Driving in New Zealand?
Driving in New Zealand
At a Glance:
- Narrow and winding roads are a common sight in New Zealand. It is advised that you take extra travel time into consideration, and to always be on the lookout for hazards.
- If you have an overseas driver’s license in English or together with an international driver’s permit, you are allowed to drive in New Zealand for up to twelve months. After that, you can convert it into a local license.
- Be aware that New Zealanders drive on the left-hand side of the road, the blood alcohol limit is 0.5‰, and the use of your phone without a hands-free device while driving is strictly prohibited.
- Owning a car requires a one-time registration and annual license fee payments. Both processes are quite simple. Additionally, your car will need regular checkups to ensure it meets the safety standards.
- Having car insurance is not mandatory in New Zealand. However, the registration fee only covers basic injuries and medical claims.
Driving through New Zealand’s spectacular natural environment is an experience you won’t soon forget. Whether you drive along the coast, through the bush, alongside forests, or past breathtaking mountains: driving in New Zealand is a unique experience.
As the nation is so sparsely populated, there is nearly no congestion on the roads, except during rush hour in major cities such as Auckland and Christchurch. The government is rightfully proud of its well-structured road system, which makes driving in New Zealand both convenient and safe.
Due to its size and especially the long distances between larger cities, owning a car is almost inevitable, and gives you the freedom to travel through the country for both business and pleasure.
Know Your Motorways and Highways
Due to the country’s vast and often mountainous terrain, driving in New Zealand requires skill and knowledge. Next to many smaller and often even unpaved country roads, New Zealand has motorways, highways, and expressways that crisscross the country. State highways are roads linking cities that are open to any vehicle. Motorways and expressways are better developed stretches of these, typically with dual carriageways and travel bans for any non-motorized traffic. With the exception of these, most highways in New Zealand consist of a single lane for each direction.
Deceiving Distances and Weather Conditions
Be aware of some hazards you can come across when driving in New Zealand, particularly on highways and rural roads. The distances you need to travel when driving in New Zealand can be deceiving. What may seem like a short trip from one city to another may end up taking longer than expected due to narrow and unpaved roads, or unpleasant weather conditions. Do not take curves too fast or use excessive speed during severe weather conditions — loss of control is the top cause of fatal accidents on New Zealand’s roads.
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) takes road safety very seriously and gives up-to-date information on highway and road conditions for people on the road. The government also gives propositions for alternative ways to travel, such as by bike, foot, train or carpool, as well as suggestions for buying fuel-efficient cars.
To reduce traffic congestion and carbon dioxide emissions, the government funded the construction of the Northern Busway for commuters in the Auckland metropolitan area. As a result, travel times of one hour by car during rush hour are now reduced to half an hour by bus.
Be Alert While Driving in the North and South
While driving on the North Island, always be aware of the potential danger posed by logging trucks, severe storms, snow and ice, unmarked railway crossings, and landslides. Be cautious when passing on narrow roads, as head-on collisions are frequent.
On the South Island, watch out for snow and ice, washouts and slips, frequent single lane bridges including several shared with trains, and the narrow Homer Tunnel at the entrance to Milford Sound. Keep in mind that a lot of roads are very narrow and, especially along the coast, can be very windy at times. In general, always be aware of livestock, as flocks of sheep may be herded along or across the roads!
Pass the Test and Get Your Driver’s License
In order to drive in New Zealand, you need a valid driver’s license in English. Should yours have been issued in a different language, you will also require an international driving permit issued by your country of origin or be able to show an approved English translation of your license. You may drive with these licenses for a period of up to twelve months before you need to apply for a New Zealand license. If you are caught driving without, you have to pay a fine anywhere between 400 NZD and 1000 NZD.
Depending on which country issued your current driver’s license, you may need to take a written and driving test in order to convert your foreign license to a New Zealand one. A number of countries are excluded from this requirement.
If you plan on getting your license in New Zealand, rather than having a license converted, the process is a bit lengthier than what you might expect. The first step, a learner’s permit, requires you to take a road rules theory test, for which you can practice for free online. After having a learner’s license for six months, which requires you to drive supervised, you can get your restricted license by resubmitting proof of identity, taking an eyesight exam, and passing a driving test. After 18 months on your restricted license and proving you are fit for driving by passing another practical exam, you will receive your full license. For those aged 25 or older, the restricted period is shortened to half a year.
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