Driving in New Zealand

Tips for Keeping Safe on the Roads in NZ

Driving in New Zealand can pose a whole host of challenges for foreign drivers, especially those not used to driving on the left side of the road.

With a population of 4 million people in a country with a land mass similar to that of Japan, New Zealand’s roading network is not too sophisticated compared to many other developed nations.

And many tourists driving in New Zealand for the first time find themselves facing situations on the road they never anticipated.

Things to Look Out For While Driving in New Zealand

Foreign drivers who opt for a New Zealand self drive often find themselves running off the road or crashing because they’ve been distracted by the gorgeous scenery the country has to offer.

Sometimes they’ve been travelling well above the legal open-road speed limit – which is 100km/h – because they’ve misjudged the travelling times between their origin and destination.

Here are some things you can expect to find when driving in New Zealand:

Miles of single-lane highways with narrow shoulders
Hilly, winding routes
A lot of stock and freight trucks sharing the roads
Changeable weather, even in summer, which can bring snow especially in the mountain passes
Gravel roads
Single lane bridges
Large farm machinery, such as tractors and balers, travelling slowly on country roads
Flocks of sheep or herds of cows being moved

Tips for Driving Safely in New Zealand

One of the best things you can do when planning your road travel is to research the route you intend to take. Travelling times in many areas can take longer than anticipated because of the terrain to be covered and the amount and types of traffic on the roads.

In some places passing opportunities can be limited and drivers in a hurry often take risks that cause accidents.

When travelling during the winter especially, keep an eye on the weather forecast and road conditions. If you intend to be in a high-country or alpine area be sure to carry chains. New Zealand does not apply salt to the roads and rain and snow can quickly turn to ice.

Take advantage of the many public rest areas and lookout spots spread throughout the countryside – they allow drivers to safely pull off the road and rejoin the traffic.

In some places, particularly the road to Milford Sound, in Fiordland, it is recommended tourists avoid driving and take a bus service instead – the scenery is captivating, the road challenging in the best of weather and in spring, avalanche danger is often high.

The best way to experience New Zealand is by driving – make sure to have the ultimate holiday and give oneself enough time to do it safely!

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