Guide to driving in New Zealand



The land of the long white cloud is perfectly suited to self-drive holidays, but there are a few things to watch out for…

 Most people exploring New Zealand will be doing so in a hire car, but there are a few subtle differences to driving in NZ. Most are not major – it’s not like the culture shock of attempting to drive through Marrakech or Ho Chi Minh City, but a few adjustments need making to driving habits.

The long and winding road: New Zealand looks small, but the time it takes to get from one place to another can be surprisingly long. That’s because New Zealand is crumpled as hell, and roads are often climbing around mountainsides. ‘Direct’ is a relative term, so the as-the-crow-flies distance may have an awful lot of kinks and bends added to it when you’re not a crow. 

Slow it down: The narrower roads mean New Zealand’s maximum speed limit of 100km/h broadly makes sense. Police will generally allow you up to a maximum of an extra 10km/h before pulling you over, but only on roads where it’ll not make much difference. For many, you need to apply common sense and go considerably below the limit to safely navigate the twists, turns and conditions.



Patience is a virtue: If you’re expecting big motorways, freeways or autobahns, prepare for disappointment. Much of New Zealand is traversed by two lane roads, and it’s generally only when you get to the outskirts of big cities that they’re widened to accommodate more traffic. On the whole, this doesn’t matter all that much – New Zealand is hardly choked by traffic. But it can mean having to be patient when it comes to finding a suitable overtaking spot for slow cars and campervans. 

Changing islands: New Zealand is made up of two main islands, and while you can take your car on the ferry between them, most hire car companies prefer to operate a policy whereby you leave your car at Wellington or Picton, then swap it for another one at the end of the crossing. Be aware of this if you’ve packed your car full of stuff – you’re going to have to get it out and keep it with you on the ferry.

Snow joke: In the winter months, on the South Island in particular, you’re probably going to need snow chains fitted if you’re planning to drive on mountain roads. This means that you need to check your rental company provides them, and you know how to fit them. Between May and September, it is a legal requirement to carry snow chains if you’re driving down the Milford Road to Milford Sound. 

One lane bridges: The country is riddled with rivers and streams, and it’s frankly cheaper to put little tiny bridges across them than big ones. This leads to a lot of one-lane bridges, but they’re well marked, and if you see the rounded red sign with one big arrow and one small arrow, prepare to give way to whatever’s coming in the opposite direction.

We have some great car and motorhome rental dealsin New Zealand here

We have some great deals to New Zealand here