Travel to New Zealand without reserving a car

Should you book a rental car before you arrive in New Zealand? Or hire a car when you get to New Zealand? Read on to find out what’s best.

It is not always necessary to make a car rental reservation in advance before you arrive in New Zealand.

You could also just walk up to a car hire counter at an airport and ask whether there are any rental cars available.

When I last flew into Christchurch airport and picked up my rental car, there was a couple who approached the car rental company’s counter and asked whether they could get a car.

After the attendant asked and confirmed that they did not have a car reservation, she gracefully said, “We don’t have any cars”.

2 Factors for deciding whether to pre-book a car or not

There are two main things you need to look at when considering renting a car in New Zealand on the day you arrive:

  1. The car rental location.
  2. Whether it is peak or off-peak season in New Zealand.

Larger airports and cities in New Zealand tend to have a larger supply of cars. And during the off-peak season in New Zealand, more rental cars are expected to be available than during the peak season in New Zealand.

Rented car on the North Island, New Zealand

Rented car on the North Island, New Zealand

While New Zealand does not have clear-cut peak and off-peak seasons, since it is busy throughout the year, you can see the summer and winter seasons as the peak seasons, and late autumn as the off-peak season.

Having said that, while Christchurch has a fairly large airport in comparison to other airports in New Zealand, the car rental company mentioned in my story above, still ran out of cars.

And to make things worse, I flew into Christchurch in April, which is a month in which tourist activity starts to wind down. However, I must say that I arrived during a school holiday period, which would technically speaking make it a busy period according to the best time to visit New Zealand.

Conclusion on whether to book a car in advance or not

The takeaway from this is the following: New Zealand is a relatively small country if you compare it to the U.S. or Canada, so the supply of rental cars will naturally be low.

On the other hand, many tourists who visit New Zealand, and even people like myself who live in New Zealand, rent cars from car rental companies in New Zealand.

So the law of supply and demand must be applied to car rental in New Zealand, and the only thing you can then conclude is that it is recommended to make a car reservation before you arrive in New Zealand if you don’t want to get stranded at the airport because there weren’t any cars available when you got there.

If you decide to travel to New Zealand without a car rental reservation…

… make sure you have a backup plan.

For example, if you are flying into Christchurch airport, remember that you might be able to rent a car at a non-airport location in Christchurch. This means that you could catch the bus or a taxi into Christchurch city centre and pick up a car there.

If it does not occur to the car rental attendant you speak to at the airport to enquire whether there are any cars available at any of their other car rental branches that are not located at the airport, specifically ask whether they could enquire for you at their local Christchurch city centre branch (if they have one) and check whether there are any cars available.

The airport is not the only place you can rent a car…


Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.



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