Today was the day I was very excited about. We was going to pick up our rental car after all! I believe that personal transport gives you mobility, freedom, and a lot more possibilities. It has the potential to enhance your experience significantly. So, if you ever have the option of driving while you travel abroad (well, in cases where you can handle the traffic rules and driving culture), grab the opportunity with both hands. And if you are traveling across South Island, then a car is invaluable. This is simply because all attractions here are about the nature and outdoor activities. So, you need to travel by road from place to place and enjoy the journey along the way. In NZ they say, “it is about the journey as much as it is about the destination”.
There are lots and lots of rental car companies in New Zealand. Brand names like Hertz, Avis, etc are on the more expensive side, while local companies like Jucy, Apex, Ace, etc. are on the cheaper side. Some companies have offices in certain cities while some don’t. Most companies offer 3 levels of insurance, from zero excess to full excess (excess is like deduction). They also offer GPS, child seat and manual/auto transmission as some add-on options. Some companies have newer cars in their fleet (brand name ones), while others have used-but-well-maintained cars (like Apex, Jucy). Some companies have basic insurance built-in the price, while others charge you for every add-on. Then there is also the quality of customer service, which is crucial in case you are met with (god forbid) an accident. All these factors should be considered when choosing a rental company in NZ, as they are likely to influence your decision.
When planning my South Island trip, I checked rates/deals on various websites of the rental companies. After a month of looking around, I decided to go for Apex Rentals, mainly because it gets suggested overwhelmingly on the Tripadvisor forum, and the prices are reasonable too. We decided to go for a compact car since only two of us were traveling. Auto or Manual transmission was no big deal, as I can drive both. We booked for 5 days with a pick-up at Christchurch city and drop-off at Queenstown city. One piece of advice – book your rental as early as possible. One obvious reason is that rentals in South Island are in great demand (since most visitors drive), and people book their cars months in advance. Also, about 4-5 months prior to travel date, Apex was allowing me to book the rental car for as few days as I wanted, but then suddenly three months before my desired dates, they put a minimum hire period requirement of 3 days on every rental car. There is also the concept of relocation deals in NZ (for last minute booking). Also, prices go up the more you wait to book. At the time of booking, there is no upfront fee as such (at least with local companies). Your credit card gets charged only when you drop-off the car. However, there is a cancellation fee if you cancel at the last minute. But again, there is generally at least a 30 day (sometimes 48 hour) notice period up until which you can cancel any rental booking for free. So check the terms and conditions, and get your rental booking out of the way as soon as you can.
Coming back to Day 2, we woke up to a clear sunny day with blue skies and fantastic weather. There was some rain on the forecast for the afternoon, but it was looking like a great day for a road trip to Arthur’s Pass. After getting ready, we were picked up in our hotel lobby (YMCA Christchurch) by an Apex rep (they do pick-ups if you stay closer to their offices). He drove us in a white Mazda Demio to the Apex office for paperwork and official handover of the car. While chatting to him, I found out that the car we were sitting in was in fact our rental car! It was clean, ran smoothly and fit our requirements just right. After reaching the Apex office, I signed the contract of rental, and was given a sheet with important information on driving in New Zealand. An advice to you, before you come to NZ, please look at YouTube videos of people driving in South Island, and also familiarize yourself with the road signs. There are some unique aspects about driving in NZ, especially things like a one way bridge and who was right of way on them. Prior knowledge can only help.
As my license and other personal information was being recorded, I got some pointers from the friendly Apex staff about directions to Arthur’s Pass. Next, Apex gave me a GPS unit which I had rented as an add-on (it was very very basic for NZ$8 a day), and gave my credit card details over. You have to have a credit card when you book a rental in NZ, otherwise the rental company will ask you for a huge cash deposit, running into the thousands! Since I had opted for the zero excess (highest level of insurance among the three options available), I did not have to check for any dents, scratches, or minor details of the car. That turned out to be good, because it expedited the whole process and we were done with all of the admin work in about 10 minutes. Lastly, the staff informed my that they were giving me a car with a full tank of petrol. I was asked to return the car with a full tank. This made sense. I had heard that Apex gives you an option of buying a full tank of petrol at pick-up point for 20% discount, and then return the car without refueling. This apparently can create confusion. So, I did not ask for that option. Besides, I was happy to refuel the car in Queenstown before drop-off. With car keys in hand, our dream road trip was now about to begin!
(our rental car)