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Planning your New Zealand Self Drive Tour

Having your New Zealand self drive tour or holiday planned and managed by a dedicated and expert New Zealand based company ensures you see the best the country has to offer.

Our up-to-date knowledge, independent advice and a comprehensive selection of accommodation options, vehicle types and activities means your tour is created to suit your interests, tastes and resources. A custom designed tour doesn't cost any more than an off the shelf itinerary and it means you get exactly what you want.

Questions to consider when planning a self-drive tour of New Zealand:

Taking the time to consider a few key questions will help with your decisions and planning. It will ensure your visit to New Zealand is everything you expect it to be. The main factors to consider when planning your visit to New Zealand will vary according to your personal circumstances. But we deal with some of the most common questions here and further reading on key considerations in your planning is offered via links at the bottom of the page. 

When is the best time to visit to New Zealand?

The easy and short answer: anytime. Although we have distinct seasons there is no reason not to visit anytime.

The long answer:

There are a few factors that you might want to consider when deciding which season suits you. These are:

The weather and our seasons:

New Zealand does experience the four distinctive seasons. Officially these are:

  • Summer: December, January and February
  • Autumn: March, April and May
  • Winter: June, July and August
  • Spring: September, October and November

What sort of temperatures and conditions does each season produce?

See here for a seasonal high/low chart.


Spring Summer Autumn Winter

Sep, Oct, Nov Dec, Jan, Feb Mar, Apr, May Jun, Jul, Aug

High Low High Low High Low High Low
Bay of Islands







Temperature (C) 19 9 25 14 21 11 16 7
Temperature (F) 67 48 76 56 70 52 61 45
Rain Days/Season 11 7 11 16
Auckland







Temperature (C) 18 11 24 12 20 13 15 9
Temperature (F) 65 52 75 54 68 55 59 48
Rain Days/Season 12 8 11 15
Rotorua







Temperature (C) 17 7 24 12 18 9 13 4
Temperature (F) 63 45 75 54 68 55 59 48
Rain Days/Season 11 9 9 13
Wellington







Temperature (C) 15 9 20 13 17 11 12 6
Temperature (F) 59 48 68 55 63 52 54 43
Rain Days/Season 11 7 10 13
Christchurch







Temperature (C) 17 7 22 12 18 8 12 3
Temperature (F) 63 45 72 54 65 46 54 37
Rain Days/Season 7 7 7 7
Queenstown







Temperature (C) 16 5 22 10 16 6 10 1
Temperature (F) 61 41 72 50 61 43 50 34
Rain Days/Season 9 8 8 7

 

Rainfall

Generally speaking rainfall days are consistent throughout the year at between 7 and 11 days per month but regions such as the West Coast and Fiordland do get drier during the winter months.

Snow

The North Island only gets snow on the high central plateau around Tongariro National Park (the Whakapapa and Turoa Ski fields) and on a few other high peaks such as Mt Egmont/Taranaki. In the South Island almost everywhere can experience snow and as the Southern Alps and other high mountain ranges stretch from top to bottom then during winter snow isn't far away from anywhere. Stewart Island also gets snow in winter but not often. Canterbury, Otago and Southland generally get the most snow and this is why most of the ski resorts are based here. 

Driving conditions:

New Zealand roads are very well maintained and well signposted. The local services are crews are also very used to the wintry conditions that some regions can experience and respond quickly to keep roads clear and safe. During winter months some of the high road passes such as Arthur's Pass, Lindis Pass and Lewis Pass (effectively the roads that join the East Coast of the South Island to the West Coast) might be closed following a heavy snowfall however road crews generally open these within a few hours of the storm passing.

Train services such as the Tranz Alpine are rarely affected. Roads can become quite slippery around the colder regions and areas or sections that are particularly prone to this are well signposted.

Rental car companies do prohibit driving their vehicles on certain roads during certain hours (usually 11pm-6am) and seasons. The Milford Road can be quite a hazardous section in the winter months so if you are not familiar with winter driving our advice would be to take one of the coach trips into Milford instead. The drivers have special training and the specially equipped vehicles ensure a relaxed and informative day trip.

Our tip - always drive to the conditions.

Availability of specific activities during seasons.

Almost every activity is available all year round in some form or another. The exception might be access to some of the multi day walking tracks such as the Milford Track and Routeburn Tracks. These close from mid April to late October for guided walks. Other popular trips to cease during the winter months are the Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound overnight cruises. Day cruises are still available however. Skiing is generally available from early to mid June until late September (conditions dependent of course).
Some other businesses do close during winter months as the demand doesn't warrant being open. These might include cafes and restaurants in some of the destinations less visited during winter such as the West Coast of the South Island, Te Anau, Bay of Islands etc. Ski resort areas such as Queenstown and Wanaka however continue to fully operate right through the winter.

Our tip - if there are specific activities or interests you might have check with us to ensure availability and suitability for the season you intend to visit.

Cost and availability of flights to New Zealand.

New Zealand is well serviced by many international airlines including Air New Zealand, Qantas, Emirates, Virgin Australia, Thai Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Air Pacific, Lan Chile, Japan Airlines, Malaysian Airlines plus many others under code share agreements. Such a variety of airlines and routes offers you the chance to stop over in other interesting locations too.

The largest international airport is Auckland with Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown also receiving some direct international traffic. Almost every city and region in New Zealand has a domestic airport and so connecting to one of these ports is quite straightforward and inexpensive. All air traffic arriving directly from or via North American ports such as Los Angeles, San Francisco or Vancouver will arrive into Auckland with a connection to the South Island if required. Most airlines or travel agents should be able to add the domestic sector you need onto the international ticket. If not we can help with the domestic travel.

Flights to NZ generally fluctuate in price depending on the season. Our summer (Dec- Feb) is peak visitor time and so costs are a little higher. Christmas and New Year periods can increase demand considerably and as this demand increases then so does cost. Flights into the South Island ports of Christchurch and Queenstown can also increase during winter as demand for the Southern Hemispheres best skiing increases.

Airlines are now seeing more competition on certain routes and so shopping around for the best deal should produce some good savings. Airlines generally also offer special low fares for booking in advance. So if you can start to shop around as soon as you can then there can be some great savings. Flight bookings are usually available around 11 months in advance.

Be prepared to be a little flexible on dates - moving a few days either way or travelling on a specific day of the week might also produce some savings. Securing your dates and airfares would usually be the first step in making your plans to visit New Zealand - remember that the land or tour arrangements such as one of our self drive tours can be adapted to suit any date or length of stay.

Our tip - shop around, maybe use an airfare agent or expert to help you, be flexible with the route, airline and dates, book early.

Airport taxes

All taxes for New Zealand airports should now be included in your air ticket cost.

Visas

Lots of visitors to New Zealand do not require a visa to visit as a tourist. To check if you need a visa to visit check out this website http://glossary.immigration.govt.nz/VisaFreeCountries.htm.
Depending on the route you fly you may need a visa to transit or stopover on other countries. It pays to check this out with the airfare expert or the airline you are travelling with.

Our tip - check regarding visas if you are in any doubt.

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Does it cost more to travel round New Zealand in certain seasons?

As with any destination visiting in the high season or peak visitor season when demand is high means that hotels, motels, car rental companies and activity suppliers can charge a little more for their services. Low season rates are generally discounted to encourage or entice more customers during that period. The difference isn't  that much - for example a 4 star hotel might cost around NZ$20 a night more in peak season.  Costs such as eating out, fuel, drinks etc don't vary from season to season.

Availability:

One thing to consider is choice - some destinations such as the West Coast Glacier towns, Te Anau, Queenstown, Wanaka, Bay of Islands etc do get booked out during busy seasons. Making a booking as early as possible means you get the best choice of accommodations, room types and in turn, value and quality.

Our tip - book early to get the best choices.

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What do things cost such as fuel and dining out?

New Zealand has a great range of cafes, restaurants and other dining options. Like anywhere else in the world restaurant prices can vary immensely depending on the style and location of the restaurant. Budget between NZ$25 and NZ$35 per main course for most establishments. A pub meal might cost a little less. There is an abundance of take-away available from Indian to Vietnamese to good old fish and chips. A take-away meal for 2 might cost around NZ$20.
Breakfast at a local café will cost between NZ$15 and NZ$25 depending on the style and location (bigger cities tend to cost a little more). Taking a tour which is inclusive of breakfast can sometimes be a good value option.

Fuel costs: This of course will depend on how far you drive and for how long you tour around New Zealand. The following common tour lengths and routes will give you an idea of what to expect

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How long do I visit for and where do I go?

New Zealand is much larger than many first time visitors realise. It's a little larger than the UK, and around the same size as California or Germany. On top of this is the fact that the country is split into 2 main islands and only has around 100km or so of motorway road sections (or at least roads that could be compared with multi-lane highways in other countries). It has very few train services with the most frequented being the very popular Tranz Alpine and Coastal Pacific journeys on the South Island. So for most visitors getting around is by road, coach, flying or a combination of the three.

This shouldn't put you off, instead it should be anticipated eagerly. The roads are well maintained, well signposted, spectacularly scenic with a surprise around every bend. They have much less traffic than most visitors might be used to.

But ... getting around takes a little longer than you might be used to. Realistically 80kph (or 50mph) might be your average speed over the course of your holiday. Add stops for photos, interesting turn offs and coffee stops to this time and you can see that planning a tour to fit your location and activity wish list without over doing the driving is important. This of course is where our expert advice comes in but you should also be aware of and consider how much time in the car you would be happy with.

To comfortably visit both the North and South Islands by road you will need at least 14 days. It can be done in a little less with a couple of longer drives or if you decide to skip some sections and take the train (Picton to Christchurch) or fly e.g Rotorua to Christchurch.

As a general guideline and using our experience of what visitors actually do the following is a good starting point.

For lots of great suggestions just take a look at our comprehensive tour list to see what's possible. Each of our tour suggestion shows the driving distance and time for each major leg so you can easily gauge the pace.

Our tip - although the driving is great and the scenery spectacular don't try and fit too much in. Each region and destination has lots to see, explore and experience.

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Where should I stay?

New Zealand has a wide range of accommodation styles to suit every taste, budgets and requirements from simple motels to luxurious lodges, from apartments to 4 star hotels and even the occasional hobbit house!

We carefully select the properties we use and recommend to ensure they meet our quality standards and we monitor these standards by actively visiting properties and following up on the feedback we receive from guests.

Location is an important factor when choosing somewhere to stay. A great example of this is Auckland or Wellington properties. Many of our competitors' itineraries and tours use motels or hotels in the suburbs such as Epsom in Auckland or Lower Hutt in Wellington. While strictly speaking they are in the cities they pertain to be in, the locations are far from convenient (Epsom is 10km from Auckland City centre and Lower Hutt is 16 km from Wellington City centre. Staying in these locations might save a small amount of money but this is quickly swallowed up by the extra driving and inconvenience of travelling and parking in the city - after all its the city you want to experience, not the suburbs. Our suggestions, itineraries and tours use properties which are in great locations.

Value for money should also be a key consideration. The relative price of a property shouldn't be confused with the quality. For example a 4 star city centre hotel in a large city might cost the same as a 3 star hotel in a smaller town or even a good motel. The city will have lots of competition to contend with, good occupancy rates and so those elements dictate the price to some extent. A small town with just the one hotel can charge a little more.

The below explanations of accommodation styles will give you an indication of what to expect. Remember we can mix and match any style of accommodations to an itinerary or tour for example a tour staying in motels with a couple of nights enjoying a more luxurious lodge is quite a popular way to experience some variety.

Motels

The motels we recommend in New Zealand are of a very high standard. Services and facilities on offer in some cases are comparable with hotels. Costs can also be comparable particularly in the small popular locations such as Kaikoura and the West Coast Glaciers where accommodation options and types are limited. One of the most useful features of motel accommodations are the self-contained facilities. At minimum a studio unit will have cooking utensils, a hot plate and or microwave, toaster, kettle and crockery and cutlery. Other room types will have more comprehensive facilities such as a full kitchen. This is great if you prefer to prepare your own meals. Other facilities can include saunas, spas and swimming pools and some also offer a full breakfast service.
Motels also have a good choice of room types such as2 bedroom or family units making them a very economical choice for a family or larger group. Our motels are generally owned and operated by locals who have a genuine interest in their region and are keen to share it with you.

3 Star Hotel

The star rating for hotels only generally applies to the facilities and services a hotel may have at your disposal and not necessarily the quality or value of those services. This is where our local knowledge makes your selection easier. Throughout New Zealand there are some great 3 star hotels that offer great service in great locations. Even within the same hotel some room types and hotel wings vary enormously and so our tours only use and recommend the type that we know to be the best to suit your requirements. All our 3 star hotels have restaurant facilities and we can include meals in our tour costs if you prefer. Note however that smaller destinations such as Coromandel, Kaikoura, Akaroa etc hotels don't usually feature as an accommodation option.

4 Star Hotel

Our 4 star hotel range is immense and each one is selected and recommended for its location and room types. Many of the hotels in this category have a range of room styles such as standard/deluxe/superior, lake view, mountain view, suites etc. Many also have 2 and 3 bedroom suites which can offer great value for a larger family or group travelling together. 4 star hotels generally have swimming pools, gyms, a choice of restaurants and in most cases are a little closer to town centres or occupy premium positions over a 3 star property.

Bed & Breakfast

Bed & Breakfast properties in New Zealand are often quoted by our guests as some of the best they have experienced. A far cry from simply taking a room in some ones house the owners and operators have made a dedicated effort to share their little piece of New Zealand with you while providing modern hospitality and comfort. All the properties we recommend have en-suite bathrooms and very comfortable and private bedrooms. Occupying enviable positions or situated in a great suburb close to the action these properties are often owned and hosted by enthusiastic kiwi ambassadors and will definitely be a highlight of your New Zealand experience.

Premium Bed & Breakfast

Premium Bed & Breakfast offer every hospitality that our famous B&B's do but with that extra level of luxury. Properties are sometimes purpose built or historic and unique homes converted to accommodate their guests in premium quality surroundings.

Luxury Lodges and Hotels

New Zealand is world famous for its luxury and exclusive lodges and hotels. Ranging from some of the finest city centre cosmopolitan properties to purpose built lodges occupying prime locations in fantastic positions. Luxury Lodges in New Zealand afford guests every comfort and service. Often inclusive of dinner their in house chefs prepare some of the finest cuisine in the country and you dine amongst some of the finest settings. Lodges also provide services such as local fishing and hunting guides, walking guides, helicopter tours, in house massage and treatment facilities plus much more. Our luxury and 5 star hotels are globally recognised as some of the best.

Our tip - look for overall value and location. remember a saving of NZ$20 a night can soon be swallowed up in parking and extra fuel charges.

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What car should I drive?

We use a variety of rental vehicles for our tours from small economy cars to large 4WD and 8 seat people movers. The following factors and information will help you decide what's best for you.

Size: The first factor to determine the style of car to drive is how many people are travelling. Another factor is luggage and the space you might need for this. A good example is that a large saloon will comfortably seat 4 adults but won't fit 4 large suitcases plus small bags into the boot.

Fuel efficiency: The smaller the car the more fuel efficient this will be is the general rule. Some of the larger 4WD vehicles and people movers have diesel engines and these can be quite efficient. Diesel is also significantly cheaper than petrol in New Zealand. While a specific engine type can't be guaranteed we can place a request or preference for this on your behalf.
   
Manual or automatic: There isn't a lot of choice here as the majority of rental car fleets are automatic (as are most cars in NZ). Some categories such as compact or intermediate do offer a manual gearbox if you prefer a manual gearbox this may also mean an increase in car rental cost.

Insurance: All our rental cars come with insurance cover. There is a maximum excess or deductible which you are liable for and this ranges between NZ$345 and NZ$450 depending on the rental car company and the type of vehicle. This will be clearly stated on your itinerary and quote from us.
Insurance cover does have a few exclusions such as damage to tyres and windscreens and these details are also specified. In order to rent a vehicle a bond to cover the excess or deductible is requested by the rental company on delivery or collection of the vehicle. This is usually in the form of a credit card authorisation.

Who can drive: There are few restrictions on who can drive the rental

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Further Reading:

More ideas to help plan your trip to New Zealand


What to see and do during your New Zealand holiday


Rental cars and driving in New Zealand


Touring by Campervan or Motorhome


Planning for your visit to New Zealand


New Zealand Fine Touring news


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