New Zealand Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
Driving In New Zealand
New Zealand drives on the left of the road in right hand drive cars. You can drive for up to a year on a photo ID licence from most countries, though if your licence is not in English language you must get an International Driving Permit or a translation of the licence. Roads are generally in good condition, though will be hilly with sharp bends in many areas.
Driving in Cities is generally not as stressful as it is in most parts of the world though you may experience traffic jams in Auckland and Wellington at rush hour. Also note that after the earthquakes of 2011, the centre of Christchurch still has a lot of roads closed or diverted and is likely to remain so until at least the end of 2012.
Driving standards are generally high and road rules are adhered to though there are some accident blackspots such as On North Island – State Highway 2, between the bottom of the Bombay Hills and the Thames turn off , and The Centenial Highway, which is part of State Highway 1, between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay. Both these stretches of road see many accidents. In the South Island in Winter, many roads are affected by snow and ice and you should exercise caution in these conditions. Don’t underestimate distances in New Zealand and if you’re driving a camper, bear in mind that you won’t be travelling as fast as you do in a car. Take your time and pull over for a rest if you feel tired.
New Zealand is a great country for driving and has some classic road trips, such as – The ‘Lost World Highway’ on North Island between Taumarunui in the east, and Stratford in the west.This is a 150KM route taking about 3 hours to drive and takes in gorges, waterfalls,forests and some amazing views. There are also some great coastal drives, one of the best being from Karamea through Greymouth and onto Haast on the west coast of South Island. The 73 mile drive from Te Anau through the Southern Alps to Milford Sound is another classic.
Most travellers visit both of New Zealands Islands during their trip. The main ferry route between North and South Islands is Wellington to Picton which has several ferries a day, with the trip taking around 3 hours.As mentioned above, there are restrictions with some countries on taking rental cars between Islands so you should check the terms when making your reservation. The main ferry booking site is -
Some driving distances and approx driving times-
North Island Driving Distances-
Auckland to Whangerai -135KM, 1 hour 20
Auckland to Rotoruwa -210 KM, 2hours
Auckland to Hamilton -130 KM, 1hour 20
Auckland to Tauranga (Bay of Plenty) – 160KM, 1hour 30
Auckland to Wellington -490KM, 5hours
Rotoruwa to Napier/Hawkes Bay area – 150KM, 1 Hour 30
Napier to Wellington -275KM, 2 Hours 45
Hamilton to New Plymouth/Mt Taranaki area -180KM, 1 hour 45
New Plymouth to Wellington – 240KM, 2 hours 30
Napier to Wellington- 260KM, 2hours 40
New Plymouth to Palmerston North – 195KM, 2 hours
Napier to Palmerston North – 140KM, 1Hour 30
South Island Driving Distances
Christchurch to Nelson ,260KM, 2hours 30
Christchurch to Picton (Ferry from North Island) 270 KM, 2hours 45
Christchurch to Fairlie(Mount Cook/Mackenzie country) 160KM, 2 hours
Christchurch to Oamaru, 215KM, 2hours 45
Christchurch to Dunedin, 315KM, 3hours 30
Picton to Nelson, 60KM, 30 mins
Picton to Greymouth 265KM, 2hours 40
Greymouth to Franz Josef Glacier ,130KM, 1 hour 20
Greymouth to Christchurch, 160KM, 1 hour 40
Oamaru to Dunedin – 90KM, 1hour 15
Oamaru to Queenstown – 185KM, 2 hours
Queenstown to Te Anau (Fiordland NP) -90KM, 1 hour 20
Dunedin to Te Anau – 220km, 2hour 45
Dunedin to Invercargill – 175KM, 2 hours 15
Te Anau to Invercargill – 125KM, 1hour 30
There are numerous websites which provide driving times and distances and these are useful when planning your trip. Eg.
New Zealand Car Rental -
Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Thrifty, have outlets here. Also usually features on Car rental broker sites such as Argus Car Hire and Web discount sites such as ebookers.com. or Expedia
There are also numerous Australasia based brokers such as this company who can arrange cars anywhere in NZ.
This local company has branches in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington & Queenstown and other main towns. They seem to allow one way rental between Islands for a charge of $150.
There are also companies dealing in both car rental and camper van hire such as the one below who also offer suggestions of self drive itineraries and have a useful page on their website dealing with driving in NZ.
This website aimed at backpackers has a large number of lower cost car rental options across New Zealand-
There are many companies dealing specifically with camper rental including this company who provide more unusual campers..
And this company who rent campers with funky paint jobs -
If you’re flexible and looking for a cheap RV rental option, some companies offer discounted one way rentals as ‘re-locations’. ie they allow you to drive their vehicles to another part of the country where they need additional vehicles available. The following company provides more detail on this-
New Zealand Self Drive Rules-
Most of the big companies don’t allow vehicles to be taken between North and South Island but can arrange for a different vehicle to be waiting for you at the ferry terminal. Hertz and Avis do this and there is a minimum rental period on each Island. Europcar and Budget allow one way rentals between Islands and don’t make any mention of changing cars when booking via their websites.
Local companies, and especially those renting campers, usually allow vehicles to travel between Islands but check when booking.