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New Zealand (NZ) is in many ways the perfect destination to travel by hire car and if you’re planning on visiting from Australia (or anywhere else) then you should definitely consider renting a car. Benefits include the fact that there are no large marsupials willing to randomly jump out in front of your vehicle and the landscape is constantly changing and more often than not, stunning, beautiful and unique. Also, unless you take a bus tour or fly there isn’t really any other way to get around. Fortunately, NZ is the kind of place you’ll appreciate every moment on the road because it’s so diverse. From the raw and rugged far south to the sub-tropical far north it really is a road trippers paradise.
Matauri Bay and the Cavalli Islands from the road
Renting a car in NZ is much the same as Australia and in fact you can legally drive in NZ on any valid international licence for up to 12 months. If it’s in another language you will need an accurate translation for it to be acceptable. As far as hiring goes most companies require a licence written in English and if yours isn’t then you’ll most likely need an International Driver’s Permit. Most companies also require drivers to be over 21 and be prepared to pay a small surcharge if you’re under 25. If you want to read the fine print on renting a car in NZ then run a search from our New Zealand Car Rental page and click on the “Rental Conditions” link for the vehicle you’re interested in. Everything you need to know is there and if you want to clarify anything then be sure to get in touch.
Heading up Mt Ruapehu from Ohakune
New Zealand’s rewarding driving experience does come with its drawbacks. With the ever-changing landscape, weather conditions and the occasional long distances between civilisation, comes variation in driving conditions and sometimes quite dangerous situations. I should point out that I’ve spent a lot of time driving across NZ. From the Bay of Islands to Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula, Hamilton, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Taupo, the Central Plateau, Wellington, Queenstown and Invercargill there aren’t too many regions I haven’t been on the road.
With this experience I can offer some great tips for your road trip in NZ.
Roads in NZ can deteriorate rather quickly if you’re off the main road, especially in the north. Narrow roads, pot holes and gravel roads are not uncommon and if you’re diligent you should investigate whether or not you’ll encounter gravel roads because some rental companies don’t like their vehicles to be driven on dirt roads.
Roads are generally windier in NZ too. Some roads carry the 100km per hour speed limit but are not meant to be travelled on that fast (parts of the Coromandel Peninsula come to mind). In fact it’s not possible to maintain the speed limit so don’t even try. You might encounter someone who wants to go faster than you and in this case you should pull over at the next safest opportunity and let them through.
The driving conditions can change very quickly. In NZ, when it rains it pours… There are many times where I’ve had to stop because it’s raining so hard, even with the wipers going full blast it can be difficult to see a few metres in front of you. If you find yourself in a situation like this then make sure you drive to the conditions. This is particularly important if you visit New Zealand in winter. Black ice is a real threat on some NZ roads during the winter months and extra care needs to taken if you’re on the road.
The road rules in NZ are similar to Australia. If you’re turning left you have right of way, give way to the right at round-a-bouts (there are lots of these in NZ) and obey the signs. Speed limits are strictly enforced and there are a lot of traffic cops and speed cameras on the roads. Both of which like to conceal themselves in spots where you will have no warning that they are there. Speeding in New Zealand is a bad idea, the roads aren’t made for high speed and if you are lucky enough not to have an accident you’ll likely get caught.
Unfortunately, you might encounter some very bad driving in NZ. Some people take unnecessary risks particularly when overtaking. Most roads are only two lanes with the occasional passing lane and this causes impatient drivers to make bad decisions. It’s worth noting that passing lanes in NZ close-out in the right hand lane rather than the left like in Australia. This makes it particularly risky to overtake when the lane is running out because you could get forced into oncoming traffic. From my experiences driving in NZ and Australia I think people take more risks on NZ roads. All this means is you need to be extra vigilant when driving in NZ and simply drive to the conditions.
The positives far outweigh the negatives of driving in NZ and you’ll no doubt witness some of the most stunning landscapes you have ever seen. If you’ve got any questions on renting or driving in NZ then give us a bell and we’ll get back to you ASAP.