Self-Drive vs Motorcoach Tours in New Zealand: Which is Right for You?

A New Zealand vacation is a bucket-list dream for many adventurous travellers. The country’s incomparable sights include mountains, beaches, glaciers, fjords, and farms, as well as charming cities and towns. For travellers who fancy an afternoon picnic and wine tasting, world-class wineries and glorious vineyards await.

If you’re planning to travel to New Zealand, you have basically two ways to explore the country – you can hire a car for a self-drive adventure or book an escorted tour. Having trouble deciding which one is right for you? Below are some tips to help you choose between a self-drive and a New Zealand motorcoach tour.

Couple with Car and Map, New ZealandSelf-Drive
If you’re an experienced driver, renting a car to explore the island is a great option. If you have a valid license in your home country, you can legally drive for up to 12 months in New Zealand. Keep in mind that all distances are marked in kilometres, and you must stay on the left side of the road. Familiarize yourself with the country’s driving requirements before you travel.

One of the main advantages of a self-driving New Zealand vacation is that you are in control. Suppose your itinerary calls for two nights in Dunedin, but once you arrive, you decide you need an extra day for rock climbing at Long Beach or surfing in the waters off the other spectacular Dunedin beaches. On a self-drive tour, the flexibility allows you to pursue whatever activity catches your interest.

You’ll also get to spend more time around native New Zealanders. Eating your meals at local restaurants is a great way to start a conversation. If you love venison, lobster, and fresh seafood, be sure to try the local cuisine at Te Anau near Milford Sound.

If you’re traveling with other family members, self-driving vacations often make more sense. You can accommodate everyone’s interests and often save on lodging and hotel expenses.

Sheep Mustering - Mount Cook, New Zealand

On the other hand, self-driving tours can be somewhat self-defeating, especially if you’re unfamiliar with driving on the left side of the road. You can spend more time watching the road and reading directions than you can spend observing the scenery. In addition, gas and parking are notoriously expensive in New Zealand; plan to spend about $200 for every 1,000 kilometers you drive.

If you’re visiting New Zealand for the first time, you won’t have the insight and experience to know which New Zealand attractions are worth visiting, based on the length of your vacation. You also won’t have a travel guide to explain the history and significance of the places you visit. Self-driving also leaves you with less control over your daily expenses. Meals, lodging, admissions, and entertainment expenses can vary greatly from day-to-day, depending on the city and the excursions you choose.

Motorcoach New ZealandCoach Bus Tours
Booking a coach tour of New Zealand is an excellent option for many travellers. Before you choose a tour, find out what sightseeing options and meals are included, whether you have time for self-exploration, and what types of accommodations exist along the way.

For many people, the most attractive feature of a coach bus tour is the pre-planned itinerary, as well as the services of a knowledgeable tour guide. You’ll often have access to exclusive experiences such as a “home stay” with a local family, cultural dance performance, or behind-the-scenes tour of some New Zealand wineries. You also spend more time enjoying the scenery as you travel around the country.

Coach bus tours are also often the best choice for singles. When you spend your vacation among the same small group of fellow travellers, making new friends and sharing experiences is easy. You’ll have no trouble finding a dinner companion or someone to explore all the tour stops with you. Your tour guide can also point you to the best restaurants and nightlife when you visit a city.

Finally, you have more control over your costs, because most of your expenses get included with the cost of the tour. You need only to plan for a few meals, entertainment, shopping, and other personal expenses.

Of course, surrendering control to a pre-planned itinerary cramps the free-wheeling traveller. If you’re the sort who could spend days exploring the Franz Josef Glacier or kayaking Lake Mapourika, you’ll be disappointed if your tour limits you to a brief afternoon. In general, most coach bus tours pack a lot of adventures into a short amount of time, so you’ll naturally have less time to spend at each stop along the tour.

Some vacationers also find touring with a group of 50 or more fellow travellers restrictive or confining. You can waste a bit of time embarking and disembarking the coach, and rounding up the group after every stop or event you participate in on the tour. If you treasure flexibility and autonomy when you travel, you might prefer a self-driving tour.

Motorcoach at Milford Sound

Final Thoughts on New Zealand Touring
No matter which option you choose, New Zealand vacation packages offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the incredible natural attractions, vibrant city life, history, architecture, and amazing scenery this country has to offer. Why not plan your own unforgettable adventure to this South Pacific treasure?

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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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