If you love road trip, passionate about conquering spectacular roads behind the wheel but not yet a “skillful” driver, New Zealand is a perfect place to depart.
The best way to admire the beauty of New Zealand is self-driving
New Zealand is reasonable small island nation, famous for its wild picturesque scenery, stretching from north island to south island. Its populations are little and scattered, while public transportation is concentrated in major cities. Therefore, the best way to fully discover the splendid beauty of New Zealand is self-driving.
This was the second time I drove overseas, but the first time I was the main and only driver of the trip. With less experienced driver like me, not driving over 600km in Vietnam, plus the car is a right-hand wheel, this more than 2000km trip is a real challenge for me. I was excited and nervous with this important mission.
The feeling of driving up a steep slope which was so high that you couldn’t see the road but only the sky, then when you reached the top, the head of the car changed direction, looking down, opening a spectacular magnificent view that stun you is the feeling that New Zealand roads have given me.
Is it easy to rent a car in New Zealand?
Arriving at the airport, we came to the rental car agent to pick up the car we had booked. For the first time I experienced the procedures of renting and picking up a car, it was quite simple and fast. I spent 5 minutes, running around in the yard to get used to the new car. Due to the right hand wheel, all buttons were placed in the reverse side, from left to right, for example the turn signal was on the right, instead of on the left as usual, while the windshield wiper button was on the left. I kept getting confused when driving on that first day, every time I turned the signal to turn left or right, I turned on the wiper button. It was so funny.
- You should book the car prior the trip to get better price and many options on the brands and types. All the car rental agents have similar prices, hence you should check a few of them to get familiar with the price range. We rented our Toyota SUV 5-seat car with Go-orange at the fee of 1700 NZD for 12 days, excluded fuel fee.
- You should also make sure the car has GPS for navigation. Otherwise, you have to rent a separate GPS device since the phone signal was not very good in remote areas. Rental price of GPS device is around 12 NZD/ day.
- There are many insurance packages attached to rental fee. For me, to free my mind of the scratches along the way, I picked the full package. As the result, the car checking when pick-up and return went very fast.
Is it difficult to drive a right-hand car in New Zealand?
- Car in New Zealand has right wheel, hence the most important thing you need to remember is driving in the left side of the road. The easiest way is to follow the car ahead to avoid driving on the wrong lane. Remember the driver seat is always near the middle line.
- Legally, tourist can drive any small car (9 seats and below) in New Zealand for 12 months with your valid driving licence. For Vietnamese, you need a dual language (Vietnamese-English) license, or a separate legal translation.
- The roads in New Zealand are quite spacious and deserted, our car owns most roads. The natural landscape is breathtaking, so it is a very relaxing drive. We were overwhelmed by picturesque sceneries along the way. You just need to pay attention to the turns of highland roads as they are sharp and steep.
- The maximum speed on the highway is 100km / h, sometimes up to 110km / h.
- Flash your lights or blink your hazard lights a few times to express ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘go ahead’, depending on the situation
What to do when being stopped by the police?
Almost throughout the journey, we did not see any New Zealand’s police. That made sense as the street is so deserted, what do the police need to do?
That day was the last day, on the road from Mt. Cook to Christchurch, the highway was quite boring. I accelerated the speed to 120km/ h. Just past a bend, I saw a police car running in the opposite direction. After a while, I saw them begin to screech and change their direction, following my car. Knowing that I had exceeded the speed limit, I slowed down and pulled over, but still sat in the car.
A handsome, tall policeman approached my car, asked me if I knew how much I was running, and if I knew what the specified speed was. With an expression of sincerity, I accepted my fault. Then he asked to see my driver’s license. Knowing I was a tourist, he just reminded me and let me go. Oh, it was so nervous.
Other useful tips
Visa to New Zealand (tips for Vietnamese)
Visitor visa to New Zealand is quite easy to obtain. You can either do online submission or paper submission through visa service agent with slightly different fee (from 2.8 to 3.5 million VND). It will take around 17 calendar days. With visitor visa, you can visit New Zealand as a genuine tourist for up to 9 months in an 18-month period.
For more information, please visit this link
The application requires following documents (in English)
- Completed, signed application form.
- Appropriate fee and immigration levy
- Original Passport with more than 6 months valid
- Two passport-sized color photographs.
- Financial documents (Bank statement in last 6 months, saving account).
- If your partner and/or dependent children are included in the application, you should provide evidence of your relationship with your partner and/or evidence that you are the parent or legal guardian of the children included in this application
- Round trip ticket in and out of New Zealand
- Itinerary and hotel booking.
Flight to New Zealand
- From Vietnam to the big cities of New Zealand is a long journey of about 14 – 18 hours. We bought round trip flight ticket of Malaysia Airline, from HCMC to Auckland, transited in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This flight was the most reasonable for both duration and transit at that time with the price of 1200$ (in 2016).
- Nowadays, the price is much cheaper with many other options, such as Air New Zealand, China airline, China Eastern, Hongkong airline
Food & Drink
- New Zealand cuisine is not very famous in the world. Restaurants are fairly expensive, not everywhere, also the service is not good and slow. Hence, we cooked ourselves most of the time during the trip.
- We bought food and species in supermarket in big cities and carry them along with us, then cooked them in our hostel. We were the only group that had the most proper cook every meal in any hostel we stayed, while other tourists just simply enjoyed their sandwiches.
- Cooking saved us cost, however, it was tiring since after a long day traveling, we had to cook and clean.
Accommodation in New Zealand is not very expensive with around 30-45 NZD per pax per night (sharing room).The rooms are nicely decorated and clean. We stayed in all kinds of accommodation from hostel bunk beds, to entire house, to airbnb apartment.
We didn’t book hotel but a house in airbnb. The first house in Christchurch was spacious with big yard and colorful flowers. Inside, the house was really large with a big living room, a big kitchen and 3 bedrooms. All had windows with the view of the garden that make the house was so bright.
The apartment in Wanaka has a great location, opposite Lake Wanaka and close to the center
The room in Te Anau was pretty and cozy, we had a wonderful dinner there.
Our favorite was the apartment at Queentowns because the room was spacious with big living room and kitchen. It also had a large balcony with great view of the city.
Milford Sound Lodge Hotel is set amidst a spectacular natural landscape surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. Behind the hotel was a river and the path to the hotel lobby looked like going to the forest. The scene was such beautiful, but the room we rent is super small with 4 bunk beds and 1 twin bed.
The total cost of a 14-day trip is 4,000 USD (based on price in 2016)
Read all my articles about New Zealand