If you’re planning a New Zealand self-drive holiday, be it in a rental car or hired campervan, or if you’re moving to New Zealand, you need to read this article. Here are ten things you should know about driving in New Zealand:
1) New Zealand has a lot of unsealed roads, especially in rural areas.
When you encounter one, it is important that you drive slowly and remember not to break suddenly. The gravel can not only cause you to skid, it can fly up and crack your windscreen, and the dust can obscure your vision. In fact, it can be difficult to find a car or campervan rental company that will allow you to drive their vehicles on unsealed roads, as the insurance will not cover any damage sustained on them.
One of the companies that will allow their rental cars and campervans to be driven on unsealed roads is Wendekreisen Travel Ltd, although they still have the usual ‘restricted roads’ upon which you cannot drive. These include Skippers Road in Queenstown, (which is just plain scary,) and Ninety Mile Beach in Northland, (which, although officially a highway, really is just a beach, and a fifty-five mile beach at that.)
2) New Zealand is a very hilly country, meaning that many of its roads, even major ones, are narrow and winding, and sometimes steep.
They can become slippery when it rains, and often have blind corners and sheer drops. If you suffer from travel sickness, you will definitely need to take preventative measures, (especially in the Coromandel.) Also, you will probably encounter one lane bridges, which require a degree of patience to navigate.
3) Because of the nature of the aforementioned roads, people often underestimate the time it will take to drive from A to B.
To give a few examples: it takes approximately two and a half hours to drive from Auckland to Tauranga in a standard car, a distance of two hundred kilometres; Auckland to Wellington takes about eight hours, about six hundred and fifty kilometres; Christchurch to Dunedin about five hours, about three hundred and fifty kilometres. Of course, it will take longer in a large campervan, especially if you keep pulling over to admire the view.
4) The price of petrol in New Zealand is quite high – almost twice as expensive as it is in the US.
Also, it is sold in litres. When this article was written, (in early July 2013,) petrol in New Zealand was averaging $2.20 per litre – New Zealand dollars, that is – a record high. To keep fuel costs down, you might consider acquiring a vehicle with a diesel engine instead of petrol. In New Zealand, diesel is a lot cheaper than petrol – about 75c less per litre (in early July 2013.)
5) If you have an English language driver licence, you are fine to drive in New Zealand for up to twelve months.
If your licence is not in English, you will need either an authorised English translation of your driver licence or an international driving permit. Many car and campervan rental companies require you to have held your full licence for a minimum of three years before they will let you hire their vehicles, although some only require you to have held it for one year.
6) Many New Zealand car and campervan hire companies have minimum age requirements for the drivers of their vehicles.
Although the minimum driving age in New Zealand is sixteen (on a learner licence,) in order to drive a hired car or campervan you have to be either twenty-one, twenty-three, or, in some cases, twenty-five, depending on the company. Drivers under twenty-five have a higher insurance excess.
7) In New Zealand, you have to wear your seatbelt by law.
The fine for not wearing a seatbelt while travelling in a car or campervan is $150 per person caught. Children under fifteen are the liability of their parents. It is also illegal to use a cellphone while driving, unless it is hands-free.
8) If you are planning on hiring a campervan and doing a spot of Freedom Camping, you should remember that whilst Freedom Camping may technically mean that you can camp anywhere, in reality you cannot camp just anywhere.
9) Vehicle speed in New Zealand is measured in kilometres per hour, not miles per hour.
For example, the speed limit on the motorways in 100km/h, whereas in urban areas it is usually restricted to 50km/h.
10) New Zealand drives on the left-hand side of the road.
You would be surprised how many foreigners fail to remember this – do not become one of them!
Article by Abigail Simpson, author of POMS AWAY! A British Immigrant’s View of New Zealand