5 tips for your New Zealand road trip

planning a road trip through scenic New Zealand? here's five simple tips to help your travels go a bit more smoothly.

New Zealand is one of the world's most epic places to travel to, and visitors and locals both will agree the best way to see it all is a good old-fashioned road trip. in fact, I spent a three week vacation doing just that earlier this year. whether you rent a camper van, tents, stay in backpacker lodges or rent apartments - driving through New Zealand's gorgeous scenery is sure to amaze. but any good road trip requires at least a little planning. today I'm sharing some advice from my travels north and south over this beautiful country: a few tips that helped make our drive through New Zealand safe, enjoyable, and memorable.

renting a car with GPS in New Zealand

1. get the full insurance and GPS

I'll be honest - when I used to travel in the US and rent cars, I always went for the cheapest insurance option available. I would never get a GPS and instead relied on my phone's navigational app and/or a Mapquest printout. when booking our New Zealand trip, however, we went for the full coverage. this was probably the smartest planning decision we made!

the price difference between standard and full insurance was not that much, and after hearing how spotty [or non-existant] the cell service can be in some areas we decided to book a GPS as well. the GPS was helpful for directions, obviously, but we also used our GPS to find points of interest - that's how we discovered Cave Rock near Christchurch. but for us, the insurance coverage really paid off. [or rather, ensured that WE didn't have to pay.] we ended up having to take our rental car in for a new fuse just hours after we picked it up. the next night our rear window was smashed in by someone attempting to steal our camp gear - but a replacement car was covered. a week later we ended up with a third rental, as our replacement car had started making funny noises [which turned out to be a belt issue when we took it to the agency.] and thanks to the insurance, we didn't have to pay a dime for any of this.

winding roads through New Zealand

2. obey local traffic laws

this one sounds like a no-brainer, but for tourists not used to driving on the left of the road or using kilometers per hour New Zealand driving can take a bit of getting used to. we had a little help from our GPS which alerted us when we crept over the speed limit. tourism is a huge industry in New Zealand, but that doesn't mean the cops are lenient on tourists who don't obey the laws.

it's also common courtesy in New Zealand to pull to the side and let others pass if you are going slower than traffic [which, driving your camper van and gaping at the views, you probably are.] most roads have areas on the shoulders to accommodate this every few kilometers.

rental car in New Zealand mountains

3. buy a travel sim card

if you have an unlocked smartphone [or one which you can change out the Sim card] I would highly suggest picking up a New Zealand card while you are traveling the country. I paid around $20 US for both a card and one month's worth of service - including texts, calls, and 500 MB of data. there are several companies offering similar deals: Vodafone, Telecom NZ, and 2 Degrees.

there are definitely spots in New Zealand where you won't get service. but being able to look up weather or hours for nearby restaurants, call and change hotel reservations, or use the navigation app when the car fuse powering our GPS was dead was invaluable. [and of course, you want to be able to upload your epic vacation shots to instagram.]

4. stock up on snacks

food options between destinations in New Zealand can be sparse. I'm one of those people who needs to eat every few hours or else I start to get hangry. and when you're in a car with 3 other people for 3 weeks straight... that's not good. so we took to stopping at grocery stores before leaving town to stock up on snacks for the drive. I love junk food as much as the next girl [mmm... potato chips] but the grocery store not only gave us more and healthier options, but we found it was cheaper than gas station snacks. most days of travel we ended up stopping to have picnic lunches along the way.

spotting Mount Cook from the road in New Zealand

5. pull over for breaks

for the sake of safety, you should switch drivers every hour or two and make sure you stop to stretch often. scenic overviews, picnic areas and public toilets are well-marked in New Zealand with blue signs and plenty of arrows.

but, let's be real. mostly you will want to pull over for the views. I admit that I shot quite a few photos through the windshield [especially the ones you see in this post.] but there's so much to see when driving through New Zealand, you really shouldn't let a piece of tempered glass get between you and the sights.

mountains and sheep in New Zealand

if you won't be making it to New Zealand any time soon [though I hope you will!] feel free to apply these recommendations to any road trip you might be taking. if you are curious as to where exactly this road trip took us, you can check out our full NZ travel itinerary. you might also be interested in seeing what I packed for 3 weeks in NZ.

5 tips for your New Zealand road trip

do you have any other road trip tips to add? would you follow this advice or just "wing it" when traveling?

look familiar? this originally appeared as a guest post on Route Bliss

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