Cars driving between snowy mountains
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Renting a car in Queenstown

Guide by Roxanne de Bruyn

Last Updated 31 May 2023

With a rental car, you'll have the freedom to explore this beautiful region at your own pace.

While you can get around Queenstown through day tours supplemented by public transport, hiring a car gives you a lot more flexibility.

Hiring a rental car in Queenstown is easy and convenient, with a variety of options available to suit your budget and travel style. Whether you're looking for a compact car for a romantic getaway or a spacious SUV for a family ski trip, you'll find plenty of choices here.

And with many rental car companies offering pick-up and drop-off at the Queenstown airport, getting behind the wheel and hitting the open road has never been easier. So, let's dive in and discover the best rental car options for your Queenstown adventure!

Tip: check Discover Cars to find the cheapest car rental options in Queenstown.

Should I rent a car in Queenstown?

Renting a car in Queenstown gives you a much greater amount of freedom and flexibility. Even if you don’t want to rent a car for your entire trip, you can do a one-day car rental to explore some of the surrounding area.

With your own car, you can venture out of town and explore nearby Lake Hayes, Jacks Point and Wanaka. You’ll be able to visit Arrowtown at your leisure, and you’ll be able to take your time admiring the scenery on the stunning route from central Queenstown to Glenorchy.  

That said, you probably don’t need a car if you just want to spend your time in Queenstown skiing at Coronet Peak and the Remarkables or hiking to Ben Lomond. There are shuttles from town to the nearby ski fields and you can book a tour to get around. If you plan on hiking in Mount Aspiring National Park or heading farther out to Cardona or Treble Cone, hiring a car will make life much easier! 

How else can I get around Queenstown?

 There are frequent buses which go between central Queenstown, Arrowtown and Frankton. You can also get a bus from the airport to town.

Queenstown does have rideshare services, including Uber, and many tours and activities offer pick-ups from Queenstown hotels.

Where’s the best place to rent a car in Queenstown?

There are car rental offices at Queenstown Airport and in central Queenstown. As mentioned above, it’s best to book a car in advance, especially at peak times (school holidays, Easter and mid-December to late January).

Check online to find the best rates and remember to book a 4WD or get snow chains if you’re planning on heading up the mountains in winter.

Some of the cheapest rental car companies won't be based at the airport itself but in nearby Frankton. These usually offer a free shuttle service to and from the airport.

What do I need to rent a car in New Zealand?

A valid driver's licence

If you hold a valid driver's license, you're legally allowed to drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months. It's important to carry your license with you at all times while driving. If your license is not in English, you must carry an accurate English translation with you.

You can usually get this by having an International Driving Permit (IDP) issued in English or translated into English. With this, you can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months, as long as you also carry your current driver's license that the permit is based on.

Be over 21

Usually, you need to be over 21 to rent a car in New Zealand, and some rental companies may charge additional fees for drivers under the age of 25.

A credit or debit card

 You’ll usually have a hold put on your credit card when you hire a car. This will cover the insurance excess in the event of damage. When you return the car undamaged, the money will be released back into your account.

What’s driving like in New Zealand?

Driving in New Zealand is reasonably straightforward, but it’s important to be aware of a few things before hitting the road:

  • We drive on the left side of the road. This can be a big adjustment for visitors from countries where driving on the right is the norm, so take the time to practice in a safe and quiet area before venturing out onto busier roads.

  • Many of our roads are hilly, narrow and winding, so it’s important to take your time and be cautious when driving. Distances may take longer to cover than you expect, especially if you're used to driving on freeways or highways.

  • New Zealand's landscape is well worth the extra time spent on the road – just make sure to find a safe spot to pull over if you want to take a photo.

  • Check the road rules - some may be different from what you're used to, so take the time to familiarize yourself with them. Note that our speed signs are in kilometres per hour, not miles.

  • Seatbelts are compulsory for everyone in the car, including passengers in the back seat, and child restraints are also mandatory.

  • It’s also illegal to drive while using a hand-held mobile phone in New Zealand, so make sure to use a hands-free device if you need to make a call or send a text.

For more information, check NZTA's factsheet for driving in New Zealand.

Tips for driving in Queenstown

 If you're planning to drive in Queenstown, it's important to keep a few tips in mind to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.

  •  Get snow chains for your car (or hire a 4WD) if you’re planning to go to the slopes in winter, and be sure you know how to fit them. Drive to the conditions in winter, and keep an eye out for black ice on the road.

  •  Stay away from the 4WD tracks to Skipper Canyon and Macetown in your rental vehicle (even if it’s 4WD). It’s easy to get stuck and insurance will not cover the retrieval of your car.

  •  Allow yourself more time to get places than you think you need (keep this in mind, if you’re planning to drive to Milford Sound!) With diverse terrain and rapidly changing weather conditions, it's crucial to allow plenty of time for each leg of your trip.

  •  Around Queenstown (and outside of major cities in NZ), roads are two-way with one lane in each direction and no barriers in between. This means you'll need to take extra care when encountering slow-moving farm machinery, horses, and stock. 

  • You may encounter unsealed, gravel roads if you go exploring. They can be slippery to drive on, so go slow and take care. If you pass another vehicle, keep left and reduce your speed as dust can obscure your vision and loose stones could chip your windscreen.

What kinds of cars are available to rent? 

You’ll generally find a mix of Japanese and European cars for rent. They usually have automatic transmissions and range in size from compact cars to SUVs and trucks.

If you want a manual car, be prepared to pay a bit extra. There are also an increasing number of electric vehicles and hybrids available for rent.

Tips for renting a car

When renting a car, it's important to take a few precautions to avoid any unexpected charges or disputes.

  • Document the car's condition before and after your rental period. Take photos and/or videos of any scratches, dings, or dents on the car's exterior, as well as any stains, rips, or other damage to the interior. This will help ensure that you're not held responsible for any pre-existing damage.

  • Have your rental agreement and booking information easily accessible. This includes any emails you may have received from the rental company, which can serve as proof of your agreement in case of any disputes. While you don't necessarily need to print out these documents, having them easily accessible on your phone or another device can save you a lot of hassle if any issues arise.

  • When you return the car, take photos and/or videos again to document its condition at the end of the rental period.

  • Usually, you need to be over 21 to rent a car in New Zealand, and some rental companies may charge a higher rate for drivers under 25.

  • Check to see if your travel insurance includes rental car hire. If it doesn’t, consider purchasing insurance when you hire your vehicle to give you extra peace of mind while driving on unfamiliar roads.