NZ - Self-Drive or Organized Tour?


May 31st, 2008, 10:08 AM
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NZ - Self-Drive or Organized Tour?

We are planning a trip to NZ in 2009.

I'd like insight into self-drive vs. organized touring. How easy is it to drive in NZ?

We've toured with Tauck and they are a first-rate tour company. However, their tours of NZ aren't as complete as we would like it to be. Has anyone had any experiences using Scenic Tours in NZ? They offer some great itineraries, but not sure of quality, service, etc.

Any suggestions, recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
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May 31st, 2008, 01:02 PM
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Once you adjust to driving on the left, it's easy to drive in New Zealand. We spent 10 days on the North Island in 2004 and had a wonderful time.

Lee Ann
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May 31st, 2008, 02:53 PM
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We've made 4 two-week trips to NZ and drove ourselves each time. I see NZ as long as you don't have any qualms about driving on the left. It gives you the flexibility to stop whenever something catches your fancy and to enjoy some of the smaller NZ towns and attractions.
Note that the roads in NZ are generally two-lane roads and you'll be driving much slower than you are probably used to driving due to curvy roads, one-lane bridges, great scenery and even the occasional herd of sheep.
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May 31st, 2008, 04:00 PM
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Touring NZ on your own is EASY and the way to go IMO. The most difficult part is narrowing down your choices, and deciding where you want to go and what you want to see. NZ is incredibly tourist friendly and independent travel allows you to be completely flexible.

If you're not sure what you want to do, suggest you take a look at some NZ travel sites which have posted itineraries - this will get you started and give you an idea of how much you can fit into your holiday.
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Jun 1st, 2008, 02:06 AM
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I have to agree with the other posters. My friend and I spent 3 1/2 weeks touring both North Island and South Island last year in a hire car. It was a most wonderful trip. There are so many beautiful places (especially on South Island) that you will want to stop often. Try to space your stopover locations not more than 4 driving hours (about 300 kms) apart. This will give you time to take short walks to beauty spots. There are plenty of good motels so it is not difficult to find convenient stopover points.

We found driving very easy. The roads are very good and well signposted. We came upon no instances of bad driving and felt perfectly safe on the roads. We were there in October and the traffic on most of the roads was light.
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Jun 1st, 2008, 07:35 AM
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We have done many tours (Tauck, A&K, etc) but felt that we could do NZ by car, with another couple. It was a great decision, giving us the choice to go where we wanted, when we wanted, not having to wait for others.

The driving was not easy, but I did 1200 miles on the wrong side of the road, in the dark, on mountainous curves, in the rain, not knowing where to go, and in the city traffic, but the freedom was worth it.
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Jun 1st, 2008, 08:35 AM
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I so greatly appreciate everyone's responses and personal experiences. This certainly steers us in the most appropriate direction.

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Jun 1st, 2008, 09:19 AM
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My wife and I visited New Zealand four times. Three for two months each and the once for two weeks.

We rented and drove used vehicles on every trip.

The used vehicles were dependable and cost much less than the national companies charged.

Driving was easy. My car did not quite function up to par. When I would signal a turn, why for some reason the wipers went on!

Once in a while when I would try to get in, all of a sudden the steering wheel had moved to the other side!

Roads were narrower compared to home but as tourists, we generally did not get moving until later in the morning so we had very little rush hour traffic. In fact, their drivers were much more civilized than what we have at home so driving there was a relaxing affair.

The people were friendly and patient with us north Americans so finding our way was not a problem. Road signs were smaller and different than I am used to. They were mostly like our street corner signs so I had to slow up to get a good look.

I can not imagine touring with a large group taking me where I do not want to go to see things I have no interest in. So independent travel by car allowing me to come and go to my own schedule is the only way for me.

I liked the idea of driving a used car that already had a few scratches on it. That way, the scratches I put on had company. As well, I did not want to generally appear as a tourist and therefore a mark. In reality, New Zealand is one of the safest places in the world.

I hope this is of help to you.

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Jun 3rd, 2008, 06:10 PM
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We did a self-drive on the South Island last September and had a wonderful time. We flew into Christchurch, stayed there for two nights, then took the train (fun!) to Greymouth where we picked up our rental car. We loved having the independence of being on our own.
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Jun 4th, 2008, 06:03 AM
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I greatly appreciate everyone's input. Self-drive appears to be the way to go.

We're working with a NZ travel professional, highly regarded in Conde Naste, to put together a specialized itinerary, to suit our specifications and interests. No hesitations to go with her. We just want to ensure that self-drive would be more ideal than an organized tour.

Thanks again!
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Jun 7th, 2008, 07:17 PM
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Hi Nyfeds!

I think you've gotton very good advice on the board, and while Tauck is an excellent tour company, as is Scenic, you shouldn't worry about driving "on the other side". Traffice is minimal for the most part (in fact, sometimes you wonder if you've gotton lost somehow, as there's no other cars)!

Most of my clients have more trouble driving on the North Island than the South, and if I have someone who has concerns, I usually put them on a tour from Auckland to Rotorua, and then fly them from there to the South Island to pick up a car.

Btw, I know (not personally, but I've spoken to her by phone) the Kiwi Specialist you're working with, and you're in very capable hands.

Hope this is helpful!


Certified Kiwi Specialist
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Jun 9th, 2008, 06:17 AM
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Hi Melodie,

Many thanks for your reply. I have found the insight, suggestions and comments from this forum to be very helpful and encouraging.

Integrating some organized touring into our itinerary is something we most definetly will do. It also gives my husband a break from driving. I'm too much of a sightseer to be much help in the driving department!

Yes, I know we are in capable hands, using Jane, Active Downunder, out of San Diego. We met with her once and found her to be a gem. I think she has a real grasp of what we want out of this long-awaited trip.

Thanks to all who responded and alleviated our driving concerns.
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Jun 13th, 2008, 12:53 PM
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I would most definitely drive. You will see so much more if you do it yourself. Not sure where you are planning to go - some of the roads in the South Island can be a bit scary but I would still prefer to be behind the wheel in these instances rather than relying on someone else. Plus you can always just skip the more treacherous routes. But by-in-large the roads are very easy to manage.... just depends where you go.
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Jun 16th, 2008, 04:06 AM
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Regarding self driving in New Zealand, I can recommend it entirely. Provided you take care because some minor roads are hilly and narrow, but in general, they are well surfaced and maintained. Most motorists are helpful and courteous although there is always the odd one subject to road rage - as anywhere.
Watch out for large logging trucks on country back roads.
For a more comprehensive and humorous account based on personal experience ( I am a cartoonist) visit my blog at
Good luck and I'm sure you'll enjoy your forthcoming trip next year.
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Jun 17th, 2008, 10:42 AM
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We are currently 2 weeks into a 2 month trip around NZ (part of a round the world trip). We chose the campervan option and are absolutely loving it. The roads are virtually empty (compare with the UK), and although quite narrow, present no problems for quite a large van. The campervan sites are fantastic and some (the DOC are really cheap or free). All thngs considered IMO campervans are the way to go to see this fantastic country.
Have passed a few tour buses around the country and have spoken to a few people on bus tours - they did seem very rushed. The tourist infrastructure here is definitely the best we have encountered anywhere on our travels so it is really easy to find your way around. the main problem is that there is so much to see that even two months is too short! Have fun whatever travel menthod you use it is a great country!
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Jun 23rd, 2008, 09:14 AM
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Thanks for the continued great responses.

Looking forward to planning an awesome trip to NZ in 2009.
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