A campervan holiday around New Zealand is a great experience, but if you are visiting from a different country, you may feel nervous about adapting to new road layouts and different driving laws. A good thing about driving in New Zealand is a relative lack of traffic jams and lots of open road. In fact, most people find it very easy to drive here!
Here at Sunrise Holidays. we want to make your trip as enjoyable and as safe as possible. We’ve compiled a list of tips for driving in New Zealand, filled with information about road laws, signs and markings and to help you be prepared for any road conditions you may come across.
Driving on the ‘wrong’ side
Only 76 countries around the world drive on the left hand side of the road, New Zealand being one of them. Because of this, our vehicles have the driver sitting on the right side of the car. If you’re not used to this, we recommend taking a driving lesson beforehand or choosing quiet roads to practice on before setting out on a longer drive. Don’t worry, it’s not hard to drive on the other side of the road – it just takes some getting used to and some extra concentration when starting out on a trip.
In many areas there are arrows painted on the roads to remind drivers to stay on the correct side of the road. Follow other drivers and think about what side of the road to turn on to if changing direction or approaching an intersection.
Most road signs follow the international standard and are easy to read and understand.
Short distances aren’t always short drives
New Zealand roads are beautiful, often winding through valleys, mountain ranges and beside lakes and rivers. Many rural and highway roads have numerous twists and turns, signposted beforehand with the appropriate speed to approach the corner.
A distance may look short on a map, but hilly, windy, narrow roads may take longer to drive. If you’re really “off the beaten track” you may come across one-lane bridges, tunnels and gravel roads, where your speeds will be much slower. You’ll probably also want to stop several times to take photos of the spectacular scenery. When planning a driving route, add some extra time to account for slower driving conditions.
The weather: Four seasons in one day
Particularly in the South Island, the weather can change in an instant. When combining rain, snow or fog with a winding New Zealand road, be extra cautious and lower your speed. It’s advised that you carry snow chains for wheels if you are heading into mountainous areas.
Follow the four-second rule in bad weather – remain at least four seconds behind the vehicle in front.
Alert today, alive tomorrow
Especially with our unique roads, it is important to remain alert when driving, particularly in a larger vehicle that could hold up other motorists. When necessary, pull over to a safe spot to allow other cars to pass.
When travelling through rural areas, it is sometimes common to come across livestock crossing the road. In these cases, slow your speed and stop if necessary. The farmer accompanying them will direct you. Enjoy the experience – it’ll be something to tell your friends about back home!
Tractors travelling on rural roads and highways are a common occurrence too. Slow down and remain a safe distance behind them until it is safe to pass.
Keeping safe speeds
On the open road and highways, the speed limit in New Zealand is 100 kilometres per hour. As you know, this won’t always be the case when travelling around 35kph corners through a gorge. Through urban areas the speed limit is usually 50kph, but when travelling through road works or construction areas, it drops to 30kph. The New Zealand Road Code states you must travel at 20kph to pass school buses that have pulled over to let children off.
A useful motto is “drive to the conditions - when they change, reduce your speed”.
The New Zealand road laws
You must always carry your vehicle licence at all times if you are driving. Obey all police instruction, especially traveling through a roadblock or past an accident.
It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving, and the drink driving limit is 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.
Instant fines and loss of licence can occur if you are caught doing excessive speeds.
Giving way and making sense of road markings
The give way rule in New Zealand changed in March 2012 to follow the standard procedure of the majority of other countries around the world.
A good saying is “give way to the right, turning vehicles give way to traffic not turning”.
The New Zealand Transport Agency has great illustrations for different give way scenarios and other driving tips.
Solid yellow lines on a road mean you cannot pass another vehicle there. Not only is it illegal, it is very unsafe. When passing other vehicles, make sure there is at least 100 metres (110 yards) of clear, visible road in front of you.
Always check the latest highway conditions before setting out and make plenty of time for your drive. If you can, alternate drivers to prevent fatigue.
Have a great, safe drive!