We want you to enjoy you journey in New Zealand, and in particular we want you to return safe and sound. Remember you are on holiday, so take your time and enjoy the driver. Pull over and let those in a hurry get past. Take plenty of rest breaks, and be mindful of our driving conditions.
If you're used to driving in the city, you should take care when driving on New Zealand's open country roads. We have a good motorway system but weather extremes, the terrain and narrow secondary roads and bridges require drivers to be very vigilant.
It is important to take notice of subtle differences when driving in a foreign country. The following are some general highlights and rules when driving in New Zealand.
Important road rules
- Always drive on the left-hand-side of the road - as they do in Australia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Fiji, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Macau, Pakistan, PNG, South Africa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Thailand, Zimbabwe and Zambia
- Always keep on or below the legal speed limits indicated on road signs. The maximum speed on any open road is 100km/h. The maximum speed in urban areas is 50km/h. Adjust your speed as conditions demand
- When traffic lights are red you must stop. When traffic lights are amber you must stop unless you are so close to the intersection it is unsafe to do so
- Do not pass other cars where there are double yellow lines - these indicate that it's too dangerous to overtake
- Drivers and passengers must wear seat belts or child restraints at all times, in both front and rear seats
- Do not drink and drive. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime in New Zealand and strictly enforced by police, with severe penalties for offenders
- Signposting follows standard international symbols and all distances are in kilometres (km)
Drink driving laws in New Zealand are very strict and there are often random checks made on drivers to test their blood/alcohol levels. We recommend no alcohol prior to driving, however if you do have a drink with dinner, you must not drive if you have more than 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or more than 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath. This level is lower if you are under the age of 20.
International Driving Licences and Permits
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). After 12 months you are required to convert to a New Zealand licence. This applies to each visit to New Zealand.
In New Zealand 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 fully written English, you must bring an English translation with you or obtain an IDP. Contact your local automobile club for further details about obtaining a translation or an IDP.
A translation of your overseas licence or permit can be issued by:
- A translator approved by the NZ Transport Agency
- A diplomatic representative at a high commission, embassy or consulate; or
- The authority that issued your overseas licence (an international driving permit may be acceptable as a translation)
It is important to note that if you are caught driving without an acceptable English translation or an IDP, you may be prosecuted for driving unlicensed or for driving without an appropriate licence. You will be liable for an infringement fee of NZ$400, or up to NZ$1,000 if you are convicted in court.
The Police also have the power to forbid an unlicensed driver to drive until they have an appropriate licence. If you continue to drive after being forbidden, the vehicle you are driving will be impounded for 28 days, at the vehicle owner's expense. You may also risk not being covered by your insurance in the event of a crash.
Petrol costs approximately NZ$2.10 per litre and is available in at least two grades (91 octane and 96 octane). Diesel costs approximately NZ$1.50. For a copy of the New Zealand road code click here.
Driving in New Zealand Resources
You can find out what's different about driving in New Zealand on the NZ Transport Agency website.
Information on current highway conditions
The information is easily accessible from the NZTA website.
Visitors can also get the latest state highway information by phoning NZTA's 24/7 infoline 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49). Refer to the NZ Transport Agency website for country wide information on New Zealand roads, road rules and vehicle safety.
Test out your knowledge of New Zealand's road rules on the Driving Tests website
DriveSafe.org.nz has been developed to provide everything you need to know to have a safe and enjoyable driving adventure, from road rules and etiquette to links to further resources. The site has three sections: Planning your trip; On arrival; and On the road - check back at any stage of your trip for more guidance and ideas. This site provides basic information about New Zealand road rules and etiquette, along with links to more details about everything that those unfamiliar with our roads need to know.
Drive to the road conditions
- Don't underestimate driving times. Although distances may seem short, New Zealand roads often include hilly, narrow or winding terrain, which slow down your journey. If you're used to driving in the city, take care when driving on the open country roads, and watch out for single-lane bridges.
- Road conditions are variable. Off the main highways some roads may be unsealed and extra care needs to be taken. A few of these roads are not safe for vehicles and insurance does not cover them - ask your rental car company to mark these roads on your map before setting off.
- In winter some roads may be treacherous due to ice or snow, particularly around mountain passes. Look out for signs indicating slippery surfaces in winter and drive slowly - do not brake suddenly on ice. See our winter driving tips for more advice
- Don't drive tired. Get plenty of sleep before a long drive. Take regular breaks - one every two hours.
- Never drive if you are feeling tired, particularly after you have just completed a long-haul flight.
Cycles and Motorbikes
- Helmets for riders of cycles and motorbikes must be worn at all times
- Rear and front lights on cycles are required at night
- Motorbikes should drive with a headlight on at all times
- Cycling is not permitted on motorways
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