Do You Need a
Rental Car in Australia
Extra Freedom? Or Simply Extra
Watch out for camels,
wombats and kangaroos for the next 96 km (60 miles)
according to this classic Australian outback road sign.
of a series on travel to and in Australia -
click the links on the right hand side for more articles.
In some countries, renting a
car is close to unavoidable, and is essential if you're to be
able to fully enjoy your visit, because there's just no other
easy way of getting to places you'll want to see.
In other countries, traffic
is a nightmare, parking is impossible, or for some other reason,
renting a car is massively ill-advised.
And some countries can be
considered as where renting a car is optional.
What about Australia?
Do you need a car? Should you have a car?
Using a Car for Traveling
Although Australia is very
large, there are a few places where driving is a pleasant way to
travel between destinations.
Sydney - Melbourne
In terms of the places you're
most likely to visit, the 'obvious' drive would be the journey
between Sydney and Melbourne.
There are two main routes to
consider when driving between the two cities. The first is
the coastal route, traveling along the Princes Highway. This
is about a 650 mile journey, and while you could do it in a single
long day of driving, it would be more relaxing to do it in two
days, which would also allow you the chance of making stops as and
when you feel like it.
The inland route - along the
Hume Highway and Freeway - is both shorter and also faster.
It is about 550 miles, and could more easily be done in a day, but
again would be better done in two days.
If you were planning to go via
the inland route, you might then choose to make the small detour
to Canberra en route. It adds about 45 miles, and a good
hour, to detour through Canberra.
Yes, we know we placed
Canberra on our list of
places to miss in Australia, but that was more from the
perspective of not making a special trip and spending several days
there. If Canberra represents as merely a 45 mile and one
hour detour on a day that is only half full of activities anyway,
you'd be well advised to include it.
There are other variations for
traveling between Sydney and Melbourne as well - perhaps also
including the Snowy Mountains (which are seldom snowy and not
really mountains - Australia's highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko, is
a mere 7,310 ft high).
Oh - an amusing bit of trivia
about Mt Kosciuszko (until 1997 spelled Kosciusko). It was
deemed Australia's highest peak, but subsequent measurements
showed a nearby peak - Mt Townsend - to be slightly higher.
So Australia swapped the names of the two mountains, enabling the
perpetuation of the claim that Mt Kosciuszko is its highest
The somewhat inaccurate
perception of New Zealand being a very long way away also distorts how long people think they
'need' to spend in New Zealand.
NZ is an easier journey than
The travel time - from the west
coast - is the same to New Zealand or to Europe.
But the jet lag is amazingly
less. Traveling to New Zealand involves only 3 or 5 time
zones (depending on whether daylight saving is operating or
not), whereas to Britain and Europe is 9 to 11 times zones.
The extra six time zones crossed on the way to Europe gives you
much greater jet lag, messing up your enjoyment of more of your
trip, and also taking longer to readjust when you return home
If you've ever been to
Britain or Europe for a week, you'll find a one week trip to New
Zealand much easier.
There's no need to see the
entire country in a single visit
Some people say 'there's so much
to see that it wouldn't be worth visiting for less than three
(or some other number of)
weeks'. But, again think about Europe. Europe is
physically larger, has a vastly greater population, and many
more places to see and do. No-one expects to see all of
Europe in a single visit; so why should you challenge yourself
to see all of New Zealand in a single visit?
The same is true of Mexico and
many other places, where people typically go to spend a week at
just a single location.
The shortest sensible stay
The shortest sensible stay is about a week, or better still, one week and two weekends.
That gives you plenty of time to see a couple of different
places in detail, or to lightly skip over the highlights of a
greater number of places for a quick introductory interview to
the country, so you'll know for your next visit where to return
to for longer stays.
If possible, you'll have a
much more satisfying experience if you can extend your stay to
The longest sensible stay
There's no real maximum to this,
other than what is convenient for you.
You also have to be
sensitive to NZ immigration policies. You can typically
get a three month visitor permit automatically - Americans and
many other nationalities don't need to pre-apply for a visa for
stays of up to three months and will be given permission upon
arrival in New Zealand.
You could get this extended if
you wanted to stay up to six months, but a longer stay than 6
months at one time becomes more difficult.
Most of us find it difficult to
travel anywhere for anything like this amount of time, of
If you wanted to be able to
thoroughly visit all of New Zealand in a single visit, you'd
probably want to spend four to six weeks.
Often the cheapest airfares
allow for a maximum stay of no more than one month, and so for
this reason, it is uncommon to find people staying in New
Zealand for longer than one month.
Combining a visit to New
Zealand with other countries
It is more common for people
to visit New Zealand as part of a multi-country itinerary than
it is for people to go only to NZ and nowhere else.
The most common country to
combine with New Zealand is Australia. Other people choose
to include an island stop, perhaps in Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, or
Rarotonga (Cook Islands), and some people include both Australia
and an island stop.
How to split your time
between New Zealand and Australia
I've helped thousands of
people plan itineraries to the South Pacific, with a wide range
of different interests and expectations. After a while, I
noticed a curious thing - just about everyone ended up spending
approximately equal amounts of time in each country.
There's no scientific reason
why this should be, but it seems to be so common that you'll
probably end up splitting your time similarly - about half in
Australia and half in New Zealand.
Open jaws travel through New
If you are combining travel
to New Zealand and Australia, here's a great way to get best
value from your airfare and for your time. Fly in to one
New Zealand city and out of a different one. This allows
you to travel eg from Auckland to Christchurch without needing
to then double back and return to Auckland before flying on to
There is usually no extra
cost for flying into one city in NZ and out of a different one
(one exception to this may be if flying on a frequent flier
award ticket). This strategy is called creating an 'open
Between NZ and the US, you
will probably be flying in or out of Auckland, but between NZ
and Australia, you can fly in or out of Wellington and
Christchurch as well as Auckland, making it easy to build an
open jaws itinerary into/out of NZ.
Circle Pacific and Round the
If you're planning on
visiting a lot of different countries, or if you would like to
travel in business or first class, then you should research what
are called Circle Pacific and Round the World fares as well as
A Circle Pacific fare has
you doing, as the name implies, a giant loop more or less around
the Pacific rim, traveling always in the same direction, either
clockwise or anti-clockwise, and on a specific mix of different
A Round the World fare is
also pretty much as its name implies - you fly completely around
the world, traveling always pretty much in the same direction
(either east or west) and possibly with various other
restrictions in terms of the number of times you can cross the
equator and the total number of stops and miles flown (and the
airlines you fly with).
Both these types of fares
can save you money, and both these fares almost definitely will
save you a vast amount of money compared to flying first or
business class, so much so that even a fairly limited itinerary
can result in you choosing to change a simple plan to just go to
NZ and Australia to extending it to a complete around the world
itinerary if time allows. Chances are you can travel all
around the world for the same or less cost than just to
NZ/Australia and back again!
You definitely need to
contact a specialist travel agency to help you with such fares.
They're usually impossible to book through most internet
When is the best time to visit
Because New Zealand is in the
southern hemisphere, its seasons are reversed (compared to
northern hemisphere countries). So, unless you want to
enjoy some opposite season skiing in our summer (NZ's winter)
you'll probably not want to go to NZ during our summer months.
We also recommend avoiding New
Zealand in the peak of their summer season, which is from mid
December through mid January. This coincides with their
local school holidays and also their Christmas and New Year
holidays; many New Zealanders are themselves on holiday during
this time period, making accommodation scarce, roads congested,
and attractions crowded.
Air fare seasonality
Another factor to consider is
seasonal changes in airfare to New Zealand. The most
expensive time to start your travel to New Zealand is between 9
December and 31 January. So, to avoid paying another
couple of hundred dollars or more on your airfare, start your
travel to NZ no later than 8 December, or after 1 February.
It doesn't matter if your
travel dates spill into this time period, the seasonality is
based exclusively on the date you start your travel on.
Book your flights well in
Flights to New Zealand often fill
up early, particular during peak times of year. If you
want to be sure to get the lowest possible fares, you should buy
your airline tickets as far in advance as your planning allows.
Considering all these different
factors, we generally prefer to travel to NZ outside of the peak
of their summer. Late spring or early fall can be a lovely
time of year.
New Zealand Weather
Because nowhere in New Zealand is
more than about 70 miles from the sea, New Zealand's climate
tends to be mild in both winter and summer.
Temperatures rarely get into the
90s in summer, and during the winter rarely drop below freezing,
except at night. Snow can be found in the mountains, of
course, but almost never at lower elevations, except
occasionally at the bottom of the South Island.
There aren't massive differences
in climate around the country, although the further south you go
(ie further from the equator and closer to Antarctica) the
cooler average temperatures become.
Most parts of the country
regularly enjoy rain, with the wettest months being around July
and the driest months December - February. On average,
there are typically between 5 and 12 days with measurable
precipitation each month.
More information on NZ weather
can be found
The 'Big Three' Tourist
Destinations : Two winners and a loser
Chances are you'll choose to
include the big three tourist spots in New Zealand. But we
recommend you keep your time in one of them to a minimum.
New Zealand's most popular (but
not necessarily best!) destinations are :
This is New Zealand's largest
city. It has a population of 1 million, and close on half
of everyone in the country live within about 100 miles of
Auckland. It is steadily growing in size, and like all
growing large metroplexes, has its share of problems due to
roading and other services not keeping pace with population
Auckland has the main
international airport for the country, so most people find
themselves flying in and/or out of Auckland, and will choose to
spend a day or two in Auckland at the beginning or end of their
This might make sense from a
convenience point of view, but other than for the convenience
issue, there really is very little in Auckland that is uniquely
a New Zealand experience, and much that tends more towards the
increasingly generic feel of big western cities the world over.
It no longer has a central downtown shopping area of any note at
all, and is perhaps better avoided.
Our recommendation : spend
as little time as possible in this city, and more time in some
of NZ's more individualistic and less well known areas.
The Rotorua region is strongly
steeped in Maori culture, and is also an area of intense
geothermal activity. Boiling mudpools, geysers, weird moon
like landscapes, and NZ's own Pompeii are all in this area,
nestled in among the gorgeous native bush.
A wide range of other
outdoor activities are also available in this lovely part of the
Our recommendation :
Spend more time in Rotorua than you originally planned.
Please see this part of our series for a detailed tourism profile
The Queenstown area, extending down into Fiordland and to Milford Sound is another very popular tourist
region. This is an area close to the Southern Alps, with
glorious snow-covered mountains in abundance everywhere, and
wonderful winter skiing in addition to the summer time
Jet-boats were invented not
far from Queenstown, and you have a chance of an exhilarating
ride on one here. You can also go rafting, or more
sedately cruise on an old steamship on Lake Wakatipu, the lake
on which Queenstown is located.
While you're in the
Queenstown area you should be sure to go to Milford Sound, and
ideally spend a night or two in Te Anau, the town on the way to
Milford Sound, and just the other side of Lake Te Anau from the
lovely Te Ana-au glow-worm caves.
Legends tell of a lost tribe
of maoris, still living somewhere in the intense and unspoiled
native bush around the region, and as you look out on the hills
and mountains, this fanciful idea all of a sudden seems less
Our recommendation :
Be generous with your time in Queenstown, and try to add a night
or two in Te Anau also.
Please see this part of our
series for a detailed tourism profile
For more information
Click the links in the top
right of this page for additional helpful information about
travel to and in New Zealand.
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29 Jul 2005, last update
21 Jul 2020