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Tourist and visitor advice: Driving in New Zealand


What you need to know as a tourist to help prevent road accidents

  • New Zealand has AWESOME roads, but they’re dangerous, too
  • 2% of NZ’s road fatalities are caused by tourists
  • Do your bit by learning the Road Code – we’ll show you what you need

The correct side of the road: left


  • Ask a New Zealander and they’ll say we drive on the ‘lift’
  • It’s just like the UK, Australia and Japan
  • Take extra care pulling out of junctions
  • Look for arrows on the road

Sheep and cows…lots of them


  • We’re famous for it
  • In some places, livestock will be on the road
  • Take care and follow farmers’ directions
  • Don’t sound your horn

Some roads are a beach to drive on


  • There are some public roads along beaches
  • Check your rental car agreement to see if you’re allowed to drive there
  • Don’t get caught by the tide!

Keep your licence with you

  • You must carry your licence at all times while you are driving
  • You might need an International Driving Permit – check on the New Zealand Transport Agency’s website at nzta.govt.nz

Giving way at intersections

  • give way signIn general, if you are turning, give way to all vehicles that aren’t turning
  • Give way to your right on roundabouts and drive clockwise around them

Speed limits past school buses

  • 20kph-signIf a school bus is stopped and picking up or setting down passengers, the limit past it is 20kph
  • Don’t get caught out – your car could be impounded

The weather can change quickly


  • Intense storms can cause flash floods
  • Rural roads can suffer washouts and landslips

Red means stop

red arrow traffic lights

  • You’re not allowed to turn at an intersection unless you have a green light
  • There’s no free turn on a red light
  • When turning, give way to pedestrians

Dial a line for a fine


  • It’s illegal to use a hand-held phone while driving – there are fines
  • You can use a hands-free phone kit to make or receive calls
  • It’s illegal at all times to read or write text (SMS) messages while driving
  • Try hiring a car with a Bluetooth or USB smartphone connection

What are the speed limits?


  • Generally 100kph (62mph) on rural roads and motorways
  • Generally 50kph (31mph) in towns and cities
  • 100kph applies, but the road will be challenging – use appropriate speeds

Belt up

  • seatbelt-warning-holdenEveryone in the vehicle must wear a safety belt
  • Children up to the age of 7 must be in an approved child seat
  • Motorbike riders must wear a helmet

Getting boozed or high?


  • There are strict fines in NZ for drink driving and driving under the influence of drugs
  • Take care on wine tours – it’s best not to drink (or do drugs) if you are driving
  • Alcohol limits are 50mg/100ml for drivers aged 20 and over; there’s a zero tolerance for drivers under 20.

Overtaking and lane discipline

  • NZ has a lot of narrow rural roads and not many motorways
  • A yellow line on your side of the centre line means you must not overtake


  • parking-60-minutesClearways and dashed yellow lines mean no parking
  • Blue P signs show you where you can park and for how long

One-lane bridges

  • one-lane-bridge-row one-lane-bridge-giveway-1Back in the day, New Zealand couldn’t afford to build two-lane bridges over all the rural streams and rivers. We still can’t
  • You have priority if you see the sign on the right

Railways with no gates or alarms

  • Only half of our 1500 rail crossings have barrier arms and/or alarms/bells
  • Always check the track before crossing

And a bit more….

  • There’s more you should know to be safe on New Zealand’s roads
  • The quickest way to learn is with our free tourist Road Code quizzes as recommended by Tourism NZ, the Tourism Industry Association of NZ and many car rental companies – click here to try it out.
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  1. […] Almost all rental car agencies will give you some information about driving in New Zealand. There should be a booklet called What’s Different About Driving in New Zealand, and perhaps some ‘keep left’ reminder stickers either on the windscreen or dashboard. You must familiarise yourself with the road rules in New Zealand as there are many different rules. The closest country in terms of rules is Australia; drivers from other countries will find road markings and signage is different. Take these holiday driving quizzes to check your knowledge, and read this guide. […]