New Zealand Driving Tips



Self-driving holidays are one if the most relaxing ways of enjoying New Zealand's landscape. Many of the roads are scenic and traffic is low when compared to international standards.

It is important not to underestimate driving times. Although distances may seem short, the roads often include hilly or winding terrain, which slow down your journey. If you're used to driving in the city, you should take care when driving on the open country roads.

The most amazing experiences you can have while travelling are the unplanned 'surprises' along the way. Surprises you can't get from a scheduled tour bus experience. That's why more and more people are choosing to hire a car, campervan, or motorhome and enjoy the freedom that unplanned travel can offer.

Quite often car and campervan hire can be an expensive business. Not so at DriveNow. We make it easy to compare last minute, discount prices on car and campervan hire at the click of a mouse.

You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver's licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Recent law changes mean all drivers, including visitors from other countries, must carry their licence or permit at all times when driving. You will only be able to drive the same types of vehicles you are licensed to drive in your home country. The common legal age to rent a car in New Zealand is 21 years.

Make sure your driver's licence is current. If your licence is not in English, you should bring an English translation with you, or obtain an IDP.

It's especially easy for visitors from the UK to drive in New Zealand, as traffic drives on the left.

So don't delay, reserve a hire car or campervan now with DriveNow, and start planning for unexpected fun!

New Zealand

The original inhabitants of New Zealand were the Maori. It is estimated that these Polynesians arrived in several migration 'waves' in New Zealand about 1000 years ago. On a voyage of discovery, Dutch navigator Abel Tasman sailed up the West Coast of New Zealand in 1642, but did not stay long after his only attempt at landing on New Zealand's shores was repelled by the Maori. New Zealand was not rediscovered by Europeans until 1769 when the British naval captain, James Cook, and his crew, became the first Europeans to lay claim to New Zealand.

New Zealand's geography includes spectacular landscapes incorporating the vast mountain chain of the Southern Alps (larger than the French, Austrian and Swiss Alps combined), the volcano region of the North Island, fiords, glaciers, lakes, rainforests and extensive grassy plains.

An interesting NZ fact: There are more golf courses in New Zealand per capita of population, than any other country in the world (over 400 golf courses for 3.7 million people).

Population: 4 million Area: 270 534 square kilometres. New Zealand lies in the Pacific Ocean, 2 250 km east of Australia. Islands:New Zealand is made up of two major islands the South Island and the North Island. Capital: Wellington - located on the North Island Government: New Zealand is an independent state of the Commonwealth. The Queen is represented in New Zealand by the Governor General, Her Excellency Right Honorable Dame Silvia Cartwright. The democratic government operates under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Parliamentary system of 120 seats (of which 67 Members of Parliament are from geographic areas and 53 from political parties). Electricity: 240 volts, 50 hz Currency: New Zealand Dollar Driving Rules: In New Zealand you must drive on the left hand side of the road. Drinking Age: 18 years is the legal age to drink alcohol. Banks: Open Mon-Fri 9.00am to 4.30pm: Major banks include ANZ, Bank of New Zealand, and National. Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners are all widely accepted. Tipping: Not necessary Goods & Services Tax: 12.5% Goods Service Tax (GST) is applied on most goods. Climate: New Zealand's maritime climate is temperate with an average of 2000 sunshine hours a year. Average temperatures range from 7ºC in winter to 16ºC in summer (though in some areas temperatures reach the 30s) Tourist visa requirements: Many visitors can now obtain a visa on arrival however it is recommended that you check with you local Australian Embassy or Consultant prior to travelling to Australia. New Zealand citizens do not require a visa. Time Zone: New Zealand has one time zone and is GMT +12 hours. Clocks go forward 1 hour on Labour Weekend (in October) for summer daylight saving. Useful Links:


Population: 380000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: Auckland has the largest number of boats per head of population than any other city in the world. Shopping: Don't pack your suitcase too tightly when preparing to travel to Auckland - but expect to have difficulty closing it when the time comes to return home. Shopping is a well established form of entertainment in this vibrant city! Eating Out: The newly developed Viaduct Basin offers indoor and outdoor waterside dining - spacious brasseries, intimate silver service or romantic balconies overlooking the harbour. Euro Bar and Soul Bar & Bistro should not be missed. Auckland's fringe suburbs of Ponsonby and Parnell are overflowing with award-winning restaurants, cafes and bars.


Useful Link: It's a Fact: At Hot Water Beach (in the Coromandel Peninsula), hot pools can be dug out of the sand at low tide near the rocks and in places where steam can be seen rising from the open sea at high tide. Volcanic activity is no longer prevalent on the Coromandel Peninsula - the hot mineral pools are a legacy of an exciting geothermal past. Shopping:Wilderness Gems in Ngatea is a great place to visit for crystals, minerals and other geological wonders. Eating Out: Every town in the Coromandel offers a range of dining experiences, from the fundamental kiwi takeaway shop, to cool cafes and fine dining establishments. The Coromandel is famous for its delicious, fresh local seafood.


Population: 68000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: Rotorua was first settled in the 14th Century by the Te Arawa Maori. Shopping: In many of the souvenir and gift shops around the city you will find exquisite examples of Maori arts and crafts. You should also look for specialist shops that sell black pearls and abalone (paua) pearls. Blueberry wine and other blueberry products can be found at the Blue Berry Winery. Hand blown glass is another Rotorua specialty. Eating Out: Cafes and restaurants line both sides of the lake end of Tutanekai St, which locals have coined ‘The Streat'. Here you'll find everything from traditional New Zealand dishes to authentic international cuisine. A ‘must try' whilst in Rotorua is the hangi – where food is cooked the traditional Maori way.


Population: 22 000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: Lake Taupo (NZ's biggest lake) is internationally recognised for its great fishing (Rainbow Trout). Shopping: Shopping hours vary, but most shops open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and until 6pm on Friday. Most shops are also open on Saturday and Sunday. you'll find everything from antiques and arts to designer knitwear and fishing flies. Eating Out: For a quick bite, there are many cafes ready to tempt you with excellent espresso and home made specialties. Most restaurants and bars are located in the Taupo Central Business District, but Turangi also has a good selection. You'll even find a geothermal prawn farm with a restaurant attached.


Useful Links: It's a Fact: The Whanganui River is the longest navigable river in New Zealand, with 239 rapids. Shopping: This provincial city has been revitalised by the restoration of its heritage streets and buildings. The central city shopping area is based in the Victoria Avenue. Eating Out: Wanganui has an extensive range of eating establishments, including many riverside cafes for food with views.


Population:452000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: Wellington was voted Top Town in 2000 by North and South Magazine. Shopping: Downtown Wellington is divided into four quarters, all within walking distance of each other. Explore the range of local and international fashion stores in the Lambton and Willis Quarters. Also found within the Lambton and Willis Quarters are high quality art, crafts and souvenir stores. The store in the national museum Te Papa offers high quality Maori craft and design, as well as original crafts from New Zealand's leading artists. For something a bit different, walk through to the Cuba Quarter, where you'll find funky local boutiques, design stores and markets. Eating Out: There are more than 300 cafes and restaurants, so you can easily find a latte and an ambience that matches your idea of wonderful. From Malaysian to Mongolian, Pakistani to Pacific Rim, Wellington is a gastronomic delight. Many of the city's restaurants and cafes are concentrated in Courtenay Place.


Population:513000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: This town is the home of the World Famous Ashford Spinning Wheels and Weaving Looms. Shopping: In the Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula district, there are many art and craft boutiques to visit. Exquisite blue pearls and examples of hand-blown glass are produced on the Peninsula. In Hanmer Springs and the Hurunui district you can meet artisans working with pottery, ceramics, wood, pounamu (greenstone or jade), bone, glass and a variety of other materials. Eating Out: The eateries of the Canterbury region are well known for making excellent use of their own fresh local produce. From French cuisine and delectable smoked salmon to famous fish ‘n' chips in Akora to the latest fashions in cafe dining through to some treasured New Zealand icons such as the Sunday roast and traditional afternoon teas in Waimate.


Population:358000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: Christchurch is known internationally for its award winning gardens and is the South Island's largest city. Eating Out: 'The Strip' along Oxford Terrace has numerous cafes, restaurants and bars. Christchurch is one of the best places in New Zealand to enjoy lamb. Local wines are excellent - the Canterbury region is best known for its Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.


Population:114 000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: Dunedin is New Zealand's oldest city. Shopping: The main shopping area is George Street in the city centre. There is a mix of national and chain stores, large shopping malls and highly individual local stores.Dunedin also has unique speciality shops such as antique dealers, handmade homeware retailers, galleries, exhibition spaces, artists workshops and clothes designer showrooms. Eating Out: Dunedin has over 140 restaurants, cafes and eating places around the Octagon and George Street. Chinese restaurants are a Dunedin specialty.


Population:42000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: Although the Marlborough Sounds are in the South Island, they are located north of Wellington, so it is possible to look out south to parts of the North Island from the Marlborough Sounds. Shopping: Blenheim is the compact, yet comprehensive, central business district. In Picton you can enjoy the open, market-place atmosphere of the port's shopping centre, which has a fine selection of arts, crafts, souvenirs and clothing stores. In Havelock you'll find boutique cafes, galleries and craft outlets join with fine food establishments to satiate your every need. Eating Out: Marlborough is world renowned for it's award-winning Sauvignon Blanc. As such, the province has developed a selection of restaurants, cafes and eateries to complement the wines. Sample fresh=, local seafood, fresh produce and other gourmet delights at one of the numerous restaurants in Blenheim.


Population:45000 Useful Link: It's a Fact: The city of Nelson was named after Admiral Lord Nelson of Battle of Trafalgar fame. Shopping: The Nelson region offers a wide range of exclusive, handcrafted products and art. In Nelson city on Saturday morning there's an open air market in Montgomery Square – you'll find everything from silver jewellery to organically grown peaches. Eating Out: Restaurants and cafes scattered around the region make full use of the local specialties - seafood, scallops and excellent fresh produce. An essential eaterie guidebook - Eat Drink Nelson - can be picked up for no charge at Visitor Information Centres around the region.


Useful Link: It's a Fact: Queenstown was named because it was fit for Queen Victoria.' Shopping: In Queenstown the stores are open all day and much of the evening, 365 days of the year. International labels such as Louis Vuitton are available alongside the best from New Zealand. Look for designer clothing, contemporary arts, jewellery and homeware. You can also buy equipment such as skis, snowboards, kayaks and mountaineering gear from numerous operators. The clothing is both functional and fashionable. Eating Out: For a cheap bite head to Queenstown's foreshore and enjoy the views.


Useful Link: It's a Fact: Every year Wanaka hosts a number of world-class festivals and events, including the biggest three-day air show in the Southern Hemisphere, Warbirds Over Wanaka. Shopping: Wanaka's shops are easily accesible, being clustered in the compact town centre. From outdoor equipment, to funky street gear, art galleries, and a modern supermarket, you'll find everything you need. Eating Out: Wanaka provides quality cuisine to suit all budgets and tastes. Many restaurants have sweeping views of the lake or mountains and all make the most of the region's abundant produce.

Distance Charts

North Island

Kilometres / Travel Time (in hours) *

South Island

Kilometres / Travel Time (in hours) *

Napier4227.5 - 661/10 224/4 323/5 306/5
Paihia240/4.5661/10 -475/8898/13.5439/7.5
LocationChristchurchMilford SoundMt CookNelsonPictonQueenstown
Milford Sound772/11-550/91146/18.51109/18.5291/5
Mt Cook331/5550/9-775/10.5666/10262/4

*Please note that times and distances are approximations only. (Multiple by 0.621 for Miles equivalent)

Driving on the Left

Most roads in New Zealand are used by vehicles travelling in two directions. For this reason, you must keep on the left-hand side of the road when driving.

Speed Limits

The maximum open road speed is 100 km/h and the maximum speed limit for urban areas is 50 km/h. In New Zealand you may also come across Limited Speed Zones (LSZ), here you must drive at 50km/h in adverse conditions (like bad weather etc), otherwise you may drive at full speed of 100 km/h.

Safety Belts and Child Restraints

It is law for all vehicle occupants to wear their seatbelt or child restraints. The driver is responsible for making sure children aged under 15 years wear safety belts or are in approved child restraints. All passengers over 15 years are responsible for making sure that they are wearing their own safety belts. Child restraints must be used where passengers are too small to make use of regular seat belts. You will be able to hire appropriate child restraints from the rental companies for a small daily fee. However, be sure to check that the vehicle you are renting is able to be fitted with child restraints.

Rural Roads

In New Zealand most roads are two-lane and often narrow. Some are unsealed and have no surface markings; some also change from sealed to unsealed - look out for signs which indicate this. If you can, plan your journey to avoid unsealed roads. Unsealed roads can be dangerous and affect your control of the vehicle. They are often narrow and have gravel verges. Reduce your speed to 40-50 km/h or slower. Drive in established tracks where the surface is harder if possible but keep left. When approaching an oncoming vehicle slow down to pass. Road dust could obscure your view of the road ahead. Should your vehicle slide on shingle, avoid braking suddenly.

New Zealand is an agricultural country with many farm animals. You may meet sheep or cows being moved by a farmer. Slow down and stop when you reach the animals - let them go past you, or move slowly up behind, and take instructions from the farmer. Should you injure a farm animal on a road tell the nearest farmer.

Driving Licence

International visitors may drive in New Zealand on a valid overseas driver's licence that covers the same vehicle class. Whilst driving ensure that you carry your licence with you and if it is not in English carry a translation.


Petrol is sold in litres and comes in both unleaded and lead substitute forms.

Driver Fatigue

It is important not to underestimate driving times. Although distances may seem short, the roads often include hilly or winding terrain, which slow down your journey. If you're used to driving in the city, you should take care when driving on the open country roads.