Taking the TransAlpine express from Christchurch, we pulled into Greymouth rail station exactly on time and went to pick up the car we had reserved through National Car Rental. We were in for a few surprises. On what we thought was the good side, my reservation for an intermediate car was upgraded to a full sized car. How nice we thought. WRONG! If we had any idea, at that time, of the roads we would be on, we would have asked to be downgraded to a smaller car. But more on that later.
Another surprise was that my idea of returning the car to the Christchurch airport before our flight the following week wasn't a good one. They don't have a ‘depot' at the airport. The depot is in the ‘city center'. We had two options. One was that we COULD leave the car at the airport. We would pull into the public parking lot, get a parking ticket, and leave the ticket and the key on the seat of the car. Someone from city center would come out to pick up the car. For this there was an added fee as two people had to come out to get the car. Leaving a car, in a public parking lot, with the key in it, did not appeal to us. Plus, there was the issue of the ‘bond' on the car.
There is optional insurance that could be taken on the car, which would cover the ‘excess'. This was NZ$2500 that we would be liable for if there were any damage to the car. The daily rate was NZ$12.50 and we declined it. Which meant that the bond, plus tax (12.5%), was going to be charged to our credit card and we needed to get it refunded when the car was returned. So leaving the car in the parking lot at the airport, unattended, not knowing what could happen, really wasn't an option for us.
So we signed the paperwork (I needed to sign too to be able to drive) and we went out to inspect the car. And I mean inspect the car. We have NEVER had a car inspected pre- and post-rental like we had in New Zealand. There is paperwork with a silhouette of a car on it and ALL scratches/nicks/dents are noted on the paperwork. And the car is similarly inspected when it is returned. (The rental agent rubs a spot that might be a new scratch. Oh, it's only dirt. OK.)
After loading our luggage, which had no trouble fitting into the spacious trunk, we got into the car. I had to stop myself from reaching for the handle on the right side of the car and walk around to the left side. My husband spent some time familiarizing himself with the car's controls. We have been to other countries where the cars are driven on the left side of the road. But this is the first time we've been in a car where the steering wheel is on the right, with the wiper control on the left of the steering wheel and the turn signal on the right. (This resulted in the wipers getting turned on a lot when we wanted to signal for a turn. Fortunately, the brake and gas pedals are oriented the way we'd expect.)
As for the size of the car, we traveled many narrow roads with hairpin turns. The large car was a definite disadvantage on these roads. Not only did we wish we had our intermediate sized car, there were many times we wished we had a compact.
Was it all worth it? You bet. We loved our self-drive of New Zealand and highly recommend it.