If you’re planning on coming to New Zealand for a self-drive holiday, or if you’ve decided to live in New Zealand, this is a list you need to read. Here are ten things you should know about driving in New Zealand:
Over a third of New Zealand’s roads are unsealed.
When you encounter an unsealed road, it is important that you drive slowly and remember not to break suddenly. Not only can the gravel cause you to skid, it can fly up and crack your windscreen, and the dust can obscure your vision. In fact, it is difficult to find a car or campervan rental company that will allow you to drive their vehicles on unsealed roads, as most insurance will not cover any damage sustained on them. It is worth finding a company that does allow it, however, as many of New Zealand’s beauty spots are hidden away at the bottom of unsealed roads.
Wendekreisen Travel Ltd, for example, is a company that will allow their rental cars and campervans to be driven on unsealed roads, although they still have ‘restricted roads’ upon which you cannot drive, namely Skippers Road in Queenstown, Ninety Mile Beach in Northland, Ball Hut Road by Mount Cook, and North of Colville Township on the Coromandel Peninsula.
New Zealand is a very hilly country.
This means that many of its roads, even major ones, are narrow and winding, and sometimes steep. They can become slippery when it rains, and often have blind corners and sheer drops. You must remember to drive slowly and take care not to drift across the centreline. If you suffer from travel sickness, you will definitely need to take preventative measures. Also, you will probably encounter one lane bridges, which require a certain degree of patience to navigate.
Travel times are longer than you think.
Because of the nature of the aforementioned roads, people often underestimate the time it will take them to drive from A to B. To give a few examples: it takes approximately 2.5 hours to drive from Auckland to Tauranga in a standard car, a distance of 200 km; Auckland to Wellington takes about 8 hours, a distance about 650 km; Christchurch to Dunedin takes about 5 hours, a distance of about 350 km. Of course, it will take even longer in a large campervan, especially if you keep pulling over to admire the view.
The price of petrol in New Zealand is high.
You will find New Zealand petrol prices expensive, especially if you come from the US, in which case it should be noted that petrol is sold in litres. If you’re planning a New Zealand self-drive holiday, it would be a good idea to research the current petrol costs before you come. Part of the reason New Zealand petrol prices are high is they include government levies for road upkeep. These levies are not included in the cost of diesel, but diesel vehicles pay extra road user charges.
Any English language driver licence will do.
If you have an English language driver licence, then you are fine to drive in New Zealand for up to twelve months. If your licence is not in English, then you will need either an authorised English translation of your driver licence or an international driving permit. Many car and campervan rental companies require you to have held your full licence for a minimum of three years before they will let you hire their vehicles, although some, such as Wendekreisen Travel Ltd, only require you to have held it for one year.
The minimum driving age is 16.
It used to be fifteen, but the general standard of driving in New Zealand is pretty bad, so in 2011 it was raised to sixteen. Although you can have your full driver licence by the time you are eighteen, (or seventeen if you complete an advanced driving course,) many New Zealand car and campervan hire companies have their own minimum age requirements for the drivers of their vehicles. In order to drive a hired car or campervan you have to be either twenty-one, twenty-three, or, in some cases, twenty-five, depending on the company. Drivers under twenty-five have a higher insurance excess. (Wendekreisen Travel Ltd has a minimum driver age of twenty-one.)
You absolutely have to wear your seatbelt.
In New Zealand, you have to wear your seatbelt by law. The fine for not wearing a seatbelt while travelling in a car, campervan or even a coach is $150 per person caught. Children under fifteen are the liability of their parents. It is also illegal to use a cell phone while driving, unless it is hands-free.
Freedom camping isn’t as free as you’d think.
If you are planning on hiring a campervan and doing a spot of freedom camping in New Zealand, you should remember that whilst freedom camping may technically mean that you can camp anywhere, in reality you cannot camp just anywhere. For example, you should not park your campervan for the night on the side of a street, or in a car park. Doing so risks a literal rude awakening, followed in some cases by a fine. This map is great for finding freedom camping spots, and you can download it as an app.
Vehicle speed is measured in kilometres per hour.
We don’t do miles in New Zealand. For example, the speed limit on the motorways is 100km/h, whereas in urban areas it is usually restricted to 50km/h. Outside schools it is 20km/h. If you are caught going more than 4km/h over the limit then you’re in trouble.
New Zealand drives on the left-hand side of the road.
You would be surprised how many tourists fail to remember this – do not become one of them!
List compiled by Abigail Simpson