it depends on the length of the trip. If you're going for a couple weeks just rent something, and the NZ companies like Juicy do have better rates. But if you're going for a month or more it probably makes more sense to buy a beater. That isn't as intimidating as it sounds.... There are "car markets" down there, like flea markets here in the US, and cars exchange owners all the time. There are some rules about registration and insurance, but that info is all available on line. Not too crazy. And the US dollar is (usually) worth more, so do the math when figuring costs.
We'll be going for 2+ months, so will probably buy some low end beater, then sell it before we leave. It's the kind of thing where you can buy a car for (say) $1500 to $3,000 drive it, then sell it at the end for a similar price. You'll put gas in it, maybe repair something, but it's likely cheaper than a rental if you're going for a longish amount of time. People do this buy/sell thing with all kinds of vehicles, even camper vans (which we are also considering). Campers get pricey, but then you factor in many fewer nights in hotels and Airbnbs and it can make sense.
IMHO, NZ is so far away that it makes sense to go for at least a month, assuming you want to cover a lot of ground on both islands. Our kid will be out in the sticks on the South Island (her in-laws are in Auckland), and we plan on a lot of exploring, so having our own wheels is essential.
We've checked out Airbnbs and lodging seems to be pretty reasonable, too. Depends on what you want/like/need, of course, but while buying stuff in NZ is expensive, lodging isn't crazy.
Keep us posted on your adventures!
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