Driving in New Zealand is a popular option that allows travellers to get off the main highways and into the small towns and wilderness areas that make New Zealand unique.
Campervans are a popular option that takes care of your clients’ accommodation needs as well as transport.
Visitors renting a car may find motel accommodation to be a good option – car parking is usually included in the price.
Rental offices are usually located at airports, ferry terminals and city depots. Cars are a good-value option, but campers are also popular. Equipped with beds, cooking facilities and sometimes a bathroom, they allow clients to save on accommodation costs. Motorcycle rentals are also available, but your clients should make sure they’re prepared for changeable weather. Minimum hire ages vary from 21 to 25, and drivers must hold a driver’s licence (in English) or an International Driving Permit. Some companies let hirers pick up a new car on the other side of Cook Strait.
For campers, try Kiwi Campers, which offers high-quality campers at affordable prices (some with shower and toilet), or Happy Campers which specialises in low-cost campers for FIT travellers. Tui Campers has late-model campers fitted out with all the amenities. Other camper hire companies are: Kea, Britz, Maui and United Campervans.
A number of companies specialise in car/van hybrids that pack camper features into compact vans – a good option for budget-conscious travellers. Escape has vehicles customised with street-style artwork. Also try Spaceships, Wicked Campers, Mighty Campers, Backpacker Sleeper Vans and Jucy Car Rentals.
Travellers seeking to rent a car will find a range of international operators. Hertz has late-model vehicles in more than 40 New Zealand locations. Other firms include Avis New Zealand, Britz, Europcar, Thrifty and Budget. Also try Quality Car Rentals, Options Rentals, and Maugers Rentals, a minibus specialist.
Driving In New Zealand
New Zealand has an excellent network of well-maintained roads that are the perfect setting for a road trip, but there are some things that your clients should be aware of.
Traffic in New Zealand drives on the left-hand side, and the speed limit is generally 50 kph [30 mph] in urban areas and 100 kph [60 mph] on the open road. Drivers should not be tempted to speed – police patrol the highways and speed cameras are used. Seat belts must be worn by all passengers at all times, and motorcyclists must wear helmets. Drivers must parallel park with their vehicle facing in the direction of traffic flow on their side of the road. There are strict laws against drinking and driving in New Zealand – and the best advice is simply don’t do it! Read the Visitors and New Residents section on the New Zealand Transport Agency website before hitting the road.
The North and South Islands of New Zealand are separated by Cook Strait and there are ferry services for passengers and cars. Book ferry journeys in advance, particularly during holidays. Main highways are well-maintained, but they are not multi-lane roadways. Drivers must take extreme care in overtaking or wait until they reach a passing lane. On single-lane bridges, signs indicate which side has right of way. Although New Zealand is a small country, distances are longer than they may appear.
Traffic in New Zealand drives on the left-hand side of the road.
The speed limit is usually 50 kph (30 mph) in urban areas and 100 kph (60 mph) on the open road – although high-volume urban pedestrian areas may have a lower speed limit such as 30 kph. Advise clients that it is unwise to speed because police patrol highways and speed cameras are used even in the most remote areas.
- Visitors hiring a car must provide their home country licence. If the licence is in another language, an English translation or International Driver’s Permit is required.
- Seat belts must be worn at all times by the driver and all of the vehicle passengers.
- Motorcyclists and their passengers must wear safety helmets at all times.
- There are strict laws against drinking and driving and the best advice is simply don’t drink and drive – catch a taxi instead.
- Visitors should read the New Residents and Visitors section on the New Zealand Transport Agency website before driving in New Zealand.
Your clients must remember that traffic in New Zealand travels on the left-hand side. The driver should always be sitting nearest the middle of the road.
Vehicle bookings are advised for travel during the summertime high season, during winter in ski regions and over holiday weekends. Inter-island ferry travel should also be prebooked for travellers with cars.
Many New Zealand roads traverse remote and rugged landscapes. In some areas, snow or ice may force road closures during winter. The NZ Transport Agency has information on current highway conditions. www.nzta.govt.nz
Points To Note When Planning Driving Itineraries
Getting Between Islands The North and South Islands are separated by a body of water called Cook Strait. There is no bridge, but there are several ferry services for passengers and cars. Some car rental companies allow hirers the option of leaving their rental vehicle on one island and picking up a new vehicle on the other island, which may save in ferry fares. Always book ferry journeys well in advance, particularly during New Zealand public and school holidays, as they can fill up.
Deceptive Distances Although New Zealand is a relatively small country, distances are longer than they appear on a map. Visitors cannot, for instance, travel by road between Queenstown and Auckland in a day. Because roads may be steep or winding, driving requires careful concentration. When planning itineraries, allow time for your clients to take regular breaks – a perfect excuse for them to stop and admire the scenery!
Highways & By-Ways Highways between main centres are sealed and well-maintained, but they are not typically multi-lane roadways. Drivers must take great care in overtaking or wait until they reach a passing lane. On single-lane bridges, signs indicate which side has right of way – a red arrow in the direction of travel means this vehicle must give way to oncoming traffic.
Maps When your clients arrive, they should head to the local i-SITE Visitor Information Centre for local maps or try Wises maps online. www.wises.co.nz
If your clients would prefer not to drive, there are plenty of other options to choose from. Even those renting a vehicle may like to take time out from driving now and again.
Bus, Rail & Ferry
Convenient and economical, bus travel is a good option for travelling between New Zealand’s towns and cities.
Bus and coach services depart daily from main centres. The biggest operator, InterCity, services over 600 destinations. Buses are modern and air-conditioned, and overnight ‘Starlighter’ services are available. Keep an eye on their website for specials. Newmans Coach Lines is the deluxe travel and sightseeing arm of InterCity, servicing destinations all over New Zealand. Naked Bus offers budget long-distance bus fares. Special deals start from NZ$1 (plus $1 booking fee).
New Zealand’s rail network is not comprehensive, but there are some excellent scenic rail journeys. KiwiRail Scenic Journeys operates a network of rail journeys in the South and North Islands.
Ferry services operate between the North and South Island, and to other places. Advance bookings are essential if you’re travelling at peak times. Interislander operates up to 11 services for vehicles and passengers across the Cook Strait each day. Food courts and movie theatres are on board. Bluebridge is a slightly smaller operator with up to four return sailings across the Cook Strait each day. Bluebridge offers free big-screen movies on its services and vehicles and passengers are catered for.
Travelling from one destination to another by air may be a good way of allowing your clients to experience more of New Zealand in a shorter timeframe.
Daily air services connect New Zealand’s larger centres and many visitors travel from one end of the country to the other by road and then return to the gateway by air. Visit www.webjet.co.nz for the cheapest fares. But remember that budget flights require flexibility and you’ll pay extra for any services. If you want a full service airline, book with the national carrier, Air New Zealand. They service the most destinations. Head to www.grabaseat.co.nz to pick up fares on sale. Jetstar offers cheap flights between main destinations; it’s an economy service with snacks available for purchase.
A – Z Reference
Apex Car Rentals www.apexrentals.co.nz
Avis New Zealand www.avis.co.nz
Budget Rent a Car www.budget.co.nz
Europcar NZ www.europcar.co.nz
Ezi Car Rental www.ezicarrental.co.nz
GO Rentals www.gorentals.co.nz
Hertz Car Rental www.hertz.co.nz
Kiwi Direct Car Rentals www.rentalcarhire.co.nz
Maugers Rentals www.maugers.com
Options Rentals www.optionsrentals.co.nz
Quality Car Rentals www.qualityrental.co.nz
Thrifty Car Rental www.thrifty.co.nz
Abuzzy Motorhomes and Campervans www.abuzzy.co.nz
Apollo Motorhome Holidays www.apollocamper.co.nz
Britz Campervan Rentals www.britz.co.nz
Escape Rentals www.escaperentals.co.nz
Happy Campers www.happycampers.co.nz
Kea Campers www.keacampers.com
Kiwi Campers www.kiwicampers.co.nz
Maui Rentals www.maui.co.nz
Tui Campers www.tuicampers.co.nz
New Zealand Motorcycle Rentals & Tours www.nzbike.com
Paradise Motorcycle Tours NZ www.paradisemotorcycletours.co.nz
South Pacific Motorcycle Tours & Rentals www.motorbiketours.co.nz
New Zealand’s Scenic Rail Journeys
Train tracks traversing volcanic plateaus and plains of braided rivers, tunnels cutting through towering mountains, and 19th century viaducts leading across landscapes inaccessible by road – welcome aboard New Zealand’s trains!
New Zealand’s scenic rail trips rival some of the world’s best rail journeys. Imagine sitting back in a purpose-built observation or open-air carriage, taking in magnificent views of steep mountains on one side and the never-ending Pacific Ocean on the other as you listen to the soft lullaby of the clattering train! Rail journeys are not only beautifully romantic and relaxing, but they also showcase parts of New Zealand which simply aren’t visible by road.
The Kiwi railway system might not be expansive, but KiwiRail Scenic Journeys certainly cover some of the most stunning scenery. The Northern Explorer, connecting Auckland and Wellington, is a 12-hour ride through the heart of the North Island. At the Raurimu Spiral, the train climbs 132 metres in under 7 kilometres, an amazing feat of railway engineering!
On the TranzAlpine, which traverses the South Island from Christchurch to Greymouth in four and a half hours and is often included among the world’s great scenic train trips, you’ll encounter another engineering highlight; the 73-metre Staircase Viaduct.
There are plenty of other options for discovering rail history. The Taieri Gorge Railway takes you from Dunedin into Central Otago’s narrow and exhilarating Taieri Gorge through tunnels and across viaducts dating back to 1879! The Driving Creek Railway in The Coromandel is another highlight; this is New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway.
Whether on an old steam locomotive or aboard the modern KiwiRail trains – make sure you sample New Zealand’s great train trips!