Driving around New Zealand is one of the most popular ways for tourists to explore the country. Backpackers often rent a car or van and enjoy the scenic routes all the way from Cape Reinga down to Bluff.
However, driving in New Zealand can be challenging. Roads are often narrow, windy, and sometimes in poor condition. For example, some main roads are surfaced with gravel and need to be driven with care.
Visitors must also be aware of New Zealand’s driving laws to stay on the right side of the law. This article will offer insightful tips on driving in New Zealand as well as informing on everything foreigners need to know to stay on the right side of the law.
New Zealand driving laws
Here are the most important driving laws foreigners need to be aware of before they start driving in New Zealand.
Left or right for driving in New Zealand?
Along with the U.K. and Canada, New Zealand is in the minority of countries where it is driven on the left. Most drivers (from countries where they drive on the right) quickly get used to the change, but roundabouts can catch people out so pay special attention when approaching one.
Respect the speed limit
Keep to the speed limit or slightly below to avoid breaking the law and putting others in danger. The basic speed limits in New Zealand are 30 km/h for narrow and dangerous zones, 50 km/h in cities and towns, and 100 km/h on highways.
Keep the seatbelt fastened at all times
It is a legal requirement to wear a seatbelt in New Zealand and it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure everyone in the vehicle abides by this law. If anyone is caught not wearing a seatbelt, the driver will be fined.
Drink driving in New Zealand is punished heavily
Drinking and driving is a crime in every regulated country. However, in some it is tolerated more than others. In New Zealand the law is very strict and heavy fines and jail time can be given to offenders. The severity of the punishment depends on how far over the limit the driver is.
Do not use your phone when driving
Like most countries in the world, speaking on the phone while driving is illegal in New Zealand. If you need to answer a call you can pull over and answer the phone in a safe spot.
Stop at red lights and stop signs
Not stopping when one is supposed to is technically illegal the world over. However, in some countries people drive through red lights and there are rarely consequences. In New Zealand it is not part of the culture to try and sneak through red lights. Those who do may find themselves in trouble with the police.
Top tips for driving in New Zealand
Driving in New Zealand can be tricky. To minimize the chances of an incident, here are some tips to help keep stay safe on the roads.
Respect the conditions
Drivers should be wary of the rain, ice, snow, and fog which are all common in New Zealand. They can cause problems so it is advisable to slow down when faced with these types of conditions. When combined with gravel roads, even the most experienced drivers can have difficulties, so visitors should drive very carefully.
Take corners slowly
Roads in New Zealand are notoriously windy and it is not always easy to predict what is around the other side of a corner. Slow down when you approaching bends to minimize the chances of swerving off the road or colliding with another vehicle. Recommended speeds are displayed in diamond-shaped yellow signs.
Take regular breaks
It is recommended to take a break every 2 hours when driving in New Zealand. Drivers who feel tired and notice that their eyes feel heavy should pull over and have a short nap. There are plenty of things to see in New Zealand such as waterfalls and mountains, take these incredible sights as an invitation to take a break.
Those planning a trip to New Zealand must make sure to obtain the necessary documentation to enter the country. Many nationalities are eligible for the New Zealand eTA visa waiver, which can be applied for online in minutes. The entry eTA application form for New Zealand only requires eligible travellers to enter some basic information and make a payment by credit or debit card.