New Zealand is a country that simply begs to be explored behind the wheel of your own rental car.
It's a country made for road trips. A small country, the size of the US state of Colorado, but one with a huge range of jaw dropping scenery. From roads hugging the white sand beaches of the North Island, to wild and remote coastal roads of the South Island's West Coast to the dramatic mountain passes of the Southern Alps, there are seemingly never-ending kilometers of exciting highways to explore in New Zealand (here are 5 of our favorites).
Unsurprisingly then, renting a car is one of the most common ways to explore New Zealand. You'll have the most flexibility throughout your trip, and can create an itinerary that allows you to see all of your Must Sees and skip the places that aren't of interest. If you need help planning an itinerary, have a look at some we've crafted here or check out our Trip Planning Service and we can provide you with a bespoke itinerary for your time in New Zealand.
We've put this list of tips together to give you some things to consider as you search for your New Zealand rental car. Hopefully it answers some questions you might have, and will likely save you some money too!
1. We Drive on the Left
This is sometimes a deal breaker for anyone from a country where you drive on the right side of the road. But yes, in New Zealand, you'll have to (quickly!) get used to driving on the left if you decide to rent a car.
Most tourists pick this up in no time, but we do suggest you first have a good nights sleep and acclimate to the new time zone before setting off on your big adventure. You'll find signs in quite a few places to keep you reminded as to which side to drive on - the dash of your car, the road, roadsigns, etc. Nevertheless keep your driving days short, especially at the start of your trip, so you can fully focus on your driving!
2. Insurance Isn't Mandatory
When you're deciding on whether or not to purchase the Excess Reduction as part of your car rental, it's worth remembering that third party insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand. As a result, there are a significant number of uninsured drivers on the road. If you're in an accident with one of them, even if not at fault, you'd still be responsible for the damages to the rental car.
It's for this reason that we almost always suggest opting for the Full Insurance policy from the rental company. You'll pay a premium for the stress free, $0 excess insurance, but it's very reassuring to tour New Zealand knowing you won't be hit for the damages in the unlikely and unfortunate instance you're in an accident. Expect to pay around $18-$22 NZD per day to bring the excess / bond to $0.
3. Beware of Older, High Mileage Rentals
When searching for a rental car, you'll inevitably find a huge range in prices - regardless of the time of the year you plan to travel. Beware though that many companies rent out very old, very high milage cars as part of their Budget Range. These will still be generally reliable, and likely covered by a 24 hour roadside assistance policy, but you can expect them to have north of 200,000 kms.
When considering comfort, safety and fuel economy, we always suggest opting for a late model car!
4. Book in Advance
Generally speaking, the further in advance you book, the better price you'll get on your car rental. Many people find car rental prices to be relatively expensive compared to their home country, so wait until just before their trip to book. As supply will likely be lower at this time, prices will skyrocket. So in short, book early and save!
5. Expect Peak Travel Season Prices to Rise
This will likely come as no huge surprise, but during our peak summer travel season (December - February) prices will be significantly higher. As mentioned above, early bookings are often rewarded with discounts or simply a lower daily rate, so book in advance when you can. Last minute bookings will result in higher daily rates and limited options on car type.
6. Take the Car on the Ferry
If you'll be travelling both the North and the South Islands, you'll have to get across the beautiful Cook Strait that separates the two. This crossing is often billed the most beautiful ferry ride in the world - and rightly so! On a clear day you have sweeping views of both islands and the lucky encounter marine life on the way through the Marlborough Sounds.
Some rental suppliers don't allow you to bring the car across the Cook Strait with you, and instead you have to make one booking for the North Island and one booking for the South Island. We suggest making one booking, keeping your car throughout your stay and bringing it across the Cook Strait with you. Why?
First, you'll likely get a cheaper daily rate on a longer rental (as opposed to two shorter ones).
Second, it's heaps easier to simply drive onto the ferry in Wellington (or Picton) and then simply drive off in Picton (or Wellington). Otherwise, you have to go through the formalities of dropping off and picking up a new car. And of course you'll have to transfer your luggage which is a bit of a pain!
You'll pay marginally more to bring your car across the Cook Strait on the ferry, but it's absolutely worth it.
7. Consider your Pick Up / Drop Off Time
You'll pay for your rental based on a 24 hour time period. So, if you pick up at 12 pm and return at 2pm, you'll end up paying for two days. Returning at the same time as you pick up will save you a days rental. Most national New Zealand car rental companies that will get you the best price on a rental also charge after hours fees, so if you can return before 5:30 you'll likely save $30 on the rental cost.
We work with New Zealand's best car rental companies, so if you want to get the best deal from a reputable company, look no further than our Car Rental Service. As always, contact us with any questions.