How To Drive On New Zealand Roads
Posted on March 14, 2016
It’s one thing to come to New Zealand and import with you your familiar family car or campervan – or even that favourite sportscar or motorbike – but it’s a whole different matter when it comes to understanding New Zealand’s roads and driving conditions.
Every year both our road toll and our media fill up with statistics of visitors and those coming to live in New Zealand who aren’t used to our roads.
Put simply, driving in New Zealand isn’t going to be like driving in big cities in Europe and Asia – and we don’t have the wide open network of multi-lane freeways, toll roads, motorways and autobahns which lave their way across the rest of the world.
So if you’re coming to New Zealand and looking to bring your car with you, here are our guidelines to help keep you and other road users safe.
1. Learn the code before you come: From the moment you step off the plane and hire a car – or from the moment that McCullough hands over your vehicle – you need to be safe on New Zealand roads. New Zealand Transport Authority has a downloadable guidebook for overseas drivers translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai with information on Kiwi road rules which you can learn before you arrive. The AA also has an online Visiting Driver Training Programme which allows you to take a test and receive a certificate to show you’ve taken steps to understand NZ road rules, speed limits and our typical road conditions. Motorhomes and motorbikes also have different rules which you’ll need to know if you’re bring them into the country.
2. Know the basic dangers and differences: The NZTA lists four basic differences between driving in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world: driving on the left-hand side of the road; compulsory seat belts; it’s illegal to use a mobile phone while driving; and railway crossings are not all marked by active warnings.
3. Distances and fatigue: Although New Zealand doesn’t look large on a world map and the distances between towns and cities don’t compare to those in, say, Australia or the US, we don’t have a large motorway network and many roads twist and turn or have restricted speed limits as they pass through towns or small residential areas. This can make journey times far longer than you might expect and the risk of fatigue greater. Take regular stops, especially if you’ve just arrived in the country, and take you time.
4. Four seasons in one day: It’s become a cliché that New Zealand’s weather can be particularly changeable but if you’re driving long distances or covering a large geographical area you have to be prepared for a variety of conditions. Passes in high areas can be snowed in or you might need chains to get through during many times of the year; winter and early spring can bring ice and snow; high winds and driving rain can occur in any month; and the low evening and morning sun can cause glare throughout the year.
5. Other drivers: Although there aren’t that many people in New Zealand compared with most other countries in the world – especially those from which most of our visitors arrive – our roads aren’t always deserted. Public holiday weekends can be very busy – especially around the larger cities – so you should be prepared to be driving in quite heavy traffic or encountering other vehicles more often even if you’re off the beaten track.