Tips for Driving on New Zealand Roads
Driving in New Zealand
If you're from overseas, New Zealand roads are probably different to what you're used to. Distances may seem short on paper, but our roads can be narrower than you're used to, cover hilly terrain, and vary from motorways to unsealed gravel roads.
Before you begin your journey, learn more about what's different about driving in New Zealand.
- we drive on the left-hand side of the road
- it's easy to underestimate travelling times
- our roads are narrower, more winding and sometimes steeper than you might expect
- our roads are mostly two-way, with one lane in each direction - we have few motorways
- not all railway crossings have active warnings
- seat belts are compulsory
- it's illegal to use a phone while driving.
We want you to have a great trip and arrive safely at your destination, so make sure you allow plenty of time and take regular breaks. The trip may be slower, but the scenery is amazing so take your time and enjoy your journey.
Before you venture out on our roads
- Read our booklet for overseas drivers (available in multiple languages)
- Study the road rules in The official New Zealand road code
- Check the Drive Safe website (external link)for trip planning and driving advice for visitors to New Zealand
- Use this time and distance calculator to understand travelling times (external link) in New Zealand
- Make sure you are eligible to drive on our roads. To drive in New Zealand, you must have a current and valid overseas driver licence or international driving permit. If you're here for more than 12 months, you'll need to gain a New Zealand driver licence.
Find out more about driver licence requirements
Other important things to remember
If you're tired you're much more likely to have a crash. Before driving, allow plenty of time to rest when you first arrive in New Zealand and then make sure you get plenty of rest before each long drive. Ensure you allow enough time to drive safely between your destinations. If you find your attention wandering when driving, pull over to the roadside and have a rest.
Watch your speed
Excessive speed is one of the biggest killers on our roads.
If there is a line of traffic behind you, find a safe place to pull over and let them go past.
Alcohol and drugs
Alcohol and drugs, including some drugs given to you by a doctor, can seriously affect your driving. They can slow your reaction times and affect your senses. You risk causing death and serious injury to yourself and other people if you drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The weather can vary considerably, even within a single day. During the winter months and early spring, watch out for ice and snow and other weather-related hazards.
Travelling during a busy period?
If you're travelling in New Zealand during a busy period – such as when a major event is on or over Christmas, Easter or long weekends – there are likely to be more cars on the roads. Read our tips for safe travel during these times.
Driving a motorhome
Many requirements for driving a motorhome are the same as for car drivers, such as the road and licensing rules, but there are other things you need to know, such as where to dispose of your waste at dump stations. (external link)You should stay in designated campsites to avoid instant fines for illegal camping.
Riding a motorcycle
There are quite different road and licensing rules for motorcycles. Find out more in The official New Zealand road code for motorcyclists and learn tips for keeping yourself safe while riding a motorcycle.
Finding your way around
Find out information that might affect your travel, including real-time highway conditions, and check out live traffic webcams on the busiest areas around the country on the traffic and travel section of our website.
The Automobile Association of New Zealand (external link) also has maps of New Zealand and suggested scenic routes for tourists, plus information on car rentals, distances and travelling times, and bus stops and car parks.
Renting a vehicle? Check out the requirements you and the rental company need to meet.
Travelling by bus, train, ferry and plane
You don't need to drive to see New Zealand. Take the bus or train and you can enjoy the same scenery without the responsibility of driving in an unfamiliar environment. In some places you can travel by ferry. Travelling by plane is quick and convenient. Combined, these services can get you to almost everywhere. Find out about walking and cycling in New Zealand
Travelling by bus
A number of companies provide bus transport that covers most of New Zealand.
Find out more on:
Travelling by train
Train travel includes long-distance trips such as between Auckland and Wellington, scenic journeys such as the TranzAlpine service between Christchurch and Greymouth, and local commuter services in Auckland and Wellington.
Find out about:
- Scenic rail journeys in New Zealand(external link)
- Auckland commuter train services(external link)
- Wellington commuter train services (external link).
Travelling by ferry
The only ways to travel between New Zealand's North and South Islands are by air or sea. There is a choice of ferry services, both of which carry vehicles:
- the Interislander Cook Strait ferry (external link)
- the Bluebridge Cook Strait ferry.(external link)
Other ferry services link smaller islands to the mainland in places such as Hokianga (external link), the Bay of Islands and the Hauraki Gulf Islands in Auckland. There are also commuter ferry services in Auckland (external link)and Wellington.(external link)
Travelling by air
All New Zealand cities have an airport running domestic flights across the country. Airports in key destinations also run international flights.
Find out about flights around New Zealand from these airlines:
If you are intending to arrive in New Zealand by corporate or private aircraft (non-scheduled flights) your best source of information is the New Zealand Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP). (external link)The GEN section of the AIP contains information relating to customs, immigration and quarantine requirements, and for obtaining approvals for non-scheduled flights, where this is required, as well as information relating to landings at non-customs airports.
Thanks NZTA for your help in making our rods safe!