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Staying safe in your New Zealand rental car during the winter is easier, if you know what to expect. The spectacular scenery, snow covered alps and pristine lakes are all particularly majestic in winter and can be a bit distracting, so keeping a careful eye on driving conditions is essential.
Snow and Ice
Winter in New Zealand runs from June to August, but you'll often find late snow flurries around the country's alpine areas well into September.
If you are doing a winter road trip make sure you carry snow chains in your vehicle - and be familiar with how to fit them. Most New Zealand rental car companies provide chains with clear fitting instructions. (KiwiCombo Pass offers free snow chain rental with its South Island packages during the winter.)
In some areas of New Zealand, such as the Queenstown Lakes District, there are heavy fines imposed for travellers who are unable to fit chains when asked by traffic enforcement officers. It sounds tough, but its your safety that is in mind. Keep your snow chains handy so you don't need to unpack all your luggage to reach them. Use a car mat on the ground when fitting your chains to help keep your clothes from getting muddy.
Whilst heavy, prolonged North America or Europe-style snowfall is rare in New Zealand, you will often encounter sub-zero temperatures and icy roads, particularly early morning and evening time. Black ice (patches of ice on the road that are not visible to the eye) are common during winter, so always take your time on cold mornings and slow down around sharp bends. Avoiding early morning starts is a good idea - take time to enjoy your breakfast before heading away for the day.
Check the Conditions
Before setting out on your journey check the weather forecast and any road road closure warnings.
Metservice (weather forecast)
AA Roadwatch (road closures)
If you find your intended route is closed, visit the local i-SITE Visitor Centre to find an alternative.
Take Your Time
New Zealand is a spectacularly scenic country. Don't rush from point A to point B - take your time and enjoy the views! Unlike the super highways of Europe and North America, New Zealand roads are often very scenic but can be winding in some places. A journey that might look short on the map can take longer than you think. Take local advice by using a New Zealand-based travel agent who can assist with likely drive times. Driving to a preplanned self drive itinerary that has been designed to give you a little extra time is helpful.
Stop often, rest and revive and take in the beautiful views! Keep your camera handy!