Guide to Safe Motorhome Driving in NZ

Our number one priority at Wilderness is to get you home safely at the end of your holiday. Here we go through everything you need to know about driving in New Zealand, from road rules to legal requirements.

We want you to feel comfortable before you get behind the wheel of your Wilderness motorhome and that means making sure you understand the road rules in New Zealand, as there may be a few things you aren’t used to – like driving on the left.

So, as well as planning your itinerary and packing your essentials, we also strongly recommend that you take a few minutes to learn about driving in New Zealand before you arrive. Here, we’ll explain what you need to know and what you can expect on the roads.

On arrival, our Adventure Support team will ask you a few questions to make sure you’re prepared and feeling confident about driving in New Zealand. They’re happy to answer any questions or even take you for a short drive in the motorhome first, if you haven't driven a large vehicle before.

 

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What You Need to Drive a Wilderness Motorhome Legally in New Zealand

All guests who want to drive must be 21 years of age or older and hold a current full driver licence, appropriate for motorhome driving. This is usually the same licence you use to drive your own vehicle at home.

If your licence is not in English, you will also need an English translation or an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must carry the translation or IDP as well as your original licence (not a copy) in order to drive legally in New Zealand. If you are unsure about what you need, contact us for advice. Click here for a list of approved translators that can provide you with a translation to use while in New Zealand.

Don’t forget to pack your licence with your passport!

You can drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months from the date you arrive. If you have been in the country for 12 months or more, your national licence will not be valid and you will need to apply for a New Zealand licence.

You can find out more about who can drive in New Zealand here.

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Important NZ Road Rules to Know

  • Drive on the left. This is the same as in the UK and Australia. Remind yourself regularly to keep left and pay particular attention when you’re driving in rural areas (where there is less traffic) and when you’re exiting rest areas.
  • Use seatbelts at all times for drivers and passengers (front and rear) and suitable child restraints for younger passengers. You can be fined for not wearing a seatbelt. We have child restraints available for hire at Wilderness.
  • Do not use a hand-held cellphone while driving. This is illegal and you can be fined.
  • Carry your drivers licence and any accompanying documentation with you whenever you drive.
  • Do not drink and drive. The blood alcohol limit for drivers aged over 20 is 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. This is the same as in Australia, but lower than the 80 milligram limit in the UK, USA, Malaysia and Singapore. New Zealand law says you must not drive if the amount of alcohol in your blood or breath exceeds these limits. Drink driving carries heavy penalties in New Zealand.
  • Do not speed. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road and are well sign-posted, but generally 50km per hour (30mph) is the maximum speed in urban areas, with 100km per hour (60mph) on motorways and open roads. Some Wilderness motorhomes are heavier and therefore limited to a maximum speed of 90km per hour (56mph) on the open road. Check before you drive. The New Zealand Police are tough on speeding drivers. If you speed, you could face severe fines and penalties and lose your driver licence.
  • If you have to overtake, only do so when you can see at least 100 metres of clear road in front of you before passing and safely returning to the left-hand side of the road. Always use passing lanes wherever possible. Do not overtake or cross a solid yellow line on your side.
  • You must stop at a red light in all circumstances. (No right or left turns are permitted on a red light, as is the practice in North America.) You must also stop on an amber light, unless it’s unsafe to do so.

You can find out more about road rules in New Zealand in the New Zealand Road Code or download a handy booklet that explains what’s different about driving in New Zealand.

Tips for Driving Safely

  • Plan ahead – Plan your travel to avoid the worst peak traffic periods when many highways become congested, such as morning and evening rush-hours in cities.
  • Be well rested – don’t drive when you’re tired, and plan regular breaks if you’re driving long distances in one go. Avoid driving between midnight and dawn and get a good night's sleep before any long drives.
  • Be alert – There are more vehicles on the road in summer and over winter holiday periods, meaning a higher risk of crashes.
  • Let others pass – If you’re driving and notice you have traffic backed up behind you, pull over as soon as you can safely do so to let other vehicles pass.
  • Drive to the conditions – You might need to reduce your speed because of a change in weather or road conditions. Weather can change quickly in New Zealand and driving can become more difficult on hilly or winding roads, so always adapt your speed to what is safe for the conditions.
  • Travelling in groups – If you’re travelling with friends or family in other motorhomes, plan your trip together ahead of time. Decide on the route you’ll take and where you’ll stop along the way. Make sure you have a working mobile phone in case you need to change your plans. If you’re driving in convoy, make sure you leave enough room between your motorhomes to allow other vehicles to pass safely. If you see a queue of vehicles building up behind you then pull over when you can do so safely, to allow them to pass.

You can find more tips on driving safely in New Zealand or watch a video about safe driving in New Zealand.

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Roads and Conditions in New Zealand

New Zealand roads and conditions will likely be different from what you have experienced in your own country. We have a lot of winding, hilly roads so distances can be deceptive. Some roads can also be quite narrow in places and in rural areas you’ll find many roads are unsealed (gravel).

Using an online journey planner is a good way to get an idea of how long it will take you to reach your destination.

 

On the road

If you’re driving on gravel or unpaved roads it’s wise to reduce your speed to 40-50km per hour or less, and be cautious of dust limiting visibility. Drive in established tracks if possible, but always keep left.

In rural areas, you might come across livestock like cattle or sheep on the road. Reduce your speed, do not sound your horn, pull over to the side of the road and be prepared to wait until they have passed.

There are several kinds of railway crossings in New Zealand. Some have bells, lights and barrier arms, while others have only a Give Way or Stop sign. Always reduce your speed as you approach a crossing and follow the signals. If it is a crossing with only a Give Way or Stop sign, always check the tracks both ways before you drive over.

There are also plenty of cyclists that may share the road with you at times, so slow down and pass them safely and carefully. In New Zealand, cyclists have the same rights as drivers.

 

Weather

The weather in New Zealand can change suddenly and often. Adjust your driving to the conditions by reducing your speed and avoiding sudden braking. Heavy rain or fog will affect your ability to see what is ahead and can make driving even more demanding on winding roads.You can keep up-to-date with weather forecasts with New Zealand’s national MetService app.

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Winter Driving

During winter (June-August), you could encounter snow and ice on the roads, mainly in the central North Island and throughout the South Island. This can make roads more dangerous, especially around mountain passes, so it’s good to have some tips on winter driving.

  • Drive more slowly – it only takes a second to lose control in wet or icy conditions.
  • Avoid sudden braking or turning movements that could cause you to skid.
  • When travelling in fog, rain or snow, drive with your lights dipped for increased safety.
  • Increase your following distance, as it takes longer to stop on slippery roads.
  • Take care in shaded areas by high banks and tall trees, as roads freeze more quickly in the shade and ice may not thaw during the day.
  • Bridges may also stay slippery for longer than other road surfaces, so slow down when crossing them.

You may need to use snow chains in some areas. These are available from Wilderness and our Adventure Support team can show you how to fit them easily. There are also instructions in the User Manual in your motorhome.

  • Chains should only be used if there is a layer of snow or ice on the road. Once you are out of snow or ice, take the chains off.
  • Do not exceed 50km per hour when driving with chains on.
  • If you hear a noise, stop and check your chains are fitted correctly. (If not, they could be unsafe and may cause damage to the motorhome.)

Some roads may be closed temporarily due to snow and ice over winter, although alternative routes are usually available. Always check the weather forecast and road conditions before you leave.

Even if the weather turns bad and you decide to wait it out for a while, you’ll be cosy in our all-season Wilderness motorhomes. Our fleet is made in Germany and designed to withstand European winters thanks to:

  • Central heating
  • Double glazed windows
  • Insulation
  • Drying rooms
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Travel Times

Some of the most common questions from our guests are about travel times in New Zealand. We’re a small country, but the combination of our varied roads (winding, hilly and sometimes gravel) and the fact you’ll want to stop in lots of places to take photos or simply explore, means you should allow plenty of time to see everything on your itinerary.

Using a local travel planner like this one is a good way to get an idea of how long a route might take, and always check the weather before you set off. Be aware that even though the speed limit may be 100km per hour, this may not be safe for the driving conditions. Always drive to the condition of the road, the weather, and traffic.

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Children on Board

All children under seven years of age must be secured in an approved child restraint while travelling in a vehicle, under New Zealand law. At seven, children should use a restraint if one is available, otherwise, a seatbelt should be used. For children eight years and above, a seatbelt must be used at all times while travelling. International best practice recommends the use of an appropriate child restraint (or booster seat) until your child reaches 148cm tall.

We have a suitable range of child restraints for hire at Wilderness that meet applicable standards for use in New Zealand. These may be different from what you use in your own country, but our Adventure Support team can show you how to install and use child restraints in your motorhome.

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Parking Your Motorhome

For your own safety, and the safety of other road users, there are certain areas where you must not park your motorhome. You risk being fined and/or having your vehicle towed away if you park in these areas.

Here are some rules of where you cannot park in New Zealand:

  • on the right-hand side of a street, except in a one-way street
  • near a corner, curve, hill, traffic island or intersection, if it will stop other people from seeing along the road
  • on any footpath
  • on a traffic island (whether it is flush or raised)
  • on, or closer than 6 metres to, the approach side of a pedestrian crossing
  • on a marked bus stop or taxi stand

You can find more information about parking in New Zealand here.

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Toll Roads

There are three toll roads in New Zealand, all in the North Island: the Northern Gateway Toll Road north of Auckland, the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road and the Takitimu Drive Toll Road, both in Tauranga. All Wilderness motorhomes are registered with the toll road service. If you decide to use a toll road, the charge will be added to your booking unless your rental package includes toll road charges.

The Northern Gateway Toll Road is a 7.5km motorway extension just north of Auckland. Heading north, the toll road begins just before Orewa and ends after the Johnstones Hill tunnels near Puhoi. This gives you a more direct route north. There are two free alternatives: the first is State Highway 17 (Hibiscus Coast Highway) – a scenic drive that follows the picturesque coastline between the popular holiday spots of Orewa and Waiwera. Or you can take State Highway 16 (via Helensville), which takes you out to Auckland’s west. If you have time you could take a 15 minute detour to the black sand surf beach of Muriwai. Just follow the sign-posts from Waimauku on SH16.

The Takitimu Drive Toll Road is a 5km road that bypasses the Tauranga city centre and takes traffic from State Highway 29 (SH29) to State Highway 2 (SH2) in the direction of the Port of Tauranga and Mt Maunganui. The alternative routes are via Cameron Road or Cambridge/Moffat Roads.

The Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road is a 15km tolled section of State Highway 2 (SH2) running between the Domain Road interchange, near Pāpāmoa, and the Paengaroa roundabout (SH2 and SH33 to Whakatāne and Rotorua). The free alternative route takes you on the Te Puke Highway, through Te Puke.

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More About Driving in New Zealand

If you’d like more information you can download Driving in New Zealand, which is available in English and 10 other languages.

Feeling confident? You can test your knowledge of the basics with this free multi-choice test. The quiz is designed specifically to help international visitors with the important bits of the New Zealand Road Code.

Ready to Go?

Now you have the basics of driving in New Zealand sorted, it’s time to plan your time here.

You might still be deciding which Wilderness motorhome to choose, or whether you need rental insurance.

If you’re planning your itinerary then we can help with what to see while you’re in New Zealand and how you can see more with Wilderness.

Plan Your Motorhome Holiday in New Zealand

North Island, South Island or the whole of New Zealand. From short escapes to in-depth adventures, we have a travel itinerary perfect for your journey.

See Our Itineraries