Driving in New Zealand

While in New Zealand, Anders was our car driver, so he wrote this article to give you some tips about driving.

A lot of the hikes and attractions in New Zealand require some form of road transport to reach. Luckily, New Zealand is an amazing place to drive! It’s meant to be seen from the road and by hiking so renting a car is definitely a great option. But before planning to drive through New Zealand it might be a good idea to have a look at yourself and your driving skills, as most road accidents are caused by or have tourists involved in them.

New Zealand road

Yes road? No road?

New Zealand is a left-hand drive country, this means everything in the car except the paddle position is opposite to what you might be used to, including blinkers and gears. So if you are not used to drive on the left side, then the best option is to ensure to get a car whit automatic gear change.

New Zealand road sign

The picture says it all!

Most roads or highways have a speed limit of 100 kph, and in some cases it can be a death attempt to keep up to the speed limit, as the roads are often narrow and winding. Take your time, drive in a speed you are comfortable in and do not cross the speed limit – the police is very strict with following the limit and will be happy to fine you.

It is recommended you take a break from driving every two hours, so you keep well rested. Get out of car, stretch your legs and grab a drink. It’s not hard to stop every two hours, some parts of the South Island are scenic enough to stop every 15 minutes (check out our articles about driving from Te Anau to Milfrod Sound and Wanaka).

In many places it is not possible to overtake, therefore it is encouraged to pull to the side if cars are piling up behind you, especially if you are driving an RV and can’t go around corners as fast as regular cars – you will have to hold to the side more often.

New Zealand road sign

There are special lanes for overtaking in many places around New Zealand

The weather is another factor to keep in mind, depending on the time of year you are planning to drive: you might experience all 4 seasons in one day. This requires skill and concentration to drive on the winding mountain path when it’s raining or storming. There is also a risk of mud slides and all kind of creatures crossing the road.

New Zealand North Island

As always, useful advise from NZ authorities

New Zealand Sheep

Sheep and cow don’t even begin to cover the animal groups you need to look out for – in some places you will see road signs for kiwis, penguins, seals and much more

Renting a car

We rented a small car (Toyota Yaris or similar) for the South Island and a transfer car (Nissan Nida) for the north island.

For the South Island I would have preferred a car with a slightly bigger engine, as ours had some issues with acceleration uphill, however for the North island I would have been perfectly happy with a small car like the Toyota, as the roads are flatter and more straight.

The ideal situation would have been renting a van with beds in the back. Then we would have the option to sleep on one of the many campgrounds or just have a good stopover somewhere, and at the same time keep the function and drivability of the regular car. However, if you are 3 or more, a regular motor home might make sense, just be aware of your surroundings when you drive these.

Car rental sites

Car relocation: it’s a service for car rental companies that needs cars brought back to the point of origin, so they can rent them out again. They offer this job to car renters to bring them back, often against a lower price or a tank of gas (conditions change from car to car – we got ours will full tank we could return empty; 2 days for free and 2 extra days for 35 NZD each).

Car rent: we rented our car with Omega Car Rentals, and were very happy with it. The prices are quite competitive and there were no issues. We picked it up in Queenstown and dropped it off in Picton. In Picton they are situated right across the Bluebridge ferry departure terminal, which is quite convenient, but make sure you take your time if you are taking an Interislander.

Check out this page for more information:

Check out this free driving test before heading down:

New Zealand road

Enjoy the ride!


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