In 2014, we did a 7-week road trip in New Zealand. We drove on the south and north island around 5000 km. In order to get around in New Zealand there are several options. In general, it is on the road, as there is not a train network that covers all off New Zealand.
The most popular option is to rent a car or camper. We rented our car with Jucy Rental, which is a popular provider for cheap deals. We went nearly for the smallest car they got, which came with a few challenges. First we were not able to get our two suitcases in the trunk, and we had to put it on the backseats. Second the car was not the newest model and came with a lot of damages – we never rented a car that had so many scratches and bumps.
We got our car at the airport in Christchurch and gave it back in Auckland. Even that Jucy Rental (also true for other providers) has an airport station, the pickup was always a bit outside. Means that you first have to find the right shuttle bus to your provider station when arriving at the airport. In Christchurch there was a bus station only for the shuttle buses to the car rental providers.
Tip: Check forehand which direction (Christchurch→Auckland or Auckland→Christchurch) is cheaper. Prices vary, depending on where the provider has more cars at the moment.
Even that we traveled in the low season, when arriving at the car rental station it was packed with people. We were so tired – after 30 hours of travel – that the only thing we wanted was the car. Nether the less, take your time to check the car and see if everything is working. Outside of Christchurch and Auckland there are rarely any other car rental station to switch the car.
International Driver License
In order to drive in New Zealand as a German it is necessary to get an international driving license. It can be applied for at the citizen office and coast around 15 euros. The international driving license is valid for 2 years. Make sure you have this license always with you when driving around. In our time in New Zealand we were stopped by the police 6 times. A couple of time to check if we were drinking, checking our car or looking for a particular person.
The road condition in New Zealand are in general good. Most of the streets are paved and it is easy to drive. Still keep this points in mind:
- Streets are small and curvy
- Mostly there is only one line per directly
- Use the speed lines to pass slow cars
- Only around Auckland and Wellington there are “highways” with two lines per direction
- New Zealand has left traffic
- Small streets are shared with heavy transporters
One thing I really like in New Zealand was the speed limit, which is at max 70 km/h – often even lower at 50 km/h or 40 km/h. This gives a lot of time to enjoy the surrounding. Also, due to the curvy roads it is not possible to drive faster in the first place.
The only streets that allow a speed limit of 100 km/h where around Auckland and Wellington, as there are some highways. But this was only a really limited amount of kilometers and compared to the German Autobahn not a long distance.
The advantage of a small car
We mostly drove to campsites of the DoC or private one which been at the end of a small bumpy road. As well, we drove to tiny – mostly unknown places – where buses and camper vans were not allowed. With having this small car, we were able to drive into every small streets.
Keep in mind that with a big camper van it is not possible to drive to every small corner – even that we saw people doing that. This came really with a challenge, as we often had to do dangerous driving maneuver in order to dodge a big camper van.
Be sure to check your given car or camper van at the station you get the car, as there are not many station outsides of Christchurch or Auckland. We had for example the problem that after driving a dusty street for a longer time the engine did not start anymore. Which was not the biggest problem because after waiting 15 minutes, it was fine again. But we heard other stories from people that were not that lucky. We met one couple on a campsite with had rain water in their trunk and with that all their stuff got wet. They had to drive around with the car for 5 days before they found a station to switch the car.
We also met a couple of people who bought a car in New Zealand because they wanted to travel around for a couple of months or a year. Sadly they were not that lucky with their pick. One girl – she was 19 from Berlin and traveled alone (respect!) – bought an older van to live in it for a year. One week after the buying the engine broke down, and she had to work for a couple of months only, in order to get the car fixed. Another guy from Switzerland, who quit his job in order to find the perfect kite surfing spot in New Zealand, bought also a car with massive engine problems. He stayed with us on one camping ground. The morning he wanted to leave it took him around 30 minutes to start the engine of the car.
Good to know
There are two big things to know when driving in New Zealand:
- The handle for windshield wipers and blinker are switched compared to a European car – as the most cars in New Zealand are from Japan
- Rules of a roundabout: you need to give a right signal when entering and a left signal when leaving the roundabout
Stopped by the police (rangers)
During our time in New Zealand we were stopped by the police a couple of times. Here the reasons:
- Checking if we are drunk – this happened to us 3 times and it was interesting because the police is putting a machine in front of you and want you to say your name, where are you from and where are you going. With that they want to check the alcohol content in the breath.
- Checking our car – this was actually nice, as a police man checked our wheels before we drove on the Forgotten World Highway. He wanted to make sure that our car is prepared for the bumpy road of the highway and that we can arrive save on the other side.
- Looking for a particular person – The police stop your car and check if we were the person they were looking for.
- Checking the car content – In the Catlins area we visited some viewpoints to see penguins. Before we could leave the parking lot a ranger came over and checked the content of your car, to make sure we did not take a penguin with us.