Everything you need to know about driving in New Zealand

Not sure about driving down under? Here's everything you need to know about driving while on vacation in New Zealand.

Driving in New Zealand is a unique experience and a little different to other countries! A great way to immerse yourself in the landscape and culture, the majority of our roads are wide and well maintained.

However there are several key travel routes that are narrow, windy and subject to adverse weather conditions - so when taking a self-drive vacation it’s important to come prepared.


So what’s different about driving in New Zealand?

The most important thing to note is that in New Zealand, we drive on the left hand side of the road. If you drive on the right in your home country it can be a little daunting to think about driving on the opposite side - but there are many tools and tips to help you prepare for the experience.


A good rule of thumb is - if you’re driving, the centre line should be on your right shoulder. Before arriving we recommend you participate in the AA Visiting Driver Training Programme which takes you through a series of simulated videos to help get you ready for the road. Our travel specialists can also help you with more detailed advice and are available to answer any questions you may have.


What are the roads like New Zealand?

New Zealand's diversity means many roads traverse narrow gorges, steep hillsides and cross through rocky terrain. The main cities have motorways (highways) but outside the metro areas nearly all the roads are a single lane in each direction. In more remote towns you may come across loose gravel or dirt roads so it’s important exercise caution and leave plenty of travel time.


New Zealand looks like a small country, isn't it really quick to go from North to South?

This is a common assumption, and one that can trip you up if you're not careful. Although what looks like a fast and simple drive on the map can actually take a lot longer due to the nature of the terrain. A good example of this is the route from Franz Josef to Wanaka. On the map it looks like a quick three and a half hour drive, but in reality you should allow at least four and a half hours because of windy Haast pass you will drive through.


How does the weather affect driving in New Zealand?

The weather in New Zealand can be inconsistent, particularly during spring and fall.  You may experience blue skies and sunshine in the morning - and rain, hail or even snow in the afternoon. This can make road hazards particularly common so be sure to read the weather forecast before traveling and allow more time if required.

If you’re traveling in the South Island during early spring, late autumn or winter you should always be prepared for the possibility of snow. Your rental company will be able to advise you on snow chains if a cold snap is predicted. 


Do I need to get New Zealand drivers license while I’m here?

Legally, you can drive in New Zealand for 12 months if you have either an international driver's license or a current driver's license for your home country. You’ll need to convert to a New Zealand drivers licence if you're planning on staying the country for longer than 12 months. 

  • You are required to carry your license with you at all times. If your license is not in english then you’ll need to get a certified english translation. A translation can be issued by:
  • The New Zealand Translation Service or
  • a diplomatic representative at a high commission, embassy or consulate, or
  • the authority that issued your overseas licence (an international driving permit may be acceptable as a translation).

You should note that it is illegal to drive without an acceptable english translation and should you get caught, you may be prosecuted for driving unlicensed and liable for an infringement fee NZ$400 or up top $NZ1,000 on conviction in court.


What are the Road Rules in New Zealand?

In New Zealand, we drive on the left-hand side of the road. Drivers must yield to all traffic crossing or approaching from the right. On the open road the speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour. In urban areas the speed limit is 50 kilometres per hour.


In the larger cities you’ll come across larger multi-lane motorways. Most roads are clearly signposted and follow international standard symbols. All distances are in kilometres (km).

Every person traveling in the car must wear a safety belt, and all children under the age of five must be properly restrained in an approved child restraint.


If you are traveling at a cautious speed and there is a line of cars behind you, pull over a the safest available place to let them pass.

It is illegal to drink alcohol before driving and strict drink driving laws are enforced.


Got specific questions about driving in NZ? we can help you! give us a call now. 

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