New Zealand

New Zealand Driving Advice and Car Hire Info

New Zealand Road Rules

New Zealand drives on the left of the road in right hand drive cars. You can drive for up to a year on a photo ID licence from most countries, though if your licence is not in Roman alphabet lettering you must get an International Driving Permit or a translation of the licence. Speed limits range from 100kmh on highways,(110kmh on certain routes, indicated by signs), 50kmh in urban areas and 20/30kmh in high pedestrian areas and schools.

New Zealand Roads

New Zealand has alomost 100,000 km of well maintained roads across its two islands with 363  km of motorway-standard multi carriageway roads.The longest, and most important route in New Zealand is the 2,033 kilometres SH1 Highway which runs the length of the country from Cape Reinga, on the Aupouri Peninsula to Wellington Airport in North Island, then from Picton to Stirling Point, south of Bluff in South Island. The road is single lane for most of its length with occasional passing places. It passes by most major urban areas including Auckland,Hamilton, Taupo, Wellington, Christchurch,Dunedin and Invercargill.

The only toll roads in New Zealand are on North Island-

Northern Gateway Toll Road – a 7.5km motorway north of Auckland between Silverdale and Pūhoi, which is part of State Highway 1 .

Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road-is a 15km tolled section of State Highway 2 (SH2) running between the Domain Road interchange, near Pāpāmoa, and the Paengaroa roundabout.

The Takitimu Drive Toll Road,  is a 5km road that bypasses the Tauranga city centre and takes traffic from State Highway 29 to State Highway 2 towards the Port of Tauranga and Mt Maunganui.

Tolls are are around $2NZD for cars. Payment can be made online within 5 days of using the road. More details here

Roads are generally in excellent condition throughout New Zealand. Most are paved though expect to find some gravel roads in more remote rural locations, and these may deteriorate in bad weather.  Some roads are in mountainous areas such as the Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka. This road is the highest in New Zealand at 1100 metres and can be prone to snow and ice in Winter. It’s also very steep and the little campervan I had with 300,000 miles on the clock certainly struggled with some of the climbs when I made the drive!

Driving in New Zealand

Driving in Cities is generally not as stressful as it is in most parts of the world though you may experience traffic jams in Auckland and Wellington at rush hour. The centre of Christchurch is still rebuilding after the earthquake so expect some construction related dealys there at times.

Driving standards are generally high and road rules are adhered to though there are some accident blackspots such as On North Island – State Highway 2, between the bottom of the Bombay Hills and the Thames turn off , and The Centenial Highway, which is part of State Highway 1, between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay. Both these stretches of road see many accidents. In the South Island in Winter, many roads are affected by snow and ice and you should exercise caution in these conditions. Don’t underestimate distances in New Zealand and if you’re driving a campervan, bear in mind that you won’t be travelling as fast as you do in a car. Take your time and pull over for a rest if you feel tired.

New Zealand Scenic Drives

New Zealand is a great country for driving and has some classic road trips, such as –

The ‘Lost World Highway’ on North Island between Taumarunui in the east, and Stratford in the west.This is a 150KM route taking about 3 hours to drive and takes in gorges, waterfalls,forests and some amazing views.

Twin Coast Discovery Highway – Circular route around the Auckland and Northland regions

Pacific Coast Highway – route around the north-east coast of the North Island, between Auckland and Napier

Thermal Explorer Highway – route going from Auckland to Napier through the geothermally active centre of the North Island

Surf Highway – SH45 road from New Plymouth to Hawera along the Taranaki coastline.

Alpine Pacific Triangle – Route betwee Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura and Waipara using SH1, SH7 and Route 70.

Great Alpine Highway – Highway 73 from Christchurch  over the Southern Alps via Arthurs Pass to Kumara Junction on the West Coast.

Southern Scenic Route- along the southern coast of  South Island from Dunedin via the Catlins, Invercargill and Riverton to Te Anau.

Most travellers visit both of New Zealands Islands during their trip. The main ferry route between North and South Islands is Wellington to Picton which has several ferries a day, with the trip taking around 3 hours.There are generally no restrictions on taking rental cars on ferries but it is sensible to clarify this when booking. The main ferry booking site is-

Some driving distances and approx driving times-

North Island Driving Distances-

Auckland to Whangerai -135KM, 1 hour 20

Auckland to Rotoruwa -210 KM, 2hours

Auckland to Hamilton -130 KM, 1hour 20

Auckland to Tauranga (Bay of Plenty) – 160KM, 1hour 30

Auckland to Wellington -490KM, 5hours

Rotoruwa to Napier/Hawkes Bay area – 150KM, 1 Hour 30

Napier to Wellington -275KM, 2 Hours 45

Hamilton to New Plymouth/Mt Taranaki area -180KM, 1 hour 45

New Plymouth to Wellington – 240KM, 2 hours 30

Napier to Wellington- 260KM, 2hours 40

New Plymouth to Palmerston North – 195KM, 2 hours

Napier to Palmerston North – 140KM, 1Hour 30

South Island Driving Distances

Christchurch to Nelson ,260KM, 2hours 30

Christchurch to Picton (Ferry from North Island) 270 KM, 2hours 45

Christchurch to Fairlie(Mount Cook/Mackenzie country) 160KM, 2 hours

Christchurch to Oamaru, 215KM, 2hours 45

Christchurch to Dunedin, 315KM, 3hours 30

Picton to Nelson, 60KM, 30 mins

Picton to Greymouth 265KM, 2hours 40

Greymouth to Franz Josef Glacier ,130KM, 1 hour 20

Greymouth to Christchurch, 160KM, 1 hour 40

Oamaru to Dunedin – 90KM, 1hour 15

Oamaru to Queenstown – 185KM, 2 hours

Queenstown to Te Anau (Fiordland NP) -90KM, 1 hour 20

Dunedin to Te Anau – 220km, 2hour 45

Dunedin to Invercargill – 175KM, 2 hours 15

Te Anau to Invercargill – 125KM, 1hour 30

Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.

New Zealand Car Rental –
Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National, Avis,  Budget, Thrifty, have outlets here. Also usually features on Car rental broker sites  and Web discount sites such as  Expedia

We currently have no local car rental partners in New Zealand. If you are a local car rental company who would like to feature on please check details on our Partnering page or contact us on

New Zealand Self Drive Rules-

Most  companies  allow vehicles to be taken between North and South Island but check this when booking. Some companies will allow one way rental, generally picking up a vehicle in Auckland and returning to Christchurch or vice versa and will charge extra for this, but may still be worth considering if time is limited.

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