Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Argument for Driving through New Zealand

Our little car taking us through the mountains towards Milford Sound. 
While researching our trip to New Zealand I read multiple blogs that gave conflicting opinions on the best mode of transportation. Some advised renting a car or van and driving yourself, but others suggested taking hop-on hop-off tour buses that traveled through all the towns we visited. Here are five reasons I would encourage others to drive themselves through this beautiful country. 

1. The rental company made the process easy for us. 

We rented an economy car from Ace, and they provided a shuttle from the airport to the rental agency the day we arrived and another shuttle from the rental agency to the train station the day before we left. We saved money by not having to take any taxis until after we returned the car. With our U.S. driving license we did not have to fill out any extra paperwork. They just reminded us to stay on the left side of the road, and off we went!

Golden fields and blue ocean on the Eastern coast. 

2. The driving was not stressful. 

Full disclosure: Matt did all of the driving, so I cannot comment from personal experience. I should say Matt did not consider the driving stressful. Driving in Okinawa is full of swerving around cars parked in the street and trying to get through a million stop lights, but New Zealand is mostly empty two-lane roads surrounded by sheep and amazing scenery. The handy GPS never led us astray, and we played an audiobook to entertain the both of us while Matt drove. (Packing for Mars by Mary Roach - highly recommended!)

The only time I was nervous was on the drive to Milford Sound. We had to travel THROUGH a mountain in a dark, damp tunnel for ten minutes, and afterwards we were going back and forth down a mountain range. The drive seemed dangerous to me, but I trusted Matt in our tiny car more than I would a bus driver in a gigantic vehicle. 

We also did not have a problem obeying New Zealand traffic laws, since we are used to driving on the left side of the road, except for ONE TIME. We did get pulled over once, and the police officer wrote us a ticket instead of a warning. We were on a straight country road with no cars or buildings in sight. The speed limit was 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) and our car was clocked at 112 kph (70 mph). Not even a warning for tourists?!? I call speed trap. Still, the police officer was friendly and the small ticket did not add any additional stress to our trip. 

Overlooking Lake Wakatipu
3. The freedom in our schedule. 

Some tour buses only leave once a day from certain towns. We would have to rush to make the one bus! Instead, we slept as long as we wanted, grabbed breakfast (or brunch, depending on the time of day), and started on the road whenever we felt like it. 

We could also visit wherever we wanted, even smaller attractions that might be more difficult to schedule with a bus. For example, we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders during sunset. It was not peak time since the tide was in and the cafe was closed, but that was when we passed the sign to turn-off. We were the only two on the beach!

4. We stopped whenever we wanted or needed to take a break. 

Matt was a wonderfully patient travel companion and stopped whenever I needed a bathroom break. There are lots of public bathrooms along the scenic roads in NZ, and most of them are outside. Some were very clean and well-stocked, but others did not flush and had no soap. Beggars can't be choosers in the middle of nowhere (especially when I really had to go), so I am glad the option was available. I am also glad I wasn't stuck on a bus that would not stop for potty breaks as often as I would like!

5. The photos without other people!

Whenever we saw a tour bus stop at a famous sight, forty to fifty people got off and started clicking immediately. Conversely, in our little car we stopped along the road to take photos whenever we wanted and had no other people in the way of the amazing views. 

The unobstructed views of the Otago Peninsula. Worth the drive!


  1. Wow! What great photos! I would definitely drive on that trip! But I'm no leftie. So happy you are seeing the world and sharing it with us.

    1. Hahaha! I'm glad I convinced you Aunt Cindy. I love that I get to see so many amazing places!

  2. Maybe it's because I've driven through NZ, but I can't imagine NOT wanting to go that route (no pun intended). It's such a beautiful place and I'm positive we would have missed out on so much had we been on a stuffy tour bus. Yay for New Zealand!

    1. I absolutely read all your posts before we left, and I remember you saying you would make decisions on the fly while traveling there. I am sooooo glad we experienced the country like we did.

  3. I love that you went to the boulders! I used to live a couple hours from them! The last year NZ has suffered quite a lot of losses due to tourist related traffic incidents and there has been big debate going on how to deal with it & there is definitely a strong police officer presence compared to other countries I have been in so I am, sadly, not surprised you got ticketed. I hope it wasn't a too hefty fine!

    1. I did not realize that tourists caused so many traffic accidents, but I suppose the transition from one side of the road to the other would throw lots of Americans for a loop. The ticket wasn't too much, and we watched our speed a lot more carefully afterwards!
      When we went out to eat the helpful staff also warned us about the new drinking and driving laws which are stricter even than Japan. I wonder if that is related to the tourism traffic accidents...