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Driving in New Zealand

Driving is a great way to see New Zealand at your own pace. However, there are a few things that you may not be used to when driving in New Zealand. Keep reading for tips on how to drive in New Zealand, New Zealand road rules and information on parking, winter driving and signs to watch out for.

Driving in New Zealand

If you come from overseas there may be some New Zealand driving rules, road signs and driving conditions you are not used to.

For example:

  • In New Zealand, we drive on the left side of the road
  • New Zealand's many hilly, narrow or winding roads mean that your journey may take longer than you expect.

Make sure you have a safe and enjoyable journey - please take a few minutes to read this before starting out.

Keep Left

Always drive on the left side of the road.
If you drive on the right hand side in your own country, please take a moment to re-familiarise yourself with this rule before pulling out onto the road after a break - it's easy to forget where you are!

Giving Way at Intersections

Stop Sign

Always use your indicators when turning.
Stop completely then give way (yield) to all traffic.

 Give Way.

Slow down and be ready to stop and give way (yield) to all traffic.
At an intersection where one vehicle will cross the path of another, and both are waiting on stop or give way signs (or where there are no signs), special give way rules apply.

New Zealand Give Way Rules:

  • If you're turning, give way to all vehicles that are not turning
  • If you are turning right, give way to all vehicles; left turning traffic has the right of way.

No Left Turn on Red 

In New Zealand you're not allowed to turn left at an intersection when the traffic lights are red.

Travelling Times 

It's easy to underestimate travelling times in New Zealand.

Although distances may seem short on paper, New Zealand roads may be narrower than you are used to, cover hilly terrain and vary from motorways to unsealed gravel roads.

If you're tired you're much more likely to have a crash. Here are some tips to help you stay alert.

  • Get lots of rest before a long drive.
  • Take a break from driving every two hours.
  • If possible, share the driving with someone else.
  • Avoid large meals and drink plenty of fluid.
  • If you begin to feel sleepy, try to nap for up to 40 minutes.
  • If you're feeling very tired - find a place to stay overnight.

New Zealand Driving Speeds

Speed limit signs show the maximum speed you can travel. However, at times you may need to drive at a slower speed due to road or weather conditions.

Different speed limits apply throughout New Zealand - look out for the speed limit signs.

On most of New Zealand's main roads the speed limit is 100 km/h unless a sign says a lower speed applies.

In urban areas, the speed limit is usually 50 km/h unless a sign says otherwise.


Safety Belts

Safety Belt   By law, everyone in a vehicle in New Zealand must wear a safety belt - whether they're in the front or the back.

Alcohol & Driving

Don't drink and drive - the laws against this are strictly enforced in New Zealand and penalties are severe.

Overtaking on New Zealand Roads

Most roads in New Zealand have a single lane each way, but provide passing lanes at regular intervals – these should be used where possible. You must not cross a solid yellow line on your side of the centre-line, as this indicates it’s too dangerous to overtake.

One Lane Bridges

Many roads in New Zealand have one lane bridges on them. At one lane bridges, vehicles travelling in one direction must give way to vehicles going in the other direction.

Any of the signs shown below indicate that you are approaching a one lane bridge. Slow down and check for traffic coming the other way. The smaller red arrow shows which direction has to give way.

Give Way - one lane bridge.       Proceed across bridge.
These two signs show you must give way to traffic coming the other way across the bridge.    This sign indicates you can proceed across the bridge.

Animals on the Road

Animals on the road. Watch out for farm animals and horses on the road, particularly in rural areas. When you see them, slow down and do not sound your horn - it may startle them. If you encounter a herd of animals on the road, drive slowly through them, unless the farmer indicates for you to stop.

Winter Driving in New Zealand

 Slippery or Icey Surface

Look out for this slippery surface sign in wet or icy conditions - slow down and avoid braking suddenly.

Snow and ice can make roads even more hazardous, particularly around mountain passes. Rental vehicle companies will often supply chains if you're likely to be driving in these conditions - make sure you know how to fit them before setting out.

Unsealed (gravel) Roads

Gravel road.
Avoid unsealed roads if possible. If you need to drive on them, remember they can be very narrow. Reduce your speed to below 40-50 km/h and slow down even further when approaching oncoming traffic as the dust will obscure your vision. Some rental vehicle companies will not allow their cars to be driven on some gravel roads. Check the company's fine print so you know which roads are forbidden.

Parallel Parking

Parallel Parking.   In New Zealand, you can be fined or towed away for parallel parking on the wrong side of the road. You may only park in the direction of traffic flow on your side of the road (ie on the left side, unless it is a one-way street).

This information about safe driving in New Zealand was sourced from Land Transport New Zealand.

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