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.
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.
Tips for Driving Safely
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
You can find more information about parking in New Zealand here.
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.
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.
Now you have the basics of driving in New Zealand sorted, it’s time to plan your time here.