Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and it’s the natural starting point for onward travel around both North and South island, regardless of how you are thinking about getting around.
First and foremost, it’s worth pointing out that the Auckland metropolitan region as a population of well over 1 million people. There is adequate public transport, including extensive commuter rail, for getting in and out of the city on a day-to-day basis. However, we don’t really think Auckland is a sort of city where tourists visit in order to spend all their time within the urban area. In fact, the most spectacular places to visit in the greater Auckland area are all well outside the city.
There are also some amazing islands which are easily reached by ferry from Auckland, including Motutapu and Rangitoto Islands. These are linked to each other by a small bridge (no cars allowed). Nearby Waiheke Island, which includes the Whakanewha Regional Park, can be reached by car ferry, but there are also buses on the island.
Another key point to consider is that although Auckland is the main international gateway to New Zealand, much of the most impressive sightseeing is actually on South Island. Travelling south from Auckland by coach or by train is perfectly possible. However, services are relatively infrequent, and a ferry journey is needed to cross between the islands (the ferry itself takes 3-4 hours).
To reach a destination like Queenstown, and then to carry on to the spectacular Milford Sound, it’s much easier to take an internal flight first. Queenstown is also the centre of Peter Jackson’s filming world. Including the ferry it’s essentially a full day’s (24 hours) worth of driving. By public transport, you’ll need to allow around 3 days to get there. The most convient combination is to take the train to Wellington, then ferry to Picton on South Island. From here, you can continue by train to Christchurch, then catch a bus to Queenstown.
See also our Dunedin car hire advice page for the southern part of South Island.
Auckland car hire summary
So, should you really rent a car in Auckland? We suggest that there are still more than enough scenic locations which are well worth visiting, both in terms of impressive coastal scenery and lush inland national parks. A hire car is useful for these destinations, but still not essential. If you are basing yourself in Auckland for a few days and don’t particularly feel like getting a rental car, then there are still plenty of options for doing scenic bus tours or heading out by train or of course ferry.
Verdict – no.