Fasten your seat belts and get ready for a New Zealand road trip. There may be a few differences between driving in New Zealand and how you drive at home. If you think that driving on the left was the only difference, you are in for a few surprises.
When to rent a car
Yes, you can wait until getting to New Zealand to rent a car, but you’ll get a better price and more options if you book earlier before your trip. It’s often easiest online although you can also book by phone. Most rental cars can be reserved online or by phone with major international chains or smaller companies.
Age requirements for driver’s license
Generally speaking, in order to drive a basic rental car in New Zealand, you must be over 21 years of age and hold a valid driver’s license. If your driver’s license is not in English you need to obtain an international driver’s license. Drivers under the age of 25 may incur a young driver surcharge.
In New Zealand it is not mandatory to have car insurance. And car insurance might seem tempting to ignore. However, there is always a risk factor involved. It is up to you.
Know the rules of the road
Drive on the left side of the road. This is the number one rule for driving in New Zealand. Use roundabouts by driving clockwise. Keep an eye out on traffic lights using the correct lanes and all that good stuff. If you end up missing a turn off or being stuck in the wrong lane, make your way back legally. Don’t do any dramatic u-turns.
Be careful when overtaking in New Zealand. Obviously only overtake when you can see it as safe. Most of the roads are single lane in New Zealand. If you start to get a line of vehicles driving behind you, keep an eye out for a safe place to pull over and then let them pass.
Some roads have passing lanes, which is your best option for overtaking. Many bridges in New Zealand are single lane bridges. If there is a vehicle on the opposite side of the bridge there will be a sign with arrows showing which side of the bridge has priority. The small red arrow must give way to the larger black arrow.
There are signs on New Zealand’s roads indicating the maximum speed you can drive on that road. On most of the rural roads the limit is 100 km/h. In urban areas, it tends to be 50 kilometers per hour. You will also see recommended speeds for sharp corners sign posted.
Plan your travel time
Expect longer travel times what may seem like a short distance on the map and actually be much more longer in reality as New Zealand roads tend to be windy hilly and narrow. This can add to your travel time, keep this in mind when planning to travel so you don’t end up rushing to get to your destination.
Beware of gravel and unsealed roads. When you get off the beaten path expect to find yourself on gravel and unsealed roads. Some less maintained gravel roads can be uneven so you’ll need to slow down. Have regular breaks to avoid getting tired. New Zealand has its own unique road hazards. Beware driving at dusk and at night, many animals tend to warm themselves on the tarmac of the road.
Common-sense driving regulations
Always wear your seat belt. It is illegal to use a handheld cell phone. While driving, you must use a hands-free device if you want to chatter to your mates.
Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Although there is an alcohol limit for driving in New Zealand, it is best not to drink at all if you are planning to drive.
Saving tips on car rentals
It may be cheaper to pick up your vehicle in the city versus at the airport. Inspect your car carefully before taking it. Write down any damage you notice. Avoid one-way booking fees if you can.
Most of the times when you travel from south to north, they waive the fee. Most people start at the north and end in the south which brings us to check for car relocation options. Many people leave their car at Christchurch and the cars need to be transferred back to the home office in Auckland, that is when car rentals throw in some really nice deals.