Renting a car in Queenstown is one of the most popular ways to see the South Island of New Zealand. It will allow you to explore everything from the famous hiking trails to beautiful lake roads, and everywhere in between! However, there are some important things to note if you’re planning on driving from the adventure capital of the world. Here’s 10 easy tips to know before picking up your Queenstown car rental!
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10 Easy Tips for Renting a Car in Queenstown
1. Book Your Queenstown Rental Car in Advance
Our first Queenstown car rental tip is one of the most essential! Once you finalize your travel dates to New Zealand you’re going to want to book your car immediately. This especially applies if you’re heading there during the high season which is December to February.
Queenstown is the #1 travel destination to visit in New Zealand, and with that comes higher prices. If you manage to reserve a car in advance you can sometimes find affordable rates that won’t otherwise be there closer to your dates. We use Discover Cars when traveling and have found great deals on rental cars in Queenstown!
We paid $300 USD for a week long car rental picking up and dropping off from Queenstown. Now, if you are traveling in high season you can expect that to jump up a few hundred dollars… Especially if you don’t book your car in advance!
We always book a car with free cancellation ahead of time. That we you can lock in the better price, but if something changes you can always cancel within the allotted timeframe.
2. Consider a One Way Queenstown Car Rental
If you’re planning an adventurous road trip like many do from Queenstown, you should think about a one way rental! A popular route is to just drive the South Island and drop off in Christchurch before flying out.
However, some travelers take the ultimate New Zealand route with their car on the famous Cook Strait Ferry to the North Island. From there you can drop off in Wellington or Auckland airport.
Just be aware that there is usually a one way fee for dropping your Queenstown car rental in a different location. Still, depending on your route, it may be more beneficial for you to pay this one way fee. This way you can see more of this beautiful country without backtracking!
→ New Zealand North Island Itinerary: 4 Awesome One Week Routes
3. Short vs Longterm Rentals
When renting a car in Queenstown you will have to consider how long you’ll truly need it for. Are you just doing a day trip to Glenorchy or overnight to Milford Sound? Or are you planning a longer drive like the one we mentioned above? Really, it all depends on what type of traveler you are.
New Zealand (and especially Queenstown) tends to draw in travelers that are up for an adventure into nature! Nevertheless, you could easily spend weeks just in Queenstown and taking some sweet 1-2 day trips from here. By now you probably know this is the ultimate jumping off point to the rest of the South Island. You’ll definitely want to look into rental cars in Queenstown!
4. Winter Weather Warning
While most travelers head here during the warmer months, the South Island does attract tourists during the winter season.
The weather is definitely something to be aware of when renting a car in Queenstown New Zealand. Road conditions can often be unsafe for driving, leading to closures on some of the most popular routes.
If you are planning to rent a car in Queenstown, make sure to do your research about your route. Also, double check the Queenstown car rental companies cancellation policies if the weather is too crazy during your dates.
5. Camping With Your Rent a Car in Queenstown
One of the most exciting ways to see New Zealand is by camping! While many travelers rent a campervan, you should know that you can just as easily pitch a tent right from your rental car. As long as you don’t mind bringing the equipment with you, there is plenty of camping sites and holiday parks which allow this style.
We even discovered firsthand that the public bathrooms in NZ are some of the nicest in the world. Maybe something you wouldn’t normally think about, but always good to know!
6. Should You Consider a Campervan?
There are definitely pros and cons to renting both a car and campervan. Obviously, a campervan will be a literal home on wheels. The larger ones even have a bathroom, actual bed, and sometimes even a kitchen!
Trust us when we say that the 3 months we spent in our campervan were some of the most memorable moments in New Zealand for us. Yet, renting a car in Queenstown gives you some advantages over a campervan.
For starters, the car is just simply a smaller vehicle. If you’re not used to driving something big then you may find the twist and turns on the South Island difficult. A Queenstown car rental will also be cheaper on gas than a campervan!
Now it does depend on the size of your group and your personal travel style. Just keep in mind that sometimes a car might be a better option.
7. Check Rental Cars in Queenstown for Damage
This is one tip that applies everywhere in the world when renting a car. ALWAYS check for damage before leaving the office. Particularly in a place like Queenstown where travelers are going wild places and sometimes even off-roading, the cars can get damaged.
These days a lot of the companies don’t even walk around the car with you before leaving. It’s smart to take plenty of pictures yourself, and even a video circling the car.
If you are using an international credit card be sure to check what their rental coverage is. Also, consider buying the extra insurance when renting a car in Queenstown. This way you can just walk away no questions asked if something were to go wrong.
8. Always Factor in Extra Driving Time
In a place with mountains and wild terrain like New Zealand you’ll always want to plan for some extra time in the car. We have done some of the craziest one week routes you’ll ever find, from Argentina to Norway and beyond. Still, one thing we always screw up on is not leaving enough time in between stops.
I mean, in a destination so stunning you’ll need more time just for pictures! Also, consider the time of year you’re getting a rent a car in Queenstown. If you’re traveling in the peak months you can expect a little bit of traffic. Like we mentioned above, you’ll want to think about weather in the winter as well.
9. Plan Out Your South Island Route
This brings us to one of the most important points in this renting a car in Queenstown guide! Truly think about the route you’re driving before you take off.
This doesn’t mean you have to plan every step of the way, but on the South Island you’ll need to have a decently planned itinerary. There’s honestly just too much to see!
From Hanmer Springs to Lake Tekapo and the incredible Mount Cook National Park, you’ll never run out of places to go. You’ll also want to save plenty of time for all the great things to do in Queenstown itself.
→ South Island New Zealand Itinerary: 4 Amazing One Week Routes
10. Enjoy the Freedom of Renting a Car in Queenstown
While planning is the smart thing to do, there is a certain freedom you’ll get with car rentals in Queenstown. Sure, there are some amazing wine tours and hiking to do right from town.
However, after you’ve seen beautiful Queenstown it’s time to jump in your car and hit the open road. New Zealand is one of the best places in the world for a road trip and the nature here is absolutely one of a kind. So what are you waiting for??
Have any questions about this article or want to share your own rent a car in Queenstown stories? Leave us a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
New Zealand Travel Planning
Jucy Van: The best way to explore New Zealand is with a Jucy camper! We spent over six weeks driving around the North and South Islands in a van and loved every moment.
Rental Car: If you’re not renting a van you’ll still need a vehicle to get around. We use Discover Cars when traveling and enjoy having the freedom to get around.
Flights: It’s easy to find cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Auckland to Queenstown for $40 USD, and New Zealand to Fiji for less than $150!
Accommodation: Compare multiple sites for the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda! Also, Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide to find activities all over New Zealand! They have everything from a Milford Sound cruise with underwater observatory, to a Otago wine tour with gourmet wine & lunch, and even a Kaikoura whale watching cruise!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for insurance the last few years and they are always there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
More South Island New Zealand Tips
Travel Tips & Guides: 10 Helpful NZ Travel Tips – 25 Beautiful Beaches – Wellington to Picton Ferry – 27 Delicious Food & Drinks
North Coast: Abel Tasman Day Hike – Wharariki Beach & Archway Islands – 6 Picton Things to Do
East Coast: Banks Peninsula – French Town of Akaroa – Tunnel Beach Dunedin – Kaikoura
→ Explore all our North Island New Zealand Travel Tips & Guides
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