Watch this short video to get an overview of some of the important things you need to know about driving in New Zealand.
Visitors with a current driver's licence from their home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP) can legally drive in New Zealand. You can drive a motorhome rental with a TARE weight of up to 4.5 tonnes on a full car driver's licence even if there’s a lower weight limit on your car driver's licence. You can only drive any other vehicles which are covered by your driver licence or international driving permit.
If you plan to use a foreign driver's licence that is not in English, you must get an English translation or an IDP and carry it with your foreign driver's licence. Your foreign driver's licence is valid for one year from the date you enter New Zealand.
What's Different About Driving in New Zealand?
There's a few things that you may not be used to when driving in New Zealand. For example:
- we drive on the left side of the road
- using a hand-held mobile phone or operating a GPS while driving is illegal
Make sure you understand the rules before you start driving. You should:
Be prepared and make sure you have a safe and enjoyable holiday.
Drive on the Left
All motorists drive on the left-hand side of the road in New Zealand - the same as in the UK and Australia. Regularly remind yourself to keep left and pay particular attention when you are driving in rural areas (where there is less traffic) and when exiting rest areas.
If you have to overtake, only do so when you have visibility of at least 100 metres of clear road in front of you before passing and safely return back to the left hand side of the road. Do not overtake or cross a solid yellow line on your side.
Seat Belts, Restraints, and Child Car Seats
New Zealand law requires drivers and all passengers (front and rear) to wear seat belts at all times including in a campervan or motorhome. Even though your rental vehicle may have extra seats without seat belts, don’t be tempted to allow your passengers to use these while driving. It is unsafe and illegal. You can be fined for not wearing your seat belt.
All children under 148cm in height must be properly restrained by an approved child restraint. We have a great range of child restraints (we call them child seats) which not only meet the most stringent safety standards but are comfortable as well.
Speed limits depend on the type, use and condition of the road. New Zealand has a wide variety of roads, so you will need to pay attention to speed limit signs. The maximum speed limit in urban areas is likely to be 50km/h while the typical speed limit on motorways and open roads is 100km/h. Some of our motorhomes are heavier and therefore are limited to a maximum speed of 90km/hr on the open road. Check before you drive.
The New Zealand Police are tough on drivers who put others at risk by speeding. If you're caught, you could face some severe fines and penalties and lose your drivers license. Be aware that even though the speed limit may be 100km/hr, this speed may not be safe for the driving conditions. Always drive to the condition of the road, the weather, and traffic.
Traffic Lights and Intersections
Drivers must stop when the traffic light turns red in all circumstances. Drivers must also stop when the traffic light turns amber, unless it's unsafe to do so. NO right or left turns are permitted on a red light, as is the practice in North America.
When you come across an intersection, always give way. If you are turning, always give way to the vehicles going straight. Be sure to follow the arrows on the signs as they indicate who has the right of way.
Here are some good tips from the Land Transport Safety Authority about reducing fatigue while you drive:
- Remember to take regular breaks when driving for long periods of time or if you begin to feel tired.
- Avoid driving between midnight and dawn and get a good night's sleep before any long drives.
Drive to the conditions
New Zealand roads and conditions are likely to be different from what you have experienced in your own country. New Zealand has a lot of winding, hilly and narrow roads and distances can be deceptive. The weather in winter can make the roads slippery and icy. Your ability to see what is coming up ahead can be reduced, especially when it is foggy. It is not uncommon for the weather to be unpredictable, even in summer.
Adjust your driving to the conditions. This includes reducing your speed and avoid braking suddenly when the road or weather conditions make driving more demanding, for example, when you are driving on winding roads, where visibility is poor or it is raining. During winter, using snow chains may also be necessary in some areas.
There are a couple of areas to watch out for when travelling on New Zealand roads. You may encounter some gravel or unpaved roads on your travels which will require you to reduce speed. It is wise to reduce your speed to 40-50kph or slower on these roads and be cautious of the dust limiting visibility. Drive in established tracks if possible BUT keep left.
In rural areas, keep in mind you may come across livestock like cattle or sheep wandering on roads. If you do, reduce your speed, do not sound your horn, pull over to the side of the road and be prepared to stop until they have passed.
South and central North Island roads may be temporarily closed due to snow and ice in the colder seasons, although alternative routes are usually available.
You may also come across a few railroad crossings on your trip. Be sure to reduce speed when you approach a crossing and follow the signs. Only cross when it is indicated or safe to do so.
There are also plenty of cyclists that may share the road with you, so slow down and pass safely and carefully. Here in New Zealand, cyclists have the same rights as drivers.
Take the Test
Now you've read up about what's different about driving in New Zealand, test your knowledge by taking this short online quiz. The quiz is specifically designed to help international visitors get to grips with the important bits of the New Zealand Road Code. There's only 65 questions and it's FREE so do it now and make your road trip safer!
Go to Tourist Road Code Quiz
Currently, we have just three toll roads - the Northern Gateway between Orewa and Puhoi, Route K near Tauranga and Tauranga Eastern Link near Pāpāmoa.
Taking the Northern Gateway can significantly reduce your travel time heading north from Auckland. It pays to make your toll payment online because using the toll booth is inconvenient.
Route K provides a speedy alternative into or away from Tauranga if you’re heading southwest to Hamilton, Tokoroa or Rotorua. Paying cash at the toll booth is the easiest option.
Using the Tauranga Eastern Link will reduce your travel time if you’re looking to head east of Tauranga towards Whakatāne and the coastline of the Bay of Plenty.