New Zealand's scenic highways winding through mountains and stretching along the beautiful coastline are made for a driving adventure. The country is particularly popular in winter when the ski-fields come to life and winter sports enthusiasts flock to the slopes. However if you are planning to drive while visiting New Zealand in winter, it can come with some additional hazards. Some roads may even be challenging in the summer months. The car you choose to rent can make a big difference.
The first aspect that will impact your choice of vehicle is where in New Zealand you will actually be driving. New Zealand is a diverse country and experiences a range of different climates. In certain parts of the country, you may not experience snow and ice on the road. Many sections of the North Island do not have regular snowfall, and neither do a lot of coastal regions.
If you are heading to any alpine regions, particularly the Southern Alps, you will need to take extra care as there is frequent snowfall throughout winter. If you are driving on rural roads, the conditions may be more challenging than you are used to. The winding, steep inclines of the roads can present additional hazards. Conditions are changeable in New Zealand, and you should carefully monitor weather conditions and follow local advice. A small car may help you to more easily navigate the small, mountain roads.
Perfect for: Smaller roads on mountain passes in the Queenstown and Wanaka regions.
Four-wheel drive vehicles can give drivers a better handle on driving in icy conditions. Four wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles can help drivers move through the snow better than a two-wheel drive. If you are heading to the ski fields, you may find that simply having the additional space is a benefit. If you are driving on rural roads with more challenging terrain you may find a four wheel drive vehicle is better equipped to deal with the conditions.
Even if you drive a four wheel or all wheel drive, you will still face the same hazards as other drivers. It will still be harder to slow down in the winter conditions, and you need to take extra car and break early and gradually. In winter there is the risk of black ice, particularly around lakes and in shaded areas. Avoid sudden braking and maintain appropriate following distances.
You can read more winter driving tips here.
Perfect for: Alpine areas in the Southern Alps or Tongariro National Park.
If you are new to driving in New Zealand, and are unfamiliar with travelling on the left-hand side of the road, it might be a good idea to hire an automatic vehicle. These are common in New Zealand, and may allow you to better focus on the road, which will be particularly useful in busy metropolitan areas.
Read more about things to consider before you book your rental car.