Scenic Self-Drives Are a Great Way to Explore New Zealand

New Zealand is a magical country filled with dramatic natural scenery, quiet winding roads, and friendly Kiwis. Hit the road on a flexible self-drive holiday where you get to plan your itinerary and enjoy an ever-changing backdrop at your own pace. You’ll pass glistening lakes, snow-capped mountains, subtropical rainforests, rolling farmlands, volcanic hot springs, icy glaciers, fierce wilderness, and desert-like plains, in just a few hours’ drive. A New Zealand vacation offers a country full of contrasts waiting to be discovered, and a self-drive holiday is the perfect way to do it!

Close Up of a Map of New Zealand with a Red Pushpin Highlighting QueenstownSmall Country, Big Destination

New Zealand is a small country, but a big destination. Spanning just over 268,021 km², it can easily be explored without spending too many hours on the road. While you could probably cross both the North Island and South Island in less than 24 hours without stopping, you’ll want to take your time to explore. Allotting two or three weeks for a New Zealand tour is ideal to see both islands without rushing.

Flexible Itineraries That Suit You

Self-drives in New Zealand are flexible and can be created and tailored to suit your needs. Whether you want to add another day or another attraction to an existing itinerary, the world is your oyster to be experienced at your own pace. Stop whenever the moment grabs you – to picnic beside a lake, soak in a hot spring, or just stretch your legs – a luxury that organized tour schedules can’t afford.

Great Driving Conditions

While New Zealand may be small, its population is even smaller. With just 4.5 million people total (the size of a large city), the country is sparsely populated, which means quieter roads and a stress-free driving experience.

Driving is done on the left hand side of the road, so make sure you allow time to adjust to this if you come from a country that drives on the right. You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months with an international driver’s licence or a license from your home country. You need to be at least 21 years old to hire a car, but several car hire companies will consider younger travellers.

Sheep Mustering - Mount Cook, New Zealand
Traffic jam in Mount Cook

Cars or Motorhomes? Take Your Pick

Rental cars are a cost-effective way to travel through New Zealand, especially when in a group. The comfort of a self-drive is based largely on how comfortable you are with your vehicle. Luckily, there is plenty of choice for rentals cars, ranging from budget to mid-range and premium cars. Most car rental companies will include unlimited kilometres, daily vehicle insurance, and even airport and pick up fees. Accommodation is readily available along most of the main tourist routes. You can even combine your transport and accommodation into one, with a motorhome or camper van. These vehicles can sleep two or more people and are great for families.

Friends Relaxing Near Their Maui Motorhome in New Zealand
Friends relaxing near their rented motorhome

Must-See Attractions Along the Way

New Zealand’s North Island and South Island each have their own distinct heritage and attractions. Watch the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide at the tip of the North Island, or explore the natural beauty of Milford Sound on the South Island.

New Zealand has over sixty naturally-formed hot springs scattered across the country, surrounded by native bush and snow-tipped mountains – all of which are free! Visit Hot Water Beach at the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula, Kerosine Creek near Rotorua, or the Kaitoke and Peach Tree Hot Springs on Great Barrier Island, north east of Auckland, and enjoy a soak in a wild thermal spring. And, if you can manage the seven hour hike along the Copland Track, in South Island’s Westland Tai Poutini National Park, the secluded Welcome Flat hot pools will be more than rewarding.

Whether you choose to stop and climb Mount Cook, admire the West Coast glaciers, or explore the film sets from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, the New Zealand self-drive choices are endless.

Hot Water Beach Stop at Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
Hot water beach stop in Coromandel Peninsula

Meet the Kiwi Culture

New Zealanders, affectionately known as Kiwis, are made up of a unique mix.  They are a combination of Maori people who were the first to discover the islands, Europeans, and people from the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Tonga. A self-drive is a great way to interact with local communities and discover the welcoming culture that New Zealand is known for.

Maori dancers
Maori dancers

With all there is to see and do on a New Zealand vacation, why not enjoy it at your own pace on a self-drive holiday?

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Meg Boyd
Meg Boyd

Downunder Product and Marketing Manager - Melbourne-born Meg arrived in Canada in January with no winter coat, one suitcase, a one week booking at a youth hostel, and a sight-unseen job offer at Goway Travel. She thought she’d stay for a year – that was 12 years ago! Never one to shy away from adventure, Meg has been in the industry for 23 years and has journeyed extensively through Europe, Asia and North America. Meg’s heart however belongs to the South Pacific, including New Zealand, Fiji, and her native Australia.

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