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Renting A Car In New Zealand: 10 Tips You Need To Know


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Naoma Digiacomo



When exploring the beautiful landscapes and stunning natural wonders of New Zealand, renting a car offers the freedom and flexibility to truly experience the country at your own pace. From the rugged mountains of the South Island to the pristine beaches of the North Island, a road trip in New Zealand is a dream for many travelers. However, before hitting the open road, there are a few essential tips you need to know to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey.


In this article, we will share 10 valuable tips to help you navigate the process of renting a car in New Zealand. From understanding the driving requirements and laws to choosing the right rental car company, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make your road trip a success.


Whether you are a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, these tips will provide you with the essential information to make your car rental experience in New Zealand hassle-free and memorable. So fasten your seatbelts, adjust your mirrors, and let’s get started on the ultimate car rental adventure in the land of the long white cloud.


Tip 1: Understand the Driving Requirements and Laws in New Zealand

Before you start planning your New Zealand road trip, it is crucial to understand the driving requirements and laws in the country. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  1. Driving License: Make sure you have a valid driving license. International visitors can use their own country’s license if it is in English. If your license is not in English, you must carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) or an official translation.
  2. Driving Age: The minimum driving age in New Zealand is 16 years for a motorcycle and 18 years for a car. However, some car rental companies may have a higher minimum age requirement.
  3. Drive on the Left: In New Zealand, drivers must drive on the left side of the road. This may be different from what you are used to, so take some time to adjust and be cautious, especially at intersections and roundabouts.
  4. Seatbelts: Wearing seatbelts is mandatory for all passengers in the vehicle, and child restraints are required for children under the age of seven.
  5. Speed Limits: Speed limits vary depending on the type of road. In urban areas, the speed limit is generally 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour), while on open roads it can range from 100 to 110 km/h (62 to 68 mph). Pay attention to the signage indicating the speed limit.
  6. Drink Driving: The legal alcohol limit for drivers aged 20 years and over is 250 micrograms of alcohol per liter of breath or 50 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. However, it is always best to avoid any alcohol consumption before driving.
  7. Mobile Phones: Using a handheld mobile phone while driving is illegal in New Zealand. If you need to make a call, use a hands-free device or pull over to a safe place.

Understanding and adhering to these driving requirements and laws will ensure not only your safety but also help you avoid any unnecessary fines or penalties. Familiarize yourself with the specific rules of the road in New Zealand before embarking on your journey.


Tip 2: Choose the Right Rental Car Company

Choosing the right rental car company is crucial for a smooth and enjoyable road trip in New Zealand. Here’s what you should consider when making your selection:

  1. Reputation and Reviews: Research and read reviews about different rental car companies before making a decision. Look for companies with positive feedback and a solid reputation for good customer service.
  2. Availability and Choices: Check if the rental car company has a wide range of vehicles available to suit your needs. Whether you need a compact car for city driving or a spacious SUV for off-road adventures, make sure the company can provide the right options.
  3. Price and Costs: Compare prices from different car rental companies to ensure you’re getting a fair deal. Look for any hidden costs like additional fees for insurance, fuel, or late returns. Choose a company that offers transparent pricing and includes essential amenities in the rental package.
  4. Insurance Options: Understand the insurance options available to you. Most car rental companies offer basic insurance coverage, but you may want to consider additional coverage for peace of mind, especially when driving in remote or challenging terrains.
  5. Pick-up and Drop-off Locations: Check the availability of pick-up and drop-off locations that are convenient for you. If you’re flying into New Zealand, see if the rental car company has a branch at the airport for seamless transition.
  6. Customer Support: Ensure that the rental car company has a reliable customer support system in case you encounter any issues during your trip. Having access to 24/7 assistance can be invaluable, especially in case of emergencies.

Take your time to research and choose a rental car company that meets your specific requirements and offers a hassle-free rental experience. Remember to book your car well in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure the best vehicle and rates.


Tip 3: Consider the Size and Type of Car You Need

When renting a car in New Zealand, it’s essential to consider the size and type of vehicle that suits your travel needs. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  1. Number of Passengers: Determine how many people will be traveling with you. If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, a compact car may be sufficient. For larger groups or families, opt for a spacious vehicle that can accommodate everyone comfortably.
  2. Luggage Space: Consider the amount of luggage you’ll be carrying. If you have bulky sports equipment or plan to shop during your trip, ensure that the car has enough storage space to accommodate your belongings.
  3. Terrain and Road Conditions: If you plan to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations or visit areas with challenging terrains, consider renting a car with four-wheel drive (4WD) or an SUV for better traction and maneuverability.
  4. Fuel Efficiency: Take into account the distances you’ll be traveling and the cost of fuel. If you’re planning a long road trip, choosing a car with good fuel efficiency can help you save money on gas.
  5. Vehicle Features: Consider the specific features you need for your comfort and convenience. This may include air conditioning, navigation systems, Bluetooth connectivity, or child safety seats.

Think about your itinerary and the type of roads you’ll be driving on when selecting the size and type of car. A compact car may be ideal for city driving, while a larger vehicle may be more suitable for long-distance road trips or venturing into rural areas.


Keep in mind that different car rental companies may have varying options available, so it’s worthwhile to check their fleet and make a choice that aligns with your preferences and requirements.


Tip 4: Familiarize Yourself with New Zealand’s Road System

Before embarking on your New Zealand road trip, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the country’s road system. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Road Types: New Zealand has a mix of roads, ranging from multi-lane highways to narrow, winding rural roads. Familiarize yourself with the different types of roads you may encounter, and adjust your driving accordingly.
  2. State Highways: State Highways (SH) are the major roads connecting major towns and cities. They are usually well-maintained and offer a more direct route between destinations.
  3. Rural Roads: When exploring rural areas or remote regions, you’ll likely encounter narrower and less developed roads. Drive cautiously, be aware of blind corners, and give way to oncoming vehicles if the road is not wide enough for both.
  4. One-Lane Bridges: There are numerous one-lane bridges in New Zealand, especially in rural regions. Follow the signage and give way to any vehicles already on the bridge. Be prepared to stop and wait your turn.
  5. Traffic Circles (Roundabouts): Roundabouts are commonly used at intersections in New Zealand. Remember to give way to vehicles already in the roundabout and indicate your exit when approaching your desired exit.
  6. Parking: Pay attention to parking regulations and signage. In urban areas, there may be time limits or parking fees. Be cautious not to park in restricted areas or block driveways.

It’s also a good idea to obtain a detailed road map or use a GPS navigation system to assist you in finding your way. Additionally, there are several useful mobile apps available that provide real-time traffic updates and alternative route options.


By familiarizing yourself with New Zealand’s road system and understanding the rules of the road, you’ll have a safer and more enjoyable driving experience during your New Zealand adventure.


Tip 5: Get Familiar with New Zealand’s Road Signs

When driving in a new country, understanding and obeying road signs is crucial for a safe and smooth journey. Familiarize yourself with New Zealand’s road signs to ensure you can navigate the roads effectively. Here are some important signs to know:

  1. Stop Signs: A red octagonal sign indicates a stop sign. When approaching a stop sign, come to a complete stop and give way to any vehicles or pedestrians before proceeding.
  2. Speed Limit Signs: Speed limits are indicated by round signs with black numbers on a white background. Pay attention to speed limit changes, especially when entering urban areas or construction zones.
  3. No Entry: A circular sign with a red border and a white horizontal line indicates that entry is prohibited. Do not enter a road if you see this sign.
  4. No Parking: A sign with a red border and a diagonal line across a car indicates no parking in the designated area. Pay attention to these signs to avoid parking fines.
  5. Give Way: A triangular sign with a red border and a white background indicates a give way sign. Yield to other vehicles or pedestrians as indicated by the sign.
  6. Curved Road Ahead: A black arrow pointing left or right on a yellow background indicates a curved road ahead. Adjust your speed and approach with caution.
  7. Pedestrian Crossing: A sign with two white lines indicating a pedestrian crossing is a reminder to watch out for pedestrians and yield to them as they cross the road.

These are just a few examples of the many road signs you may encounter in New Zealand. Take the time to study and understand the various signs to ensure you are driving safely and in compliance with local regulations.


Remember, road signs may differ from what you are accustomed to in your home country, so it’s essential to pay close attention and follow the guidance they provide.


Tip 6: Understand the Road Conditions and Weather

When embarking on a road trip in New Zealand, it’s vital to understand the road conditions and weather patterns to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Check Road Conditions: Before starting your trip, check for any road closures, construction or maintenance work, and other potential disruptions. The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) provides real-time road conditions and updates on their website or through dedicated mobile apps.
  2. Be Prepared for Different Terrains: New Zealand offers a variety of terrains, from winding coastal roads to mountainous passes. Familiarize yourself with the kind of terrain you’ll encounter during your journey and adjust your driving accordingly.
  3. Pay Attention to Weather Forecasts: New Zealand’s weather can change rapidly, especially in mountainous areas. Always check the weather forecasts for your intended route and destination. Be prepared for rain, fog, or strong winds, as they can affect driving conditions.
  4. Take Extra Precautions in Winter: If you’re traveling during the winter months (June to August), be aware of possible snow and ice on the roads, particularly in mountainous regions. Carry snow chains and know how to fit them if necessary. Drive at a safe speed and maintain a greater distance from other vehicles.
  5. Slow Down in Adverse Conditions: If you encounter heavy rain, fog, or reduced visibility, reduce your speed and drive with caution. Be prepared to stop if necessary. Always prioritize safety over reaching your destination quickly.
  6. Be Cautious of Animals: New Zealand has a large population of farm animals, especially in rural areas. Take extra care when driving, particularly at dusk and dawn, as animals may stray onto the road.

It’s crucial to stay informed about the current road conditions and adjust your plans or route if necessary. Don’t hesitate to seek local advice or contact the appropriate authorities for any specific concerns or inquiries.


By understanding the road conditions and weather patterns in New Zealand, you can take proactive measures and enjoy a safer and more comfortable road trip experience.


Tip 7: Take Extra Precautions when Driving in Rural Areas

Driving in rural areas of New Zealand can be a unique and rewarding experience, allowing you to explore the country’s breathtaking landscapes and charming small towns. However, it’s important to take extra precautions to ensure your safety and make the most of your rural driving adventure. Here are some essential tips:

  1. Plan Your Routes Carefully: Research and plan your route before heading into rural areas. Take note of fuel stations, rest stops, and amenities along the way. Make sure you have a clear understanding of where you are going and have sufficient supplies.
  2. Watch for Narrow and Winding Roads: Rural roads in New Zealand can be narrow, winding, and may not have road markings or streetlights. Drive cautiously, stay alert, and be prepared for unexpected corners, blind spots, and unexpected obstacles.
  3. Be Mindful of Unsealed Roads: Some rural routes may include unsealed or gravel roads. Drive at a safe speed, maintain a greater following distance, and avoid sudden braking or acceleration to prevent skidding or loss of control.
  4. Share the Road with Farm Vehicles: Be prepared to encounter large farm vehicles, such as tractors or trucks, particularly in agricultural areas. Exercise patience, slow down, and give them plenty of space to maneuver.
  5. Be Cautious of Livestock: In rural areas, you may encounter livestock on or near the road. Take extra care and reduce your speed when passing through areas with grazing animals. Watch out for warning signs indicating the presence of animals.
  6. Stay Alert for Cyclists and Pedestrians: Many rural areas offer scenic routes popular among cyclists and pedestrians. Be mindful of their presence and give them ample space when passing. Slow down and be prepared to stop if needed.
  7. Stay Connected and Inform Others: In areas with limited or no cell phone coverage, it’s important to inform someone about your travel plans and expected arrival times. Carry a map or GPS device and, if possible, a personal locator beacon for emergencies.

Rural driving in New Zealand provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the countryside. By taking these precautions and being respectful of other road users, you can have a safe and enjoyable journey while discovering the hidden gems of rural New Zealand.


Tip 8: Know Where to Find Fuel Stations

When embarking on a road trip in New Zealand, it’s important to be aware of where to find fuel stations to ensure that you don’t run out of fuel during your journey. Here are some tips to help you locate and plan for fuel stops:

  1. Plan Your Route: Before setting off on your road trip, plan your route and identify the towns or areas where fuel stations are available. Take note of the distances between stations, especially in more remote or rural areas.
  2. Keep an Eye on Fuel Gauge: Monitor your fuel gauge and plan your stops accordingly. It’s advisable not to let your fuel gauge drop below a quarter tank to ensure that you always have a buffer in case fuel stations are limited in certain areas.
  3. Utilize Mobile Apps or GPS: Make use of mobile apps or GPS navigation systems that can help you locate nearby fuel stations. These tools can provide you with real-time information on the closest fuel stations and their operating hours.
  4. Take Advantage of Town Centers: Most towns in New Zealand have at least one fuel station located in or near the town center. When passing through these towns, take the opportunity to refuel your vehicle.
  5. Consider Fuel Price Differences: Fuel prices can vary between different fuel stations. If you have the flexibility, compare prices and choose fuel stations that offer competitive rates to save on fuel costs during your trip.
  6. Carry Sufficient Cash or Card: Ensure that you have a means of payment for fuel, whether it’s cash or a valid credit or debit card. Some fuel stations may not accept certain types of cards, so it’s always good to have an alternative payment method.
  7. Keep Emergency Fuel Supplies: In case of unexpected circumstances or emergencies, it’s wise to carry spare fuel in an approved container. This can provide peace of mind, especially when traveling in remote areas where fuel stations may be scarce.

By being proactive and knowing where to find fuel stations along your route, you can avoid the stress and inconvenience of running low on fuel during your New Zealand road trip. Remember to plan ahead, monitor your fuel levels, and take advantage of opportunities to refuel when available.


Tip 9: Be Aware of Toll Roads and Payment Methods

When driving in New Zealand, it’s important to be aware of toll roads and understand the payment methods associated with them. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Toll Roads: New Zealand has several toll roads, mainly located in and around major cities. These toll roads provide faster and more efficient routes but come with a cost.
  2. Electronic Toll Collection: Most toll roads in New Zealand operate on an electronic toll collection system. There are no toll booths, and payments are made through a pre-registered account or a temporary toll payment option.
  3. Pre-Registered Accounts: If you plan to use toll roads frequently, it’s advisable to set up a pre-registered account with the toll road operator. This allows for automatic deductions and discounted rates.
  4. Temporary Payment Options: For occasional use of toll roads, temporary payment options are available. These include purchasing a temporary electronic tag or paying online within a specific time frame after using the toll road.
  5. Non-Payment Penalties: Failure to pay tolls or using toll roads without proper payment can result in penalties and fines. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific toll road payment requirements and ensure that you comply to avoid any issues.
  6. Alternative Routes: If you prefer to avoid toll roads, plan your routes accordingly. New Zealand offers alternative routes to most destinations, although they may take slightly longer.
  7. Check with Rental Car Companies: If you’re renting a car, check with the rental car company about their toll road policies. Some rental companies may provide electronic toll payment options or include toll charges in the rental agreement.

It’s crucial to be aware of toll roads along your intended routes and understand the payment methods and requirements associated with them. Take the time to research and plan accordingly to ensure a smooth and hassle-free journey.


Remember, complying with toll road regulations not only avoids penalties but also contributes to the maintenance and improvement of New Zealand’s road infrastructure.


Tip 10: Inspect the Rental Car Before and After Your Trip

When renting a car in New Zealand, it is essential to thoroughly inspect the vehicle before and after your trip. This will help protect you from any potential disputes regarding damages and ensure a smooth rental experience. Follow these steps for a comprehensive car inspection:

  1. Exterior Inspection: Walk around the car and carefully examine the exterior for any existing damages, such as scratches, dents, or paint chips. Take note of any issues and photograph them as evidence.
  2. Check Lights and Indicators: Test all the lights, including headlights, taillights, brake lights, and turn signals. Ensure that they are functioning correctly.
  3. Inspect Tires: Check the tire condition, including tread depth and tire pressure. Look for any signs of wear or damage that may require attention.
  4. Interior Inspection: Check the interior of the car for cleanliness and any damages. Ensure that all the controls, air conditioning, and entertainment systems are in working order.
  5. Review Rental Agreement: Before signing the rental agreement, examine it carefully and make note of any pre-existing damages that are documented. If you notice any discrepancies, inform the rental car company immediately.
  6. Use a Checklist: It can be helpful to use a rental car inspection checklist provided by the rental company or create your own. This ensures a systematic and thorough inspection of the vehicle.
  7. Take Photos or Videos: Capture clear photos or videos of the car’s condition before and after your trip. This will serve as evidence in case of any disputes or misunderstandings regarding damages.
  8. Report Damages: If you notice any new damages during your rental period, report them to the rental car company as soon as possible. Take note of the time, date, and details of the incident, and follow the company’s reporting procedures.
  9. Keep Rental Documents: Retain all rental documents, receipts, and inspection records until the rental period is over and any deposit or charges have been resolved.

By thoroughly inspecting the rental car before and after your trip, you can ensure that you are not held responsible for any pre-existing damages and have a smooth rental experience. It’s always better to be cautious and document any discrepancies to avoid any potential disputes.


Remember, maintaining open communication with the rental car company throughout the rental period is essential for a transparent and hassle-free experience.



Renting a car in New Zealand for your road trip is an excellent way to explore the stunning landscapes, charming towns, and hidden gems that the country has to offer. By following these 10 tips, you can ensure a seamless and enjoyable adventure:

  1. Understand the driving requirements and laws in New Zealand.
  2. Choose the right rental car company based on reputation, availability, and pricing.
  3. Consider the size and type of car that suits your travel needs.
  4. Familiarize yourself with New Zealand’s road system, including different road types and signage.
  5. Stay informed about road conditions and weather forecasts to adjust your plans accordingly.
  6. Take extra precautions when driving in rural areas and be mindful of farm vehicles and livestock.
  7. Know where to find fuel stations and plan your refueling stops accordingly.
  8. Be aware of toll roads, payment methods, and comply with payment requirements.
  9. Thoroughly inspect the rental car before and after your trip to document any existing damages.

By implementing these tips, you can ensure your safety, make informed choices, and have a hassle-free experience while exploring the wonders of New Zealand’s roads. Remember to enjoy the journey, take in the breathtaking scenery, and make lasting memories along the way.


So, fasten your seatbelts, prepare your itinerary, and get ready for an unforgettable road trip experience in the magnificent landscapes of New Zealand.