Car Rental Christchurch
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Why rent a car in Christchurch?
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. While the city is a great travel destination in itself, most will come for the natural scenery all across the South Island. Christchurch can serve as a great base from which to make day trips to the surrounding area. However, most travelers planning to spend a week or more will find Christchurch to be the perfect starting and ending point for a road trip around the island.
Top ways to enter Christchurch
Most travelers will arrive via the Christchurch International Airport from one of the many international and domestic destinations it hosts flights from. New Zealand’s major rental car providers have desks located in the International Arrivals hall. Smaller providers have locations around the city and offer airport shuttle services. The pick-up point for the shuttle services can be found outside of the Regional Lounge.
Some travelers will arrive by train at the Christchurch Railway Station. The two trains that arrive and depart from the station are the TranzAlpine from Greymouth and the Coastal Pacific from Picton, which may be useful for those arriving by ferry from Wellington. The TranzAlpine is often taken by tourists due to the scenery it transits through, including sections that are not reachable by road. The station has limited facilities. While no rental car providers are located at the station, they can be found in the nearby city center and may be able to arrange delivery of your car at the station.
Useful city facts
Christchurch enjoys mild weather year-round; temperatures are rarely hot in the summer and rarely significantly cold in the winter. Of course, since Christchurch is located in the Southern Hemisphere, Summer lasts from November to March and winter from May to September. The city sees moderate precipitation throughout the year. The climate of other areas on the South Island may differ. In general, the further north a location is, the warmer it is. The western side of the island sees significantly more rainfall than the east side due to the mountains that divide the island in half. As is the case everywhere, the weather at high altitudes in the mountains can be unpredictable, so be sure to be prepared before setting out for hikes.
Christchurch was inhabited by the Maori long before Europeans arrived. Christchurch is the oldest official city in New Zealand, having received its Royal Charter in 1856. Historically, the area's economy relied primarily on agriculture. The city experienced multiple earthquakes between 2010 and 2012 damaging many of the city’s buildings and killing 185 people. It has since persevered and rebuilt itself.
Christchurch is one of five cities that are gateways to the Antarctic. All sorts of research expeditions depart from its airport. Not far from the passenger terminals, the International Antarctic Center is the only specialized Antarctic exhibition in the world and therefore a great educational opportunity for visitors.
Top destinations and activities
- Cardboard Cathedral - The Christchurch Cathedral, the most renowned symbol of the city, was severely damaged by the earthquakes of 2011. It has since been partially demolished, though a plan is in place to rebuild it over the next decade. As a temporary replacement, the Cardboard Cathedral was built and has since become a new symbol of the endurance of the city. It is supported by 90 cardboard tubes (thus the name).
- Summit Road - The Summit Road travels along the crest of hills that separate the city and Lyttelton Harbour. The road offers great views of the city, harbour, bay, and mountains in the distance. Unfortunately, part of the road is currently closed due fallen rocks from the 2011 earthquake. However, other parts are open and it is possible to walk or cycle on the closed section. Nearby Sumner Road is another great drive and was recently reopened.
- Festivals - Christchurch has many festivals throughout the year. The largest is the Summertimes programme that is filled with free events all summer long, including musical, art, and cultural events. Other festivals include, the World Buskers Festival, the Christchurch Garden Festival, Kidsfest and Carnival Week.
- Punting on the Avon - You might be wondering what punting is. Punts are flat-bottomed boats propelled by a person standing at the back and using a long pull to push off of the river bed. Therefore, punting means being on a boat on a river (a shallow one). In Christchurch, you can ride along the Avon River in either shared or private boats driven by a punter in traditional Edwardian attire.
- Christchurch Gondola - Gondolas, or cable cars, take travelers to the top of the Port Hills. An exhibit about the history of the region awaits riders at the summit in addition to the amazing views of the city and harbour. The Gondola is open year-round, weather permitting.
- Christchurch Art Gallery - This art gallery hosts one of the largest collections of art in New Zealand. The collections contain a wide range of genres and time periods. There are also free guided tours available twice a day. The Gallery conveniently has an underground parking garage that costs $1 per half hour.
Traffic and parking tips
Driving takes place on the left-hand side of the road in New Zealand. It doesn’t seem like it would ever be forgotten, but there have been many cases of tourists driving on the wrong side of the road.
As with any large city, traffic congestion is a problem in Christchurch, particularly given the spread out nature of the city
It is prohibited in most cases to travel on unsealed roads, offroad, and above the snow line.
The city center has multiple parking zones. Parking in metered spots is unlimited when it comes to time, though it is more expensive for longer stays. Parking can be paid for either by a text-to-park system or with the car’s license plate number at a machine. The parking meter machines accept coins and credit cars. The city center also has various car parks, some managed by the city. Some hotels in the Central Business District may charge for parking, others, particularly outside of the center do not.
The New Zealand Transport Agency has a map with current traffic conditions and road closures.
All of the toll roads in New Zealand are in the northern part of the North Island. They all serve as short bypasses of congested areas. The tolls are therefore quite low. The toll roads use a license plate capturing system with no physical booths. Payment can be made either by having a setup account, by paying online before or within five days of using a toll road, or with cash in some BP and Caltex petrol stations (though a small fee will be added).
Many rental companies offer some system, with a fee, to pass on toll payments to you without you having to do anything. Of course, it may be better just to pay the toll yourself and save on paying that fee. The toll roads can all be avoided quite easily by avoiding the bypass roads and transiting through the towns (in addition to being able to see more).
Ideas for a day-trip
- Hanmer Springs - Taking less than two hours to drive to from Christchurch, Hanmer Springs is a small spa resort built around hot springs (surprise! They are name Hanmer Springs). A perfect day trip would be to lounge in the hot pools. Some are very sulphuric with a strong smell while others a filtered. The typical outdoor activities can be found in the surrounding area, including hiking, mountain biking, and skiing in winter.
- Akaroa - South of Christchurch, and surprisingly further than it would seem on a map due to the winding mountain road leading to it, Akaroa is a small town on the Banks Peninsula. It has the distinction of being the only town founded by the French. Make the trip further down to Flea Bay for the Pohatu Marine Reserve. Swimming with dolphins is also popular in the area surrounding Akaroa.
- Waipara - With a name that translates to Muddy Water, Waipara is a small town 60 kilometers north of Christchurch. The town and its surrounding area is known for its wine production. Having the highest summer temperatures and the least amount of rainfall of all the wine growing regions in the country, Waipara is considered to produce the finest Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes. Along with the vineyards and their associated tasting room, the town also has an impressive food scene.
- Weka Pass Railway - Transiting over the former Waiau Branch Railway between Waikari and Waipara, the Weka Pass Railway is not to be missed if you’re a railway fan. Owned by its members and operated by volunteers, the railway is a great throwback to the days when rail travel was more prevalent. Of particular note is the railways steam locomotive. Be sure to book your tickets online in advance to be sure you are able to get a seat.
- Kaikoura - Meaning “eat crayfish” in the Maori language, Kaikoura is unsurprisingly renowned for its seafood. Just 181km (112 miles) north of Christchurch, the city has the aura of a touristy beach town. In addition to watching the whales as they migrated depending on the season, visitors can also see dolphins, seals, and albatrosses. The city is surrounded by mountains, some going straight into the sea, making for enjoyable scenery for visitors.
Most popular rental types and cars
The most popular class of rental car in New Zealand is the compact, of which the Nissan Tiida is an example. Given the proclivity for road trips that New Zealand gives travelers, full-size cars are the next most popular. The Toyota RAV4 SUV is the most popular full-size rental. Finally, the economy car, perfect for a couple’s road trip, is also popular. The Fiat Punto is a good example of this class of car.
While it may be possible in summer, depending on your rental supplier, to take your rental vehicle on a ferry between the North and South Islands, it would be more budget-friendly to book another rental car for the North Island which could be picked up in Wellington.
- Wellington - It takes around 5 hours to drive from Christchurch to Picton, where a ferry can be taken to the country's capital, though only the time-constrained should even think of making the drive straight and miss the many sites and experience in between. With a picturesque harbor, history, fine dining, and a craft beer tradition, Wellington is not to be missed when traveling to New Zealand. The city also serves as the departing point of ferries to the South Island of the country with its incredible nature and mountains.
- Fiordland - Located on the southwestern corner of the island, Fiordland is a large area full of, you guessed it, fjords. Most of the area is encompassed by the Fiordland National Park, the largest in New Zealand. The most accessible part of the park is the section between Te Anau and Milford Sound, the latter of which is a great place to enjoy on a boat tour or cruise.
- Mount Aspiring National Park - Just north of Fiordland, Mount Aspiring National Park can not be missed by outdoor enthusiasts, especially mountaineers. The park sits on the southern end of the Southern Alps and has an extensive remote wilderness. It also has high mountains, the highest among them being Mount Aspiring at over 3,000 meters. Visitors might also recognize a portion of the park from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy as Dan’s Paddock was the filming location for Isengard. The Rees-Dart Track brings walkers through that area. Lake Wanaka nearby is also worth adding to your route.
- Mount Cook National Park - Home to the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mt Cook, this national park mostly consists of high alpine terrain. A town of the same name sits just outside of the park and serves as a center for tourist activities and a base camp for climbers. While no permits are needed to climb Mt. Cook, fees are required to overnight in the huts. Do not let the mountain’s height fool you, the routes to the summit are very technical, requiring both rock climbing and glacial climbing experience. If you do not have the proper skills, guides and lessons are available along with mountains that provide an easier introduction.
- Glacier Country - Centered around Westland National Park, State Highway 6 brinds travelers through the heart of the area. Of the many glaciers, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are the most famous. The Franz Josef Glacier is perhaps the most accessible glacier in the world and thus sees a large of amount of tourists every year. The Fox Glacier is not as impressive but also less crowded. Guided tours are available, but it is also permitted to walk to the glaciers on your own. Ice axes and crampons are required to actually walk on the glaciers.
- Kahurangi National Park - New Zealand’s second largest national park, Kahurangi is located in the Northwest corner of the South Island. Parts of the park are wilderness while other parts have a network of trails on which hikers visit high plateaus, scenic rivers, and coastal forests. The park is the most tropical park in the country.
- Stewart Island - The southernmost island of New Zealand, Stewart Island is a nature lovers paradise. The island, while much smaller than the North and South Islands, has 700km of coastline. Ferries to the island depart from Bluff, near Invercargill. Since there are very few roads on the island anyway, one shouldn’t worry whether cars are allowed on the ferry or not.Outside of the town of Oban, where most of the small population live, the best way to get around is by walking on one of the numerous paths, particulary in the Rakiura National Park that makes up 80% of the island.
Top 13 Cities near Christchurch
Auckland Car Rentals from $11.13 per day745.1 km / 463.0 miles away
Queenstown Car Rentals from $31.59 per day347.1 km / 215.7 miles away
Wellington Car Rentals from $26.67 per day303.9 km / 188.9 miles away
Nelson Car Rentals from $57.85 per day249.6 km / 155.1 miles away
Dunedin Car Rentals from $57.85 per day328.0 km / 203.8 miles away
Rotorua Car Rentals from $57.85 per day677.1 km / 420.7 miles away
Napier Car Rentals from $46.12 per day574.6 km / 357.0 miles away
Palmerston North Car Rentals from $46.12 per day434.4 km / 270.0 miles away
Tauranga Car Rentals from $46.12 per day716.6 km / 445.3 miles away
New Plymouth Car Rentals from $46.12 per day516.4 km / 320.8 miles away
Blenheim Car Rentals from $57.85 per day245.0 km / 152.2 miles away
Invercargill Car Rentals from $57.85 per day464.7 km / 288.8 miles away
Whangarei Car Rentals from $37.48 per day872.4 km / 542.1 miles away
Top 14 Locations near Christchurch
Christchurch Airport Car Rentals from $11.13 per day
Blenheim Airport Car Rentals from $57.85 per day245.0 km / 152.2 miles away
Nelson Airport Car Rentals from $57.85 per day249.6 km / 155.1 miles away
Wellington Airport Car Rentals from $26.67 per day303.9 km / 188.9 miles away
Dunedin Airport Car Rentals from $57.85 per day328.0 km / 203.8 miles away
Queenstown Airport Car Rentals from $31.59 per day347.1 km / 215.7 miles away
Palmerston North Airport Car Rentals from $46.12 per day434.4 km / 270.0 miles away
Invercargill Airport Car Rentals from $57.85 per day464.7 km / 288.8 miles away
New Plymouth, Car Rentals from $46.12 per day516.4 km / 320.8 miles away
Napier Airport Car Rentals from $46.12 per day574.6 km / 357.0 miles away
Rotorua Airport Car Rentals from $57.85 per day677.1 km / 420.7 miles away
Tauranga Airport Car Rentals from $46.12 per day716.6 km / 445.3 miles away
Auckland Airport Car Rentals from $11.13 per day745.1 km / 463.0 miles away
Whangarei Airport Car Rentals from $37.48 per day872.4 km / 542.1 miles away
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