no vehicle is approaching before you go – even if you have the right of way. 

Windy roads 

Having driven regularly on the South Island, trust me when I say there are many narrow, winding roads! You’ll need to drive slowly and be extra cautious. There are usually clearly marked signs, so you’ll know when you’re approaching such roads. 

Snow and ice in the winter

As I mentioned earlier, parts of the South Island can experience extreme weather (think heavy snow and black ice) during the winter months in New Zealand. And some roads, usually the further south you go or the higher into the mountains you travel, may close for a time due to snow or ice. But don’t worry, they tend to get cleared pretty quickly.

You should also remember that black ice is common on the South Island’s roads, so be extra careful in cold weather. If you’re worried about your rental vehicle not coping well with the weather, opt for a 4X4 or rent snow chains for extra traction.

Railway crossings

There are a few railroad crossings on the South Island, and not all are well-marked. On the larger roads, there will likely be lights and barriers when a train approaches. However, this isn’t always the case on the smaller roads. If you’re crossing a railway without barriers, stop to check both ways (and listen for a train) before passing over. 

Cyclists

New Zealand is an active country, so you’ll find many people cycling on the roads. Makes sure to give them enough space to feel comfortable. And you should only pass them when safe to do so, being extra cautious on narrow roads. When unsure, err on the side of caution.

14. Do you need insurance to rent a car in Christchurch?

Coastal highway between Kaikoura and Picton, New Zealand
Coastal highway near Kaikoura

When renting a car from Christchurch, the rental company must include basic insurance coverage as part of your plan. This means that you have the most basic coverage, and it is the minimum insurance requirement for driving in New Zealand. 

You can, of course, drive around the country with just this basic coverage, but keep in mind that if any damage occurs to your vehicle or another vehicle, you’ll lose the entire deposit. 

Therefore, you must check your travel insurance or credit card plan to see if it includes rental car coverage. Suppose it does – fantastic, as you won’t need to purchase additional insurance coverage!

Alternatively, you can add full insurance coverage to your rental plan. I highly recommend booking through Discover Cars because they have many insurance options. These vary in price and the type of coverage and include a full coverage waiver option too. 

15. What are the road conditions like near Christchurch?

My rental car in Christchurch, New Zealand
The hardest part is finding parking!

The roads surrounding Christchurch are generally in great condition and super-easy to drive on. State Highway 1 is the main highway in and out of Christchurch, and you’ll likely be driving on this busy motorway during your time here. It has multiple lanes in each direction and a speed limit of 100km/h (62 mph) unless a road sign states otherwise.

When driving through Christchurch CBD, be mindful that there are many one-way streets that will confuse first-time visitors to the city. That’s why I recommend using GPS or Google Maps when driving through the city center. Finding parking can also be a struggle in the downtown area.

When you leave the Christchurch urban area, you’ll mostly be driving on two-way roads – most of which don’t have a barrier between lanes. But the lanes are typically pretty wide, so don’t feel too nervous about it. As you head into more rural areas, you’ll notice the roads can be narrow and winding, so drive carefully on these!

Although there are no toll roads on the South Island, there are three on the North Island if you plan to head that way. These include the Northern Gateway Toll Road in Auckland, the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road, and the Takitimu Drive Toll Road.

One thing I’ve learned from driving on the South Island (and New Zealand in general) is that Google Maps tends to underestimate how long a drive will take you. It doesn’t seem to consider single-lane roads and slow-driving tourists, so assume your journey will take longer than Google Maps says and plan accordingly.

16. Is it safe to leave luggage and valuables in your rental car?

Bailey poses for a photo at New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand
Christchurch is a safe city but break-ins can happen!

Although Christchurch is regarded as a safe city, car break-ins can still happen more so in Christchurch CBD than in the suburbs.

This is why I always keep any luggage, handbags, etc., hidden from plain sight – either under the seat, in the glove box, or in the trunk. Never leave valuables (like phones, laptops, jewelry, etc.) unattended in your vehicle, and lock your doors even if you only plan to leave your car for a short time.

17. What should you do if you get in a traffic accident in Christchurch?

Bailey with her rental car in the Eglinton Valley, NZ
I’ve never had an accident … touch wood!

If you’re in a minor accident, pull up well on the side of the road, or move to a nearby parking lot or layby/rest stop, if you can! In New Zealand, you do not need to stay put in case of a minor accident, unlike in other countries. Therefore, the safest thing to do is to get out of the way of other drivers.

Unless someone is injured, there is often no need to call the police or emergency services. New Zealand leaves minor collisions up to the parties involved. So if there is only minor damage, all you’re required to do is exchange details with the other individuals involved. You must write down their name, contact number, and contact address.

If the accident is more serious, contact emergency services at 111. If someone is injured, the accident must be reported to the police within 24 hours. This can be done by visiting the nearest police station or calling 105.

It’s best to report any kind of accident to your rental company as soon as you are able. And they can advise you on the next steps.

Renting a Car vs Renting a Campervan

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies!
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers

A car isn’t your only option when it comes to having your own wheels in New Zealand. In fact, many people prefer a campervan or motorhome as opposed to a car. There are pros and cons to all three options, which I’ve outlined below:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve organized a special discount code that will get you 5% off if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Must-do Activities in Christchurch

Views from the Christchurch Gondola
Views from the top of the Christchurch Gondola!

During your visit make sure not to miss out on the best activities Christchurch has to offer! Here are some of my top recommendations.

  • Ride the gondola – The Christchurch Gondola is famous both for sightseeing and as a way to transport hikers up to one of the many walking tracks on Mount Cavendish. So whether you’re in it for the views or are looking to pick a track to walk along this is a must-do while in Christchurch for just about anyone!
  • Ride or fly a helicopter – In Christchurch you can enjoy the views from above in a 20-minute helicopter tour overlooking the pretty Sumner Beach and Lyttleton Harbor or for a unique experience book this YouFly Trial Flight where you will learn how to take off, hover, fly, and land!
  • Tramway City Tour – This is perfect for seeing all the key landmarks including the Botanic Gardens, Avon River, and New Regent Street! Just sit back and gaze out your window. Since it’s a hop-on hop-off style tour you can choose to get out and explore any of the sights!
  • The International Antarctic Center – Take a glimpse into life in Antarctica! There are a lot of unique experiences here, from learning about and snuggling with Huskies to seeing blue penguins in the rescue center before stepping inside the Storm Dome for a feel of the extremely cold Antarctic weather this place will have all your senses stimulated.

Where to Stay in Christchurch

Crowne Plaza Christchurch
The Crowne Plaza Christchurch is a beautiful centrally located hotel. Photo credit: Crowne Plaza Christchurch

Although not a large city by international standards, Christchurch is big for New Zealand. As with any large city, picking the right place to stay is really important.

There are lots of different areas to choose from when deciding where to stay in Christchurch. To help you narrow it down, I’ve included my top choices near the airport, in the city center, and just outside the city.

By the airport

One of the best places by the airport is the Lylo Christchurch. It’s actually within walking distance of the airport! It’s also 2 minutes from a retail center and the International Antarctic Center. They have luggage storage, laundry, and a communal area with a kitchen. There are a variety of rooms with prices starting at $117 NZD. You can book this super convenient hotel through Booking.com.

Another cool hotel close by is the Commodore Airport Hotel Christchurch. Although a short drive away, it has a free shuttle, free parking, and amazing reviews. Rooms come with a balcony or garden access to get that fresh air before a flight. They also have a restaurant, bar, and indoor pool. You can expect to pay between $250-$350 NZD per night. For luxury right by the airport, reserve a room at the Commodore Hotel online.

City center

In the city center, the Crown Plaza Christchurch is perfect for a luxury stay. It’s a large hotel with amazing views of the city. You can grab a coffee at the on-site cafe or cozy up by the bar’s fireplace with a cocktail. It has a gym, restaurant, and spacious rooms. You can snag prices as low as $209 NZD when you book in advance online.

For budget travelers, the social but comfortable Urbanz is a good option. Although cheap, it’s located in the heart of the city and only a couple of minutes from Hagley Park and New Regent Street, which is full of bars and restaurants. It’s a trendy, modern space with a pool table, kitchen, laundry, and on-site bar. Dorm rooms cost about $41 NZD, and private rooms are $109 NZD. You can book this budget-friendly hotel on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.com.

Just outside the city

If you don’t mind staying a few minutes outside of the city center, I recently stayed at Tasman Holiday Parks Christchurch and loved it! It’s a holiday park, so perfect for those with a campervan or motorhome, but they also have newly renovated rooms and apartments available for a great price! There are plenty of facilities, including kitchens, BBQs, and a pool. Stays start at $114 NZD and can be booked online here.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera during an alpine landing on a helicopter ride from Queenstown
Thanks for reading!

I hope this guide has given you all the information you need to make a decision about renting a car in Christchurch. It truly is the best way to explore this breathtakingly beautiful country!

If you need more inspiration for your trip, check out the rest of my New Zealand blogs! Some highlighted articles are below!

12 BEST Stops on the Drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park

15 BEST Stops when Driving from Picton to Christchurch

13 Best Places to Stop on the Drive from Christchurch to Dunedin

11 BEST Stops on the Drive from Christchurch to Punakaiki