En route to Queenstown.
Rent a car and self drive is one of the best options to tour the marvellous New Zealand. I'm sharing some of our experience on driving in New Zealand here and I hope this information will be of help to you. :)
1) Renting a car
We surveyed quite a number of car rental companies prior to our trip. After reading many reviews and comparing prices, we decided to go with Apex. It was the best decision ever.
Apex was very prompt in replying all our enquiries. Their online booking system was very comprehensive and definitely helped a lot in our planning in term of costing and deciding on which make/model, as luggage and passenger capacity were clearly stated. Besides, after adding the full insurance coverage, Apex came up to be the cheapest among all.
Some other companies which you may consider are Jucy and Omega.
Driving in New Zealand is a pleasurable experience, as you are greeted by picturesque views from every corner.
2) Holding a foreign driving license (in our case, Malaysian driving license)
This is easily solved by visiting the Road Transport Department (JPJ) and pay RM10 at the counter to get the details of our license translated into English. Alternatively, you can apply for an international driving license, which costs RM150 for the validity of one year.
If you choose to have English translation, please remember to bring along your original driving license too. Most of the time, the car rental agents and police officers would ask for the original. Well, at least none of them asked us for our English translation copy throughout our 2 weeks trip. :)
Those were cotton candies, oops... sorry, I meant sheep! You would see hundreds of sheep or cows almost everywhere in New Zealand, along the open road.
You can rent a GPS from the car rental company. Apex charged NZD8 per day. We were lucky that a dear friend loaned us his mobile GPS modem and Papa Bear downloaded the NZ routes and preset most of the locations of our accommodations/attractions we planned to visit. We used Garmin, which was reliable and accurate in distance and time required for each journey from point A to point B. We also relied on this website (http://www.aatravel.co.nz/main/index.php) a lot to plan our itinerary, as it has a time and distance calculator which is easy to use and extremely helpful.
The GPS that served us well. En route to Mount Cook, driving along Lake Pukaki.
4) Important road rules
Always drive on the left-hand side of the road. Always keep on or below the legal speed limits indicated on road signs. The maximum speed on any open road is 100km/h and in urban/town areas is 50km/h. Some stretches of open road will have speed limits below 100km/h, always look out for the road signs which are well posted. Be sure to follow the speed limits or the police officers will be after you! :)
Children aged 7 and below must be safely buckled up in a child safety seat. Apex includes the child safety seat free of charge. The agent will install the seat for you, while we acknowledged their professionalism that they always double check the seat before installing, do reinspect again before leaving too, as safety should always come first.
Observe the speed limit, drive safe! :) En route to Queenstown.
5) Driving etiquette of the Kiwis
We must applaud the locals for being very courteous on the road. They would tail your car from a comfortable distance and believe it not, no one would attempt to overtake you. You see no pretend-to-be Schumacher or Alonso in New Zealand.
If you didn't see any farm animals or greens or mountains, you would see lakes. New Zealand is such a natural beauty! :)
6) Visiting in winter
We were in New Zealand during early winter. It got dark around 5pm. With that, you may want to plan your trip well, to avoid travelling in the dark. New Zealand has a good motorway system but the terrain and narrow secondary roads and single lane bridges require drivers to be very vigilant. We were travelling from Napier to Wellington in one of the evening. As we were approaching Wellington around 6pm, it was dark and foggy and we were travelling on winding and hilly terrain. It frightened me. Luckily Papa Bear was a very experienced driver and same went to all drivers who were driving on the same road as us, we arrived Wellington safe and sound.
Our another late evening travelling while we were in New Zealand was from Queenstown to Te Anau. It was past 6 in the evening, another dark and foggy night. Although it was an easy straight road drive, but it frightened Sister Bear when she saw no car at all on the road. I was praying that our rental car would not fail us, as I could not imagine what would happen if we got stranded at the roadside with 3 hungry kids in the chilly night. Thank God for the reliable car from Apex.
The single lane bridge near Wanaka.
These are some of the tips I could think of for now. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave me a comment, I will try best to reply. Happy planning! :)