If you plan on being in New Zealand for longer than 3 months, a car or camper van is highly recommended. With your own vehicle you are able to travel places that public transport or tours cannot take you, whilst you decide on how long you want to stay in a particular place.  When you buy any car or van you take on that risk factor that it may break down or have problems that you might need work doing to it. With all the hills you will be travelling tyre and brake wear is high, so don’t be too surprised if these components to your car needs replacing on your journey.  During the summer months (Nov – Feb) the prices are high and during the winter months (Apr – Oct) prices are low, so don’t be surprised if you buy your car for $3,000 in December/January and sell it for $1,500 in April onwards.

Where to buy?

There are many places to look for a vehicle. You can look at the following places:

On our Forum – Click Here – buy cars from your fellow backpackers

Hostel notice boards – best place to buy as there are many for sale and it will mostly be from a fellow traveller.

Car Fairs – backpacker markets are ok, but you should not rush into a decision and get price comparisons

Private ads in papers – These are private dealers, but you don’t find many vans, mainly cars.

Car auctions – You can pick up a bargain, but you can also pay too much depending who is at the auction. Check to see if there are any surcharges for winning an auction.

Car Dealers – They are what they are.

The main places to buy are in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, mainly because these are the largest places in New Zealand. However, you might be able to find a bargain that it away from the big cities. The hostel that you start at should be a massive help for you finding a vehicle. The receptionists are usually full of local knowledge and will be able to advise on where to look and they may even know someone in the hostel that is selling a vehicle.

Buying a car

So assuming you have found a car/van that you want to buy, you should have done a preliminary check on it to make sure that it is in good condition.  We would suggest using our car checklist for the visual checks which go over how to check over the vehicle before you make an offer

Other things that you will need to check or do are:

Warrant of Fitness (WOF) – This is a compulsory vehicle check to make sure it is road worthy. If it only has 1–2 months left on the current WOF, we would recommend that you ask the seller to get one done for you so you do not have any surprises.  Can be done at garages throughout the country.

Car Registration – This is the road tax for the vehicle. You cannot get one if you do not have a current WOF.  Make sure the car always has an in date one on display otherwise it is a $200 fine.  This can be purchased at any Post Shop or online: www.nzta.govt.nz/vehicles/licensing-rego/

Insurance – This is not compulsory, but it is highly recommended. If you crash into somebody without any insurance then you will be left with no savings left.  Many insurance companies will only do a yearly insurance plan, whereas the backpacker insurance can do it in 3,6,9 or 12 month periods.  And they are not badly priced either.

Check the car while driving it and do tests such as driving up hills; braking; full steering lock turns.  This will give you a quick idea if it doesn’t feel right.  Never feel afraid to ask the seller anything.  At the end of the day it could be yours and if you don’t have a good vibe, walk away.

Download our car checklist

Diesel Cars

All diesel cars are subject to road user charges whereas petrol cars are not; this is why the price of diesel fuel is cheaper.  Instead of paying the tax at the pump you must also purchase kilometres per 1000km, which can be purchased at your local Post Shop. This means that although diesel is far cheaper than petrol to purchase, the extra road user charges (RUC) means the real benefit of owning a diesel is a little less than it first appears. For details of road charges see www.nzta.govt.nz/vehicles/licensing-rego/road-user-charges/

Road conduct

You must carry a valid driving licence at all times while driving.  If you get pulled over by the police and fail to produce a valid licence, it will result in an on the spot fine.  A quick overview on some rules that we recommend is:

Always park the same way as the traffic (On the left)

You drive on the left side in New Zealand

Make sure you check if you can park somewhere. If you park in the wrong places you can get towed away.  Not only will you come back to no vehicle, but you will have to pay the fine to release it.

Do not speed. Sounds simple, but NZ are really switched on to catch people speeding, even if it is 3kph over the limit. Most vehicles are unmarked so you can be caught everywhere.

No tramping. This has a heavy fine in undesignated areas, so find a camp site or hostel.

For the full rules of the road, we suggest going to the following site:


Driving Licence

If you are visiting from another country or have recently arrived in New Zealand, and you have a current and valid driver licence, you can drive for a maximum of 12 months from the date you arrive in New Zealand. Each time you visit New Zealand, you may drive for a further 12-month period on a valid overseas driver licence, as long as you stay for no more than a year at a time.

You must have your current and valid overseas driver licence or driver permit with you at all times when you’re driving. If your overseas licence or driver permit is not in English, you must also carry an accurate English translation issued by:

  • A translation service approved by the NZTA (phone the NZTA’s driver licensing contact centre on 0800 822 422 for a list of approved translation services), or
  • A diplomatic representative at a high commission, embassy or consulate, or
  • The authority that issued your licence.

Note: if your driver licence is not in English, an international driving permit (IDP) – issued in accordance with a United Nations Convention on Road Traffic – may be acceptable as a translation.

If you don’t have a current and valid overseas driver licence or IDP then you cannot drive in New Zealand. If you want to drive then you must apply for a New Zealand driver licence.