Driving throughout the Land of the Long White Cloud

When you set foot on beautiful Aoteroa you probably have already made up your mind on how you are going to get you and your backpack around New Zealand. Some backpackers are very keen and pedal their way around the islands, other hitch-hike while some rent a car or motor home.

Another option worth considering is a backpacker bus. A sort of magical mystery tour, taking you from one hotspot to another and in between designated stops you can drink, sleep and do…..stuff. Please bear in mind that these busses are also know as ‘The Gonorrhea Experience’. So be smart boys and girls.   

Now, with these busses you’re guaranteed at the end of your journey to have ticked off most of popular New Zealand destinations on your list. Examples of backpacker busses are the Magic Travellers Network, The Kiwi Experience or Stray Adventure Busses. But in all honesty; I get a severe case of the flock-of-sheep-feeling when I see one of those busses.

So, for the adventurous and brave backpacker-boys-and-girls arriving in lovely New Zealand, there is another option: Buy your own car and go from A to B to C to D in your own good time.

You’ll need-depending on your nationality-an international drivers license to go with your countries divers license. So yes, you need to have a drivers license in your country of origin.

Please enquire about insurance prior to buying your car. BBH and the AA are both good options. Do not drive without insurance!!! You will not be the first traveller to get into trouble because you’re not covered by any insurance.

And, maybe most important:Drive on the LEFTSIDE! Put a sticker on your steering wheel: LEFT is GOOD, RIGHT is NOT CUTE.

All good, but where to find a car?

Depending on what time of year you arrive, you’ll have either an easy time or a potential headache finding a car. The tourist season kicks off around December and there will be lots of new arrivals looking for a limited number of good cars. Best bet is to look for a car as the tourist season comes to an end (around May) and people are desperately looking to unload their vehicles. But most people arrive in New Zealand in December with a good reason and it doesn’t make sense to plan your entire trip around when the best month to buy a car is. So even if you arrive as things are getting busy, there are still places to look for a bargain.

New Zealand’s anwser to eBay is called Trade Me, and this is a good place to look for a fine deal. Notice boards in backpacker’s hostels are another great place to look, especially in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch as they have international airports and people tend to either start or end their trips in these cities. Most major cities will have a car fair or car auction, so ask around once you get to town. Checking the local papers for private sales or heading to car dealerships will also give you some more options. At the start of the tourist season the best cars will go fast, so make sure you get yourself a mobile phone (on pre-pay) and don’t count on emailing the seller back and forth.

I’ve heard that some people who are unable to sell their cars end up leaving them parked at the airport with the keys inside and a not staying ‘take it’, but this could be just another urban legend.

When you find the car of your dreams, arrange with the seller to take it in to a garage for a thorough vehicle check.

The AA can check for you (via a pre-purchase vehicle inspection) if there is for example money owing on the car or other interests pending. If all is good, including the asking price, you’ve got yourself a car!

The only disadvantage of buying your own car is that you, at the end of your trip, will need to sell it again. Depending on the season this could be easy-peasy, but if you’re off-season it can be very hard unloading it. Start a few weeks before you have to go and try Trade Me, notice boards in as many backpackers possible, supermarkets, car markets, newspapers and last but not least; a mega big sign behind the window of your car. Be realistic in price and throw in a few chattels like gas cookers, pots and pans and so on if you happen to have been camping. You can try selling your car to a car dealer, but most of them are not keen to purchase backpacker-cars and in the event they do, you’ll only get a coin.

So, worst case scenario: It’s time to go and your car is far from being sold.

Nothing left to do but to leave the car behind at the airport with the keys inside and a not saying ‘take it’ for the next backpacker to come around.

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