My Tips for Driving in New Zealand

As a driving newbie, I was worried about driving in New Zealand. My license was just 3 weeks old when I went over to New Zealand and I celebrated my first drive in New Zealand instead of Singapore. I was so green that I was worried whether drivers on the road would survive my driving. It was close, that first drive was such a disaster it needs a story of its own. Anyway, I’m still here so I did survive driving in foreign road conditions.

wanaka, new zealand

At one of the scenic lookouts on the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown. If driving from Queenstown, drive to Wanaka via Arrowtown so that it’s easier to stop at the lookouts on the way back to Queenstown.

I didn’t get to drive all the time there as I didn’t buy a car. I did rent a car a few times when I wanted to explore more so here are some of my tips since the driving conditions there are really very different from Singapore.

1. Watch out for speed signs on bendy roads, especially mountainous ones.

The signs are usually a good indication of the degree of bends in the roads ahead so slow down when required. The roads are sometimes winding, going up, around and down mountains so you really have to be careful since each bend could be different. There will usually be a sign if it’s the start of winding roads as well so it’s best to keep an eye out so that you are aware of the road conditions. There were even signs at areas with high accident rates to give an extra precaution! I’ve encountered bends with speed signs around 20km/h and the bend was so sharp and downhill, I was practically crawling when turning.

Lake Pukaki

Stopping by to admire the glacial blue waters of Lake Pukaki on the way up to Mt Cook.

2. Stop at the side of the road to let other cars pass if going too slow.

The roads around New Zealand are usually 2 lanes only, one for each direction and especially on highways. The exceptions are cities with bigger population which will have more traffic. Most of the time, long lines starts whenever a car ahead is too slow on the roads. I’m no speed maniac but I generally try to keep to the speed limit because I don’t like having a long line behind me. Believe me, it’s too pressurizing for me so it’s best to stop at the side of the road when it’s safe to let cars pass on.

If travelling on the highway, there is an additional lane for overtaking at intervals throughout the journey so just have some patience. There will usually be signs that signals the start of the overtaking lanes beforehand.

New Zealand

On the bus travelling ahead to yet another city.

3. Obey the speed limit at all times and stop at the STOP signs.

Speed limit on highways are usually 100km/h, it will be reduced to 50km/h if travelling through a town. Roads on the outskirts of towns are usually around 60km/h-80km/h. Traffic police can be quite sneaky about catching those naughty drivers, especially during holiday season. I’ve seen them hiding behind bushes or tucked away around a shoulder bend to surprise those deviant ones. I’ve even seen one car ahead of me get stopped after overtaking me by speeding! Lucky, I missed out on that fun!!

4. Try to familiarise yourself with roundabouts before going to New Zealand.

This was definitely not something I was familiar with as we don’t really have much roundabouts in Singapore. This is pretty common in New Zealand though so get used to changing into the correct lanes and signals when maneuvering your way through it. I used to get into the wrong lanes for the turns at the bigger roundabouts since there was more than one lane. It was especially confusing when I was driving alone and had to listen to my GPS for directions. First turn, second turn, third turn, which turn??!! Or maybe it was just me…

New Zealand

Backroads like these are small and usually have no lines in the middle of the road except for stop lines. This is one of the many single lane bridges that I encountered, remember to give way if the sign says so!

5. Toll roads exists in New Zealand.

I was totally clueless about this too but they do exist. There will usually be signs on the road if it is tolled so you will need to go online to make payment for it. I’m not exactly sure whether there are other methods as I only drove on a toll road once and there was no directions on payment. So I just paid online, better to be safe than sorry. It was only a few dollars anyway so I didn’t really think to haggle much over it.

6. Fuel can be expensive in New Zealand so do consider this for your budget if driving.

I once paid around NZ$100 for a full tank of fuel after running empty on a Mazda rental. That was for about 8 hours of driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo and back to Christchurch. Such a pain to my pockets and one of the reasons why I didn’t choose to buy a car to travel around. Renting a car occasionally was sufficient for me.

Catlins

The road leading up to the lighthouse at The Catlins.

7. Get a full car insurance coverage.

It costs a lot more but you will be reassured if anything do happen. I once had a small crash and damaged my rental but walked away without paying anything because I took out a full insurance coverage on my rental. I was quite fortunate because I usually took out partial coverage for my other rentals. I only chose to take full coverage this time since I was renting it for a few days.

8. Be wary of changing weather conditions on the roads.

One of the times when the weather had affected my driving was the time I drove up a mountain in Dunedin. It was slightly drizzling when I started my way up but I suddenly found my way obscured by mists on the roads further up. This was on a winding mountain road with a steep drop-off as I got higher up. I can tell you that it was a pretty heart-stopping drive for me and I questioned myself so many times on the way up, especially since I was driving alone. Fortunately, there wasn’t much cars behind me because I was definitely going far slower than I should have then.

Dunedin. New Zealand

On my way up to Larnarch Castle in Dunedin, I suddenly encountered mists obscuring my view. It got worse higher up actually.

9. Watch out for special road conditions

Since there are not much traffic in New Zealand, I’ve come across some special road conditions unlike those in Singapore. To highlight a few, single-lane bridges are common when driving among the backroads so look out for the signs which will indicate which vehicle has the right of way. Gravelled roads are also pretty common too so be careful while navigating these roads.

Most especially, take note that there may not be any phone reception in certain remote areas like the countryside or up the mountains. Navigating by google maps may not always work then. This happened to me occasionally. Once, I got lost trying to get down a mountain on a remote gravelled road as I had no reception and no one around to ask for directions. Perhaps it may be better to use GPS instead of your phone on these occasions.

New Zealand road

Sometimes, the roads are empty of other cars in front of you…perfect for newbie drivers to gain confidence in driving.

10. Parking in New Zealand

Parking on the side of the roads are generally permitted if you are parking in a residential area but it must be parked in the direction of traffic. A friend got a ticket for parking against the direction of traffic so do be careful about this. If parking around the town centre, look out for blue signs with numbers on it. Those with 30 on them means you are allowed to park for free for 30mins only, 60 for 60mins, 90 for 90mins and so on. There are also lots where you will need to pay for hourly parking and there’s a machine for you to get your coupon to display in your car. Traffic wardens are very sharp about the parking coupons especially on weekends so please be conscientious about it!

Canterbury

Scenic drive back to Queenstown from Wanaka but eyes on the road as this was one of the steeper roads I encountered…

Bonus! Please drive on the correct side of the road

Lastly, please do ensure you drive on the correct side of the road. Driver sits on the right seat of the car and everyone drives on the left side of the road. This is the same as Singapore roads so I was grateful I had one less thing to get used to in New Zealand. I let a Canadian friend take the wheels one time and she turned the car left into incoming traffic. Luckily, she was able to turn into the correct left lane before there was any accidents but that was one of my scariest driving moments. And I wasn’t even the one driving!

So there you have it, my tips for driving in New Zealand! Can you tell that I’ve had quite a few driving adventures? I don’t think I’m totally qualified to give driving advice considering my lack of experience but I’m sure some of the knowledge would serve as a notice as to driving conditions in New Zealand. For more information on the driving conditions, it’s best to check out the New Zealand official road code to familiarize yourself if you wish to.

Milford Sound, New Zealand

The roads leading to Milford Sounds are some of the most most most beautiful roads I’ve ever seen in New Zealand, even if it’s very winding all the way as you can see here!

Do you want me to write on my numerous driving adventures? Please do share if you have any other driving tips. I’m pretty sure you have way more driving experience than me. 🙂

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13 thoughts on “My Tips for Driving in New Zealand

    • Yeah, I imagine you would have no problem driving but if I’m having so much problems driving just in NZ, even more reasons for me to avoid driving in countries such as China and India! Hahaha…I guess some places are best to be left to the locals to know best…thanks for reading still! 🙂

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    • I know right! It’s beautiful everywhere I just wish someone could drive ME around so I can take photos instead…too bad I was driving alone most of the time but I did get to stop at some spots…hehe 🙂

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    • Hahaha yes it was a very very steep learning curve for me when I was driving there…I was that classic female trying to pretend she could drive when she couldn’t…the driving adventures that I got into will just make you laugh at me cos it was just all…being a newbie…sigh…😥

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