Driving in the South Island

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It doesn't get much better than cruising through the New Zealand countryside with your own set of wheels.

Self-drive holidays give you the freedom to stop and discover New Zealand's beautiful landscapes and stunning geographical features at your own pace.

Driving in New Zealand

Important things you need to know about driving in New Zealand.

New Zealand is a compact country and you never have too far to drive to your next destination. Routes are well marked and easy to follow; clear signage pointing you in the right direction makes it easy to get wherever you want to go. Our themed highways travel through some of the country’s most famous landscapes; these touring routes are marked with distinctive brown signs. 

You'll be driving on mostly sealed roads, with stunning vistas around every new corner - from gently rolling hills to high country, forests to sweeping plains and coastal drives. There's so much to see along the way wherever you are in the South Island, and plenty of places to stop and eat, drink, or sleep.

Speed limit signs show the maximum speed you can travel. At times you may need to slow down depending on the conditions. The maximum speed on any open or rural road is 100km/h. The maximum speed in urban areas is usually 50km/h. 

Remember, it's forbidden to use your mobile phone while driving, unless the device is completely hands-free.

Rental cars

With modern vehicles available from rental companies, driving through the South Island is a pleasure. Rates vary according to the season and in most cases the longer you hire a rental car, the cheaper the daily rate. Vehicles with either manual or automatic transmissions are available. Typical fleets include sedans, hatchbacks, 4WD wagons, SUVs, minivans and even specialty coupes. The minimum age to rent a vehicle in New Zealand is 21 years.

Campervans

A campervan is the ultimate accommodation choice for flexibility on a driving holiday. They're available in various sizes ranging from 2 to 6 berths. If you want the comforts of home whilst on the road, choose a campervan offering conveniences such as stove, fridge, bed linen, TV, shower and toilet. A campervan that has onboard waste water storage and a toilet is considered self-contained and gives you more flexibility when choosing where to stay.

Campervans may be longer, higher and wider than you are used to, so here are a few extra tips for motorhome driving:

  • Before setting off familiarise yourself with the vehicle and secure cupboards/belongings
  • Give yourself lots of room when turning corners.
  • It may be helpful to have someone stand behind you to act as a guide when you are reversing, especially the first few times.

Responsible (freedom) camping is permitted on public conservation land, except in areas where it is expressly prohibited or restricted to self-contained vehicles, as indicated by signage. Each region in New Zealand has different rules around where camping is permitted, so ask at the local i-SITE Visitor Centre if you are unsure. 

New Zealand also has a range of independently owned holiday parks and camping grounds, while the Department of Conservation (DOC) runs more than 100 basic campsites - visitors travelling New Zealand by campervan or rental vehicle can save up to 50% on DOC campsite fees with a weekly campsite pass. 

More information about driving in New Zealand

See drivesafe.org.nz for more information about New Zealand roads, road rules and vehicle safety. For up to date information on South Island roads you can also call toll free 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49).