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Driving a Motorhome in New Zealand for the First Time

Driving a much larger vehicle than your car can feel a little intimidating. That’s normal — so we’re here to reassure you that there’s no need to lose any sleep before you get behind the wheel of a motorhome.

Find out how easy it is to drive, manoeuvre, and park a motorhome — and how driving on New Zealand roads may differ from your home country.

 

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How driving in New Zealand is different

Exploring New Zealand by campervan is a fantastic way to see its beauty. If you’re from overseas, you’ll likely find that driving in NZ is a little different to your home country.

To help you feel super comfy in the driver’s seat, we’ve outlined some of these differences below.

Kiwis drive on the left


All Wilderness motorhomes are right-hand drive — and all vehicles in New Zealand are driven on the left side of the road.

If you’re not used to driving on the left, take some time to get familiar with your right-hand drive motorhome before hitting the open road.

You’ll find a reminder to drive on the left on your motorhome’s windscreen — and on road markings at tourist hotspots.

There’s a greater risk of driving on the wrong side of the road if you’re tired. Plan to avoid driving soon after arriving off a long flight or if you’re not well rested.

Travel times are often longer than you expect


New Zealand may look like a relatively small country on the map due to its isolation in the Pacific Ocean, but it’s deceptively long.

Superimpose New Zealand over Europe and it would stretch from Northern Morocco all the way to Paris.

Travel times will take longer than you expect because:

  • Large motorhomes can’t travel as fast as cars
  • Most of the roads you’ll use aren’t long, straight highways
  • The best scenic roads are often narrow, winding and mountainous.


Get an idea of travel times for some of our most popular routes from these suggested itineraries.

Livestock are road users too


Cars, bikes, and heavy vehicles aren’t the only ones using New Zealand roads. Livestock also like to have their turn — especially sheep and cows.

They usually appear on unpaved side roads but can also pop up on main roads. Keep an eye out for the occasional roadside farmer signalling you to slow down for forthcoming livestock.

Dealing with the weather


Be prepared for all weather regardless of the time of year. New Zealand can get snow in summer, heat in winter, and plenty of wind in-between.

Bad weather events can:

  • Temporarily close highways due to windblown trees
  • Block roads and cause detours because of flooding or landslides
  • Create dangerous, icy roads (particularly black ice) where there’s little sun.

Be prepared to adjust your speed and expected travel times based on the weather.

Corner road signs


New Zealand roads have a maximum speed limit of 100 km — with a few exceptions. Driving at this speed on many rural roads can be unsafe, so you’ll need to adjust your speed for their conditions. Learn more about safe driving in New Zealand here.

You’ll frequently see recommended speed signs on the corners of winding roads. These are a useful guide as to how fast you should take each bend.

Crossing the train tracks


Some railway crossings in rural areas don't have active warning indicators. All are signposted, but you’ll occasionally see some without bells or lights.

It’s important to slow down when approaching uncontrolled railway crossings and prepare to stop.

Taking breaks at rest areas


One of the great conveniences of travelling around this picturesque country is the ease of pulling over and soaking up the scenery.

Rest areas are marked at convenient and safe locations on busy roads. These roadside spots are ideal for taking breaks and interacting with nature.

One lane bridges


Even New Zealand’s main highways have one lane bridges. Only traffic from one side can drive across at a time.

The NZ Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) clearly outline how one lane bridges in New Zealand work. If you’re in doubt when approaching a single lane bridge, slow down and prepare to stop.

Dedicated parking spaces for your motorhome


New Zealand has plenty of parking spaces for larger vehicles in popular tourist areas. You’ll discover that it’s a delight to view the amazing scenery up close and personal from the comfort of your motorhome.

Motorhome parking zones are longer and wider than normal car parks. You’ll find them easy to glide into and park up.

If you’ve hired a motorhome that’s 6.5m long or less, you’ll have no trouble fitting into a standard car parking space.

Compare the lengths of our Wilderness motorhomes.

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Lawfully driving a motorhome in New Zealand

Let’s highlight some of the key info you need to know to drive legally in New Zealand.

Carry your current driver’s licence


You’ll need your current full driving licence or an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your home country. Check that your licence permits you to drive a vehicle with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of up to 3,650 kg.

If your licence isn’t in English, you’ll also need to have it translated. To do so, approach:


You’re entitled to drive on your foreign licence (or its translation) for up to 12 months from the date of entering New Zealand.

Some New Zealand authorities or rental operators may not accept digital driver’s licences, so you should always carry a physical version.

Find out more about what you need to drive on New Zealand roads.

Seatbelts are a non-negotiable


All drivers and passengers in your motorhome must wear a seatbelt while the vehicle is in motion. Any kids aged between zero and seven are required to be seated in a suitable child restraint.

At Wilderness, we can help you out with a child restraint for your little one.Our superb reservations team will work out which child seat you need and our helpful adventure support team can install it.

Find out more about safety belts and child restraints in New Zealand.

Driving behaviours to avoid


Like most other countries, New Zealand has common sense laws around:


Always drive according to the road, traffic and weather conditions rather than always at the speed limit.

See our terms and conditions for extra detail on your responsibilities as a Wilderness customer.

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Driving a Wilderness motorhome

All of our Wilderness motorhomes are relatively simple to drive so there’s no need to worry if you’ve never driven one before. Compared to how you normally drive a car, there’ll be a few minor adjustments.

Adapting to a larger vehicle


Some people find that being behind the steering wheel of a motorhome feels easier than driving a regular car. This may be because they:

  • Are sitting higher and have better visibility
  • Feel more comfortable in a motorhome’s driving position.


The key is to remember that you’re driving a larger vehicle. 

A motorhome is a lot higher than a car so you’ll need to think twice before pulling into that drive-through, entering an underground car park or navigating a rural road with overhanging branches.


Hiring a size that suits you


Wilderness motorhomes come in an array of sizes — from 5.9m to 7.4m long. The shorter ones are easier to manage on the road while the lengthier ones have more internal space.

Handling a motorhome around corners


You can expect turning and handling to feel a little different in a motorhome because they’re longer and higher than a car.

The higher centre of gravity makes them less agile than cars, so you’ll need to take corners slower and turn wider. Keep this in mind when you’re:

  • Making a three-point turn
  • Parking in a tight car park
  • Reversing

All Wilderness motorhomes have a low profile, making them easier to handle than higher overcab types — which are renowned for body roll and feeling unstable when cornering.

Taking weight and speed into account


It goes without saying that campervans and motorhomes are heavier than your average motor vehicle. As a result, you’ll need to drive slower than other traffic on:

  • Open roads — so you have enough time to slow down and stop
  • Winding roads — where your vehicle will be less agile than a car
  • Narrow bridges and overpasses 
  • Steep hills.


If your motorhome has a maximum speed of 90 km on the open road (such as our Double, King/Twin and Suite options), be aware of traffic building up behind you. Pull over and safely let other drivers pass. Learn more about safe driving in New Zealand here.

Our Compact motorhomes can legally drive at 100 km where signposted.

Reversing with relative ease


Motorhome reversing can be trickier than in a car — the vehicle size and lack of a rear window are challenging.

All Wilderness motorhomes come installed with reversing cameras. Using them in combo with the large side view and rearview mirrors will significantly improve your vision.

Ask one of your travel buddies to stand behind your motorhome to act as another set of eyes when you’re manoeuvring into tight spaces.

Learn more about the ease of driving a Wilderness motorhome here.

 

Holidaying stress-free with Wilderness


When you decide to explore New Zealand in a Wilderness motorhome, you’re choosing one with all the added features of a modern European vehicle. Some of these include:

  • Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)
  • Dual airbags
  • Automatic transmission
  • Hill holder — no need to use the handbrake when starting on a hill
  • An adjustable driver’s seat
  • Large wing mirrors and a reversing camera

Driving on unpaved roads


The chances of finding an idyllic remote beach or an off-the-beaten-track campsite are greatly enhanced if you’re permitted to drive on gravel or unpaved roads. With a Wilderness motorhome, you are.

Our standard insurance will cover you on any road that’s suitable for motorhomes — whether it’s a ski field access road or a backcountry trailhead one. Check our rental terms and conditions to ensure you’re aware of your responsibilities when choosing to drive on unpaved roads.

 

Learn more about what makes Wilderness motorhomes easy to drive here.

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Resources to help you feel confident

For more info on driving in New Zealand, Waka Kotahi offer two comprehensive guides.

The second option is available in English plus ten other languages.


Ready to Go?

It won’t take long to feel confident and comfortable behind the wheel of your Wilderness motorhome. If you have any further queries, please get in touch with our team.

Find out which is the right motorhome for your travel plans.

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.

View Our Itineraries