Updated june 18, 2024

Your Guide To Renting A Car In New Zealand

Aleksandrs Buraks
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com

Why should you rent a car in New Zealand?

A majestic land on the edge of the world, New Zealand has fascinated travelers for decades. A world-class destination with travel infrastructure to match, the islands of Kiwis are now more accessible than ever. Whether you're coming for adventures in nature, the amazing coastline, unique Maori culture or sights from the Lord of the Rings, the islands have plenty to offer.

Your Guide to Traveling Around New Zealand with a Rental Car

By Aleksandrs Buraks | Updated June 18, 2024

Why should you rent a car in New Zealand?

A majestic land on the edge of the world, New Zealand has fascinated travelers for decades. A world-class destination with travel infrastructure to match, the islands of Kiwis are now more accessible than ever. Whether you're coming for adventures in nature, the amazing coastline, unique Maori culture or sights from the Lord of the Rings, the islands have plenty to offer.

When should you go to New Zealand?

New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning that its summer lasts roughly from the end of December to the end of March. This also means that the North Island is generally warmer than the South Island as it's closer to the equator — in January, Auckland is, on average, 8 °C (24 °F) warmer than Dunedin.

December to March is also the main tourist season for the country. January is especially busy as it is not only the month with the largest number of foreign visitors but is also the school holiday season when many locals take their vacations to travel around the country. Although the weather is at its finest, if you want to avoid the large crowds and perhaps also spend a bit less on accommodation and other things, visiting in November, March, or April can be a good alternative.

Hiking is possible year-round in New Zealand, especially on the North Island, but most visitors consider the spring months — September to November — best for it as the weather is pleasantly warm but not too hot for physical exercise.

New Zealand is famous for its awesome skiing and snowboarding slopes, especially around Queenstown. The ski season coincides with the winter months of June, July, and August. Throughout the rest of the year, Queenstown and other parts of the country are amazing for adventure sports like canoeing, rafting, and skydiving. It is possible to surf year-round in New Zealand, and there are many great spots where to do so, with spring and summer months bringing an especial increase of adventurers hitting the waves off the coast of both islands of the country.

In recent years, there's been an increase of travelers who use New Zealand as a base to join a cruise or a tour to Antarctica or one of the nearer subarctic islands. Needless to say, visiting the coldest part of the world can be very challenging in terms of weather, so most tours take place during summer months, from November to March. It takes about two weeks for a ship to go from New Zealand to Antarctica and back, plus the time spent on the seventh continent itself.

Now that you've decided when to travel to New Zealand, check out our prices for the dates you have chosen!

Where should you pick up a car in New Zealand?

Most visitors to New Zealand prefer to pick up and drop off a rental car right at the airport. There are more than ten airports in New Zealand, of which five offer international flights. The busiest airport in New Zealand by far is Auckland Airport serving the island's most populous city. In addition to domestic flights and flights to and from Australia, Auckland airport also provides direct connections with the rest of Oceania, East Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas. The largest airport on the South Island is Christchurch Airport. In addition to airports, it is also possible to pick up and drop off a rental car at other locations like car rental company offices in city centers, hotels, and ferry terminals.

One-way rentals are permitted by many car rental companies in New Zealand, usually for an additional fee. Many travelers use this option as it gives them the freedom to pick up a rental car right after arriving in New Zealand and explore all of the country without the need to return to their original point of entry. It's very popular to travel with a rental car between Auckland and Wellington or Queenstown and Christchurch.

How easy is it to travel around New Zealand independently?

A modern country with great infrastructure and plenty of services, tours, and unique experiences catering to foreign tourists, New Zealand is a great destination to explore on your own!

The quality of the roads is very good in New Zealand. All the main highways are in great shape and there's an extensive road network connecting the main cities and attractions such as national parks to each other. Like the United Kingdom, New Zealand drives on the left side of the road.

It's good to keep in mind that the South Island, while larger, is much more sparsely populated, so some rural and secondary roads that are not used as often might not be in perfect condition. Finding accommodation outside the main tourist areas can also be harder, so traveling around the South Island independently may require more planning.

Although New Zealand is much smaller than its western neighbor, Australia, it is still larger than, for example, most European countries, so distances can take some travelers by surprise. It takes about eight hours to drive from Auckland to Wellington and more than ten to go from Picton to Queenstown.

New Zealand famously has several times more sheep than people, and while there are not especially many road accidents connected with livestock, it's still a good idea to drive cautiously when traveling through farmland.

How safe is it to travel around New Zealand with a rental car?

New Zealand is overall a very safe country to visit and most travelers do so without any issue. The police are trustworthy, most of the locals are friendly and honest, and the crime rate is low. The general emergency numbers in New Zealand are 111 and 112.

Violent crime is rare in New Zealand. When fights or physical assault occur, they are mostly connected with excessive drinking. Following common sense and staying away from dodgy bars and nightclubs, especially in the early hours of the morning, is the surest way to keep yourself out of any trouble.

Although not too frequent, petty crime does occur in New Zealand, especially in the big cities near tourist attractions and mainly comes in the form of theft and various tourist scams. Always keep an eye on your belongings and do not be afraid to ask for help if you've been a victim of a crime.

New Zealand is part of an active seismic zone and natural hazards like earthquakes and tsunamis have periodically hit the country in the past and might do so again in the future. The country is also home to a number of active volcanoes. The seismic and volcanic activity is closely monitored and if an earthquake or eruption were to be expected, all people in the country would be warned as early in advance as possible. All the same, it's a good idea to follow local updates during your visit to the country.

While there are not many dangers connected to New Zealand's nature — unlike Australia, the country has very few poisonous or otherwise dangerous species of animals — the low population density means that getting lost is a possibility while hiking in New Zealand. Therefore, it's a good idea to plan your route in advance and download the maps for the area you plan to explore before your set out.

Can I travel to both islands with a rental car?

Many people from afar planning their dream trips to New Zealand naturally want to visit both the North and South Islands on their trip. So the question of whether you can take a rental car between the islands often comes up.

It is very possible to travel to both islands with one or more rental cars, though keep in mind that there are a few car rental companies that don't allow it at all. Different car rental companies offer different ways to do this:

Car rental companies that have cars in both Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South Island (the embarkation and disembarkation points of the interisland ferry) usually have you drop off your vehicle on one side of the Cook Straight and pick up a different one on the other — this saves you from having to pay to take the car onboard, which is a significant amount!

Other car rental companies allow you to take their vehicles onboard the interisland ferries. Unlike in other countries, there's usually no additional fee for this — but be sure to check in advance.

Finally, it's quite popular to fly into an airport on one of the islands and out of an airport on the other. Many rental companies that have offices on both islands offer one-way rentals. The most popular routes are from Auckland to Christchurch or Queenstown. You'll have to pay for the inter-island ferry and an additional one-way fee for this, though.

Protip: As mentioned above, those companies that have rental cars near both ports will allow you to book a one-way rental, but they require that you switch cars in the middle. So be sure to find out in advance to know if you need to reserve a place for the car on the ferry or not.

A great to be able to visit both islands and save some money is to travel during the period when car rental companies need to relocate cars from one island to the other. This often happens at the end of summer after the main tourist season — the companies need to relocate vehicles from the South Island to the North Island. The opposite also happens at certain times of the year.

Relocation deals usually include waiving the usual one-way fee. You'll probably have to pay for taking the vehicle onboard the ferry on your own still, though.

How do I book a ferry with a rental car?

If you're traveling with a rental car that you're allowed to take onboard the ferry, then you'll need to book the ferry passage in advance. It's possible to book even if you don't know the license plate number of the vehicle yet. You'll simply need to update your booking when you do know it (likely when you pick up the car). Your rental company will be able to help you with booking the ferry if you have any problems.

What languages are spoken in New Zealand?

English is the main and by far the most widespread language in New Zealand. Although local accents are quite specific, nobody who knows English has any trouble getting around the island and communicating with locals.

Maori, the native tongue of the original inhabitants of New Zealand, is the other official language. While the language is widely respected and the number of speakers growing, it's important to remember that even most of the Maori people speak English as their first language, and practically all people who speak Maori also speak English. Nevertheless, learning some Maori phrases will no doubt make you more popular among many locals.

In addition to English and Maori, many other languages from around the world are spoken by different diaspora communities in New Zealand. The largest among these are different varieties of Chinese, Samoan, Hindi, and French.

Aleksandrs Buraks

Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

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