New Zealand drives on the left, with the steering wheel on the right of the vehicle. New Zealand's roads are mostly sealed and well signposted, however they are not always engineered to the same standards found in other developed countries. The majority of rental cars are automatic and the majority of rental campervans are manual transmission (stick-shift), although automatics are becoming available.
The highway network consists of SH-1 running the length of both islands, SH-2 to 5 and SH-10 to 58 in the North Island, and SH-6 to 8 and SH-60 to 99 in the South Island.
There are very few motorways, expressways or dual- carriageways (only 3% of all roads). The majority of the road network is open country, single carriageway road with one (non-separated) lane each way, therefore they are used by cyclists, pedestrians and even farm animals. There are no/few bypasses so most roads pass through small towns. When estimating journey times between towns, use 60km/h as an average speed, then add your rest stops.
Weather extremes and mountain terrain require extra care. Speed cameras are used in fixed positions, hand-held by police officers and in unmarked vehicles, although they are not as prevalent as in Europe. Use of mobile phones is banned while driving.
You can drive in New Zealand if you hold a driver licence from another country or an international driving permit (IDP) and:
• your overseas licence is current and valid, and
• you've not received a disqualification or suspension in New Zealand, and
• you last entered New Zealand less than 12 months ago, and
• your overseas licence is in English; if it's not, you must have an accurate translation, and
• you've not been granted a New Zealand driver license.
All drivers must carry their license with them when driving.
In New Zealand vehicles drive on the left (steering wheel is on the right). The open-road speed limit is 100km/h and the urban speed is 50km/h. Signposts follow the international standard and all distances and speeds are metric. All cyclists must wear safety helmets. There is no 'left-turn' rule at traffic lights as in North America. Seat belts are compulsory for everyone if they are fitted. Drug and alcohol laws are strictly enforced and random roadside testing is common. New Zealand has some unique road and turning rules and some road signs you will not be familiar with.
Particular hazards you will encounter when driving in New Zealand include: logging trucks, roadside parking laws, turn-right rules, trams, snow and ice at any time of the year, railway crossings without barrier arms, land slips, drainage ditches alongside many open roads, single lane bridges, dual use bridges (combines road/rail in the same single-lane bridge), unsealed/gravel roads, farm stock, roadworks (not separated from vehicle traffic), mountain conditions, sun-strike and Limited Speed zones (LSZ) where the speed limit changes depending on the conditions.
Overseas drivers who drive in New Zealand are twice as likely to be 'at-fault' for any injury or fatal accident in which they are involved. New Zealand prosecutes overseas drivers who break the laws. If you are intending to drive in New Zealand for the first time, consider learning more and staying safe. A better informed driver is a safer and happier driver.