How to Drive in New Zealand

Driving in New Zealand is very different to driving in the rest of the developed world. Roads are often winding, and there are some special road rules that require special attention.


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    Drive on the left side of the road. You need to pay particular attention to this if you usually drive on the right side - many roads are two-lane two-way roads and it is very easy to cross the center line.
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    Keep to the left lane unless overtaking. In New Zealand, the left lane is the slow lane and the right lane is the fast lane - try to keep to the left lane on multi-laned roads as much as possible.
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    Watch your speed. The speed limits in New Zealand are measured in kilometers per hour and are indicated by European-style speed limit signs. The open road limit is 100 km/h (62 mph), while in built-up areas, the speed limit is 50 km/h (31 mph). Watch out for advisory speed limits on corners and temporary speed limits at construction sites.
    • The police in New Zealand enforce these limits strictly! They may even send you a surprise speeding ticket by mail, without pulling you over, if they detect you driving just a few kilometers over the speed limit. If you were driving a rental car, the rental company will also charge a fee to pass the ticket along to you.
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    At intersections, give way to your right. If you are turning, give way to any traffic that is not turning and will cross your path.
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    If you are turning right, give way to oncoming traffic turning left.
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    If a traffic light is red, remain stopped. Traffic must remain stopped until they are shown a more favorable light. In simple terms: no turn on red at any intersection.
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    If an arrow light disappears, follow the main light. If the red arrow holding you back suddenly disappears, as long as the main light is green and you give way to other traffic and pedestrians, you may proceed. A red left arrow often is used to protect pedestrians on the side road, and disappears once the crossing lights change.
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    Know the difference between a Give Way sign and a Stop sign. A Give Way sign means you have to give way to all traffic not protected by a Give Way sign - you are not required to stop. A Stop sign means you must come to a complete stop, and give way to all traffic that is uncontrolled or controlled by a Give Way sign.
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    Watch out on rural roads. Some rural roads are unsealed and narrow, and many have one lane bridges. Slow down and be prepared.
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    Know your terminology: State Highway (a red-shielded New Zealand national highway), motorway (freeway), roundabout (rotary), and give way (yield).
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    Check you have the license to drive the vehicle. Watch out for camper-vans - if they are over 3500kg (7700 lbs), you require a heavy vehicle license to drive it; a car license is not sufficient.
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    If your vehicle is diesel, check the Road User Charges. Diesel is not taxed at the pump, hence why the price will seem low by international standards. Diesel vehicles are required to pay Road User Charges (RUC) instead. Check the RUC label in the lower left corner of the windscreen: if the odometer of the vehicle is higher than the maximum distance, you must buy more Road User Charges.
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    Carry your driver license with you at all times while driving. If your license isn't in English, you must have an International Drivers Permit or an approved translation of your license.
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    Don't talk on your phone while driving. You'll be fined.
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    If you crash, stop and check to see if anyone is hurt. If someone is, you must report the accident to police within 24 hours. Exchange names, addresses and insurance details with all parties involved.
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    Allow plenty of time when driving. Rural New Zealand roads can often winding, steep, narrow or all of these meaning it will take longer than you may be used to - allow roughly one hour to travel 60 to 70 kilometers (37 to 43 mi) if you know the rough is rough or if you are ensure of the terrain.


  • Check the location of your directional indicator lever - most New Zealand cars have it on the right side of the steering wheel, but some cars, especially European models, have it on the left. If you get it wrong, you could accidentally turn on your windscreen wipers.
  • Many rental car companies do not allow their vehicles on the Cook Strait ferries between the North and South Islands. Check this with your rental car agency in advance if you plan to cross the Cook Strait.
  • If you are driving in winter, watch out for closed roads. Many mountain passes and high altitude roads have road information signs on their approaches. Alternatively, you can telephone AA Roadwatch on 0900 33 222 (calls cost $1 per minute) for the latest information.

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Categories: Country Specific | New Zealand