Who does not love a good road trip? 🤷🏻♀️ Take the car, drive to the unknown. do not pay attention at the time and stop wherever or whenever! 🤠 Basically, going on a road trip means total freedom!! And doing this in New Zealand is a dream that many have on their travel bucket list! I had that’s for sure!! I had no idea on what to see, where to start, which car to rent, etc. I made mistakes and I have now some regrets ☹️. If this post can help you a little, that’s great! Here are a few things I thought might be useful for you to know when preparing a road trip in New Zealand! 🚙 💨
What kind of road-tripper are you?
How long do you plan to stay in New Zealand? I decided to stay 3 weeks and I could have stayed longer but I thought that for a first, it was a decent amount of time! Try to stay 2 weeks at least, especially when you are traveling this far! When you’ll leave, you’ll still think that’s not enough anyway. When you’ll prepare your itinerary, you will have to make some choices, inevitably.
After staying this long in NZ, I can say that I have seen 3 different types of ‘road trippers’ there:
The road-tripper seeking nature, wilderness and total freedom
These guys are just renting a car (usually the cheapest one) and bring a tent with them. They will mostly be staying in Holiday parks or basic camp sites (that could be even free for some of them). Don’t expect that you can free camp anywhere and you’ll see a lot of signs saying ‘no overnight camping’ with rangers paying you a visit early morning to wake you up if you do! Check out the official NZ website here and this one providing also useful information about camping in New Zealand.
The road-tripper seeking for nature, wilderness but with freedom and convenience
This type is extremely popular and you’ll see loads of them on the road! They have a small van with mattress and small place for food at the back and even a little lounge inside.
They will be staying in the same holiday parks or free camping when available. You can also find traveler with bigger camper van which are more expensive and much bigger to get around.
The road-tripper seeking for nature, wilderness with comfort
Well, that was me this time. I hired a car and stayed mostly in Airbnb, lodges or holiday parks (with private room – you can also stay in dorms!). Enjoy freedom of being on the road, etc but coming back to a ‘home’ environment! I managed to get some nice Airbnbs at around €40 a night (£39/$55) and that’s for a solo traveler
I also saw cyclists, hitch hikers or people just using the bus to get around!
The road is for everyone in New Zealand!
Design your own itinerary!
You should ask yourself, where you I start from?Should you start with the North Island first? or head South straight away? I think it will depends on how you’ll get to New Zealand. I flew from Sydney and landed in Auckland and I thought that this was the best option. I was in Australia (and in Sydney more specifically) before getting into New Zealand. I thought it was the best option for me but actually you can fly direct from Sydney to Wellington, Auckland but also Christchurch or Queenstown! So, 2 options in North Island and 2 others in South Island! Enough to help you plan the best itinerary.
Where to start?
Auckland is quite popular, maybe because when you are flying from Europe or US, that will mostly be your port of entry. But it does not mean that you have to start there! Ok, that’s how I did for myself but it does not mean that it was the best option! Thinking of it now, I would plan South Island first (from Queenstown) and make my way up to North Island!
Here was my full itinerary for these 3 weeks, where I went and what I did (high level obviously!):
As you can see, I did not rent a car for the full 3 weeks. It would have been too costly for me and actually useless too. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch can be visited by walk or using local transports. I designed my road trips from North to South Island and tried to see the most important things on the way. I originally planned hiring a car from Christchurch and drive to Queenstown but this is over 5 hours drive (non stop) and losing a day in this road trip. Instead, I paid €80 (£70/$98) for a one way ticket with Air New Zealand and enjoyed the amazing views up until Queenstown!
When to go to New Zealand?
This is an important question to ask yourself before even booking your plane ticket. Seasons are reversed with Europe and US/Canada. What do I mean by that? Well, when it is winter for us, it is summer for them and vice versa. That’s very important to consider when planning your trip! Plane tickets and accommodation will be slightly more expensive when travelling in summer time. Don’t expect them to be cheaper in winter either… there is no real low season in NZ but you can think that winter is a little bit less pricey. 😉
In New Zealand 🇳🇿, Summer starts from December until February, Spring from September to November, Autumn from March to May and finally, Winter from June to August! Keep that in mind and ask yourself, do I want to ski and cover myself of layers or hang out at the beach and wear flip flops?!
I already mentioned how to get to New Zealand but how to get around New Zealand? A lot of people (me included!) would rent a car 🚙 and that’s the best and more effective way to discover the country. You get to stop anywhere and everywhere (but please be careful when stopping, I have seen so many people endanger themselves just for a picture!).
Let’s talk other ways of travelling through the islands. I rented a car but also used other ways of transportation. Like the bus for instance! I traveled with Intercity from Wellington to Christchurch by bus and this cost me NZD138 (€82/£72/$101) one way but that included as well my ferry crossing between Wellington and Picton (NZD65 with no vehicle (€39/£34/$48) for one way with Interislander.
If you want to travel by bus, go check out Naked Bus which offers ‘passport’ or bus pass starting NZD99! It is a multi-trip bus where you choose when and where you want to go and for stay for as much time as you want! 🚌 😉
Good to know: Hitchhiking is very common, very safe and possible anywhere!
Crossing between the islands
If you are planning to visit both islands, you will have to cross to get to the other island eventually. You can obviously catch a flight to get to your other destination or use the ferry. As I said, I have using Intercity to get from Wellington to Christchurch and used Interislander for the Wellington-Picton crossing. Factor this cost in your budget too if you are renting a car or a camper van. 😉
The journey was very bumpy at the beginning but this is nothing to do with the company but rather with the sea condition! However, approaching the South Island was magical! 😍😍
Which Rental companies to look at?
There is a LOT of choice out there and it all depends on your budget and which road-tripper you will be 😉
Jucy is the cheapest and very popular with young people (and me!! 🙈). They stay cheap because they offer older cars even though they are still good! I have used them for both of my renting cars and had no issue at all! Go check out their website and look at the prices they are offer. They offer simple cars up to camper vans.
The ones you see everywhere in the world: Europcar, Hertz, Thrifty, Budget but also some that are not global brands but could be competitive like Ezi or Apex.
Prepare your road trip using this great website with real driving travel times! I initially used Google Maps (as I always do) but it did not really reflect the roads of New Zealand with their actual driving time. There is no motorway and the maximum speed limit is 100 Km per hour and you should respect this. Pull over if you are being ‘pushed’ by a car behind you. Don’t risk any fine or your life while you are on your vacation. Less is better! Remember that!😉✌🏼
Don’t forget to rest!! Especially when you are the main driver. It can get tiring as you know and there will be a lot of occasion to stop on the road with designated area. Do it!
Save on rental costs by flying. As I told you earlier, I originally planned to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown when getting on a domestic flight was a cost and time saver! Maybe you could do that too? Jetstar and Air New Zealand are cheap and effective!
TIP: Save on GPS rental cost by buying one yourself or a second hand one!
Get an international driving licence if yours is not in English. That’s a lesson learnt and money lost! I held a French driving passport which was not necessary for me to rent a car. Jucy had to translate my document to be able to give me the keys of my car. It did not take a lot of time (around 20min in their agency) but I had to pay NZD52 (€31/£27/$38) for this translation where an international passport in France is free but takes a good 3 weeks to be delivered.
Good to know: If you are driving in the very north of New Zealand, you’ll most probably be driving on tolls roads. You’ll have to pay online for that! Don’t forget to pay online here.
Ever heard of car relocation? If you are strict on your budget this could be a great thing for you! Basically, people rent their cars from one point and drop it off at a different location. Rental companies would need to get an employee to drive back this car to its original point (if no customer hire it of course). Well, you could ask and benefit from free, or almost no rental fees by driving this car for them! Obviously you’ll have some time constraints on it, but that’s a great way on saving costs! Do you want to know more about this? Read this awesome article!
So are you ready for the road trip of a lifetime? 😉
When are you going?
Let me know in the comments section below! 👇🏻
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