Visiting New Zealand

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.

For example:

  • 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 for everyone in the vehicle
  • 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

Other important things to remember

Avoid fatigue

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.

Avoiding fatigue while driving

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.

Speed limits and safe speed guidelines

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.

Alcohol and drug limits

Weather-related hazards

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.

Driving in bad weather

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 driving in the holidays tips for safe travel during these times.

Driving in the holidays

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. You should stay in designated campsites to avoid instant fines for illegal camping.

Find out more about motorhomes, including the motorhome standard safety requirements and seat belt requirements.

Motorhome safety
Safety belts in motorhomes

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.

The official New Zealand road code for motorcyclists online
Motorcycle safety

Finding your way around

Plan your journey with travel time information, traffic cameras, and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures on the Journey Planner website.

Journey Planner website(external link)

The Automobile Association of New Zealand (AA) 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.

AA travel(external link)

Renting a vehicle? Check out the requirements you and the rental company need to meet.

Renting a vehicle

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.

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:

Travelling by ferry

The only ways to travel between New Zealand′s North and South Islands are by air or sea over the Cook Straight. There is a choice of ferry services, both of which carry vehicles:

Other ferry services link smaller islands to the mainland in places such as Hokianga, the Bay of Islands and the Hauraki Gulf Islands in Auckland. There are also commuter ferry services in Auckland and Wellington.

Hokianga ferry services(external link)
Auckland ferry services(external link)
Wellington ferry services(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 want to get between New Zealand's North and South Islands and prefer to travel by air rather than by sea, you could also try Sounds Air.

Sounds Air website(external link)

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). 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.

AIP website(external link)

Visiting drivers partnership

The Visiting drivers partnership was established in 2014 with the aims of improving road safety for visiting drivers and maintaining New Zealand’s reputation as an attractive and safe tourist destination.

Visiting drivers partnership