Driving in New Zealand
Our number one priority at Wilderness is to get you home safely at the end of your holiday. That's why we strongly recommend that you take a few minutes to learn about driving in New Zealand. There's a few things that you may not be used - not in the least, driving on the left side of the road.
You first need to make sure you are legally permitted to drive in New Zealand. You need a current driver's licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP). 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 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.
Start with watching this video for an overview of driving in New Zealand.
Now download this booklet produced by the New Zealand Government. It is written in English as well as Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Arabic.
Here's some more information our team have put together to help you learn about driving in New Zealand. Be prepared and make sure you have a safe and enjoyable holiday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Remember to take regular breaks when driving for long periods or if you begin to feel tired.
- Avoid driving between midnight and dawn and get a good night's sleep before any long drives.
It is a good idea to understand and plan how long you will need to drive before you set off. If you don't already have a time and distance calculator, we recommend using this one.
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.
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 the road, 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 on parking in New Zealand here.
Take the TestNow you've studied what's different about driving in New Zealand, test your knowledge by taking this short tourist road code 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!
The New Zealand Transport Agency currently has three toll roads: the Northern Gateway Toll Road north of Auckland, the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road and the Takitimu Drive Toll Road, both in Tauranga.