On the Road: A Tourist’s Guide to Renting a Car in New Zealand

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New Zealand is one of the world’s most beautiful and fascinating travel destinations. However, if you don’t have access to a car, it can be a challenging place to travel around. That’s why renting a vehicle is an excellent option. Since much of the country is still remote and undeveloped, hiring a motor gives you a lot more scope to see its diverse landscapes of volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, gorgeous coastlines, stunning glaciers and lush, rolling farmland. However, there are several things to consider before renting a car in New Zealand. So, this guide will aim to provide you with all the necessary information you need to know before you hit the road.

*This is a collaborative post. For more information please see my Disclosure Policy 

The thought of hiring a car should not be something you dread. So, by answering some of the questions you might have and providing you with some handy tips, we hope you will be empowered enough to hit the open road and explore the land of the long white cloud.

Renting a Car in New Zealand

Why rent a car?

Some people, especially international travellers, can be a bit nervous about renting a car in New Zealand. But there are some clear advantages to doing so.

For a start, you will be able to see a lot more of the sites, attractions and landmarks on both the North and South Island in the time you have available. These include the likes of the Milford Sound, Waitakere beaches, the Bay of Islands and Lake Tekapo, which you might not otherwise get to visit. You will also be able to see them in your own time. And without being restricted to a bus timetable or tour company schedule.

While New Zealand has a very good transport system throughout the country, hiring a car is undoubtedly a much faster method to travel around. It is also a good way to escape the crowds and is very convenient as you don’t have to wait for connections at bus or train stations. Additionally, it provides easy storage for your backpacks or luggage, saving you from lugging it around everywhere you go.

Who can rent a car in New Zealand?

In New Zealand, anyone over the age of 21 can rent a car if they have a valid credit card, although you might have to pay an extra fee if you are under the age of 25.

If you will be driving with an Australian licence or one from another English-speaking country, you should not be asked to provide anything else when hiring a car. However, if your driving licence is not in English, it does need to be translated. Subsequently, you should have this done prior to your visit to New Zealand, preferably in your own country. 

However, whilst in Aotearoa, the New Zealand Transport Agency might be able to help you.

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

The cost of hiring a car depends on a few factors. These include what type of vehicle you want, where you hire it from, the time of year you reserve it and how long you want it for.

Overall, you might find hiring a car is more expensive in rural locations than in cities. And there will generally be fewer choices in small towns too. It will also cost you more to rent a vehicle during the peak seasons of December to February, as opposed to the off-peak season of May to September. And will cost more at weekends as opposed to midweek.

Typically, prices will be less for small, compact cars, as opposed to larger SUVs or 4WD.

Is it safe to rent a car in New Zealand?

One of the best reasons for hiring a car in New Zealand is that it is a relatively easy country to drive around in. The road rules are pretty much the same as in Australia, the UK and North America. But without the sheer numbers of other vehicles you get on the roads there. In fact, outside of the cities, you aren’t likely to see much in the way of traffic at all.

It is worth noting that they drive on the left-hand side of the road in New Zealand. So, if you are from Australia, the UK, Japan or Ireland, then you shouldn’t have an issue at all. However, if you are visiting from the USA, Canada or certain parts of Europe, Africa and Asia that drive on the right then you will need to make an adjustment. For this reason, you might want to find a quiet place to familiarise yourself with the practice before heading off onto the main roads or the motorway.

Something else to be aware of is that all speeds and distances are measured in kilometres in New Zealand, as opposed to miles. (If you want to convert it in your head there are 10 km to 6 miles). Moreover, the country has plenty of twisty and remote gravel or dirt roads that you will need to exercise caution on. Indeed, it is worth double-checking with your car rental company if you are permitted to travel on them.

Is car rental insurance necessary in New Zealand?

All car rentals in New Zealand come with basic insurance, irrespective of the company or vehicle type. This is a mandatory requirement that is imposed country-wide, thanks in some part to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), who cover personal injury accident-related costs for everyone in New Zealand.

However, basic insurance above and beyond that varies between car rental providers. So, it is worth double-checking exactly what you are covered for. And maybe upgrading to fully comprehensive insurance for more peace of mind. 

If you have a credit card or travel insurance, you should also see what you are covered for by them before purchasing additional cover.

Tips for renting a car in New Zealand

If you plan to rent a car in New Zealand, here are some things you should consider doing.


1. Book online

When hiring a car, it is a good idea to book online ahead of time. Doing this will ensure you procure the vehicle you want. And avoid the risk of there not being anything available should you drop in on a rental outlet.

It can also save you a lot of time and help you with the overall planning and budgeting of your trip.

2. Rent for a longer period

When you compare the cost of hiring a car for one day as opposed to for several days or a week, you should always enjoy economies of scale. Therefore, the longer you rent, the better deal you will get.

Subsequently, if feasible, try to plan your road-tripping experiences over the course of consecutive days.

3. Take photos of the car during the inspection

Whenever you hire a car, the company will conduct an inspection of it before giving you the keys and after you return them. For this reason, it is a good idea to take photos of the vehicle yourself. This will ensure you are fully aware of any scratches, bumps, dints or marks that are already present.

You can even email these photos to the car rental company. This will confirm that they were present on the car when you picked it up.

4. Get a local SIM card

If you don’t have a SIM card that works in New Zealand, it is a good idea to get yourself one for your (unlocked) smartphone. By doing this, you will not only provide yourself with WI-Fi connectivity in most parts of the country, but it can also help you to reduce expensive data roaming charges.

As much of New Zealand is remote, you will be thankful for the security and convenience that having a local SIM Card brings you. As well as being able to make calls, book accommodation, and search the internet, you will also be able to have real-time maps and traffic information available to you.

There are four major mobile phone networks in New Zealand. These include 2Degrees, Skinny, Spark and Vodafone, which all offer various deals. However, if you do a lot of travelling to different countries, you might want to check out Airalo. This is an app you download that provides you with connectivity in almost 200 different countries (although no calling). You just need to download the app on your phone, select the country you plan to visit and the data package you require and then install the eSIM.

5. Download offline maps

Depending on where you visit, in some parts of New Zealand, you might not be able to get a mobile phone reception. For this reason, it is a good idea to download offline maps prior to undertaking any road trips. This way, you will have a good point of reference to help you reach your destination should you get lost.

Google Maps is an excellent platform to download maps from, as it enables you to select all the main places or landmarks of interest along your route.

6. Extras

When hiring a car in New Zealand, there are a few extras you can include in your reservation. They include GPS, snow chains and child seats, which is very handy if you are travelling with toddlers.

Don’t forget to add additional drivers if there is more than one of you in your party who wants to share the duty.

What to do in the case of an accident?

Hopefully, you won’t be involved in an accident, but it is good to know what to do if you are.

Should the accident be a serious one, you should call 111 immediately to inform emergency services like the ambulance or police. As soon as it is feasible, you should also contact your car rental company who will advise you on the next steps. These may differ between countries.

However, if the accident is a minor one and the other person is not being intimidating or aggressive towards you, you can simply exchange details with them – including car registration, phone number and their name – and be on your way. That said, you should let your car hire company know as soon as possible.

Final Thought

Hiring a car in New Zealand is something to be embraced and not feared.

At the end of the day, having one at your disposal can significantly enhance your overall travel experience. Thus allowing you to see more of a country that will mesmerise you at every turn.

We hope this guide has been useful to you in understanding the process involved in procuring a rental car. All you need to do now is acquire one and let your journey begin.


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