There are many ways to tour New Zealand, but the one preferred by most tourists is to go on a self-drive tour across the North and South Islands. It is, however, easy to commit some of the newbie mistakes such as getting a cheap car from car rental companies but with tons of hidden charges, driving on the wrong side of the road, or even the possibility of not finishing that bucket list of yours. It can happen. Let’s simplify car rentals in New Zealand with 11 driving tips and tricks!
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If this is your first time going on a road trip, these 11 driving tips and tricks will serve you well in driving safely and getting a cheap and good car rental in New Zealand.
1. Getting a self-drive itinerary for North/South Island
Before you rent a car in New Zealand, get an itinerary first!
There are tons of self-drive itineraries out there on the Internet, we are even writing one right now! These travel itineraries for New Zealand, however, cater to different types of travel styles. For example, some itineraries may be city-focused, while others tend to go into extreme outdoor adventures and sports. Itineraries could also be planned for different seasons (winter and summer).
Figure out what you are most suited for and pick the dream itinerary of yours to drive through the picturesque landscapes of New Zealand. Do note that you don’t have to follow any itinerary too closely. Feel free to mix and match and concoct the best ‘potion’ for your trip!
Now that you have planned your route and itinerary very nicely according to Google maps, give yourself more travelling time than stipulated as the roads in New Zealand are very different from what you are used to at home.
The time stated on Google Map does not really take bends and windy roads into account so take note! Furthermore, as you’re driving, you will find yourself pulling over to take pictures and admire the beauty of the scenery around you. Don’t get carried away and remember to always pull over safely.
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2. Are you fit for driving?
Many roads in New Zealand have varying conditions – windy and narrow, with hilly terrains and sharp corners. Sometimes, you may even encounter dirt/gravel roads. Most roads are single lanes in each direction without barriers in between so you got to be extremely alert when overtaking.
This means that you would have to give yourself more time than what’s stated on your maps for safety purposes. It’s safer to drive slow on unfamiliar grounds, especially with windy and hilly roads that we Singaporeans do not have back home.
It’s always good to have more than one competent driver as safety is always your priority and you absolutely do not want to drive when you are tired.
If you’re not confident of driving these long hilly terrains or if your travel group has only 1 driver, do not take the risk and try taking buses instead! For example, InterCity has New Zealand’s largest travel network and transports passengers all around NZ.
Albeit not as flexible as a self-drive trip, it is definitely a safer option if you are not confident!
If you’re confident and ready to rent a car in New Zealand, read on. 🙂
3. Driver License Requirement
The common age to be able to rent a car is 18 (but may differ from company to company). Some rental companies may set an upper limit on a driver’s age so do contact your rental company directly if this concerns you.
You can drive as long as you have a valid driving license in English so hurray! If your license is not in English, you must either apply for an International Driving Permit back in your home country or have an acceptable translated license (by a translator approved by the NZ Transport Agency or a diplomatic representative).
4. Drive on the left lane
In New Zealand, always drive on the left-hand side of the road so lucky for us Singaporeans, Australians and the English!
If you are used to driving on the right-hand side of the road, fret not as it is only a matter of getting used to it. Drive slowly and always have your passenger to look out for you! Always remember that as you’re driving, you’re seated in the middle of the road and your front seat passenger will always be on the edge of the road.
The speed limit on open roads is up to 100km/h and the default limit on urban roads is 50km/h.
5. Under-age surcharge
You most likely have to pay a rather expensive daily charge when renting a car in New Zealand. International car rental companies like Budget and Avis, unfortunately, have yet to adapt their business models to tailor to the younger generation of travellers. It is a shame as these fees can cost around 25 bucks a day, potentially bringing the total price by a whopping 50-100%!
Their reason for this? Younger drivers aged 16-24 are more likely to get into car accidents, and this carefully calculated young driver surcharge is applied to hedge the risk of car rental companies. Not sure if that’s really the case.
Fortunately, there is one other New Zealand-born company that is reputable, value for money and definitely does not have a young driver surcharge. That’s Snap Rentals.
As the Guidesify Team is made up of a bunch of young chaps, Snap Rentals was our miracle.
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6. Expensive Fuel
That brings us to our next point. Fuel.
You may have rented an economy car that costs 19 NZD a day.
So what? Fuel is almost as expensive as it is in Singapore, at a rate of approximately 2-2.5 NZD per litre. And you are going to drive a lot more here than in our tiny little red dot. This is the part where you realise maybe it wasn’t that good of a deal after all.
As mentioned earlier, Snap Rentals was our miracle, especially with the cheap car rental part. We booked a Toyota Aqua (Hatch category) at 28 NZD a day and the car was super efficient at 3.9 litres per 100KM. For reference, typical economy cars hover around 6-7 litres for the same mileage. This car is also a hybrid car, which means better for the environment and your wallet.
Free some cash at the pump and spend it on better things ahead.
7. Insurance or no insurance?
For questions like these, the answer is always yes because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Your car rental in New Zealand will always come with basic insurance with an excess of approximately NZD$2000 (differs from company to company). You can always reduce your excess to NZD$0 if you pay an extra small fee for a more comprehensive cover.
For Snap Rentals, you just have to pay a small sum of NZD$24 per day for a fully comprehensive cover that reduces both your excess and deductible bond to NZD$0! You will be insured for windscreens and tyres as well.
Some travel insurance also comes with car rental insurance so do check up on that too!
8. Snow Chains
Coming from a tropical country – Singapore, snow chains are extremely unfamiliar to us but you are going to need them if you’re there during the late Autumn and Winter months.
During winter, the roads will become snowy and icy. So if you are travelling anywhere in the South Island and Central North Island, you require snow chains to explore the mountain passes and everyday roadways. It is a legal requirement to carry snow chains in some areas. If there is a sign that requires you to put on snow chains, you gotta do it or you will be fined! In any case, it’s all for safety purposes – you absolutely don’t want to be stuck outside in the cold if weather conditions change suddenly, which is pretty common in New Zealand.
If you’re renting from Snap Rentals, snow chains can be rented at NZD$40 and the friendly crew is always happy to demonstrate the fitting of snow chains if you need help!
9. Wildlife – Not as Bad as Australia
In Australia, there are kangaroos, koalas and wallabies prancing about but in New Zealand, there are possums, hares, ducks and wallabies (occasionally) too!
Do not be shocked if you see dead possums around as they are quite common. But we reckon it’s not as bad as the roadkill situation in Tasmania and Kangaroo Island in Australia. We literally saw roadkills every few metres we drove and that was really an awful and sad sight!
Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for cows, sheep and other animals that may cross your path too.
10. One-lane bridges – Who’s Right of Way?
There are certain roads in New Zealand that are one-lane bridges. On these bridges, vehicles must stop and wait for others coming from the other direction.
The signs above warn that there is a one-lane bridge ahead. Slow down and check for traffic coming the other way. Stop if you need to give way. The red (smaller) arrow shows which direction has to give way, which in this case, you have to give away to oncoming traffic.
On the other hand, if you see this sign, it is your right of way. This indicates that if no traffic is approaching, you can proceed across the bridge with caution
11. Driving in North Island Vs South Island
From a tourist’s perspective, driving in North Island has a lot more traffic and traffic cameras than in the South Island. Being a more populated area, some highways in the North had up to 3 to 4 lanes, as compared to just 1 in the South.
The North Island had also relatively fewer and shorter one-lane bridges than in South Island, with less windy roads (we think). At least for the roads that we drove on our itineraries.
All the tips above are what we think is the most important for tourists that we noticed while we were there! If you have more tips about cheap car rental in New Zealand, do share them with our readers in the comments section below!
Last updated on December 5th, 2019.
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