Renting cars in New Zealand and Australia

In Australia and New Zealand, cars are driven on the left hand side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car. For those of us who are not already use to this, it takes a lot of concentration to drive. Even if you think it’s bothersome or not necessary, I recommend having a passenger be a backseat driver with reminders. Having an annoying backseat driver is better than the alternative of causing an accident. During my visit, there was an ongoing debate amongst locals about tourists renting cars and causing devastating accidents. See one article here
Four of us and all of our luggage fit into our Toyota Corolla.
New Zealand has a website which offers helpful information for anyone driving in the country. I have looked for this kind of information from other countries when I have rented cars abroad I and never found a site so thorough. 

Taking all of this into account, I would still recommend renting a car to travel around either country. If you have room in the budget (in November 2014, a gallon of gasoline was $8 USD) and if you are pressed for time, it’s the way to go. I spent a total of seven days on the south island and am so glad that we had a car to get around quicker than using public transportation. We would routinely pull off the main road to explore the parks, hiking trails, or other natural beauty that these amazing countries have to offer.
We found this river after pulling over in one of the many National Parks in New Zealand.
Over the three weeks of my visit, we rented four cars. The majority of the time, we rented from Budget. We were happy with their service and pricing. We were also interested to find out that Budget does not charge extra for additional drivers. We also rented one car from Hertz. Hertz allows additional drivers who share the same address as the primary driver to be added without an additional charge. Do beware that in Australia both companies charge a fee for a mandatory toll transponder for the rental car. We were not allowed to opt out of this charge.
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Renting cars in New Zealand and Australia

General Notes on Australia

–While in Australia, keep in mind that pedestrians do not always have the right of way in crosswalks. Cars will not stop for you when you crossing in a crosswalk unless it is striped. If driving there, be aware that the driving lanes seem to be more narrow than in the U.S. I felt like we had a few close calls with semi-trucks while on the highway.
 
–Lunch is served from around 11:30am – 2pm in most towns and cities. As you get into smaller towns, most restaurants and cafes close or stop serving food after these hours. We ran into this more than once. Thankfully, we had snacks in the car to sustain us. Also, Tipping is not necessary but is always appreciated. I only tipped when I felt that the service was better than normal or if the server was very attentive.
 
–Alcohol is quite expensive in Australia. I recommend bringing some with you. Allotment information can be found here.
 
–Pharmacies (chemists) can provide you with many over-the-counter options for basic medical issues (colds, aches and pains, etc.), but these remedies are not cheap. A bottle of cough suppressant can cost around $20 AUD. Obviously, illnesses cannot always be predicted but taking a basic first aid kit and OTC medicines with you can save you some money.
 
–Each state has its own tourism website which has lots of helpful information. Be aware that each Australian state is rather vast, so sometimes the site will recommend towns or attractions that are nowhere near your chosen location. Still, it was a great resource for National Parks, accommodations, and attractions. Here is the website for New South Wales.
–For those of us with credit cards issued by American banks, beware of Australia’s rules regarding credit cards. Most credit cards have a chip and a PIN making them more secure for the credit card companies, the merchants, and the users. Currently, the United States does not offer chip and PIN cards, rather we use a signature to validate our use of the card. While visiting Australia in November 2014, I had multiple merchants deny my credit card because I did not have a PIN. It seemed as though this was a new rule change because I did not encounter it everywhere. Eventually, I began asking if my credit card with signature would be accepted before the purchasing process began. U.S. banks are slated to offer credit cards with chips by October 2015, but most will be chip and signature, not chip and PIN. Check with your bank prior to travel and be prepared to use cash. Click here for a news article discussing this issue.
General Notes on Australia

Canberra, Australia

When we made it to Canberra to visit a friend, we were happy to get out of the car and stay in one place for a few nights. We stayed over a weekend which is probably not the best time to visit Canberra, as most people living there for work leave during the weekends. While the town was deserted, our friend filled us in on all of the events that go on in there throughout the year. Because it is the nation’s capital, many cultural events from all over the globe take place there including art exhibits, sporting events, and cultural activities.

Visiting weekend craft markets is a must when visiting Canberra. The Gorman House Arts Centre (http://www.agac.com.au/) market takes place Saturday mornings. There are craft booths and a few food vendors. My favorite of the food stalls was the little Mexican place. Theirs was some of the best Mexican food I had had in awhile. Each dish was around $7 AUD. Everything was so delicious that I went back for seconds. We also went to the much larger Old Bus Depot market (http://obdm.com.au/) on Sunday but the food options at the Old Bus Depot weren’t as appetizing to me.

While in town, we hiked from the road behind the War Memorial up to the top of Mount Ainslie. It took us about an hour to walk up as we stopped numerous times to watch the birds maneuver through the trees and to watch the kangaroos lounge in the grass. From the top, there is a view of the city below. If you are not up for the hike, you can drive up the back of the mountain and park at the top.

As an American, I would compare Canberra to the many Midwestern cities that don’t seem like they have a lot to offer visitors. But when you meet locals or when you take the time to visit, you find many interesting things to see and do. Visit these websites to check out what Canberra has to offer throughout the year:  

http://www.visitcanberra.com.au/find/event
Canberra, Australia

Roadtrip from Sydney to Canberra

We headed out of Sydney and drove down through the Royal National Park. We were hoping to get close to the coast on this route, though that turned out not to be the case. The drive through the park was green and lush, but no sea view was had. I think if we were to do this again, I would take the M1 to the town or Waterfall or Helensburg and then cut over to the coastal road from there. Once we made it to the coastal road, we drove through quaint little towns right on the water. Most had beaches and parking tended to be free.

Enjoying the tidal pool

We eventually made it as far as Wollongong before we looked for a place to stay. Along the way, we searched Airbnb.com and were lucky enough to find Jack’s place right near the beach. At $161 USD per night for four people, the apartment was a great deal. Street parking was free and we were right across the road from not only the water, but also from a public pool and a man made tidal pool.

For dinner, we ate at The [M]eatery. We decide that if we couldn’t be home for American Thanksgiving, we would gorge ourselves on multiple meats instead of the traditional turkey. We had been told that is was a pricey restaurant, but I thought it was reasonable for what we received and how full we were when we left. At about $40 AUD per person, we ordered a shareable platter of meats, a few appetizers, desserts, and drinks.

While we weren’t in town long, but we did enjoy some time at the Crown Street Mall. In the afternoon, we stopped in a little bar and restaurant called His Boy Elroy for happy hour. It’s a small joint with great drink options and a diverse menu. We returned to the mall the next morning (a Friday) for a craft fair which was set up right between the two main buildings of the mall. I thought combining a traditional shopping mall with booths for handmade crafts and produce was a wonderful idea.
 
Also while in Wollongong, we visited the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple. This is not just a single building, but an entire complex of breathtakingly beautiful structures. As I was not dressed appropriately (I was wearing shorts), I did not go into the prayer halls or other buildings. Instead, I peered in from the doorways and wandered the grounds which are beautiful and serene. The visit was free and was a calming change from the hustle and bustle of Wollongong.
Nan Tien Buddhist Temple in Wollongong

Continuing south along the coastal road, we finally made it to our first real destination of this roadtrip-Murramarang NationalPark. This park is off the main road and is not so much a national park as it is a publicly owned coastal area. When driving in, keep an eye out for kangaroos bouncing about. This is one of a few places where you can see kangaroos grazing on or near the coast, sometimes even hanging out on the rocks near the water. Keep in mind that kangaroos are nocturnal so going early in the morning or in the early evening is best. We arrived around 4 p.m. and were able to watch them hangout in a large grassy area behind some homes. We got as close as they would allow (about 50 feet) though we kept in mind that they are wild animals. According to Wikipedia, they don’t tend to be aggressive, but we didn’t want to take a chance.

Roadtrip from Sydney to Canberra

Sydney, Australia

While visiting Sydney, a local told me, “Sydney is a great city to be in if you have some money in your pocket.” Without it, it’s a tough city to enjoy since your money doesn’t go very far. We stayed in the Rocks area of Sydney for our first few days. We used points to stay at the Holiday Inn on George Street. We only stayed one night here and since it would have cost us a pretty penny (about $400 USD a night), we took advantage of being so close to the action and the sites. We also took at advantage of their rooftop pool and hot tub with amazing views.
View from the rooftop pool at the Holiday Inn

While in Sydney, we took a free walking tour which was advertised everywhere. It took about 3 hours starting in Hyde Park and ending just under the bridge in the Rocks. It was informative and helped us to understand the area. Our guide also gave us recommendations on things to do, things to skip based on price, and an overview on how the buses, trains, and ferry systems work.

I also took the tour of the Sydney Opera House and while the building itself is inspiring, I don’t think the $37 AUD tour was worth it. You are told of the history and shown a handful of the theaters inside but I think my money would have been better spent towards a ticket to see a show.
The Sydney Opera House from afar
After two days of sightseeing, we headed south for a few days but returned later in the week and stayed this time at the Holiday Inn in Pott’s Point. While the hotel (paid for on points again) was further from the Central Business District and some of the sights, it wasn’t too far from Hyde Park and had much more affordable restaurants and bars that actually honored the practice of happy hour. The average bar offered $5 AUD beers and glasses of wine during happy hour. There were also a lot of lunch deals for around $10-12 AUD. Once of these was Boca Grill on the corner of Victoria Street & Liverpool Street. I ordered a glass of wine and an empanada that was enormous for a total of $10 AUD.

We took the obligatory trip to Bondi Beach which is beautiful and the place to be seen. Public parking at the beach costs $7 AUD per hour. When we headed back into town a few days later, we also visited Manly Beach which was much more laid back and not as built up.
Sydney, Australia