driving in new zealand

Car Rental In New Zealand Ultimate Guide With Recommendations

If you’re visiting New Zealand a rental car is definitely the best way to get around.

New Zealand is a small country but has the astounding geographic diversity of a major continent squeezed into its small size. For example, within 3- 4 hours drive of Auckland, are sub-tropical beaches, volcanic mountains with ski fields, boiling geysers, ancient forests, unspoiled fishing rivers and world famous golf courses.

Having a rental car gives you the freedom and flexibility to go where you want and when you want.

Driving In New Zealand

driving in new zealand

For most overseas visitors driving in New Zealand is relatively straight forward because, compared to what they are used to, there is surprisingly little traffic on the roads outside the main cities – especially in the South Island. Whilst New Zealand is about the size of UK its population is only 4.5 million – by comparison the UK has 65 million.

Another difference is the limited number of motorways and highways. Roads are generally only 2-laned (one laned in places) and frequently windy due to the ever changing landscape. In New Zealand we drive on the left, as in UK. If you’re from America or another country that drives on the right then you might feel apprehensive about having to drive on the “wrong side of the road”. Don’t be – it’s straight-forward and tens of thousands of foreign visitors happily do it every year.

New Zealanders typically show a little less consideration to other drivers than is seen in UK, Australian, and the US where more cars on the road force people to be more considerate. Having said that, don’t be put off – driving in New Zealand is nothing like the harrowing experience of driving in Italy or parts of South East Asia!

Car Rental In New Zealand

Car rental firms range from the familiar multi-national big companies such as Avis and Budget through to small local car rental firms. The advantage of the established rental firms is they can be found throughout New Zealand cities and offer the newest range of rental vehicles. The disadvantage is that generally they’re the most expensive and often have lots of addon costs.

At the other end of the scale are the small local operators who typically have older rental cars. Whilst you may not end up driving this year’s latest model the advantage is that the smaller car rental firms can be substantially cheaper, so leaving you more money to spend on the many exciting attractions New Zealand offers.

Driving License Requirements NZ?

You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver’s license from your home country, or an International Driving Permit.

Most car rental companies require drivers to be over the age of 25 and to have held a full license for at least 3 years. Some firms will rent vehicles to younger drivers with an insurance excess of usually an additional $250-500. For example, A2B Car Rentals rents cars to drivers who are 20-25 and hold a full driver’s license. At the manager’s discretion, a holder of a license for less than three years is acceptable but may incur a higher insurance fees.

Make sure your overseas driver’s license is valid for at least 6 months longer than the time you intend to stay in the country. If your license is not in English, you should bring an English translation with you or obtain an International Driving Permit (safest option). Contact your local testing office for further details about obtaining a translation or an International Driving Permit.

In New Zealand it’s a legal requirement that all drivers, including overseas visitors, must carry their license or permit when driving. Naturally you will only be able to drive the same types of vehicles you are licensed to drive in your home country.

Convert Foreign Driving License NZ

If you plan on staying here longer than one year you’ll need to convert your license to a kiwi one after 1 year to continue driving legally. You can do this at AA or VTNZ offices that offer licensing services.

Drivers who have held a full drivers license for two years or more from these countries can convert their driver licence to a New Zealand license without taking a theory or practical test:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The United Kingdom, United States of America.

If your country is not on the list of approved countries then you must, pass the theory test and a practical driving test.

What are New Zealand’s Road Rules?

Here’s a brief over-view but you can get more details the NZ Government Transport Authority website. In New Zealand, all vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road as in UK.

When turning left, there is no need to give way (changed in 2014) to traffic crossing or approaching from your right. Speed limits are strictly enforced by police using radar, speed cameras and un-marked patrol cars. Fines for speeding can be expensive.

If you’re caught speeding over 40 km/h above the posted limit you’ll lose your license on the spot for 28 days. You may be charged with dangerous driving which carries a criminal conviction and 6 months loss of license.

The speed limit on the open road is 100 km/h (approx 60 mph). In some areas in Auckland they have recently increased the speed limit to 110 km/h. In built up areas the speed limit is 50 km/h. (approx 30 mph).

In Summary

If you’re planning to visit New Zealand a rental car is one of the best options, especially for independent travelers who want to experience everything New Zealand has to offer at their own pace. A rental car gives you the freedom and flexibility to go where you want and when you want to enjoy this wonderful country.


I'm an adventurer, traveller and thrill seeker who loves to explore the beautiful country of New Zealand. When I'm not writing articles for Ki-Wi you'll find me driving jet boats, hiking and riding my motorcycle. New Zealand is an amazing country to live, work, travel and explore.

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