Driving in New Zealand
New Zealand Roads
Part of the beauty of a New Zealand campervan holiday is the scenery. The nature of our landscape means that a lot of New Zealand roads are winding, hilly and narrow. In winter, roads can be icy and slippery, with fog and reduced visibility even in warmer months.
Make sure you adjust your driving to suit the road and weather conditions. It’s a good idea to turn on your vehicle headlights, particularly when travelling on the open road. If you feel conditions are making driving more difficult, reduce your speed. Some roads in the central North Island and South Island may close temporarily due to weather conditions in the colder months. It pays to check your route before starting off (the NZ Transport Agency has a useful website which updates regularly). Usually there are alternative routes available if the road you planned to take is closed.
Some New Zealand roads are gravel or unpaved roads. Make sure you keep left, and reduce your speed on gravel roads. Also watch out for livestock crossing the road in rural areas (sometimes farmers literally have to cross the road with their sheep or cattle!). If you encounter some, slow down, pull over and be prepared to stop until they’ve gone past.
New Zealand Toll Roads
We have only two toll roads in New Zealand – the Northern Gateway, north of Auckland between Orewa and Puhoi, and Route K near Tauranga. Taking the Northern Gateway can significantly reduce your travel time if you’re heading north from Auckland. We recommend paying your toll online.
Route K provides a quick alternative into or out of Tauranga if you’re heading southwest to Hamilton, Tokoroa or Rotorua. Paying cash at the toll booth is the easiest option.
Many tourists think that because New Zealand is a small country, it doesn’t take long to drive from one place to the other. They are unprepared for our long travelling distances. Driver fatigue can be fatal – don’t let it spoil your campervan holiday. Make sure you take regular breaks if you’re driving for long periods or if you begin to feel tired. You should stop at least once every 2 hours. Get a good night’s sleep before any long drives, and avoid driving between midnight and dawn if you can.
New Zealand Road Rules
New Zealand has some unique road rules. The New Zealand Transport Agency website has full details of our road rules – make sure you understand them before you head off on your trip.
Drive on the left hand side
First and foremost – in New Zealand, we drive on the left hand side of the road, like Australia and the UK. Make sure you remind yourself (or get your passengers to remind you) to keep left. Be particularly attentive when you’re driving in areas where there’s less traffic, and when you’re leaving rest areas or carparks.
New Zealand speed limits
Speed limits in New Zealand vary depending on the condition and type of the road you’re travelling on. The speed limits are there as an upper limit. Make sure you drive at an appropriate speed to suit the conditions of the road, weather and traffic.
Pay attention to speed limit signs – if you’re caught speeding, you’ll have to pay a fine and could even lose your drivers licence. In urban areas, the maximum speed limit is usually 50km/hr, while on open roads or motorways it’s 80km/hr or 100km/hr. School zones may be in force in the cities and towns; watch closely for school zone signs.
When you book your camper van rental, make sure you know whether your campervan is classed as a car (in which case it can drive at the maximum speed limit on the open road) or a truck. If it’s a truck (like some of the larger motorhomes), it will be limited to travelling at 90km/hr on the open road.
Do you need a NZ drivers license to rent a campervan in New Zealand?
You can legally drive in New Zealand with a current drivers license from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP). You can drive a rental campervan or motorhome with a TARE weight of up to 4.5 tonnes on a full car license even if there’s a lower weight limit on your drivers license. If you will be using an overseas drivers license that’s not in English, you’ll need to get an English translation or an IDP, and carry both. Your overseas drivers license is valid for one year from the date that you enter New Zealand.
Seat Belts, Child Restraints and Car Seats
The driver and all passengers (front and rear) are legally required to wear seat belts at all times in New Zealand, including in a campervan or motorhome. If your rental campervan has extra seats which don’t have seat belts, don’t be tempted to allow your passengers to use these while driving - it’s illegal and unsafe. You can be fined for not wearing your seat belt.
All children under five years old must use an approved child restraint. Children aged between five and seven years must use a child restraint only if available. We strongly recommend the use of a child restraint if you’re travelling with kids.
Unlike North America, NO right or left turns are allowed when on a red light. Drivers must stop when the traffic light turns red in all circumstances, and drivers must also stop when the traffic light turns amber, unless it’s unsafe to do so.