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

  • Read this booklet for overseas drivers (available in multiple languages)

  • Study the road rules in The official New Zealand road code

  • Check the Drive Safe website for trip planning and driving advice for visitors to New Zealand 

  • Use this time and distance calculator to understand travelling times  in New Zealand 

  • Make sure you are eligible to drive on our roads. To drive in New Zealand, you must have a current and valid overseas driver licence or international driving permit. If you're here for more than 12 months, you'll need to gain a New Zealand driver licence. 
    Find out more about driver licence requirements

We recommend watching this video prior to arriving in New Zealand. For more information please see here.

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.

See more tips about how to avoid 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.

Find out more about 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.

Find out more about 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.

See more tips on 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 tips for safe travel during these times.

Driving a campervan

Many requirements for driving a campervan 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 campervans, including the standard safety requirements and seat belt requirements.

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If you have any questions at all please let us know - driver safety is incredibly important and we’re here to help!