What to know about driving safely in New Zealand

Driving is a wonderful way to explore New Zealand’s spectacular scenery at your own pace. Before you get behind the wheel, check you understand the basics of driving in New Zealand and how to do it legally and safely. 

Important things to know about driving in New Zealand

Here is what you need to know: 

  • we drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand 
  • many of our roads are hilly, narrow and winding so some distances may take longer to drive than you expect 
  • some of our road rules may be different from what you’re used to, so take the time to understand them 
  • our speed signs are in kilometres per hour, not miles 
  • seatbelts are compulsory (front and back seats), as are child restraints 
  • it’s illegal to drive while using a hand-held mobile phone  
  • speeding and drink driving can result in strict penalties from the New Zealand Police 

Check out more information about driving in New Zealand and a useful video for visiting drivers.

Do I need a special licence?

Queenstown
Driving in New Zealand, Queenstown

If you have a current driver’s licence you can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months. You must have your licence with you whenever you’re driving. If your licence isn’t in English you must carry an accurate English translation.  

If you have a full car driver’s licence (that is not a provisional licence) you can drive a rental motorhome in New Zealand. 

You can also legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have an International Driving Permit (IDP) that is issued in English or translated into English, as long as you also carry the current driver licence that the permit is based on. 

You can find out more about international driving licences and permits here 

What are the roads like in New Zealand?

New Zealand has diverse terrain and our weather conditions can change quickly. The roads are often narrow and hilly with twists and turns so may take longer to drive than you expect. Our  time and distance calculator can help you plan your itinerary.  

Outside of the main cities, there are very few motorways. Most of our roads are two-way with one lane in each direction and no barriers in-between. In rural areas you’re likely to encounter gravel roads, as well as slow-moving farm machinery, horses and stock.  

New Zealand roads are busiest during summer and early autumn (December-April) and you need to take extra care when driving in winter as there may be snow, ice, or heavy rain and hail. 

It’s important to allow plenty of time for driving in New Zealand. Use the NZTA Journey Planner for the latest road and travel time information before you set out. Check the weather forecast too, as you may experience four seasons in one day when driving long distances.  

Use this distance calculator to get an approximate travel time and distance between two points in New Zealand.

Tips for driving safely in New Zealand

Driving through New Zealand can be an exciting adventure, but here are some tips to keep you safe:

  • get to know the road rules in New Zealand
  • allow plenty of time for each leg of your journey so you are not rushing 
  • never drive when you’re tired. Take regular breaks. You’ll see rest areas signposted so take a few minutes to stretch your legs
  • never drink and drive. There are strict penalties for driving when under the influence. For drivers under 20 years old, there is a zero alcohol limit. For drivers aged 20 and over, the alcohol limit is 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood or 250 micrograms per litre of breath. If you’re planning to visit wineries, breweries or distilleries then ensure you have a sober driver, or join one of the many guided tours available

Tiaki promise

The Tiaki Promise is a commitment to care for New Zealand, for now, and for future generations. By following the Tiaki Promise, you are making a commitment to act as a guardian, protecting and preserving our home.

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