Driving in New Zealand

Our number one priority at Next Campers is to guide you safely through your Campervan trip while you are exploring New Zealand. That’s why we strongly recommend that you take a few minutes to learn about driving in New Zealand. There are a few things that you may not be used to – not in the least, driving on the left side of the road.

What you need to know!

Driving on the left side of the road​

All motorists drive on the left-hand side of the road in New Zealand – the same as in the UK and Australia. Regularly remind yourself to keep left and pay particular attention when you are driving in rural areas (where there is less traffic) and when exiting rest areas. If you are used to driving on the right-hand side, please also remind yourself to enter roundabouts in the left direction.

Many roads have varying conditions, can be narrow, windy and cover hilly terrain

New Zealand’s diverse terrain means roads are often narrow, hilly and windy with plenty of sharp corners. Outside the main cities, there are very few motorways. Most of our roads are single lane in each direction without barriers in between. You may also encounter gravel roads once in a while. It’s important to allow plenty of time, go slow and pull over in a safe place if traffic wants to pass from behind you. Take plenty of breaks to stay fit and awake.

It's easy to underestimate drive times when looking at a map

Maps don’t show how narrow and windy roads can be. What might look like a short trip can take a long time. For example Hokitika to the town of Haast, a popular drive for visitors stopping to see New Zealand’s glaciers, is 278 km on the map and may look like a 3-hour drive. However, drivers should allow for up to 4 hours of driving time because of the windy road. This is common all over New Zealand –always allow for more time than you think you’ll need. Especially because you will maybe end stopping many times to take pictures of the beautiful scenery along the way.

Weather - related hazards are commonplace

In New Zealand, you might experience four seasons in one day. It’s possible to start your day off with blue sky and sunshine but arrive at your destination in rain and hail. Because of this, weather-related hazards on the road can occur at any time. Always check the weather forecast before departing, and adjust your plans accordingly. If you’re driving in the South Island in winter, spring or late autumn, snow is a possibility – ensure that you’re carrying chains if temperatures drop to 5 °C or less. Next Campers will provide you with chains and demonstrate how to fit them.

Not all New Zealand rail crossings have automatic alarms

Only half of the 1500 rail crossings in New Zealand have automatic alarms. When red lights are flashing it means a train is approaching so stop and only proceed once the lights have stopped flashing. Other crossings have a ‘Railway Crossing’ sign and give way or stop signs only. If you see this, stop, look both ways and only cross the track if you can ensure no trains are approaching.

Never drive when you are tired and take regular breaks

It doesn’t matter what country you are driving in, it is extremely dangerous to drive when you are tired. Visitors to New Zealand might be tired because of jet-lag, early starts and late nights, or because they had a long day driving the day before. Because driving in New Zealand can be very different from other countries, you need to be well-rested and alert – tired drivers are dangerous drivers.

Driving while using a hand-held cellphone is illegal in New Zealand 

Signposting follows standard international symbols and all distances are in kilometres (km)

Do not drink and drive! Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime in New Zealand

When traffic lights are red you must stop. When traffic lights are amber you must stop unless you are so close to the intersection it is unsafe to do so. 

Stay on or below the legal speed limits indicated on the road signs. The maximum speed on any open road is 100 km/h. The maximum speed in urban areas is 50 km/h. Adjust your speed as conditions demand 

It is illegal to pass other cars where there is a yellow line instead of a white line marking the middle of the road. The yellow line indicates that it’s too dangerous to overtake

Drivers and passengers must wear seat belts or child restraints at all times.

Drivers License

You first need to make sure you are legally permitted to drive in New Zealand. You need a current driver’s licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP). You can drive a motorhome rental with a TARE weight of up to 4.5 tonnes on a full car driver’s licence even if there’s a lower weight limit on your car driver’s licence. You can only drive vehicles that are covered by your driver’s licence or international driving permit.

Toll Roads

The New Zealand Transport Agency currently has 3 toll roads:

The Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road is a 15 km tolled section.

The free alternative is the Te Puke Highway through Te Puke.

This road is a 7.5 km motorway extension just north of Auckland. Heading north the toll road begins just before Orewa and ends after Johnston Hills near Puhoi.

Don’t want to use this road?

Free alternatives:

a) along State highway 17 (Hibiscus Coast Highway) or

b) State Highway 16 (via Helensville). The Hibiscus Coast Highway is a more scenic drive, following the attractive coastline between the popular holiday spots of Orewa and Waiwera.

The Takitimu Drive Toll Road is a 5 km road that bypasses the Taurange city center.

Free alternatives:

a) Via Cameron Road or

b) via Cambridge/ Moffat Road

Child Seat

All children under 148 cm in height must be properly restrained by an approved child restraint. We have a great range of high-quality child seats which not only meet the most stringent safety standards but are comfortable as well. Please contact us should you have any questions about child seat options. 

Ready to hit the Road ?

Download your Driving Guide

Prepare yourself and download the "Driving in NZ" booklet produced by the New Zealand Government. It is written in English as well as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Arabic.

Ready to take the test?​

Test your knowledge by taking this short tourist road code quiz. The quiz is specifically designed to help international visitors get to grips with the important bits of the New Zealand Road Code.