These 10 must-read tips will tell you everything you need to know about driving in New Zealand along with important rental car booking tips!
Renting a car and going on a road trip is the ultimate way to experience New Zealand. Not only will hiring a car allow you to step away from the well-worn path of bus routes, but it will also allow you to explore on your own time and in your own style.
To rent a car in New Zealand, all you’ll have to do is hold a valid English-language drivers license (or an international one depending on what country you’re from) and be at least 21 years old. From there, the highway is the limit!
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Renting a Car in New Zealand: 10 Tips You Need to Know
Book in Advance
Booking in advance is highly recommended if you want guaranteed availability, your choice of vehicle, and the best possible rate. Discovercars.com has many options for car types and rates, and securing your booking in advance will ensure that you get a great deal.
Also, remember that car rental prices are often based on demand, so if you travel to New Zealand during peak season (December through February) booking ahead is a must. Then, once you have your car booked, think about what gadgets you’ll want to bring with you on your road trip. Personally, I always have a car adapter and a car charger for my phone with me.
Drive on the Left
If you’re used to driving on the right-hand side of the road, then the thought of driving on the left can be stressful. This is definitely something that will take a while to get used to, but there are some key things you can do to make the drive easier.
Get an Automatic Transmission
Even if you’re comfortable driving a standard transmission vehicle back home, I recommend renting an automatic car abroad. Not having to think about shifting will help you to stay alert in other areas.
Do a Test Run
If possible, don’t jump right from the rental lot into city driving – take it slow and head out to some back roads or practice driving in a large parking lot first. This will help orient you with your vehicle and get a feel for it before you hit the streets.
Remember the Roundabouts
If you’re not used to them, roundabouts can be stressful, and more so when you’re driving on the other side of the road. When entering a roundabout, take your time and remember to enter it clockwise.
The Roads Are Narrow & Windy
When considering the size of your rental, keep in mind that the roads in New Zealand tend to be narrow and windy. Due to this, I recommend booking a smaller vehicle that you feel comfortable controlling – just make sure it’ll fit your luggage!
Car insurance is a must when renting a vehicle, and especially so when you’re renting out of country. Discovercars.com offers a standard collision damage waiver included in all rentals as well as the option for full coverage – meaning you can breathe easy knowing you’re fully covered in case something happens.
The full coverage option comes at an affordable price, covers towing expenses, and is fully refundable in case you decide to cancel your trip. Full coverage is a great option for those who want peace of mind during their vacation. It’s less expensive than insurance provided by a supplier and it’s easy to place a claim.
Read more: New Zealand Travel Tips
Stay Aware of Speed Limits
Due to the narrow and windy nature of the roads in New Zealand, the speed limits tend to change often. Even if you start to feel confident with your driving over time, it’s much better to just go slow and let people pass you.
The scenery here is so beautiful anyway, you won’t want to be in a hurry and try to cover too much distance in one day!
Watch for Animals on the Road
A lot of New Zealand is wild, unbridled territory, and so the chances of encountering animals on the road such as possums, sheep, birds, rabbits, and cows are pretty high. Plus, they tend to jump on the road at the last minute.
Stay alert for animals, especially the larger ones, and keep a speed in which you feel comfortable and in control of your car in case one of them darts out.
One Way Signs on Bridges
Some bridges in New Zealand are single lane and, at these bridges, vehicles traveling in one direction will have to yield to vehicles traveling in the other. All bridges that have one-lane roads will have a yellow diamond-shaped warning sign to let you know the situation, as well as a sign underneath letting you know if you have the right of way or not.
If you see a circular sign with a red border with “give way” beneath, it means the other vehicles have the right of way, while if you see a blue square sign with a white arrow pointing forward and a red one pointing back, it means that you have the right of way.
Just make sure there isn’t already a vehicle coming towards you on the bridge before you drive forward!
Use of Cell Phones is Illegal
Whether you’re at home or abroad, never use your cell phone while driving. The use of one not only puts you and others at risk for an accident, but it’s illegal to use them and will result in a fine and demerit points.
For the wellbeing of yourself and others, stash the phone or give it to your passenger.
The Weather Can Change in an Instant
The weather in New Zealand is notoriously fickle, and knowing how to drive in different environments will help you a lot on your road trip. Be ready for all types of weather on the road, especially in southern New Zealand where the conditions can change on a dime.
Also, make sure to download a weather app on your phone and know what conditions you’re heading into before you start to drive.
Use Offline Maps
To save you from worrying about cell service or using up all your data, download maps of the areas in which you’ll be traveling beforehand. To do this from Google Maps, make sure you have WiFi, then simply open the app, open “offline maps” in the search menu, and download either a local or a custom map.
Of course, you can always pick up a paper map for your road trip as well – they double as souvenirs!