19 Tips for Renting a Car in New Zealand in 2024

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From the towering peaks of Milford Sound to the rolling hills of Hobbiton and the bubbling mud pools in Rotorua, New Zealand is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Having explored both the North and South Islands on our New Zealand road trips we have put together our best tips for renting a car in New Zealand. From planning your route to tips for driving around New Zealand we have included everything that we experienced that will help you to plan driving in this magnificent country.

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Milford Sound was one of our favorite places that we visited in New Zealand in our rental car

Tips for Renting a Car in New Zealand

We found renting a car in New Zealand to be very easy and driving in the country to be safe and a lot of fun.

Why Rent a Car in New Zealand?

The flexibility of being able to plan your own itinerary and travel at your own pace makes a rental car the best way to explore everything New Zealand has to offer. We rented with Avis using Booking.com  and picked our car up at Auckland Airport on the North Island, returning it 3 weeks later at Christchurch on the South Island.

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There are so many beautiful places in New Zealand you can explore with a rental car

A rental car allows you the freedom to explore New Zealand at your own pace and to get off the beaten path. Some of our favorite New Zealand experiences, such as kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park and exploring Milford Sound, would not have been possible without our rental car.

Book your New Zealand rental car now

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The Punakaiki Pancake rocks in New Zealand

1 | Booking your rental car

Due to its popularity as a road trip destination, there is generally high demand for rental cars in New Zealand. Demand is particularly high during the peak summer months of December, January and February. We recommend booking your rental car well in advance to secure the car you need for your trip.

Renting a Car in New Zealand tip: on our most recent visit we spent January in New Zealand and demand for cars was very high.Make sure to book well in advance during these busy months.

We’ve rented cars in almost 50 countries around the world and found New Zealand to be one of the easiest and safest to explore by rental car. We rented with Avis using Booking.com during our time in New Zealand and had a good experience with them. There are lots of different rental car providers so you should have a good selection to choose from.

We recommend using Booking.com to reserve your car. We’ve always found they have a great selection of cars at competitive prices – check prices now!

Book your New Zealand rental car now

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A visit to the Hobbiton movie set is a must in your rental car

2 | Choosing a Rental Car

A common question we get on renting a car in New Zealand is what type of car to hire. There is a wide variety of cars to rent in New Zealand, from small compacts to large SUVs. We recommend renting a car that is slightly larger than your needs. We hired a standard saloon for two people for a month-long trip and it worked great. Having the extra space on long drives can make the journeys a lot more comfortable.

Renting a car in New Zealand tip: Based on our experience you don’t need a 4×4 or off-road vehicle in New Zealand. Most roads in New Zealand are high quality and well maintained. It is possible to visit all of the major sights in New Zealand with a regular car.

3 | Picking up your rental car

There are 4 main airports in New Zealand and most visitors will plan to pick up their rental car at one of them. Auckland and Christchurch airports are the main international hubs, while Queenstown and Wellington mainly service New Zealand and Australian destinations.

We’ve rented cars from Auckland and Christchurch airports and had a good experience at both.

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Mount Ruapehu, aka Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings, in Tongariro National Park

4 | One Way Rentals and the Interislander Ferry

A common question from readers planning a trip to New Zealand is about taking rental cars between the North and South Islands on the car ferry. The Interislander ferry runs between the North and South Islands of New Zealand and takes passengers, cars and other vehicles between the islands.

It is possible to take a rental car on the ferry, however, the rules around taking rental cars on the Interislander ferry vary among the major rental car agencies. Due to this, it’s worth checking your rental car agency rules when you book your rental car.

At the time of writing, Avis (we reserve Avis for our rentals using Booking.com ) allows customers to take rental cars on the ferry. The primary requirements are that you specify the pick-up and dropoff locations and it is your responsibility to arrange the ferry. There may also be a minimum rental length required.

Hertz offers customers to drop their car at one port and pick up another car on the other side. This is a great alternative to having to book the ferry.

Renting a Car in New Zealand: The rules surrounding rental cars and the Interislander ferry are subject to change so do check the requirements at time of booking with your rental car provider. Also make sure to book your Interislander ferry as soon as possible to secure the sailings you need – check prices now!

Book your Interislander Ferry now

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The Interislander Ferry connects the North and South Islands

5 | Required Documentation

You will need all the regular documentation when you rent a car in New Zealand: a valid passport, driving license, and a credit card in the name of the primary driver.

You may also require an International Drivers Permit (IDP) by your rental car provider before hiring a rental car. This will likely be required if your original driving license is not in English – see number 6 for more details.

6 | International Driving Licence

Generally speaking, you will have to have a driver’s license printed in English in order to be allowed to rent a car in New Zealand. If your driver’s license is not in English then you will likely need an International Drivers Permit (IDP) in addition to your standard driving license to rent a car in New Zealand. You should check this in advance with your rental car provider.

Renting a Car in New Zealand tip: An IDP is an official document that you use in addition to your driving licence. An IDP is essetially an official translation of your actual driver’s licence to a number of different languages. An IDP is easily obtained in your home country before you travel. You cannot get one after you leave your home country.

7 | Renting an Electric Car in New Zealand

Electric cars are also gaining popularity and are offered by most of the big-name rental car agencies in New Zealand. The charging network is quite extensive on both islands, with frequent charging stations. The most popular network is operated by ChargeNet, so you can set up an account to plan your charging stops. One of the trickier parts of the route is on the west coast of the south island around the Franz Josef Glacier where charging options are somewhat limited.

You can filter for Electric cars on the Booking.com site which offers a good selection including Teslas – check prices now!

Book your electric car  in New Zealand now

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Epic views on the road to Milford Sound

8 | Automatic Car Rental

Similar to the United States, the vast majority of cars in New Zealand are automatic so it’s likely you will get an automatic rental car unless you specifically request a manual. You can filter for manual cars on the Booking.com website when booking to check for manual options – check prices now!

Book your New Zealand Rental Car now

9 | Rental Car Insurance

Under New Zealand Law, rental cars are required to have two minimum covers included in rental agreements: Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Theft Protection (TP). The base rate quoted for a rental should include both of these covers already, however, there will likely be an excess attached. This means you will have to pay the amount up to the excess in the event of an accident or damage to the rental car.

Where there is an excess it’s worth considering purchasing full comprehensive cover to reduce or completely remove the excess payable. While this is an additional daily cost, it gives you significant peace of mind and you can relax that there will be no additional costs to your rental. This coverage is included on some credit cards, especially those with travel-related rewards, so make sure to check your benefits.

We always ensure we have full insurance coverage and factor it into the total price of the rental. It can be very easy to incur accidental damage to your rental car. Having full cover removes the worry associated with extra charges, plus it’s generally a lot quicker when you return your car!

To avoid any surprise costs we usually add the full insurance (for the main rental car providers anyway) when we reserve your car on Booking.com. This is really useful as it avoids any price shock when you arrive to pick up your rental car.

Most rental car companies on Booking.com allow you to add this full or super insurance in at the time of booking so you won’t get any price shocks when you pick up your car – check prices now!

Book your New Zealand rental car now

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The drive to Milford Sound is spectacular

10 | Renting Eligibility

New Zealanders are legally allowed to drive with a license at age 16, however, rental companies generally require drivers to be at least 21 years of age and to have held a license for a least one year to rent a car in New Zealand. Some rental companies will rent to those ages under 25, however, additional charges may apply to these younger drivers.

11 | Drive on the left

Similar to countries like the UK, Ireland, Australia, and South Africa, drive on the left in New Zealand. This is very important to remember when you land in New Zealand after a long flight as it can be easy to forget.

Renting a Car in New Zealand: We usually stick a post it note on the steering wheel when we pick up our rental car to remind us what side of the road to drive on.

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Drive on the left in New Zealand

12 | Fuel

If you opt for a non-electric car, your rental car could be either petrol or diesel-based. Generally speaking most smaller cars in New Zealand are petrol-based, while larger 4×4’s and vans tend to be diesel-based. Your rental car company will tell you which fuel type your rental car is.

There are many fuel stations located around the north and south islands. It is still worth planning your rental car refueling ahead of time during your road trip. This is especially true on the south island, where there can be significant distances between fuel stations.

Renting a Car in New Zealand tip: We usually choose to return rental cars with full a full fuel tank as it’s generally cheaper to fill it yourself, compared to purchasing the option from your rental car provider.

13 | Drive times in New Zealand

Drive times are one aspect of renting a car in New Zealand that many visitors underestimate, including ourselves.

While the roads are generally good quality in New Zealand, you will find yourself making many stops to take in the views or to explore, rest or take a short hike.

Due to this, your drive times in New Zealand can expand to a lot longer than you’d have planned. It is important to try to do too much in one day. We had a few of our drives, especially on the South Island, grow from 3-4 hours to an entire day due to stops. It’s fun but worth including in your plans.

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Make sure to allow time for hikes, like this one to the Franz Josef Glacier

14 | Take breaks on long drives

The driving routes in New Zealand are incredible and you will have no shortage of amazing sights to see. It is important on longer drives to take lots of breaks. This is especially important on the South Island where drive times can exceed 7-8 hours if you are planning a longer drive.

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Most roads in New Zealand are high quality and well-marked

15 | Speed Limits

Speed limits are clearly marked throughout New Zealand. The general speed limit on the open road is 100km/h, which reduces to a standard urban speed limit of 50 km/h. (Note: always base the speed limit off the actual road signage as it may differ.)

Renting a Car in New Zealand tip: Due to the changable weather conditions in New Zealand you will need to lower your driving speeds. This is especially true in wet weather when there can be a lot of surface water on the road.

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Speed limits are very well signposted in New Zealand

16 | Driving around bends in New Zealand

Many of the roads you will drive on will be two-lane winding roads through the epic landscapes of New Zealand. Most of the bends will have a speed limit sign on the approach to indicate the maximum speed for taking the bend. It is highly recommended to drive below this speed limit as many bends are on blind corners and some turns in the road can be severe.

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The famous Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo 

17 | Weather and Road Closures

Regardless of the month you visit New Zealand, the weather can change very quickly and unpredictably. Due to this, the driving conditions can change dramatically during your trip and road closures can happen as a result.

Renting a Car in New Zealand tip: It’s worth paying close attention to the weather forecast in the days before you visit an area just in case there is adverse weather forecast.

Some routes on the island can close for various reasons. One such road is the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound which is prone to closures due to landslides.

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The road to Milford Sound can close at any time of the year.

18 | Navigation

While it has been improving in recent years, we found cell signal in New Zealand to be very unreliable outside of populated areas and sections of the main tourist route. For this reason, we don’t recommend relying purely on Google Maps for your navigation.

We used Google Maps for some of our navigation when we could and we had a backup offline GPS app for those times when cell reception was poor. This was necessary in the more remote areas of New Zealand such as Abel Tasman National Park, Milford Sound and Bay of Islands.

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Directions are well signposted in New Zealand

19 | Single Lane Bridges

Single-lane bridges are relatively common in New Zealand and are a feature of driving that we have not experienced in many countries. Single-lane bridges are usually located in the countryside on more rural roads so it’s less likely that you will actually meet any traffic at them.

They occur where a two-lane road meets a single-lane bridge and are well signposted in advance. There will be signage indicating who has priority cross the bridge and you will have to yield to oncoming traffic if you don’t have priority.

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One of the single-lane bridges you may encounter in New Zealand

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