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17 Things to KNOW Before Renting a Car in Queenstown (+My Top Tips!)

17 Things to KNOW Before Renting a Car in Queenstown (+My Top Tips!)

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Renting a car in Queenstown is one of the most popular ways to see the South Island of New Zealand. It allows you to explore this stunning region’s best parts – think famous but hard-to-reach hiking trails, hidden lakes, and wild, remote beaches!

To start your adventure, you’ll likely be flying into Queenstown’s well-serviced airport, and luckily there are heaps of rental car companies based at the airport to make the experience seamless. But before you go ahead and rent a car in Queenstown, there are several things (17 to be precise) you need to be aware of! Things like what side of the road they drive on in Queenstown, how much the security deposit for your rental car will be, and what age you need to be to drive here!

It’s a lot of information to take in, but please don’t fret; I’ve rented a car in Queenstown countless times and can vouch that it’s an easy and worthwhile experience. As long as you drive carefully and obey the speed limit, you should be completely fine to drive on Queenstown’s notoriously steep and windy roads!

As the locals say, “Queenstown is the one town nobody wants to leave,” except maybe for a memorable South Island road trip! But first, you need to rent a car, and I’ve done the research so you don’t have to and come up with the top 17 things you should know before renting a car in Queenstown!

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

1. Is renting a car in Queenstown 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!

I can’t think of a better place than Queenstown to begin your South Island road trip. Surrounded by towering mountains and with the deep-blue Lake Wakatipu at its center, Queenstown is arguably one of the prettiest towns in the South Island, if not all of New Zealand. And when you add into the mix the fact that gorgeous towns like Glenorchy, Wanaka, and Arrowtown are a short drive away, renting a car in Queenstown is a no-brainer. 

Plus, thanks to Queenstown Airport being a major hub for local flights and flights from Australia, it means that you can fly in (often for cheap) and rent your car right from the airport, as opposed to having to drive here from the North Island or Christchurch (the biggest city on the South Island). 

However, keep in mind that renting a car in New Zealand is costly. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive places in the world to rent a car. So, if you’re on a tight budget, you may need to consider other options (i.e., public transport), but if you can get the money together, I promise that renting a car from Queenstown will be worth it. Because then you can get to hard-to-reach hiking trails and towns easily and go at your own pace too. This is my favorite part of renting a car, as I hate feeling rushed! 

In a place as mountainous and tourist-heavy as Queenstown, you’ll need to allow extra driving time due to slow-driving tourists and winding steep roads. Leave enough time between each stop and drive to the conditions – be especially mindful during winter in New Zealand as Queenstown can receive heavy snowfall, which I’ll go into more detail on below! 

Related Read: If you plan to fly into Auckland to begin your New Zealand adventure, you may want to rent a car from Auckland instead!

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

Cars drive past on the Devil's Staircase Lookout Point near Queenstown
Winding roads is an understatement!

To be at least 21

The age limit to drive in New Zealand is actually 16, but you’ll find it hard to find a car rental company in Queenstown that will rent to anyone under the age of 21. As a matter of fact, most companies prefer you to be 25 and above, and many will charge a young driver’s fee to drivers between 21 and 25. But every company is different, so make sure to read the fine print and ask questions before you book.

Driver’s license  

You will also need a driver’s license that has a license number, a valid date, and a photo. If your license is from a non-English speaking country, make sure you get either your own license translated or get an international driver’s license sorted prior to landing in Queenstown.

A credit card

Unless you plan to take out full coverage insurance on your rental car, you’ll likely be expected to give the company your credit card details for a holding deposit. So, before you travel, double-check with your bank if your credit limit is big enough for the deposit.

Confidence to drive on narrow and winding roads

If you’re used to driving the wide roads in North America, the U.K., etc., remember that driving in Queenstown is a whole different ball game. I don’t mean to scare you with that statement, but I just want you to come prepared for the narrow, steep roads surrounding Queenstown. There is no highway in Queenstown. Instead, you’ll mostly be driving on single-lane roads with no barriers in between.

And as I said earlier, because of the mountainous terrain here, most roads are quite steep, so journeys will take longer than expected.

But, provided you drive carefully and adhere to the speed limits, you should be completely fine driving in Queenstown. Plus, the journey is half the fun – ain’t that right?!

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

Driving towards Milford Sound in a rental car
Stay left and remember, the yellow line separates traffic direction!

In New Zealand, they drive on the left-hand side of the road. So, your steering wheel will be on the right side of the vehicle. And if you’re driving a manual, you’ll need to use your left hand to change gear!

Other countries that drive on the left include Australia, the UK, and Ireland, so if you’re traveling here from such countries, you’ll feel at home. However, if you drive on the right in your home country (like in the USA and Canada), it might take you a few days of driving here to get used to the change!

Overall, I wouldn’t stress too much, as many drivers need time to adjust. As long as you ease yourself in with shorter journeys, drive to the speed limit, and aren’t tired, then you should be a-okay!

4. Do you need to rent a 4WD in Queenstown? 

Bailey poses for a photo in her rental car on the road between Queenstown and Milford Sound, New Zealand
I’ve never rented or owned a 4WD in New Zealand and I’ve been to a ton of cool places!

Of all the places in New Zealand, renting a 4WD in Queenstown will come in the most handy. That’s because there are plenty of steep, winding roads here, such as the famed Crown Ranges on the drive from Queenstown to Wanaka and the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, that will be much easier to tackle in a powerful 4WD.

Also, seeing as the region receives snowfall in the winter, a 4WD will offer better traction than a standard car in snowy and icy conditions. Therefore if you plan to drive to Queenstown’s ski resorts, you should consider renting a 4WD, as it’ll make driving up the steep mountain roads a lot easier.

But, a 4WD is more expensive than a standard car, and to be honest, most of the roads in Queenstown are easy to drive in a standard car. So, unless you plan on going off the beaten-the-path to hard-to-reach spots, I’d recommend saving your money and opting to rent a standard car instead.

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

Baileys rental car parked at the entrance to Fiordland National Park near Queenstown
Overall, I believe a rental car saves you money and time.

As I said, car rental prices in New Zealand are some of the most expensive of anywhere in the world. Lucky for you, having lived here for some time, I’ve come up with some budget-saving tips to help you save money. So keep reading for ways to lower costs when renting a car in New Zealand.

Visit in low season

The low season in Queenstown is a little different from elsewhere in New Zealand as it’s in the fall (from March to May). During these months, you’ll notice cheaper rates as car rental companies slash their prices to attract more customers. And it’s not just your car rental that will be cheaper; you’ll also save a heap on activities and Queenstown hotels at this time too. 

On the other hand, there are actually two “high seasons” in Queenstown. The first and slightly busier season is the Queenstown summer, so that would mean visiting Queenstown from December to February. And the second is the Queenstown ski season which runs from June to August. If you’re traveling here in the winter, you’ll need to be prepared for snowy and icy driving conditions. 

If you plan to rent a car in Queenstown during their high seasons, book well in advance to get the best price possible. Honestly, almost no rental cars are available at short notice in December and January! 

Rent a manual 

While most rental companies in Queenstown mainly rent automatic vehicles, renting a manual car will typically work out 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!

Avoid renting a 4WD 

Unless you want to go to really remote places in Queenstown, you won’t need to hire a 4WD. These are a lot more expensive than a standard car, so not doing so will save you a lot!

Be advised some popular hiking trails and attractions in Queenstown are down gravel roads – such as Moke Lake. This is one positive to renting a 4WD, as rental companies will typically allow 4WD to drive on such roads. Although standard cars can drive on gravel roads, rental companies don’t often allow this. This includes hikes such as the Routeburn Track! So, if you plan to hike this famous track, check with your rental company as to whether or not you can drive your rental car there! 

Use credit card insurance to save money 

Before you buy separate insurance for your rental car, check with your credit card company whether your plan covers it. Many people don’t know this, but most credit cards offer some kind of car rental coverage. However, it’s best to check how much and whether you need to add extras. 

If your credit card plan doesn’t include car rental insurance, you can still add it on when you rent your car for an additional fee. 

I recommend using Discover Cars and buying their full rental protection as it removes financial obligations from the driver in case of an accident. That means you can road trip around Queenstown worry-free!

Drop off in the same location 

If you plan to rent your car from Queenstown and drop it off somewhere else, say Christchurch, for example, remember this will likely cost you more. Many car rental companies will charge you a “relocation fee” in this instance. So, if you can, drop your vehicle back at the same location, you picked it up from.

6. Can you trust online websites when booking?

Bailey poses for a photo with her rental car in NZ
I always use Discover Cars!

Yes, you absolutely can trust online websites when booking your rental vehicle. In a similar way to using Booking.com or the like to compare and book hotels, Discover Cars displays all available options to ensure you get the best deal. It’s so easy to use, and their search function is great because you can really narrow down what type of vehicle you want. For example, if you want to drop your car off at a different location or rent a manual car, you can tick a box to only show such cars that fit that criteria. 

Each time I’ve rented a car in Queenstown, I used Discover Cars as I found them to be the best value for money, with prices ranging from around $50-$160 NZD daily. 

I have tried to rent direct in the past, but I found it too time-consuming to search on each company’s website – there are lots of car rental companies in New Zealand, so it took me longer than I wanted to spend. Using Discover Cars, if anything, saved me time and money! 

Their reviews speak for themselves, and I have nothing but good things to say about their customer service. I recently had to cancel a booking last minute, and they were a pleasure to deal with. They refunded my money the next day and didn’t ask any questions. In fact, many of their car rentals offer free cancellation! 

The cherry on top is the fact that you can pay in your chosen currency. So regardless of where you’re from, you won’t be charged additional transaction or conversion fees. 

7. Where to drive in your rental car from Queenstown

Milford Sound

Bailey poses with her car in the Eglinton Valley on the way to Milford Sound
On my way to Milford Sound!

One of the best road trips on the South Island is the seriously scenic route from Queenstown to Milford Soundwhich is 288 km/179 miles each way! Top tip: the stretch of road between Te Anau and Milford Sound is the most exceptional, so make sure you have your camera handy for that part of the drive!

Milford Sound is one of the most famous places in the whole country, and this stunning fiord (yes, it’s not a sound but a fiord!) attracts upwards of 1 million tourists every year! 

I say to allow at least a full day for this drive as there are plenty of must-visit stops along this route, especially the town of Te Anau, the Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, and the Homer Tunnel, to name but a few. 

When you arrive, the first thing you should do is a cruise of Milford Sound! This is the best way to see the area as it lets you get up close to the best New Zealand waterfalls and even spot wildlife like the elusive Fiordland penguins and dolphins.

This Nature Cruise is one of my favorites as you get two hours on the water in a smaller boat – which means you get closer to the wildlife and waterfalls! It’s $109 NZD per person and make sure you keep a lookout for bottlenose dolphins and crested penguins! You can read my full review of the Milford Sound Nature Cruise here!

While most cruises last 2-2.5 hours, there’s a bucket-list-worthy overnight cruise I took to spend a night on the water and it was pretty incredible. There’s a hot tub on board, meals included, and huge windows from your room, so you can relax below deck and not miss a thing. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing that you’ll be talking about for ages after, it’s that good! Make sure to reserve a spot online ASAP as this cruise books up fast – I even missed out the first time I tried to book! 

While if you’re after something a little more unique, why not book a kayaking tour here? This tour allows you to get up super close to the lush green cliffs and wildlife! It even includes a stop at the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory – the only floating observatory in New Zealand. It’s a great taste of the best Milford Sound has to offer for $229 NZD per person.

And if you’re keen to stretch your legs before hopping back in the car, check out one of the best hiking trails in Milford Sound – the Milford Sound Lookout Track. This easy walk begins by the Milford Sound cafe and leads to a viewpoint with incredible views. 

Related Read: For more road trip ideas, check out my curated guide on the best 10-day South Island itineraries!

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

Wanaka

Road winds its way along Lake Wanaka between Franz Josef and Queenstown
Driving along Lake Wanaka!

Wanaka is just over an hour’s drive from Queenstown via the famed Crown Range road, and because the two towns are so similar, Wanaka is often referred to as “Queenstown’s little sister.” Wanaka is essentially a smaller, more laidback version of its more famous neighbor. And I just love it there! 

There are heaps of fun things to do in Wanaka, from taking a speedy mountain cart down Cardrona mountain to jet boating the longest river in New Zealand. I guarantee you won’t be bored in Wanaka!

But one of the best activities in Wanaka is hiking. In fact, one of the most famous hikes on the South Island – Roy’s Peak Track is located a short distance from town. This 16 km (10 mile) track is a firm favorite with photographers, thanks to the astounding views of the Southern Alps from its peak. You’ve probably seen the stunning view from the summit on Instagram! The hike will take approximately 7 hours to complete and is mostly uphill, so a good level of fitness is advised. 

Another awesome Wanaka activity is walking along the lakefront to where #ThatWanakaTree is located – yep, a tree so famous that it has its own hashtag. Would you believe this lonely willow tree is the most photographed tree in New Zealand?

Glenorchy

Bailey at Bennetts Bluff Lookout
Quick stop at Bennetts Bluff Lookout on the way!

The teeny-tiny town of Glenorchy is only a 45-minute drive (42 km/26 miles) from Queenstown. And despite its small size, there’s plenty to do in Glenorchy, from hiking to jet boating to indulging in a delicious (and strong) coffee from Mrs. Woolies General Store. Plus, the drive to Glenorchy from Queenstown is often rated as one of the prettiest in the world – so driving here is an activity in itself! 

As I mentioned, hiking is popular in Glenorchy, and the famed and lengthy Routeburn Track starts here. But if you’re keen on a more relaxed hike, the Glenorchy Boardwalk is your best bet. This very easy hike begins at the jetty (where the famed red shed stands) and is 5 km (3 miles) long. It’s flat the whole way and includes a boardwalk section over the lagoon, so it’s stroller-friendly! I reckon it’s one of the loveliest hikes in Queenstown!

As soon as you drive into Glenorchy, you may say, “this looks familiar,” especially if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan. Many of the movie scenes were filmed here, for example, Faramir Vs. The Oliphaunts is Twelve Mile Delta on the road in, and Isengard is Paradise, a short drive from town.

The best way to see these filming locations is on a guided tour from Glenorchy because they can be hard to find and often need a 4×4 vehicle to get to. This is why I highly recommend this organized tour, as it includes a visit to all the LOTR filming locations near Glenorchy. The views are amazing and you’ll get to see rural and hidden spots there’s no way you would find on your own. It’s $503 NZD per person, but there’s a max of six people, so it’s a really personalized tour.

Arrowtown

Buckingham Street in Arrowtown, New Zealand
Buckingham Street in Arrowtown, New Zealand

Just a 20-minute drive (19 km/12 miles) from Queenstown is what I believe to be one of the prettiest towns in New Zealand. Arrowtown boasts old mining-era architecture, scenic walkways, and cute cafes and restaurants, and it’s a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. 

There are plenty of things to do in Arrowtown, from wandering the colorful and historic Buckingham Street, which is home to some excellent restaurants and cafes like The Chop Shop and Aosta, as well as the famous Arrowtown Bakery.

A short walk from Buckingham Street is the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, a row of tiny old mining huts that once housed Chinese miners. These huts give a good indication of the conditions these miners lived in. It’s free to visit, and the information boards along the pathway tell a lot about the mining period. 

While if you want to stretch your legs during your time in Arrowtown, Sawpit Gully Track is a short scenic hike that gives up German Hill. It starts just past the Chinese Settlement and is 8 km (5 miles) in length, and will take about 2.5 hours to complete. 

Gibbston Valley

People cheers at a table at the Kinross winery in the Gibbston Valley near Queenstown
Cheers to some good wine!

The Gibbston Valley is a world-famous New Zealand wine region renowned especially for its delicious Pinot Noir variety! And what’s great is that it’s just a 30-minute drive (30 km/18 miles) from Queenstown!

This wine-growing region is the highest and coldest in Central Otago, and most of the ground here slopes to the north, thus catching a lot of sunlight. The combination of these two factors makes Gibbston Valley one of the most perfect areas in New Zealand for harvesting grapes. 

If you want to sample all the delicious wines and not be the designated driver, I recommend joining a Queenstown wine tour – I did this one! and really enjoyed it! It includes visits to some of the best wineries in the Gibbston Valley. The highlight has to be touring the inside of New Zealand’s oldest wine cave – which is basically a cave blasted into the side of a mountain lined with hundreds of barrels of aging wine. The tour can be booked here for $259 NZD which includes ALL the wine tastings and a lunch platter.

There are eight cellar doors within the Gibbston Valley, but my personal favorites include Kinross Winery and the famed Gibbston Valley Winery, which is a stop on almost every guided tour of the region; hence, it tends to be a little busier than the others.

Related Read: Check out the best tours available from Queenstown!

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

Bailey in the drivers seat of her rental car while on the North Island of New Zealand
I usually don’t get any extras except the extra driver!

Snow chains

My top suggestion, if you’re traveling to Queenstown in the winter, is to add snow chains to your car rental booking. Many roads here, especially those that lead to ski resorts, have a mandatory rule that you carry snow chains in the winter – and you will see the road signs as you drive along.

Snow chains, if you don’t know, are chains that are fitted to your tires to provide extra grip when driving over ice and snow. And what’s great is they’re surprisingly easy to put on. I was more than capable of putting them on myself. And even if you hire a 4×4, it’s good to have snow chains on hand in case the roads are extra snowy/icy! 

Most rental companies in Queenstown will have snow chains available to rent, and some include them for free. The additional cost can be anywhere from $40-$80 NZD per week. 

GPS

When renting a vehicle, GPS is often available for an additional fee. Unless you have experience driving on Queenstown’s roads, you’ll likely need GPS to find your way. It will set you back between $8-25 NZD per day, which is quite pricey, so remember to allocate some of your budget for this.

You can keep your budget down by packing your own GPS. Or, if you don’t have one, you can download a map app on your phone. You might rack up some hefty roaming charges if you don’t have a New Zealand SIM card. In that case, I recommend downloading maps when on WiFi and then using the maps offline.

For the most part, Google Maps works really well in Queenstown, but reception can be spotty outside the CBD and bigger nearby towns like Wanaka and Arrowtown.

Additional driver

Considering many of the roads around Queenstown require a lot of concentration, it may be helpful to add an additional driver to your booking. That way, if you get tired, your partner/friend, etc., can take over. Plus, being the passenger for a while is nice as it means you can savor those awesome views. 

Many car rental companies in Queenstown offer cheap deals or even the option of adding an additional driver for free. If it’s free – go for it! If it’s not, have a think as to whether the extra fee is worth it. Another reason I love Discover Cars is that it has a filter to see prices based on the number of drivers.

Child seats

It can be quite a challenge to travel with child seats! They’re bulky and heavy. So if your little one needs one, it might be easier to add it to your rental. Prices vary but typically range from $40-$70 NZD weekly.

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. 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

9. Do you need to give a deposit when renting a car in Queenstown?

Bailey stands in the doorway of her rental car while waiting at the Homer Tunnel on her way to Milford Sound from Queenstown
Cars only require a small deposit!

Yes, it’s standard procedure for car rental companies in Queenstown to charge you a security deposit. And the price varies depending on their insurance deductible. But, as a general figure, expect to pay around $200 NZD.

Because it’s easier to refund the deposit to a credit card, most companies prefer you to rent using a credit card. However, you will find companies that will allow you to pay the deposit in cash or by debit card.

10. Tips to follow when renting a car in Queenstown

Bailey at the Mount Cook road viewpoint with the stunning highway in the background on a road trip in New Zealand
Can you imagine a more beautiful place to road trip!

Check what roads you can drive on

Queenstown is home to quite a few narrow and 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 gravel roads and off-roading are generally not allowed. 

For example, Crown Range Road, the main route between Queenstown and Wanaka, is often listed as one of the roads the car rental company won’t allow you to drive your vehicle on. However, this rule mostly only applies to Queenstown campervan or motorhome rentals, but please check the fine print of your rental agreement before driving on this or any road you’re unsure of. 

If you’re visiting in the winter, the weather may hinder your travel plans as sometimes heavy snowfall or icy conditions can temporarily close popular routes! So before you book, double-check the companies’ cancellation policies in case you need to cancel due to extremely bad weather.

Take your own photos when doing the inspection

This is one tip I give to anyone renting a car in Queenstown – always check the car for bumps, scratches, or marks before leaving the car rental office. Many companies won’t do a walk around with you, so it’s up to you to take plenty of photos and even videos of any damage and email them to the car rental company straight away!

By doing so, if they try to charge you for any damages, you’ll have it on record that the damage was already present before you even left their parking lot.

It’s also a good idea to take a photo of the mileage meter before driving away and ensure the number matches your paperwork.

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 so far, but thankfully I’m a very careful driver!

Most of New Zealand’s road rules are the same as in other countries, but here are some reminders:

  • Seatbelts are mandatory for everyone traveling in the car.
  • 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.  
  • Always follow the speed limit. These are shown on signs with red circles around the number, and they often change (so keep an eye out!). 
  • Children under 7 need to be in a car seat. 
  • Drunk driving is dealt with very harshly. For drivers over 20, the limit is 0.05%. 

Another point to remember is that, unlike in North America, you can’t turn on a red light – even if your route is clear, you must wait until the light turns green!

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

11. Do you need insurance to rent a car in Queenstown?

Bailey with her car on her way to Rotorua from Auckland
My little rental car!

In Queenstown, car rental companies must include insurance as part of your vehicle rental. This basic insurance cover is the minimum requirement to drive in New Zealand. You can opt to drive with just this basic cover, but keep in mind that if an accident happens and damage occurs to yours or another vehicle – you’ll be charged the entire deposit! 

A good way to save some money is to check if your credit card or travel insurance plans include extra insurance for rental car coverage. If it doesn’t, I highly advise purchasing additional insurance. It’s easy to do this via Discover Cars because they have their own insurance options. The plans vary in coverage and prices and include a full coverage waiver option. 

12. Where should you rent a car from in Queenstown? 

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

Most car rental companies in Queenstown are located at the airport, which is a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Queenstown. However, there are a small number of companies within walking distance of the CBD. But, to be honest, seeing as most tourists start their Queenstown adventure by flying into Queenstown airport, renting a car from the airport seems like the obvious (and easiest) choice!

No matter where in Queenstown you’d like to pick up your rental vehicle, I highly recommend using Discover Cars because it features almost all of the rental companies here. And as I’ve said earlier, it’s so so easy to use. You can use the filters to find exactly what you need for the best price – and compare between different Queenstown companies.

13. How much does it cost to rent a car in Queenstown?

Scenic highway between Queenstown and Te Anau on a road trip in a rental car
The open roads are best explored with the freedom a rental car brings!

Yes, it’s true – New Zealand is one of the world’s most expensive places to rent a car. But, despite this, to me, it’s the best way to explore this stunning country. And in a place as naturally beautiful as Queenstown, there really is no better place to hit the open road! 

The rental car prices in Queenstown vary significantly depending on whether you are visiting in the low or high season. Plus, there are many other ways to lower the cost, such as hiring a manual as opposed to an automatic and opting for a standard car over a 4WD. 

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. 

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

14. What are the road conditions like in Queenstown?

Crown Range Road near Queenstown, New Zealand
Crown Range Road near Queenstown, New Zealand

State Highway 6 (SH6) is the name of the highway into Queenstown, and for the most part, this is a single-lane highway with some sections changing to two lanes (for passing). It’s a relatively easy road, and if you rent your car from the airport, it’s this highway you’ll be driving on to reach the downtown area. The only thing to be mindful of on this stretch of road is slow-driving tourists who may stop suddenly and pull onto the side of the road to snap photos.

As Queenstown is located in a mountainous region, most of the other roads in the area are steep, with tight bends and corners. A challenging road is the Crown Range road which leads to Wanaka, and the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is also especially windy and narrow with a couple of scenic viewpoints that you need to be mindful of – as cars will be pulling in and out of these. 

Note that if you’re visiting Queenstown between April and October, ice and snow may make driving conditions more challenging, especially on high-altitude roads like the Crown Range.  

When driving in Queenstown CBD, there are a few things to be mindful of. First, parking is limited and expensive – there are a few free parking lots (one by the YHA Lakefront) and one at Queenstown Gardens, but these spaces fill up quickly, especially in high season. Secondly, there aren’t many pedestrian crossings in town, so keep an eye out for pedestrians at all times, as they may step onto the road without warning. 

15. What should you do if you get in an accident in Queenstown?

Scenic road leads to Mount Cook, New Zealand
Thankfully I’ve never had an accident!

The first rule of thumb, if you’re involved in a car accident in Queenstown, is don’t panic!

If you’re involved in a minor accident in Queenstown, the best thing to do is move to the closest parking lot or pull up on the side of the road. Some countries require you to stay put in case of a minor incident, but this is not the case in New Zealand. Therefore, it’s best to get out of the way of other motorists.

Unless there is a dispute with the other individuals or someone is injured, there is likely 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, simply swap details with the other party involved. You only need the other driver’s name, contact number, and address to give to your insurance provider and car rental company.

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

To summarize, you will want to report any kind of accident to your rental company as soon as possible, and they will advise you on the next steps. 

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

16. 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.

Queenstown is renowned for being a safe tourist destination. However, that’s not to say that opportunistic crimes such as car break-ins don’t happen because they do. Therefore, it’s very important you don’t leave any luggage, handbags, or valuables on show in your vehicle, no matter the time of day and even if you’re only leaving the vehicle unattended for a short time.

I always hide my belongings under the seat or in the trunk, and I ALWAYS take my valuables with me. I just can’t risk having my most prized possessions stolen!

And, of course, make sure to lock your car doors at all times!

17. What are the major hazards on the roads in Queenstown?

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

The roads in Queenstown are mostly safe and easy to drive on. However, in my experience, there are a few hazards you should be aware of, and I’ve listed them below to help you prepare!

Wildlife

Queenstown is home to abundant wildlife, particularly wild deer, goats, and possums. But you’ll also encounter birds like the kakariki, the kereru (aka wood pigeon), and the cheeky kea – the only alpine parrot in the world on your travels around here. And any of the above may walk onto the road in front of you, especially in rural areas, so it’s important to always have your eyes peeled! 

What I will say is don’t worry too much if you hit a possum. They are a common sight on Queenstown’s roads, and people hit them all the time. In fact, they’re considered an invasive species. If you see one, please DO NOT touch it as possums can carry many diseases such as tuberculosis!

Single-lane bridges 

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

Windy roads 

I know I’ve mentioned Queenstown’s windy roads heaps already, but I wanted you to be prepared! Although windy, the roads around Queenstown are for the most part easy to drive along, provided you drive slowly and are extra careful. There are usually clearly marked signs, so you’ll know when you’re approaching a windy road. 

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 in Queenstown. Roads (such as the Crown Range and Lindis Pass) are often closed due to heavy snow or ice, but they do get cleared quickly.

Black ice is common on Queenstown’s roads, 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 on the South Island, but not all of them 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

Due to Queenstown’s hilly nature, you probably won’t come across as many cyclists here as you would in Auckland or Wellington, but be mindful that you may still come across cyclists on your travels here. If you do, make 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.

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 While in Queenstown

Bailey with two of her friends at Perky's - Floating Bar Queenstown at sunset
Fall in love with Queenstown at sunset!
bailey stands at the front of the TSS Earnslaw in Queenstown
A cruise on the TSS Earnslaw is a unique way to explore!

Once you’re back in Queenstown after exploring Glenorchy, there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy. Honestly, there are so many things to do in Queenstown, that it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites:

  • Watch a sunset – As the day draws to a close in Queenstown, make sure to head to the shores of Lake Wakatipu to watch a sunset. It’s one of the best viewpoints to watch the sun sink behind the Southern Alps. I like watching from Queenstown Beach or Perky’s Floating Bar where you get a view of the lake and delicious food and drinks too!
  • Go canyoning – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek as part of this Queenstown Canyoning Adventure with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.
  • Wine tasting – This Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money as for $239 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.

Where to Stay in Queenstown

Hot Tub over looking the river and mountains at Kamana Soak in Queenstown, New Zealand
Photo credit: Kamana Lakehouse

Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices, but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance.

Honestly, during peak times, any of the best hotels in Queenstown will be fully booked several weeks in advance…you have been warned! To help you plan ahead, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.

Kamana Lakehouse – $$$

For a luxurious stay, I highly recommend Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town. Although it’s super peaceful, it’s just a 5-minute drive into the center of town. The place overlooks both the lake and the mountains, and the onsite restaurant uses local, seasonal ingredients to create the freshest meals. To top it off, many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths!

The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark, and you can check availability and book online here.

La Quinta Queenstown – $$

If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel is right by the airport but still very quiet. Plus, the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room.

Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.

Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $

My top choice for budget travelers is the Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms, and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu!

Dorms are around $55 NZD, and private rooms begin around $210 NZD. The Absoloot Hostel is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera while on the Sealy Tarns Trail in Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand
Thanks for reading, now get out there and explore!

And there you have it – 17 things you need to know before renting a car in Queenstown! I hope it’s given you food for thought and made your decision about renting a car in this stunning region an easy one.

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

10 BEST Helicopter Tours in Queenstown

A Guide to Supermarkets in Queenstown: Where to Get Groceries

How to Plan the MOST Romantic Queenstown Honeymoon

17 Completely Free Things to do in Queenstown