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18 Things to KNOW Before Renting a Car in Wellington +My Personal Tips

18 Things to KNOW Before Renting a Car in Wellington +My Personal Tips

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So, you’re planning to visit New Zealand, more specifically, the nation’s capital city Wellington, and you are thinking about renting a car for your time there. Brilliant choice! By doing this, you’ll combine two of my favorite things about New Zealand – scenic road trips and the quirky, cool city of Wellington!

Located on the most southern point of the North Island, Wellington is one of the best places to begin your New Zealand road trip. From here, it’s simple to just drive north and explore the best places on the North Island like AucklandRotorua, Martinborough Wine Region, etc. Because the ferry to the South Island departs from Wellington, it’s also easy to get to South Island faves like QueenstownWanaka, and Christchurch

But before you rent a car from Wellington, there are some important things you need to consider first – such as what age you need to be to rent a car in New Zealand (it’s 21, by the way), what the road conditions are like in Wellington and whether or not you need to buy rental insurance. 

Luckily, I’ve done all the research, so you don’t have to – and in this blog post, you’ll learn 18 things about renting a car in Wellington! 

During my time here, I’ve rented lots of cars from Wellington, and I’ve completed road trips on both the South Island and North Island, so I reckon I’m well-equipped to tell you everything about driving and renting a car in Wellington. So, let’s dive in!

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

1. Why rent a car in Wellington?

Highway through Remutaka Crossing near Wellington, NZ
Highway through Remutaka Crossing near Wellington, NZ – one of the most treacherous roads on the North Island!

If a road trip through awe-inspiring scenery and quirky towns sounds like your cup of tea, then you really ought to consider renting a car from Wellington and exploring the North Island from there! Honestly, I can’t think of any place better than Wellington to start a New Zealand road trip!  

As the country’s capital city and the second biggest by population size (Auckland is first) – Wellington is one of the most popular places for tourists to start their New Zealand adventure, as many people choose to fly into the international airport here. 

As with anything, there are positives and negatives to renting a car in New Zealand. The negatives are that car rental prices in Wellington are high, but if you want to enjoy the freedom a road trip offers, you’ll need to rent a car as many of the best spots aren’t accessible by public transport. Plus, having rented plenty of cars during my time in New Zealand, I have some budget-savvy tips to help you save some money, which I’ll go into in more detail later. 

So, if you’re a road trip fan (like me), love visiting off-the-beaten-path destinations, and want to have the freedom to stop when you like, then renting a car in Wellington should be your obvious choice!

Related Read: Renting a car from Auckland is also a popular choice with overseas tourists. You can check out my blog about renting a car from Auckland here!

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

Bailey poses for a photo with her rental car in NZ
Driving in Wellington can be challenging so I don’t often stay long!

There are some essentials you need to know/have before renting a car in Wellington, including being over 21 years of age and having a valid driver’s license! I’ve explained more about exactly what you need to rent a car in Wellington below.

Driver’s license  

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

A credit card

Unless you plan to take out full coverage insurance, the rental car company will likely need to take your credit card information for a holding deposit. Therefore, before doing so, it’s best to check with your bank what your credit limit is so that you can make sure it’s big enough for the deposit!

To be at least 21

As a matter of fact, the age limit to drive on New Zealand’s roads is 16 years of age. But, I’ll be honest, you’ll struggle to find a car rental company that will rent to anyone under age 21. And most companies prefer to rent to those over 25. Keep in mind that you may be charged a young driver’s fee if you are between 21 and 25.

It’s best to do your research if you’re under 25 and make sure you read the rental company’s fine print or ask if they charge a young driver’s fee.

Confidence to drive on narrow and winding roads

Another thing that while it isn’t required, is something I highly recommend – the confidence to drive on winding and narrow roads, which are quite common in New Zealand. If you’re used to the wide roads in North America, this could be an adjustment!

Now, for the most part, driving in Wellington and the surrounding areas is easy, but in more rural areas, the roads tend to be steep and narrow single-land roads. But isn’t that what makes New Zealand so charming? In short, provided you drive the speed limit, are careful and aware that a road trip will likely take you longer than anticipated, you should be completely fine driving in and around Wellington!

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

Cars drive past on the Devil's Staircase Lookout Point near Queenstown
Drive on the left and remember, yellow lines separate traffic directions!

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

So that means your steering wheel will be located on the right of the car, and if you’re going to be renting a manual, you’ll be using your left hand to change gears (the opposite to North America!).

Other countries that drive on the left include the UK and Australia, so if you’re visiting from these countries, you’ll take to driving in New Zealand pretty easily. But if you’re visiting from North America (where you drive on the right side), it may take you a few days to get used to the change!

I actually adapted pretty quickly, and most people will. But, if you’re unsure how you’ll adjust, begin with short journeys from Wellington and ensure you’re not tired before driving, as then, you’re less likely to make mistakes.

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

Baileys rental car parked at the entrance to Fiordland National Park near Queenstown
I’ve never used or needed a 4WD!

It’s not necessary to rent a 4WD in Wellington if you plan to only visit cities, towns, and big tourist attractions on the North Island. And seeing as 4WDs are more expensive to rent than a standard car, not hiring one will save you money!

But, if you’re planning to visit in the winter and want to hit the ski slopes in Ruapehu, Turoa, and Whakapapa, a 4WD will come in handy for driving up the mountain. 

Another big benefit to hiring a 4WD is that it’s easier to drive in bad weather conditions, such as in the fall and winter when the North Island receives a high amount of rainfall and roads can flood. 

But I’ve driven around the North Island a lot and found that most roads were easy to drive in a standard car. And windy and/or steep roads are actually easier to maneuver in a smaller vehicle! 

Another great option, if you’re traveling with family or friends, is to hire a campervan from Wellington, as that way, you can save on accommodation costs and opt for freedom camping instead! I have brilliant memories of exploring New Zealand in my campervan!

5. Best places to drive to near Wellington with a rental car

Martinborough Wine Region

Bailey drinks wine in the Martinborough Wine Region near Wellington, New Zealand
Cheers!
Grape vines in the Martinborough Wine Region
Such a beautiful region!

If you’re a wine lover, you’re in luck, as one of the best wine regions in New Zealand is just 81 km (50 miles) from Wellington. The Martinborough Region is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir varieties, and it’s not just about the wineries here because the village itself is a quaint European-style village that’s so photogenic!

If you wish, you can drive here in your rental car, or if you want to sample the delicious wines, why not book this small-group tour – which includes wine tastings at three vineyards? The tour is 5 hours long and stops at Poppies Martinborough, Moy Hall Vineyard, and Te Kairanga Wines to sample delicious local wines that make this region famous. The entire tour is $154 NZD so it’s a great add-on for your time here, so book it online before you go!

Related Read: You can also visit wineries and other neat places (like an eel conservation park!) on the drive from Wellington to Napier!

Auckland

Downtown Auckland near the water on a busy week day
Driving in Auckland CBD is the worst!

As the nation’s biggest city, it should come as no surprise that I recommend paying a visit to Auckland during your time here. These two large cities are a whopping 641 km (398 miles) apart, and driving here from Wellington will take around eight hours without stops. But I recommend turning this drive into a several-days-long road trip!

Once you reach the “City of Sails”, that’s this coastal city’s nickname, make sure you have at least two full days in Auckland because there’s so much to do here, from taking in the city views from the famous Auckland Sky Tower to touring the picturesque Waiheke Island, another super-popular wine-growing region!

Or, if you’re keen to get your adrenalin pumping, you can try out bungy jumping or skydiving from this vibrant city! As well as that, there are literally hundreds of awesome restaurants and bars for you to check out, as well as cool places to stay!

Hobbiton

Hobbit home at Hobbiton, NZ

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Lord of the Rings movies. In fact, some say this mega-movie franchise is what put New Zealand on the world’s radar! Well, Hobbiton, in the small town of Matamata, is over a 6-hour drive (492 km/306 miles) from Wellington, but as one of the coolest movie sets I’ve ever seen, I reckon it’s definitely worth a road trip from the capital! 

On your visit to this epic movie set, you’ll get to see up-close famous places from the movies, such as the Green Dragon Inn, the colorful Hobbit Holes, and the Mill. Now, I’ll admit I’m a huge LOTR fan, so this was one of the best things I did in New Zealand, but even if you aren’t, I highly recommend a visit as the landscape here is so beautiful, and you’ll get some great photos!

Related Read: For more in-depth info, here’s my blog on everything you need to know about visiting Hobbiton!

Cape Palliser and the Putangirua Pinnacles

The Putangirua Pinnacles near Wellington, New Zealand
How LOTR do they look??

One of the most memorable day trips from Wellington is to Cape Palliser and the Putangirua Pinnacles. If you’re a “Ringer” (aka Lord of the Rings fan), you may recognize this spot from the Paths of the Dead scene in The Return of the King.

Cape Palliser is only an hour and 45 minutes (121 km/75 miles) from Wellington, but it seems a world away. Here you’ll find the standout red and white striped Cape Palliser Lighthouse and abundant marine life (specifically fur seals). 

If you fancy taking in some great views of the Cook Strait, you can climb to the top of Cape Palliser Lighthouse, but it’s a steep climb up 242 steps! So, keep that in mind!

This region is also home to the biggest fur seal colony on the North Island. You’ll see these super furry marine mammals lazing on the rocks near the lighthouse throughout the year. But the best time to visit is between mid-November and mid-January, as that’s breeding season. 

If you’d like to take a break from driving, then consider this full-day guided tour that includes a visit to the Cape Palliser Lighthouse, a wine tour in Martinborough, as well as lunch at one of the best restaurants in Martinborough! It’s a full-day thing where you can just show up and enjoy, which I love. You can book a spot online for $467 NZD per person.

Whanganui

A lady paddles on the Whanganui Journey in New Zealand
The Whanganui Journey!

Whanganui is a small city built on the Whanganui River (the longest navigable river in the country.) Interestingly, it’s one of the oldest cities in New Zealand, and visiting here from the city is a no-brainer in my opinion as it’s just a 2 hour and 20-minute (195 km/121 mile) drive away!

The Whanganui Journey is one of the Great Walks in New Zealand, which is actually kind of funny because it isn’t a walk at all – it’s a canoe/kayak journey along the Whanganui River. It’s incredibly scenic, and a worthwhile experience, so naturally it’s one of the best things to do in Whanganui!

One of the best things to do in Whanganui is to hop aboard the Waimarie, a coal-fired steam paddler which cruises along the river. It boasts a galley and a bar, so you can indulge in awesome food and drink while taking in the scenery! 

Another top suggestion for Whanganui is to check out the Bason Botanic Gardens, a 15-minute drive from the city. Here, you can hike one of the lovely walking trails and see a huge variety of native and exotic plants along the way. 

And finally, not forgetting the Durie Hill Tower and Elevator, one of the most popular Whanganui activities. You can get the elevator to the top to take in the awesome views of the Tasman Sea, Whanganui River, and even Mount Ruapehu on a clear day! The elevator costs just $2 NZD per adult and $1 NZD per child. Or you could walk up for free, but be warned that it’s quite steep and there are lots of steps! 

The South Island

Windy road with mountain and lake views on the way to Glenorchy from Queenstown
The road to Glenorchy!

If you have lots of time, a great idea is to take your rental car over to the South Island to explore popular tourist destinations like QueenstownWanaka, and Christchurch.

The South Island has a completely different feel to the North Island. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they’re like two different countries. For one, the South Island is colder, has a more mountainous terrain, and has some of the prettiest scenery and best skiing in New Zealand. It’s also a great region to complete a road trip. I’ve detailed some of my favorite South Island road trips below to help you!

One of my favorites is this drive between Queenstown and Christchurch. 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.

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

Related Read: Christchurch is another popular place to begin your New Zealand road trip, read my tips about renting a car in Christchurch here!

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6. Tips to save money on a rental car in Wellington

Driving onto the ferry between Wellington and Picton with a rental car in New Zealand
Book your ferry well in advance to save money too!

Renting a car is a big expense no matter where you’re visiting. And as I mentioned, New Zealand car rental prices are notoriously high. But luckily for you, I’ve got some helpful tips and tricks to save you money!

Visit in low season

The low season (June, July, and August) is the cheapest time of year to visit Wellington. And by staying here during these winter months (remember the seasons here are opposite to the Northern Hemisphere), you’ll save money on activities, hotels, and car rentals.

Yep, during the quiet season, car rental companies reduce their prices so as to attract more customers. Something they don’t need to do in high season (from December to March). In fact, if you plan to rent a car during the high season, book well in advance to get the cheapest rate. 

Rent a manual 

While most rental companies in Wellington offer only automatic vehicles, renting a manual car will save you some serious coin. So if you can drive a stick shift, it’s worth looking around as to what rental companies offer this.

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

Avoid renting a 4WD 

Unless you plan to truly go off the beaten track or go skiing in the winter, you won’t need to rent a 4WD in Wellington. 4WDs are a lot more expensive, so you’ll save money when you rent a standard car which is more than suitable for driving around Wellington, anyway!

Use credit card insurance to save money 

Before purchasing separate car rental insurance, check whether your credit card covers it. Many credit cards offer some sort of rental coverage. But 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!

Rent a car from Wellington Airport

If you want to save money, a good idea is to rent a car from Wellington airport instead of from a downtown location. There’s so much competition at the airport that the prices here tend to be cheaper than downtown. If you wanted, you could rent a car as soon as you arrive at Wellington airport, do your road trip, then return to Wellington for a couple of days before you fly out.

Don’t rent a car for exploring Wellington CBD

It’s also not really necessary to have a rental car while you’re staying in Wellington CBD, as parking is expensive, and the traffic can be crazy. Plus, the public transport system in the “Windy City” is very reliable. So, if you want to save some serious coin, avoid renting a car until the day you plan to leave Wellington!

Drop off in the same location 

If you can return your vehicle to the same location in Wellington, it’ll save you a big chunk of money! Often rental companies will add extra charges associated with a different drop-off point, making for a more costly road trip!

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

Mountain highway along Remutaka Crossing near Wellington, NZ
Mountain highway along Remutaka Crossing near Wellington, NZ

Yes, most car rental companies in Wellington will charge you a security deposit, which ranges in price and depends on the insurance deductible through the rental agency. But you can expect to pay around $200 NZD.

Most car rental agencies in Wellington will ask you to use a credit card when renting a car from them. That’s because it’s easier for them to refund the deposit to a credit card. But, if you don’t have a credit card, you will come across companies that will let you pay the deposit with a debit card or cash.

8. Can you trust online websites when booking?

Bailey looks out the window of her rental car in NZ
I recommend looking on Discover Cars first to all my friends and readers!

Yes, from my experience, you can trust online websites when booking a car rental! When renting a car online, you can compare prices, filter your options for different pick-up and drop-off locations, and even tick if you want a manual or automatic vehicle! So, I say booking a car rental online is the way to go!

Every time I’ve rented a car in Wellington, I’ve used Discover Cars and highly recommend them. They offer competitive prices, with car rentals ranging from $50-$160 NZD per day. 

What’s great, too, is their website is very user-friendly. For example, their search function is awesome because you can filter your options for different pick-up and drop-off locations and tick if you want a manual or automatic car, making it so much easier to find the right vehicle!

I have tried renting directly through rental companies in the past, and I found it quite time-consuming, so, if nothing else, booking through Discover Cars will save you time. Plus, their website is super user-friendly. I particularly love their search function. 

I realize there are lots of other car rental websites on which you can rent a car in Wellington but from my experience, Discover Cars is the best. And their reviews from other happy customers speak for themselves!

Their customer service is second-to-none. I found this out when I had to cancel my booking last minute. They refunded my money the next day, without question. In fact, it’s helpful for you to know that many of their car rentals offer free cancellation! 

Another big positive is that you can pay in your home currency on Discover Cars, which means you won’t have to pay conversion or international transaction fees!

9. What extras are available when renting a car in Wellington?

Driving the beautiful roads near Whangarei, NZ
Most of the time I only get an extra driver!

Additional driver

If you’re planning a lengthy road trip from Wellington, it may be helpful for you to book an additional driver onto your car rental. Because that way, if you get tired of driving, your additional driver can take over! Trust me, it’s nice to take a break from driving and take in all the epic scenery from the passenger seat! 

Luckily, many Wellington car rental companies offer cheap rates for adding an additional driver. And the even better news is that some offer it for free! So, it’s worth it to do your research and find out which companies offer this service for free. 

In my opinion, if it’s free, definitely go for it! If not, decide if the additional cost is worth it. Helpfully, DiscoverCars has a filter so that you can view prices depending on the number of drivers.

GPS

Unfortunately, GPS doesn’t come as standard when renting a car in Wellington, and it will cost you an extra $8-$25 NZD per day, which can really eat into your budget!

Unlike in other countries, Google Maps likely won’t cut it on the North Island, especially if you plan to visit hidden gem attractions. That’s because reception can be sketchy outside the major towns and cities in New Zealand, so it’s best not to depend solely on Google Maps as you may end up getting lost.

If you have a New Zealand SIM card, I advise you to download a Maps app to your phone. If you have an international SIM card, avoid using this when on mobile data, as your data roaming charges will be crazy! So, if you have an international SIM, download the Maps app when on WiFi and then use it offline.

Another good option is to bring your own GPS with you.

In short, if you have the budget for it, adding GPS to your car rental booking will be beneficial.

Snow chains

If you’re planning to visit New Zealand in the winter months, adding snow chains to your reservation will be a good idea. Snow chains offer extra grip on icy or snowy roads and are fitted to your tires. 

In saying that, if you’re planning to only explore the cities and towns of the North Island, you won’t need snow chains. But if you plan to venture to mountainous regions like Tongariro National Park, I recommend having snow chains! In fact, some roads and ski resorts in New Zealand require you to have snow chains in the winter. You’ll see the signs on the side of the road. 

If you want to take your rental car to the South Island during the colder months, I highly recommend having snow chains. The temperatures here during the winter are much cooler, and thus many roads get covered in snow and ice, particularly near Queenstown

Child seats

If you’ve ever traveled with child seats, you’ll know how awkward and heavy they can be to carry. That’s why I think adding one to your car rental reservation will save you a lot of stress. Handily, they’re not too costly and average between $40-$70 NZD per week.

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. So, 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 overall cost. To see the cost of the child seat, scroll down on the rental page.

10. Tips to follow when renting a car in Wellington

A city road in Wellington, NZ at sunset
Wellington CBD!

Take your own photos when doing the inspection

I highly recommend doing a full check of your rental vehicle before driving it away from the car rental company. If you notice any bumps, marks, or scratches, take lots of photos and email them to the rental company immediately.

That way, if they try to charge you for damages, you have it on record that the damage was already present.

It’s also a good idea to take a photo of the mileage meter and ensure the number matches the number on your paperwork from the car rental company.

Check what roads you can drive on

Before you drive off, examine the fine print of your rental agreement to see which types of roads you can’t drive on – it’s typically gravel roads or any type of off-roading, but it’s best to double-check. 

This is most likely to apply to campervan rentals or motorhome rentals in New Zealand and not standard cars, but as I said, double-check the fine print before driving on any roads you’re unsure of. 

Child seats are required

As I explained earlier, 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

Follow the road rules

New Zealand has very strict road rules, and it’s essential you follow them at all times. Most of the road rules are the same as in other countries, but here are some reminders:

  • Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers.
  • 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, pull over, or use the hands-free option.
  • Children under 7 need to be in a car seat. 
  • New Zealand is very strict on not drinking and driving. For drivers over the age of 20, the limit is 0.05%. 
  • Always follow the speed limit. These are shown on signs with red circles around the number, and they often change (so keep a look out!). 
  • You can read more about New Zealand’s general road rules online here.

11. You will need to pay any toll charges

Bailey stands in the doorway of her rental car while waiting at the Homer Tunnel on her way to Milford Sound from Queenstown
There are tolls on the North Island!

Car rental companies in New Zealand won’t pay your toll charges. Neither will they remind you to pay these charges! That’s solely your responsibility! Remember, if you don’t pay on time, you will accrue additional charges. There are three toll roads in New Zealand, and all of them are on the North Island (the island Wellington is located on).

The three toll roads in New Zealand include:

  • The Northern Gateway Toll Road (north) in Auckland
  • Takitimu Drive Toll Road in Tauranga
  • Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road in Tauranga

You can pay your toll with a credit or debit card by calling 0800 40 20 20 or visiting the Transport Agency website. Each toll costs 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 additional charges!

12. Do you need insurance to rent a car in Wellington?

Bailey with her rental car in the Eglinton Valley, NZ
Getting full coverage gives you peace of mind!

When renting a car from Wellington, basic insurance coverage WILL be included as part of your rental plan. This basic coverage is the minimum insurance requirement for driving on New Zealand’s roads. 

You can stick with just this basic option, but keep in mind that for any damage that occurs to yours or another vehicle, you’ll be charged the whole deposit by the rental company. 

That’s why I advise checking if your credit card plan or travel insurance plan includes rental car coverage. Great news if it does, but if it doesn’t, you may want to consider purchasing additional car insurance coverage.  

I find Discover Cars so helpful for this because they have their own insurance options. These vary in coverage and price and even offer a full coverage waiver option. 

13. Where can I rent a car from in Wellington?

Bailey poses with her rental car while road tripping around New Zealand
It doesn’t matter where you rent from; just get out and explore!

Considering “Wellywood,” as locals affectionately call it, is such a big city, there are heaps of great car rental companies that you can rent a car from. Most of these companies are based in downtown Wellington or at Wellington Airport. 

To help you narrow down which company to choose is where Discover Cars comes in. It has the majority of car rental companies in Wellington available on it. So, use their filters to search for exactly what you’re after for the cheapest price. 

Discover Cars also has a wide selection of pick-up and drop-off points. Just remember to tick this option when searching! Say, for example, you want to fly into Wellington and out of Auckland. You can pick your car up from Wellington, complete your epic road trip and then drop the car back to Auckland before flying out from there. That way, you don’t have to drive the same route twice. 

14. How much does it cost to rent a car in Wellington?

Bailey in the drivers seat of her rental car while on the North Island of New Zealand
Overall, it saves you time and money!

The prices vary considerably depending on whether you are visiting Wellington in the high season or the low season. And as I explained above, there are lots of other ways to lower the cost – such as renting a manual or dropping the vehicle back to the same location you picked it up from. 

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

If you’d prefer more space, medium-sized cars range from $170 NZD per day or $308 NZD per week in the low season. While in the high season, medium-sized car prices start from $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.

Important to note: Prices have increased significantly lately and seem to fluctuate much more than they used to. This is why the prices above are just general and reflective of the current market.

To see the current prices for your dates, check the Discover Cars site.

15. What are the road conditions like near Wellington?

Driving the windy roads of Remutaka Crossing near Wellington, NZ
Driving the windy roads of Remutaka Crossing on the drive from Palmerston North to Wellington, NZ

Seeing as Wellington is one of the most built-up parts of New Zealand, as you’d expect, the roads here are well-maintained and easy to drive on. However, be mindful that the streets in and around the CBD can be quite narrow and winding. As well as that, traffic can be crazy during peak hours. So, if possible, try to avoid driving during rush hour.

The Wellington Urban Motorway, which is part of State Highway 1 (aka SH1), is the main route into and out of Wellington. This is your typical motorway with multiple lanes in each direction and a 100 km/h (62 mph) speed limit.

As you leave the Wellington urban area, you’ll find yourself mostly driving on two-way roads – many of which don’t have a barrier between the two lanes. But don’t get too stressed about driving on such roads, as the lanes are typically quite wide. In rural areas, the roads can be windy and narrow, so drive to the speed limit and keep an eye out for any wildlife (particularly farm animals) that may have wandered onto the road!

16. What are the major hazards on the roads in Wellington

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

As I said, the roads surrounding Wellington are, for the most part, safe and easy to drive on. However, after driving here regularly for a few years, I’ve noticed a few hazards that you should be aware of.

Wildlife

In quieter rural areas, expect to encounter plenty of New Zealand wildlife like hedgehogs, rabbits, small native birds, farm animals, and possums, which sometimes may suddenly appear on the road in front of you!

So, if you’re driving through farmland, expect the unexpected and be prepared to stop if necessary. 

I know it’s an awful thing to happen, but if you do hit a possum, don’t worry too much, as hitting one is a frequent occurrence in New Zealand. They regularly run onto the roads here and are considered an invasive species. If you do get close to a possum, please don’t touch it as they can carry diseases such as tuberculosis!

Winding roads 

Having driven around the North Island many times, trust me when I say there are loads of winding and narrow roads here, especially as you leave the urban areas! Such roads are usually clearly marked with a relevant sign, so you’ll know when you’re about to drive on a windy road.

Single-lane bridges 

You may come across single-lane bridges on your New Zealand road trip. And I get it; they look a little confusing at first glance, but I assure you they’re pretty easy to drive across. Look for a sign indicating which direction has the right of way. And ensure there is no car driving towards you before you go – even if you have the right of way.

Railway crossings

You’re also likely to come across a railroad crossing during your tour of the North Island. And you need to be mindful that not all are sign-posted well.

There will probably be lights and barriers on the larger roads when a train approaches. However, this isn’t always the case on the smaller roads. If you’re crossing a railway without barriers, stop and look both ways (and listen carefully for a train) before driving across.

Snow and ice in the winter

During the winter, the North Island tends to experience a lot of rain, so exercise caution when driving in wet weather conditions as the roads will be slippery. Similarly, be careful when driving in mountainous areas or near ski resorts in the winter, as there may be snow, ice, or black ice on the roads.

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.

Crowded tourist attractions on the side of the road

As we all know, New Zealand is one of the most beautiful parts of the world to do a road trip. As such, as you drive along, you’ll notice crowds gathered at the many tourist spots and viewpoints on the side of the road. So, drive slowly if you know you’re about to approach one.

Cyclists

Wellingtonians are an active bunch, so you’ll see many people cycling on the roads here. If you see a cyclist, make sure to give them plenty of space. You should only pass them when safe to do so, being extra careful on narrow roads.

17. Is it safe to leave luggage and valuables in your rental 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.

Although Wellington is considered one of the safest cities in New Zealand, car break-ins can still happen.

So, don’t make it easy for thieves! Lock your doors and hide any luggage and handbags from plain sight. I like to place my items in the trunk or well under the seat. If you have valuables, try not to leave them in your vehicle, even for a short period.

18. What should you do if you get in a traffic accident in Wellington?

Scenic highway between Queenstown and Te Anau on a road trip in a rental car
Thankfully I’ve never been in an accident!

The first tip I can give you if you get into an accident is not to panic!

If you’re in a minor accident, pull your vehicle onto the side of the road or move it to a layby/rest stop or parking lot! In New Zealand, you are not required to stay put when a minor accident occurs (unlike in other countries.) Therefore, the safest thing to do is to get out of the way of other drivers.

Unless someone is injured or there is a conflict with the other party, there is likely no need to call the emergency services or police. New Zealand leaves minor collisions up to the individuals involved. So if there is only minor damage, all you’ll need to do is exchange details with the other person involved.

FYI, you will need their name, address, and contact number to report the accident to your car rental company.

If it’s a serious accident, contact emergency services at 111. If someone is injured, the accident must be reported to the police within 24 hours. You can do so by dialing 105 or visiting the nearest police station.

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 car. There are pros and cons to all 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 JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! 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! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Other Activities to do While You’re in Wellington

Mount Victoria Lookout, Wellington
How beautiful is Wellington! This is the view from Mount Victoria Lookout.

Now that you have a rental car, exploring Wellington will be a breeze! There are a ton of things to do and see in NZ’s capital city (and yes, Wellington is the capital, not Auckland as many assume). Here are a few more things to add to your to-do list:

  • Mount Victoria Lookout – One of the best views of Wellington can be found atop the Mount Victoria Lookout. Here, you will be treated to a 360-degree view of the city’s eastern beaches, Hutt Valley, and the Miramar Peninsula. You can hike here, drive, or take the bus. I recommend visiting for sunset!
  • Te Papa Museum – This is my favorite museum in all of NZ (a big statement, I know!). Most of the museum is free to visit with a recommended donation. One of the best ways to see Te Papa is on this particular tour which gives you the chance to explore the museum 30 minutes before it opens its doors to the public.
  • Weta Workshop – Movie buffs will love this guided tour of the famed Weta Workshop, one of the best special effects and prop companies in the world. In fact, it was founded by none other than Sir Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings movies. So, as you can imagine, it’s a must-visit for Lord of the Rings fans.
  • Explore Cuba Street – Easily the most popular street in Wellington, Cuba Street is known for its quirky and fun atmosphere. Filled with colorful cafes (serving the best coffee in Wellington), vintage clothing stores, and casual restaurants – many with great outdoor seating areas – visiting Cuba Street is a not-to-be-missed experience in Wellington.

Where to Stay in Wellington, New Zealand

The Marion Hostel
I stayed at The Marion Hostel on my last visit!

There are a ton of great places to stay in Wellington, however, as with any big city, location is everything! So if you need help narrowing down your options, keep reading. I’ve highlighted my favorite accommodations for each budget.

Luxury – $$$

If you’re a luxury traveler, then check out the Doubletree By Hilton Wellington. I stayed here once on a business trip/getaway. The location is a little further from the center of the city, but I enjoyed the walk. Plus, the rooms here are so stylish and beautiful, with a super comfy bed and a luxurious rain shower.

You can expect to pay closer to $400 NZD per night, but the best deals I’ve found are on Booking.com.

Mid-range – $$

Those on a medium budget will love Ramada by Wyndham. You get great value for money here since it has a good location, a trusted hotel name, modern rooms, a fitness center, and parking (huge bonus!). The center of town is just a short walk away, and there are laundry services if you’ve been on the road for a while! Prices per night are roughly $150-300 NZD.

To snag this awesome deal, check availability and book the Ramada by Wyndham online here.

Budget – $

My top choice in the budget category is The Marion Hostel. It’s right in the heart of the city, just steps from Cuba Street, which is full of restaurants and bars and a 5-minute walk to Courtney Place’s nightlife. They provide towels and toiletries and access to a kitchen, lounge, and rooftop terrace. They have big dorm rooms starting at $44 NZD and private accomodations starting around $134 NZD for 2 people. You can book this awesome boutique hostel on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.

Another option for budget travelers is The Cambridge Hotel and Backpackers. I sometimes stay here if I’m driving to other North Island destinations since it’s perfect for a stopover. For starters, it’s one of the cheapest places in Wellington and has dorm beds for around $35 NZD and private rooms starting at $113 NZD. It’s also located centrally and easy to book on Booking.com.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey poses for a photo in a helicopter ride to Milford Sound
Thanks for reading!

Whew, and there you have it – 18 things you should know before renting a car in Wellington. It’s a lot to digest, but it’s all essential information to know because I want to ensure you have the best and safest road trip possible. If you follow the above tips you’re certain to have an epic time exploring New Zealand!

For more ideas and tips on traveling around New Zealand, make sure to check out my other blogs or some of the articles I picked out below. And if you have any questions, let me know!

15 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

27 BEST Hikes on the North Island of New Zealand (for all levels and abilities!)

12 BEST Places to See Glow Worms in New Zealand