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16 Things to Know BEFORE Renting a Car in New Zealand

16 Things to Know BEFORE Renting a Car in New Zealand

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Thinking of renting a car in New Zealand? Well, I don’t blame you! Road tripping is an amazing way to explore, and you can’t beat the freedom that comes with having your own wheels.

As someone who grew up driving on the other side of the road, I know that renting a car in a new country can be a little intimidating. But, after living in New Zealand for years, I now know the rules of the road inside out, and am here to share everything you need to know about renting a car. From the pros and cons to budget tips and the best rental sites, I’ve got you covered!

Table Of Contents
  1. 1. Is renting a car in New Zealand worth it?
  2. 2. What do you need to rent a car in New Zealand?
  3. 3. Do you need to rent a 4WD in New Zealand? 
  4. 4. What side of the road do you drive on in New Zealand? 
  5. 5. Tips to save money on a rental car in New Zealand
  6. 6. Can you trust online websites when booking?
  7. 7. Do you need to give a deposit when renting a car in New Zealand?
  8. 8. What extras are available when renting a car in New Zealand? 
  9. 9. Tips to follow when renting a car in New Zealand
  10. 10. Do you need insurance to rent a car in New Zealand?
  11. 11. Where should you rent a car from in New Zealand? 
  12. 12. How much does it cost to rent a car in New Zealand?
  13. 13. What are the road conditions like in New Zealand?
  14. 14. What should you do if you get in an accident in New Zealand?
  15. 15. Should you leave baggage and valuables in your car?
  16. 16. What are the major hazards on the roads in New Zealand?
  17. Renting a Car vs Renting a Campervan
  18. Thanks for reading!

1. Is renting a car in New Zealand worth it?

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!

Absolutely!

There are definite pros and cons. Renting a car in New Zealand can be pricey, and of course, there are other ways of getting around. However, if you really want to have an unforgettable trip with the freedom to go where you want (and at your own pace), renting a vehicle is worth it! 

If you’re a road trip fan, it’s a no-brainer. New Zealand is a road-tripper’s dream thanks to its stunning landscapes and natural beauty.

I’ve been on my fair share of road trips in New Zealand and realized that there is just so much you can’t see without a car! And as I’ve explored, I’ve created my own itineraries with the best stops along the way. So if you’re interested in road-tripping, check out some of my favorite routes below! They might help you decide whether or not renting a car is right for you.

South Island road trips

There are so many epic South Island road trips to choose from! You could basically follow a new road trip route every single day. However, I recommend taking your sweet time and really soaking up the experience.

One of my favorites is this drive between Queenstown and Christchurch or even the drive from Christchurch to Milford Sound. You’ll cross the South Island and stop at the best sights! Some highlights include seeing the Southern Lights at Lake Tekapo and witnessing the crystal blue waters of Lake Pukaki. Although you start and end in cities, you can visit (or stay overnight!) in the cutest mountain towns.

For a shorter journey, head from Wanaka to Franz Josef. I love this route because you really feel immersed in nature. You’ll be driving through the wild West Coast, and pass some of the best waterfalls in New Zealand. Another shorter option is driving between Te Anua and Milford Sound which includes breathtaking views throughout!

And if you’re taking the ferry to the North Island, I recommend this road trip from Kaikoura to Picton. You’ll stop at wineries, beaches, and a stunning lavender farm – all of which wouldn’t be possible without a car!

North Island road trips

If you love coastal views, you must drive from Auckland to Paihia. This paradise is full of fun things to do and places to eat! In summer, I love stopping for the occasional swim. And in winter, the route is much calmer, which makes these beaches even more peaceful.

Another short road trip on the North Island is the drive between Taupo and Rotorua. It’s full of natural wonders including some of the best hot springs in New Zealand. On one of my trips, I got my adrenaline pumping by skydiving in Taupo followed by a relaxing soak in a local hot spring. The perfect combination of activities if you ask me!

If you’re looking to really explore the North Island, I recommend checking out my personalized 14-day North Island itineraries. I go through my three favorite routes and all the best stops!

Related Read: Although the drives are pretty, it can be hard sitting in a car all day! I suggest stopping to try one of the best hikes on the North Island (with options for all levels and abilities!).

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

Bailey with her rental car in the Eglinton Valley, NZ
The journey to Milford Sound is one of my favorites!

To be at least 21

New Zealand’s age limit for driving is actually 16, but you’ll struggle to find a rental company that allows anyone under 21 to drive their vehicles. They actually prefer you to be at least 25 and sometimes can add a young driver’s fee if you are between 21 and 25. Each car rental company is different so read the fine print and ask ahead of time.

Driver’s license  

To drive in New Zealand you need a driver’s license that has a license number, a valid date, and an identification photo. If your license is from a non-English speaking country, make sure you get either your own license translated or an international driver’s license before you arrive in New Zealand. 

A credit card

Unless you are taking out full coverage insurance with your rental car, you’ll likely be expected to give over your credit card details for a holding deposit. It’s best to double-check with your bank if your credit limit is large enough before you get there. 

Confidence to drive on narrow and windy roads

If you’re used to the wide roads in North America, driving in New Zealand is a whole other beast. That’s not intended to scare you but to make you aware of some key differences. With some confidence and precautions, you should be completely fine!

Some roads in New Zealand can be pretty narrow, windy, or steep. They have mostly one lane in each direction, with few highways. You might find yourself winding along coastal roads or driving on the side of a mountain. However, I think this is all part of New Zealand’s charm!

But because of the terrain, it may take you longer than expected to drive certain routes. Plan accordingly and don’t rush. As long as you follow the speed limit and driving rules, you should be fine. Plus, the journey is half the fun – especially in New Zealand!

3. Do you need to rent a 4WD in New Zealand? 

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

You’ll see a lot of four-wheel drive cars in New Zealand but it’s not always necessary to rent one. Whether one would come in handy or not depends on where you’re heading and what time of year it is.

I found the majority of the roads in New Zealand were easy to drive in a standard car. Most tourist hot spots and cities do not require 4WD. Plus, 4WDs tend to be a lot pricier so you could save yourself some money by not getting one.

Personally, I love renting a small Toyota when I’m in New Zealand! Not only are they reliable, but they are fantastic on fuel, have plenty of power and parking is so easy! I also find it easier to manage steep or windy roads in a smaller vehicle.

When to rent a 4WD

However, there are certain cases where renting a 4WD is a better option.

All major roads in New Zealand are sealed and don’t require four-wheel drive. But, if you plan to go off-roading, it can help you over gravel or dirt terrain. Bear in mind, off-roading is not usually allowed in rental vehicles, so check with the company ahead of time!

Also, if you’re exploring New Zealand in winter or heading to ski resorts, you might feel more comfortable with 4WD. You’ll have better traction on the road and it’ll make climbing up the mountain easier.

In snowy weather, some alpine areas of the South Island require you to carry chains. While you need to carry them, you don’t always have to use them if you have 4WD. So if you expect to travel to these high-altitude areas in winter, I recommend opting for a 4WD. It’ll cost a bit more, but save you some hassle and stress!

Related Read: If you’re traveling the South Island in winter, check out these fun things to do in Queenstown!

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

View of the road into Kingston, NZ
Drive on the left! And yes, it takes some getting used to!

In New Zealand, you drive on the left-hand side of the road. This means the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle. And if you’re driving a manual, you’ll need to use the opposite hand to shift gears!

This driving system is ideal if you come from somewhere like the UK or Australia as you will feel at home. However, if you are used to driving on the right like in North America, it might take a couple of days to get the hang of it. When I first arrived, it definitely felt a little trippy! I kept getting into the wrong side of the car, then having to get out and walk around – but you’ll get used to it!

Overall, I wouldn’t worry too much, and know that a lot of people take time to adjust. I recommend starting out with shorter journeys and after a good night’s sleep! 

5. Tips to save money on a rental car in New Zealand

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

Renting a car in any country can be pricey, and New Zealand is no exception! But having lived here for some time, I’ve found some tips and tricks to save money. And luckily, I’m here to share them! So keep reading for ways to lower costs when renting a car in New Zealand.

Visit in low season

In the low season, car rental companies reduce prices to entice more tourism. But the savings don’t just end there. You’ll also see lower rates for activities, tours, and accommodation, making this period one of the best times to visit New Zealand!  

May through to October is widely considered the low season for most of the country. However, I still expect to see higher prices in the ski resort towns such as Queenstown – where I live! 

Of course, this time of year can mean dangerous road conditions. The roads are usually fine, but it’s best to keep your plans flexible. You might need to spare a day or two if there is heavy snowfall or bad weather over mountain passes. 

The high season in New Zealand is from December to March. If you plan to rent a car during this period, book well in advance to get the best price possible. Seriously, almost no rental cars are available at short notice in December and January! 

Rent a manual 

While most rentals in New Zealand mainly rent automatic vehicles, renting a manual car will usually be much cheaper. So if you can drive a stick shift, it’s worth looking into. 

Just remember, if you’re used to driving on the right-hand side, you’ll need to use the gear stick with the opposite hand! This was such a challenge for me when I first arrived in New Zealand. Now it’s harder the other way around!

Avoid renting a 4WD 

Unless you want to go to really remote places in New Zealand, you won’t need a four-wheel drive. 4WD vehicles are considerably more expensive, so as long as you plan your destinations, you can easily save money by renting a normal vehicle. 

Be advised some popular hiking trails and attractions are down gravel roads. This is one reason people rent a four-wheel drive. Although it’s not required on the road, rental companies don’t often allow regular vehicles to drive on gravel roads. This includes hikes such as the Routeburn Track

If you plan to do that hike, check with your rental company! 

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!

Use credit card insurance to save money 

Before you get separate insurance for your rental, check whether your credit card covers it. Many credit cards offer some kind of rental coverage. However, it’s best to check just how much and whether you need any extras. 

If your credit card doesn’t offer insurance, you can still get it through the rental car company. I recommend using Discover Cars and getting their full rental protection. It basically removes financial obligations from the driver in case of an accident. That means you can road trip around New Zealand in peace!

Rent from major locations 

Many rental companies in smaller and more remote towns in New Zealand will have extra fees. But major cities have larger fleets and will likely be much more affordable. So if you can, try renting a car in Queenstown or other major places like Auckland, Christchurch, or Wellington.

There are even discounts for picking up in say, Christchurch and dropping off in Auckland. This is because rental companies are trying to get vehicles back to Auckland, as it is the largest International Airport in the country. 

Drop off in the same location 

If you are able to return your vehicle to the same location, it’ll save you a ton of money! Often rental companies will add extra charges associated with a different drop-off point, making your road trip slightly more expensive.

There are some exceptions to this (as I mentioned above) but generally, it costs more to drop off in another city or town. 

Related Read: If you’re on a budget, read about the best cheap things to do in Queenstown! There are also several free activities in Christchurch too!

6. Can you trust online websites when booking?

Windy road on the Remarkables ski field access road while road tripping around New Zealand in a rental car
The Remarkables!

Absolutely, often booking a rental online is the best way to compare prices and be sure you are getting the best deal. 

Every time I’ve rented a car in New Zealand, I’ve used Discover Cars and never had any issues. They have great prices, ranging from around $50-$160 NZD per day. 

The Discover Cars site is super user-friendly and has a great search function. You can filter your options for manual transmission, different pick-up and drop-off locations, and insurance plans. It makes it much easier to find vehicles that suit you and then compare prices.

I’ve tried many times to rent direct, and it can take so long to filter through each company. Ultimately, you just want to get from A to B comfortably and safely. Using a booking website can save you so much planning time! 

While there are several rental sites out there, Discover Cars is my favorite. It’s easy to use and has excellent customer service. Plus, the reviews make it that much easier to find a good, reputable company.

Many of their car rentals also offer free cancellations. I booked through Discover Cars recently but had a change of plans and needed to cancel. They refunded my money the very next day – no questions asked! This was such a relief – I didn’t lose money and I didn’t have to even speak to anyone about my reason for canceling.

To top it off, you can pay in your chosen currency. So regardless of where you’re from, you won’t be charged extra in international transactions or conversion fees. Yet another way to save money!

7. Do you need to give a deposit when renting a car in New Zealand?

Bailey poses for a photo at Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the background while traveling the South Island in a rental cr
What a place to road trip!

Yes, most companies will charge you a security deposit. The price of this deposit will depend on the insurance deductible through the rental company. In general, this tends to be around $200 NZD.

Companies usually require you to rent using a credit card and will charge the deposit directly to the card. You may also find places that allow you to pay the deposit in cash or via debit card. However, a credit card tends to be the best option because it’s easier to return the deposit afterward.

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

8. What extras are available when renting a car in New Zealand? 

Driving our rental car onto the Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton
Driving our rental car onto the Interislander Ferry on a day trip from Wellington to Picton

GPS

When renting a vehicle, GPS is often available for an extra charge. Unless you know the roads well, you’ll probably need GPS to get around. GPS can range from around $8-25 NZD per day so it can really add to your overall cost. 

You can easily lower your expenses by bringing your own GPS with you to New Zealand. If you don’t have one, you can also use a map app on your phone. Beware that if you don’t have a New Zealand SIM card, you might rack up some hefty roaming charges. When I travel, I like downloading maps when on Wifi and then using them offline. 

Google Maps works really well in New Zealand, but reception can be spotty outside major cities. So, it’s best to plan your route ahead of time. 

Additional driver

If you’re traveling with others and planning a long journey, you may want to add an additional driver. You can leave the driving up to one person, but having an extra driver comes in handy! 

When on long roads, I often add my partner as a driver. Trust me, it’s nice to have breaks once in a while, especially on those days when you’re feeling a bit tired!

Some companies will have deals or even the option of adding an additional driver for free. If it’s free – go for it! Otherwise, check the price with your rental company to see if it’s worth it. Another reason I love DiscoverCars is that it has a filter to see prices based on the number of drivers.

Child seats

It can be quite cumbersome to travel with child seats! So if your kid requires one, it might be easier to add it to your rental. Prices can vary but range from $40-$70 NZD per week.

Discover Cars also has a filter for this and factors in the child seat to the total cost. To check the price of the child seat, just scroll down on the rental page.

Remember, 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.  

Snow chains

If you’re traveling during winter in New Zealand, you may need snow chains depending on your route. These chains are fitted to your tires to provide extra grip when driving over ice and snow.

If you’re planning on driving on roads during winter, snow chains are highly recommended. Even if you opt for a 4×4, it’s good to have snow chains on hand if the weather is extra dicey! 

They are less likely to be needed on the North Island. However, once you hit the mountains (such as Tongariro National Park), it’s best to have them. On the South Island, you NEED them. The mountain passes can be dangerous in winter without them. Plus, you can’t drive up to some ski resorts without chains (most require you carry them). 

While you should have them on hand, you might not actually use them. I use mine (excluding skiing) around 3 to 4 times per year, but I drive around the country A LOT. They are easy to put on, and even I can do them on my own. 

Most rental companies will have snow chains available to hire or they’ll include them for free. The additional cost can be anywhere from $40-$80 NZD per week, and Discover Cars lists the extra price for each rental.

9. Tips to follow when renting a car in New Zealand

View driving down the crown Range road into Queenstown, New Zealand
The Crown Range Road is often on a no-drive list for larger rentals such as motorhomes in winter.

Check what roads you can drive on

New Zealand has a lot of narrow windy roads, some of which you might not be able to drive on in your rental car. It’s often in the fine print of your rental agreement – but in general, gravel roads and off-roading are not allowed. 

For example, Crown Range Road on the South Island is a beautiful drive with amazing views. But unfortunately, some rental companies forbid driving on it due to its steepness and harsh bends.

This is less likely to be the case for a rental car and more common for a motorhome or campervan rental (but make sure to check!). After all, it’s the main route between Queenstown and Wanaka and one of my favorite road trips!

Take your own photos when doing the inspection

I always like to do a thorough check of my vehicle before I leave the rental lot! If you notice any bumps, marks, or scratches, take multiple photos and email them to the rental company immediately. It’s always good to document any damage already on the vehicle. 

This way, if they try to charge you for any damages, you’ll have it on record whether they were already there. 

You may also want to take a photo of the mileage meter before driving. Make sure the mileage matches the records the company gave you.  

Child seats are required

All children under 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

Follow the road rules

New Zealand is very strict on its road rules. It’s important you follow them to be safe and not get into trouble with the police. I haven’t had any trouble thus far, but I’m a fairly cautious driver!

Most road rules are commonplace in other countries, but here are some reminders:

  • It’s illegal to drive with your phone in your hand. If you do need to make a phone call, connect it to your car’s Bluetooth, use the hands-free option, or pull over. 
  • Seatbelts are mandatory for everyone traveling in the car. 
  • Children under 7 need to be in a car seat. 
  • Always follow the speed limit. These are shown on signs with red circles around the number and they change often (so keep an eye out!). 
  • Drunk driving is dealt with very harshly, for drivers over 20, the limit is 0.05%. 

One thing to note is that, unlike in the States, you can never turn on a red light. So even if traffic is clear, you must wait till the light is green!

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

How to pay toll fees in a rental car

Car rental companies aren’t required to pay for or remind you about toll charges. The responsibility falls on you, and if you don’t pay, you can accrue even more charges! Luckily, there are only 3 toll roads in New Zealand and they’re all on the North Island.

The three toll roads include the Northern Gateway Toll Road (north) in Auckland, Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road, and Takitimu Drive Toll Road. You can pay your toll with a credit or debit card by calling 0800 40 20 20 or visiting the Transport Agency website. The cost is only about $2-$2.50 NZD.

You can pay for these roads before or after you drive on them – just don’t wait too long or you’ll have to pay penalties!

Related Read: Instead of passing through Wanaka, why not stay overnight? This beautiful town is full of great accommodations. Read more about the best areas and hotels in Wanaka here.

10. Do you need insurance to rent a car in New Zealand?

Bailey poses with her rental car while road tripping around New Zealand
Getting full coverage gives you peace of mind!

In New Zealand, it’s mandatory for car rental companies to include insurance as part of your vehicle rental. This insurance is basic and covers the minimum requirement to drive in the country.

You can use solely this insurance for your car rental. But, if anything happens to your vehicle or someone else’s, you’ll be charged the whole deposit. 

Some credit card companies or travel insurance plans include extra insurance for rental car coverage. This can be a great way to save money since you might not need to purchase any additional insurance.  

If you don’t have your own insurance, you can add it to your overall rental cost. I highly recommend booking through Discover Cars because they have their own insurance options. These vary in coverage and prices and include a full coverage waiver option.  

11. Where should you rent a car from in New Zealand? 

A windy road on the way to Milford Sound just past the Homer Tunnel
A windy road on the way to Milford Sound just past the Homer Tunnel

New Zealand has heaps of great car rental companies! You should have no issues finding a vehicle that suits your needs!

I highly recommend using Discover Cars because it has tons of companies and is easy to use. You can use the filters to find exactly what you need for the best prices – and compare between different companies.

Discover Cars also has a wide selection of pick-up and drop-off points. Just remember to select this option when searching! This makes it easy if you’re flying into one destination and out from another.

Some of the most popular destinations to rent a car in New Zealand are major cities. Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown have main airports which means they’ll also have the largest selection of rental cars. And since Auckland has the largest airport, renting a car in Auckland means you have the most options from rental companies here.

Discover Cars offers rentals in all these cities, as well as more remote places in the country. I use them regularly and have never had a bad experience! 

Related Read: If you’re looking for a rental you can also sleep in, check out the best motorhome rentals in Auckland. And if you want something slightly smaller, try renting a campervan instead!

12. How much does it cost to rent a car in New Zealand?

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!

New Zealand is one of the most expensive countries in the world for car rentals. However, I still think this is the best way to explore the country!

The prices vary significantly depending on whether you are visiting in the off-season or the high-season. Plus, there are many other ways to lower the cost (as I mentioned before). 

For a small basic economy car, you can expect to pay anywhere from $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 a day or $620 NZD per week in the low season. In the high season, they can start at around $210 a day or $700 NZD per week. 

The longer you rent, the cheaper it works out per day. So, I suggest planning a few road trips over the course of one or two weeks to get the most for your money.

Please note: Prices have gone up significantly lately 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. However, the chip shortage has really affected the rental car market. So, don’t be surprised if you pay a lot more (or hopefully less!). 

13. What are the road conditions like in New Zealand?

Mountain backdrop on the road into Franz Josef from Fox Glacier
Mountain backdrop on the road into Franz Josef from Fox Glacier

New Zealand has diverse terrain on its roads, so you’ll experience anything from gravel roads and steep windy roads to completely flat, well-maintained motorways. You’ll generally find the smoothest roads in cities and the more precarious roads in rural areas and mountains.

Ultimately, the road conditions in New Zealand are pretty good. The roads can be single-lane but are still pretty wide – so even on sharper bends, they feel manageable.

The roads are also maintained very well. Even when there is heavy snowfall overnight, most of the snow will be shoveled and salted (and ready to drive on) by mid-morning. It’s actually very impressive! 

One thing I’ve learned from driving in New Zealand is that Google Map driving times are usually wrong. They almost always underestimate how long drives take. Because of single-lane roads and tourists (or what I call “Sunday drivers”), it’s common to get stuck behind a line of cars. Assume it’ll take longer than Google Maps says, and plan accordingly.

14. What should you do if you get in an accident in New Zealand?

Bailey stands in the middle of the road in the mountains between Te Anau and Milford Sound
Thankfully, I’ve never had an accident!

The first thing to remember if you get into an accident in New Zealand is not to panic. 

When a minor accident occurs, it’s best to move to a nearby parking area or pull up on the side of the road. Some countries require you to stay put – but this is not the case in New Zealand for minor incidents! With so many single-lane roads, it’s best to get out of the way of other motorists.

Unless there is a real conflict or someone is injured, there is often no need to call the police or emergency services. New Zealand leaves minor collisions up to the individuals involved. So if there is only minor damage, you’ll just need to swap details with the other people involved. 

You mainly only need the name, contact number, and address of the other driver. Your insurance and rental company will want these details. When you rent your car, it’s a good idea to ask what your specific rental policy requires. Most companies want a call right away.

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

You will want to report any kind of accident to your rental company as soon as it’s safe to do so. They will be able to advise you on the next steps. 

Please note: Dialing 911 in New Zealand will automatically redirect to the New Zealand emergency line (111). 

15. Should you leave baggage and valuables in your car?

Bailey packing her car before going on a hike in the Abel Tasman
When I go on long hikes, I always try to park in a secure area. Of course, you can’t always do that.

New Zealand isn’t known for having a lot of car break-ins. However, it does happen (more so on the North Island). 

As a cautious traveler, I keep any items hidden either in the trunk of the car or just out of sight. But I would always recommend keeping your most valuable items with you, just to be on the safe side. And of course, make sure to lock your doors!

16. What are the major hazards on the roads in New Zealand?

A single lane bridge in New Zealand
A single-lane bridge in New Zealand

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

New Zealand is home to a lot of wildlife! It can be fun to spot some of these creatures while driving, but you should be extra careful. They sometimes make their way onto the road or dart out in front of you.

You will likely see possums all over the country but livestock like cows and sheep also seem to walk freely onto the road. It’s important to always be on the lookout. 

Don’t worry if you do hit a possum. They regularly run into the road and people hit them all of the time. They are actually an invasive species destroying the natural habitat of New Zealand. If you do see a possum, never touch them because they carry diseases like tuberculosis. 

Single-lane bridges 

You might come across single-lane bridges during your travels. These might be confusing if you aren’t used to them, but they are actually pretty simple. Look for a sign indicating which direction has right of way. And make sure there is no one coming before you go – even if you have right of way. 

Windy roads 

Having driven a lot in New Zealand, trust me when I say there are many narrow and windy roads! You’ll need to drive slowly and be extra careful. These are usually clearly marked signs, so you’ll know when you’re approaching windy roads. 

Crowded tourist attractions on the side of the road

Tourist destinations and lookout spots can often create crowds along the side of the road. Drive slowly if you know these are coming up.

In some locations, people might park on the side of the road to get out and take photos. It’s best to keep an eye out for these so you don’t hurt anybody. When I see a crowd of tourists, I find it quite useful. It usually means there’s a beautiful view you don’t want to miss! 

Snow and ice in the winter

In winter, the weather can get quite extreme. Roads are often closed due to heavy snow or ice, but they do get cleared quickly.

Black ice is common in New Zealand so be extra wary 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 grip. 

Railway crossings

There are quite a few railroad crossings in New Zealand and not all of them are well-marked. On the larger roads, there will likely be lights and barriers when a train is approaching. However, this isn’t always the case on the smaller roads. If you’re crossing a railway where there are no barriers, stop to check both ways (and listen for a train) before passing over. 

Heavy rain in spring 

New Zealand is known to get some really heavy rain in spring and is prone to flooding. When I travel during this season, I check weather warnings before setting off on a long drive. After all, I don’t want to get stuck anywhere!

Also, be cautious when driving through large puddles because you can’t always tell how deep they are. I made the mistake of plowing through one I thought was shallow and scratching the front bumper.

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.

Related Read: One of the best places to see wildlife and awesome viewpoints is a national park. Read more about New Zealand’s national parks here!

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!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey fills up her rental car in Mossburn in New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

Renting a car in New Zealand is undoubtedly the best way to get around the country! It allows you to take full control of your itinerary, seeing all the sights at your own pace. Plus, you won’t need to rely on tours or public transport and can explore more remote destinations. Trust me, you definitely won’t regret road-tripping through this country! 

Hopefully, this guide has made you feel more confident about renting a car in New Zealand. And if you need more inspiration for your trip, check out the rest of my New Zealand blogs! Some highlighted articles are below!

10-Day New Zealand South Island Itinerary – 5 BEST Road Trip Options!

21 Things to do in Mount Cook National Park

17 BEST Things to do in Glenorchy and Paradise

11 BEST Things to do in Hastings, New Zealand