New Zealand's South Island
New Zealand local time
A knowledgeable travel professional, with their extensive knowledge and contacts in the industry, can provide support before your trip, monitor your progress en route and provide post travel assistance. Because we coordinate air, land, rail and sea transportation, your trip can proceed seamlessly to your hotel/resort, activities and excursions. Rather than than doing your own time consuming research, let us use our extensive knowledge to help you avoid costly mistakes and ensure the quality of trip you’ve been looking for.
World famous for its iconic scenery, friendly people, golf courses, wineries and smorgasbord of outdoor activities, you’ll never be short of things to do in Queenstown. And of course, it’s the home of the ultimate adventure bucket list. There’s skiing in the winter and activities such as bungee jumping, sky diving, canyon swinging, jet boating, horse trekking and river rafting all year round.
Queenstown has also become a renowned cycling destination, providing everything from easy scenic tracks to backcountry trails, road rides to heli-biking and the Southern Hemisphere’s only gondola accessed downhill mountain biking.
If hardcore adventure isn’t your thing, there are plenty of mellow options available. Experience one of the many walking and hiking trails, sightseeing tours or indulge yourself with spa treatments, boutique shopping and excellent food and wine.
The proof is in the pudding. Queenstown is rated internationally as one of the world’s top holiday destinations and in2014 was named New Zealand’s number one destination in the Travelers’ Choice Destinations by TripAdvisor as well as the second best destination in the South Pacific.
Christchurch & Canterbury
Canterbury stretches from ocean to the Alps, and is land of plains and peaks. It is a place of variety and innumerable attractions.
Within two hours of an international airport, you can ski, play golf, bungee jump, go whitewater rafting, mountain biking, wind surfing, whale watching, and visit world-class vineyards and gardens. Where else in the world can you do that?
A must-see is New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook. Go hiking in Arthur’s Pass National Park or just wander around the picturesque bays and villages of Banks Peninsula. And then there’s New Zealand’s second-largest city Christchurch, known as ‘The Garden City’, which around 340,000 people call home.
Fiordland National Park is a World Heritage Site and includes Milford, Dusky and Doubtful Sounds. Milford Sound was described by Rudyard Kipling as the Eighth Wonder of the World; take a scenic flight over it and you will understand why.
Some of the fiords can be explored by kayak but if you’d like to see the less accessible fiords, eco-tours can be arranged.
But this really is the place for hiking. Fiordland National Park has three of New Zealand’s ‘great walks’, the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn Tracks. Milford Track is arguably New Zealand’s most famous walk. Starting in Te Anau, it takes you over 53 kilometers through the most breath-taking scenery: mountains, lakes and enormous valleys right up to the Sutherland Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Zealand.
Located at the top of the South Island, Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region and the home of world-renowned sauvignon blanc.
Marlborough enjoys high sunshine hours and a temperate climate so that visitors can experience all of Marlborough’s diversity through the season. No matter what time of year, there is always something going on in Marlborough, New Zealand.
There are over 40 cellar doors in Marlborough, why not take advantage of a pre-arranged wine tour with a local operator and visit a selection of the region’s top wine producers. You can map out your own route: self-drive, travel in style in a chauffeur- driven car or mix your daily exercise with your tasting in a cycle tour. Whichever mode of transport you choose be sure to stop at a winery restaurant along the way.
The Marlborough Sounds are best explored on water, with a range of cruises and activities from a self-guided kayak excursion to sailing on a luxury yacht. Get active by swimming with dolphins, diving or fishing in the Sounds. Hike the length of the Queen Charlotte Track as it winds its way through native forest, along view filled ridges and beside idyllic coves.
Known as the Edinburgh of New Zealand, Dunedin is the country’s city of the south, wearing its Scottish heritage with pride. Surrounded by dramatic hills and at the foot of a long, picturesque harbor, Dunedin is one of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere. The accommodation is good and plentiful; the nightlife buzzes with funky bars and delicious restaurants and the natural attractions are unique and fascinating.
Don’t miss a drive up the Otago Peninsula – the views are endless and the beaches are beautifully rugged. Nestled at the foot of Taiaroa Head is the Royal Albatross Centre, the only place in the world on the mainland where you can view Northern Royal Albatross in their natural habitat. On Dunedin’s doorstep you will also find incredible wildlife including the world’s rarest penguin colonies.
Head further south, and you join the Southern Scenic Route, a must-do of the South Island that follows the wild coast down to Invercargill and then north-west to Manapouri and Te Anau.
Nestled below towering mountains, Wanaka is the most tranquilly set of the South Island lakes.
In winter, skiers flock here from all over the world for superb skiing and snowboarding at Cardrona and Treble Cone, cross-country skiing at Snow Farm and heli-skiing high in the Harris Mountains. But Wanaka, New Zealand, is much more than a winter destination. Year round activities include fishing, hiking, canyoning, climbing and skydiving. Visit the nearby towns of Queenstown, Cromwell and Alexandra, go shopping, or simply sit in a cafe and watch the world pass by.
Never more than 50 kilometers wide, the whole stretch down the West Coast of the South Island – of which Greymouth is the largest town – is home to only 31,000 people.
It’s good if you’ve got your own transport because this is a long region and there’s a lot to see. In fact, the Great Coast Road stretching from Westport to Greymouth was recently voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet.
Visit the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. These giant rivers of ice have squeezed down the valleys to just 250 metres above sea level.
The pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki are among the West Coast’s most famous sights and a definite ‘must-see’ in this region. Only 45 minutes’ drive from Punakaiki is the Denniston Experience, where you’ll journey by train deep into a historic coal mine for a fascinating insight into West Coast mining history.
Take in the views from the new Westcoast Treetop Walk among ancient rimu, marvel at the limestone cliffs of Paparoa National Park and the vivid turquoise water in the Hokitika Gorge.
Southland’s largest center is Invercargill. If you’re a garden lover you must see Queens Park and its 80 hectares of tree-lined walkways and diverse gardens. The city turns on the hospitality so, if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, you’ll find plenty of friendly and high standard accommodation.
Half an hour from Invercargill is the fishing port of Bluff. Known for its fabulous seafood, this is the place to taste the famous Bluff oysters. If you like bird watching, catch a ferry to Stewart Island where you’ll find a haven for native bird life and the only place in New Zealand where you have a fair chance of seeing kiwi in their native habitat.
Southland offers scenic mountain biking trails for all abilities. Cycle the highlands and discover fascinating gold mining heritage at Welcome Rock Trails, while the Around the Mountains trail winds through historic townships and pioneering relics and is known for its rural charm. Cycling in Southland is a great way to connect with friendly locals.
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New Zealand Travel Information and Tips
When you arrive in New Zealand, you’ll need to be carrying a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond your intended departure date. Many people will qualify for visa-free entry, but depending on your country of origin, some will need to apply for a visa before they travel.
Do you need a visa or permit?
You do not need a visa or permit to visit New Zealand if you are:
- A New Zealand/Australia citizen or Resident Permit holder
- An Australian citizen traveling on an Australian passport
- British citizen and or British passport holder who can produce evidence of the right to reside permanently in the UK (you can stay up to six months)
- A citizen of a country which has a visa waiver agreement with New Zealand (you can stay up to three months).
If you come from Visa-waiver countries, you don’t need a visa to enter New Zealand, but are still required to provide:
- Travel tickets or evidence of onward travel arrangements
- Evidence that you can support yourself in New Zealand (approximately NZ$1000 per month per person).
New Zealand’s unit of currency is the dollar (NZ$). All major credit cards can be used in New Zealand, with Visa and MasterCard accepted most widely, followed by American Express and Diners Club.
New Zealand has mild temperatures, moderately high rainfall, and many hours of sunshine.
While the far north has subtropical weather during summer, and inland alpine areas of the South Island can be as cold as -10°C (14°F) in winter, most of the country lies close to the coast, which means mild temperatures.
The average New Zealand temperature decreases as you travel south. January and February are the warmest months, and July is the coldest month of the year. In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20-30ºC (70-90°F) and in winter between 10-15ºC (50-60°F).
You can check on New Zealand weather conditions on the New Zealand Met Service website.
Seasons and clothing requirements
As New Zealand lies in the Southern Hemisphere, it has opposite seasons to those living in the northern half of the world.
Summer: December – February
Summer in New Zealand is moderate to hot, with temperatures hovering around 20-30 degrees celsius. In most places you can wear shorts and a t-shirt or singlet during the day, adding a light jumper at night.
Autumn/Fall: March – May
Temperatures during this time are a little cooler than summer but the New Zealand weather can be excellent. Suitable clothing includes light pants or shorts, and a t-shirt or long-sleeved top. It can cool off at night more during this season, so make sure you are prepared with a warm sweater.
Winter: June – August
Winter in New Zealand brings colder weather to much of the country, with snow in the south and rain in the north. You’ll need jeans, long-sleeved tops and coats in most places, and if you’re heading into the mountains thermals, gloves and thick sweaters are also a good idea.
Spring: September – November
Spring brings weather of all types – expect everything from cold, frosty, clear days to sunny and hot. Make sure you are prepared for this type of weather if you are visiting during this time. Jeans are good and layers work well on top, as they can be added and removed depending on what the weather brings.
Four Seasons in One Day
New Zealand weather can change unexpectedly. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature if you’re going hiking or doing other outdoor activities.
Most places in New Zealand receive over 2,000 hours of sunshine a year, with the sunniest areas – Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Nelson/Marlborough – receiving over 2,350 hours. As New Zealand observes daylight saving, during summer months daylight can last up until 9.30pm. New Zealand experiences relatively little air pollution compared to many other countries, which makes the UV rays in our sunlight very strong.
The sunlight here can quickly burn skin from September to April, especially between 10am and 4pm, even on cloudy days. Be ‘SunSmart’ by using these three simple steps when you go outdoors:
- Stay in the shade whenever possible.
- Wear a shirt, hat and sunglasses.
- Use SPF 30+ sunscreen. Reapply every 2 hours.
New Zealand’s average rainfall is high and evenly spread throughout the year. Over the northern and central areas of New Zealand more rain falls in winter than in summer, whereas for much of the southern part of New Zealand, winter is the season of least rainfall. As well as producing areas of stunning native forest, the high rainfall makes New Zealand an ideal place for farming and horticulture.
Snow typically appears during the months of June through October, though cold snaps can occur outside these months. Most snow in New Zealand falls in the mountainous areas, like the Central Plateau in the north, and the Southern Alps in the south. It also falls heavily in inland Canterbury and Otago.
New Zealand is generally a very safe place to travel with a relatively low crime rate, few endemic diseases and a great healthcare system. However, we strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance in the event of an accident or other calamities. Please contact Legato Travel for plan options and pricing.
However, you should take the same care with your personal safety and your possessions as you would in any other country, or at home. Take copies of your important documents (like your passport and credit cards), and keep them separate from the originals. You should also keep a record of the description and serial number of valuable items (like digital cameras). And remember, in an emergency dial 111.
Keeping yourself safe
- Carry a mobile phone and don’t hesitate to dial New Zealand’s emergency phone number if you feel unsafe or threatened – dial 111.
- Travel with someone you know and trust whenever possible.
- We recommend you don’t accept rides from strangers and don’t hitchhike.
- If you’re out at night, keep to well lit places where other people are present. Don’t take short cuts through parks or alleyways. Take a taxi or get a ride with someone you know.
- Avoid accepting drinks from strangers and never leave your drink unattended.
- Carry a basic first-aid kit for use in emergencies.
Keeping your possessions safe
- Always lock your accommodation and vehicle and keep windows secure when you’re not around.
- Store valuables securely, ideally in a safe at your accommodation. Never leave valuables or important documents in parked vehicles.
- Never leave bags, backpacks, wallets or cameras unattended in any public place, especially airports, ferry terminals or bus/railway stations.
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash or expensive jewellery.
- If withdrawing money from a machine, withdraw small amounts only – preferably during the day – and shield your pin.
- Don’t leave maps, luggage or visitor brochures visible in your vehicle. These are obvious signs that you are a tourist and may have valuables.
- If you are traveling by camper, park it in designated areas whenever possible.
If any of your possessions are stolen or valuable items misplaced, advise local police as soon as possible.
The emergency telephone number in New Zealand is 111. It is a free phone call. If you have an emergency and need a quick response from the Police, the Fire Service, Ambulance or Search and Rescue, dial 111.
There are Police Stations in all main towns and cities in New Zealand and in many rural locations. Contact details can be found in local telephone books.
Don’t hesitate to contact the police if you feel unsafe or threatened. Report any theft and crime to the police immediately.
Keeping Safe via Text Messaging
Vodafone and Telecom offer a text messaging service for visitors.
You can send updates about your location and travel movements via text to number 7233 [SAFE]. These details are kept on a central database which can be accessed by police if necessary.
Each text message sent to 7233 will be acknowledged by an automated response, which advises you to call 111 and request police assistance if you are in danger.
Police and the New Zealand tourism industry encourage you to use this service as another way of letting people know where you are and what you are doing while in our country.
Safety in the outdoors
People can sometimes get caught out by New Zealand’s rugged terrain and unpredictable weather.
Seven safety tips to help you stay safe in New Zealand’s great outdoors:
- Plan your trip: Seek local knowledge and plan the route you will take and the amount of time you can reasonably expect it to take.
- Tell someone: Tell someone your plans and leave a date for when to raise the alarm if you haven’t returned. Leave a detailed trip plan with the Department of Conservation (DOC) or a friend including a “panic” date, the more details we have about your intentions, the quicker you’ll be rescued if something goes wrong. You can find a handy Outdoor Intentions form on the AdventureSmart website.
- Be aware of the weather: New Zealand’s weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the forecast and expect weather changes
- Know your limits: Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience. Going with others is better than going alone
- Take sufficient supplies: Make sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst case scenario. Take an appropriate means of communication such as a mobile phone and battery powered radio.
- Don’t rely on cell phone coverage and consider using a personal locator beacon, especially if you’re traveling alone
- If lost, seek shelter and stay where you are. Use a torch/camera flash to attract attention at night. Try and position something highly colored and visible from the air to help a helicopter search during the day.
For more information visit the AdventureSmart website.
Other safety precautions in the outdoors
Although there are no snakes or dangerous wild animals in New Zealand, you should be aware of the following:
- Giardia: Giardia is a water-borne parasite that causes diarrhea. To avoid contracting it, it is best not to drink water from lakes, ponds or rivers without first boiling, chemically treating or filtering it.
- Sunburn: New Zealand’s clear, unpolluted atmosphere and relatively low latitudes produce sunlight stronger than much of Europe or North America, so be prepared to wear hats and sun block if you plan to be out in the sun for more than 15-20 minutes.
Safety in the water
New Zealand’s extensive coastline and network of waterways provide ample opportunity for swimming, boating and fishing. However many people are unprepared for the potential dangers of the water.
We recommend that you visit Water Safety or AdventureSmart for advice on how to stay safe on New Zealand’s beaches and waterways.
- If in doubt, stay out.
- Never swim or surf alone, or when cold or tired.
- Swim between the flags. Beaches with potential hazards are often patrolled by lifeguards, who put up yellow and red flags. Between these flags is the safest place to swim. Listen to advice from life guards.
- If you have children with you, watch over them at all times.
- Learn to recognize ocean rip currents.
Accidents and health insurance
With a little care and common sense, your visit to New Zealand should be accident free. If you are injured here, you may need the help of the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) – New Zealand’s accident compensation scheme.
In New Zealand, you cannot sue anyone for compensatory damages if you are injured. Instead ACC helps pay for your care – and that means paying towards the cost of your treatment and helping in your recovery while you remain in New Zealand.
You still need to purchase your own travel and medical insurance because ACC does not cover everything:
- ACC only covers treatment and rehabilitation in New Zealand, and usually you must pay part of the cost yourself.
- ACC does not pay any additional costs resulting from an accident, for example delayed or curtailed travel costs, travel home, treatment at home and loss of income in your home country.
We strongly advise you to arrange your own health insurance. New Zealand’s public and private medical/hospital facilities provide a high standard of treatment and service, but it is important to note these services are not free to visitors, except as a result of an accident.
Medication and vaccinations
Visitors bringing in a quantity of medication are advised to carry a doctor’s certificate to avoid possible problems with New Zealand Customs. Doctor’s prescriptions are needed to obtain certain drugs in New Zealand.
No vaccinations are required to enter New Zealand.
Spectacular glaciers, picturesque fiords, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hillsides, subtropical forest, volcanic plateau, miles of coastline with gorgeous sandy beaches – it’s all here. No wonder New Zealand is becoming so popular as a location for movies.
Lying in the south-west Pacific, New Zealand consists of two main islands – the North Island and the South Island. Stewart Island and many smaller islands lie offshore.
The North Island of New Zealand has a ‘spine’ of mountain ranges running through the middle, with gentle rolling farmland on both sides. The central North Island is dominated by the Volcanic Plateau, an active volcanic and thermal area. The massive Southern Alps form the backbone of the South Island. To the east of the Southern Alps is the rolling farmland of Otago and Southland, and the vast, flat Canterbury Plains.
Geothermal areas and hot springs
This subterranean activity blesses New Zealand with some spectacular geothermal areas and relaxing hot springs, as well as providing electricity and heating in some areas. Rotorua is the main hub for geothermal attractions, with plenty of mud pools, geysers, and hot springs in its active thermal areas — not to mention its trademark ‘Sulphur City’ smell. First settled by Maori who used the hot springs for cooking and bathing, Rotorua soon attracted European residents. The reputed health benefits of its hot pools quickly earned the area the name of ‘Cureland’.
Beyond Rotorua, you can enjoy hot springs and other thermal activity in most regions of the North Island north of Turangi, as well as in Hanmer Springs and the West Coast in the South Island.
Gentle, sandy beaches to wild, rugged coastlines
New Zealand has over 15,000 kilometers of beautiful and varied coastline. In the Far North and on most of the East Coast of the North Island you’ll find long sandy beaches perfect for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. The North Island’s west coast has dark sandy beaches, with sand heavy in iron. The north of the South Island has some beautiful sandy beaches, while the coastline around the rest of the South Island tends to be wilder and more rugged.
Mountain ranges to fertile farmland
About a fifth of the North Island and two-thirds of the South Island are mountains. Stretching from the north of the North Island to the bottom of the South, these mountains are caused by the collision of the Australian and Pacific Plates.
Over millions of years, alluvial deposits (eroded from the mountains by rivers) formed the vast Canterbury Plains in the South Island and a number of smaller plains in the North. These alluvial plains contain some of New Zealand’s most fertile and productive farmland.
Glaciers of grinding ice
New Zealand’s Southern Alps have a number of glaciers, the largest being Tasman glacier, which you can view by taking a short walk from Mount Cook village. New Zealand’s most famous glaciers are the Franz Josef and Fox on the South Island’s West Coast. Gouged out by moving ice over thousands of years, these spectacular glaciers are easily accessible to mountaineers and hikers. You can walk up to the glaciers or do a heli-hike — fly up by helicopter and walk down.
Over thousands of years, the process of subduction has seen parts of the New Zealand landscape become submerged. The Marlborough Sounds and Fiordland are examples of high mountain ranges that have ‘sunk’ into the sea, creating spectacular sounds and fiords. These areas provide some of New Zealand most picturesque scenery, with steep lush hills plunging down to the deep still bays below. Clear, deep still water surrounded by beautiful bush makes these areas ideal for boating and kayaking.
New Zealand has a rich and fascinating history, reflecting the unique mix of Māori and European culture.
Māori were the first to arrive in New Zealand, journeying in canoes from Hawaiki about 1,000 years ago. A Dutchman, Abel Tasman, was the first European to sight the country but it was the British who made New Zealand part of their empire.
In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, an agreement between the British Crown and Maori. It established British law in New Zealand and is considered New Zealand’s founding document and an important part of the country’s history. The building where the treaty was signed has been preserved and, today, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a popular attraction.
You’ll find amazing Māori historic sites and taonga (treasures) – as well as beautiful colonial-era buildings – dotted throughout the country. A walk around any New Zealand city today shows what a culturally diverse and fascinating country we have become.
New Zealand’s electricity supply runs at 230/240 volts, and we use angled two or three pin plugs (the same as Australia).
Most hotels and motels provide 110 volt ac sockets (rated at 20 watts) for electric razors only. For all other equipment, an adapter/converter is necessary, unless the item has a multi-voltage option.
What should you know before driving in New Zealand?
If you’re used to driving in the city, you should take care when driving on New Zealand’s open country roads. We have a good motorway system but weather extremes, the terrain and narrow secondary roads and bridges require drivers to be very vigilant.
You can find out what’s different about driving in New Zealand on the NZ Transport Agency website.
DriveSafe.org.nz has been developed to provide everything you need to know to have a safe and enjoyable driving adventure, from road rules and etiquette to links to further resources. The site has three sections: Planning your trip; On arrival; and On the road – check back at any stage of your trip for more guidance and ideas.
This site provides basic information about New Zealand road rules and etiquette, along with links to more details about everything that those unfamiliar with our roads need to know.
Important road rules
- Always drive on the left-hand-side of the road.
- Always keep on or below the legal speed limits indicated on road signs. The maximum speed on any open road is 100km/h. The maximum speed in urban areas is 50km/h. Adjust your speed as conditions demand.
- When traffic lights are red you must stop. When traffic lights are amber you must stop unless you are so close to the intersection it is unsafe to do so.
- Do not pass other cars where there are double yellow lines – these indicate that it’s too dangerous to overtake.
- Drivers and passengers must wear seat belts or child restraints at all times, in both front and rear seats.
- Do not drink and drive. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime in New Zealand and strictly enforced by police, with severe penalties for offenders.
- Signposting follows standard international symbols and all distances are in kilometers (km).
Drive to the road conditions
- Don’t underestimate driving times. Although distances may seem short, New Zealand roads often include hilly, narrow or winding terrain, which slow down your journey. If you’re used to driving in the city, take care when driving on the open country roads, and watch out for single-lane bridges.
- Road conditions are variable. Off the main highways some roads may be unsealed and extra care needs to be taken. A few of these roads are not safe for vehicles and insurance does not cover them – ask your rental car company to mark these roads on your map before setting off.
- In winter some roads may be treacherous due to ice or snow, particularly around mountain passes. Look out for signs indicating slippery surfaces in winter and drive slowly – do not brake suddenly on ice. See our winter driving tips for more advice.
Don’t drive tired
- Get plenty of sleep before a long drive. Take regular breaks – one every two hours.
- Never drive if you are feeling tired, particularly after you have just completed a long-haul flight.
Cycles and Motorbikes
- Helmets for riders of cycles and motorbikes must be worn at all times.
- Rear and front lights on cycles are required at night.
- Motorbikes should drive with a headlight on at all times.
- Cycling is not permitted on motorways.
International Driving Licenses and Permits
You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver’s license from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP). After 12 months you are required to convert to a New Zealand license. This applies to each visit to New Zealand.
In New Zealand all drivers, including visitors from other countries, must carry their licence or permit at all times when driving. You will only be able to drive the same types of vehicles you are licensed to drive in your home country. The common legal age to rent a car in New Zealand is 21 years.
Make sure your driver’s license is current. If your license is not fully written English, you must bring an English translation with you or obtain an IDP. Contact your local automobile club for further details about obtaining a translation or an IDP.
A translation of your overseas license or permit can be issued by:
- A translator approved by the NZ Transport Agency
- A diplomatic representative at a high commission, embassy or consulate; or
- The authority that issued your overseas license (an international driving permit may be acceptable as a translation).
It is important to note that if you are caught driving without an acceptable English translation or an IDP, you may be prosecuted for driving unlicensed or for driving without an appropriate license. You will be liable for an infringement fee of NZ$400, or up to NZ$1,000 if you are convicted in court.
The Police also have the power to forbid an unlicensed driver to drive until they have an appropriate license. If you continue to drive after being forbidden, the vehicle you are driving will be impounded for 28 days, at the vehicle owner’s expense. You may also risk not being covered by your insurance in the event of a crash.