Driving In New Zealand The First Time?

New Zealand Road trip, driving in new zealand

I remember the uncertainty about driving around New Zealand for the first time. There was so much I needed to know, so many concerns I needed to address.

What’s it like to self drive in New Zealand? Is it easy to drive in New Zealand? Is it friendly for beginners like me? What are the things I had to look out for? So many car rental companies in New Zealand – which should I choose?

Then I had to answer other questions about driving in the North island and South island. How do I navigate? Where do I find accommodation along the way? Are there toilets readily available on the road?

I understand the worry you go through planning a New Zealand road trip. That’s why I’ve come up with this FAQ for driving in New Zealand to address some of the concerns you might have and share some New Zealand driving tips!

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FAQ on Driving in NZ

Road Safety in New Zealand

New Zealand Road trip, driving in new zealand

1. What’s the road conditions in New Zealand like?

It’s really straightforward! Highways are one-lane roads – one going forward and the other going back. The lanes are only wide enough to fit one car at a time, so there are designated areas where you can and cannot overtake vehicles.

2. How’s the weather condition?

We drove in the beginning of the winter season, in May. As such, we were met with lots of erratic rain and an unexpected snow condition.

On rainy days, the winds can be strong, so depending on the size of your vehicle, you will have to adjust your driving speeds accordingly.

We experienced unexpected heavy snow on our way up from Queenstown to Mount Cook. The only advice I can give is to drive slow i.e. 50-60 km/h. While we drove without snow chains, if you know you’ll be expecting snow, have snow chains fitted on your wheels while doing your winter driving.

3. Is it safe to drive in New Zealand at night?

Absolutely! We were initially afraid to drive at night for fear of poor light conditions, but New Zealand’s road markings are reflective – in the sense that they reflect light from your car. There are clear reflectors on the divider between the 2 lanes, so you can be sure you will not veer off path. Just remember to toggle between high beam when the road is clear and switch to low beam when there are other vehicles in sight. It’s impolite (and dangerous) to blind them!

There are no street lamps on the highways, except for when you enter a town.

The only surprises we got while driving in pitch darkness are, well, rabbits that are too dumb to get out of the way, and sheep. 😉

4. What’s the speed limit?

The maximum speed limit on the highway is 100 km/h.

You’ll find that most other seasoned drivers drive up to 140 km/h, but I wouldn’t advise that. I’ve heard of stories where drivers get fined for driving even at 110km/h, with fines that go up to NZD$200.

5. Is it dangerous to drive in New Zealand?

Not at all. In fact, I love driving on New Zealand’s highways more than anywhere else because there would be times where you are the only vehicle on the road. There’s no pressure coming from other vehicles.

Navigating New Zealand’s Roads

New Zealand Road trip, driving in new zealand

6. Are road markers in New Zealand easy to read?

Yes, the road code signs are very intuitive. There will be markers warning you of rounded bends, and an advisable speed limit. As long as you are comfortable with right-hand drive, driving in New Zealand is a piece of cake.

I took my Singapore international license less than 2 months before I drove in New Zealand, so take it from me! 😉

The road sign you probably should familiarize yourself with is roundabouts. Roundabouts are a common sight in larger towns in New Zealand, where most of civilization (and vehicles) converge.

That said, it’s always good to understand the road rules in New Zealand. Prior to renting any vehicle in New Zealand, you’ll usually be given a road safety video or a road rule guide to read through.

7. Is it possible to navigate without having data?

That’s what we did! I wrote a step-by-step guide on how to create your own itinerary on Google Maps, as well as how to export your Google Map itinerary to your phone to use it offline. These 2 articles might just be able to cut down on your expenses since you won’t be needing to buy a phone plan any longer. 😀

Cost of Driving in New Zealand

8. How much does petrol cost?

We paid NZD$522.60 for 272 litres of petrol, with a total mileage of 1623 kilometres. Below is a screenshot of the entire route we took in the South island, just to give you an idea.

New Zealand Road trip map on Google Maps
New Zealand Road trip map on Google Maps

9. How easily accessible are petrol stations?

Petrol stations are situated within the vicinity of major towns, so get your petrol fuelled as often as topping up groceries, or even more.

10. Is it possible to travel by bus?

For sure! There are bus options on both the North and South island.

Just keep in mind that you will be restricted to the main routes, you cannot stop and admire the view as you wish, it can be more expensive depending on which bus you go with, and travelling time is extended with a bus. That said, you save yourself the trouble of planning the routes.

11. What vehicle should I rent?

Rent Campervan New Zealand Road trip, new zealand on a budget, new zealand trip cost, new zealand expensive, cost to travel to new zealand, driving in new zealand
With our trusty campervan in New Zealand!

There were 4 of us on this road trip together, hence we rented a campervan from Jucy. Jucy offers some of the best car rental deals. $500 for 10 days during the off-peak period in May, including insurance. By renting a campervan, we got to save on accommodation too! Not too bad a deal we got aye? 😉

Your choice of vehicle depends very much on your personal preference. Do you want to check in on hostels every night? Do you want to have a toilet fitted in your vehicle? How comfortable are you driving in a larger vehicle? These were some of the concerns we had before settling on Jucy’s campervan.

On a second and third road trip around the North island and South island that I did when I was on my working holiday in New Zealand from November 2017 to May 2018, I rented normal compact cars from Omega and GO rentals as well. Both offered comprehensive coverage for reasonable prices, and I really enjoyed how new the cars were despite it being budget options.

Check out other rental companies like Europcar as well!

Rent Campervan New Zealand Road trip

We initially had reservations about the size of Jucy’s campervans. It’s true that it can be rather compact for 4 of us. Our luggages had to be moved every single time we needed to cook, drive, sleep or shower. With the 4 of us taking up what little space there already was without the luggages, it felt like playing puzzle to maximize the space we had. If you are not one to fuss, the space is actually adequate.

The campervan soon became our source for warmth, away from the harsh chilly external weather conditions.

We were impressed with the many compartments that the campervan had. Within the tight confines, it was still able to fit all the pots and pans, kitchen utensils, tubes (for draining dirty water from the sink and refilling water for the sink), heater, as well as pillows and duvets! It truly was a self-contained vehicle with everything we possibly needed.

Granted, all of us had our fair share of getting our heads knocked on the car hood multiple times, especially when we were cooking!

12. How much does it cost to camp while on the road?

New Zealand Road trip hostel kitchen, driving in new zealand
A hostel’s kitchen with a fireplace!

Basic campsites (parking space for self-contained vehicles, toilet) – NZD$0 to NZD$15

Holiday parks (parking space, toilet, shower, kitchen, powered-sites) – NZD$18 to NZD$25

Hostel (parking space, toilet, shower, kitchen, bed) – NZD$25 and up

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Maintaining hygiene while on the road

13. Did you know you can dump water from and refill water for your campervan for free?

We only later learned that some petrol stations have stations where you can dump waste water (from the sink) and also refill water for free. This is a point worth noting if you are renting a self-contained vehicle.

14. What if I need to pee in the middle of the journey?

Towns all have public toilet facilities. Some even have public showers. Most campsites have a toilet, even if it’s just a hole in the ground. I say “most” because there are some that don’t. In general, the more popular campsites will have basic toilet facilities, so this is an unwarranted concern. 🙂

15. Is it alright not to shower while on the road?

It can be uncomfortable all right, but it’s not impossible not showering for days. The climate in New Zealand is cool all year round. You hardly perspire, especially not if you’re on the road most of the time!

For us, we looked into holiday parks with hot shower facilities on alternate days.

Other Questions

New Zealand Road trip, driving in new zealand

16. Should I get insured?

Definitely! It always pays to be on the safer side. We bought a car insurance from Jucy, on top of our regular travel insurance.

17. Does driving those long roads get boring?

Not when you have a good music playlist, and get to discover the occasional rainbows along the lakes! New Zealand’s landscape can never get boring. Also, with us being certified drivers, we take turns driving, so it doesn’t get too tiring for any of us.

Read: Useful Travel Accessories You Must Have

18. Can I drive in New Zealand with a Singapore license?

Yes you can! Unlike driving in Japan, you don’t have to purchase any international conversion in Singapore. Since our license is international by nature, you are good as it is renting a car in New Zealand straight up!

19. Are there self drive tours in New Zealand?

Yes! Whether you are spending 10 days in New Zealand or 2 weeks in New Zealand, there are plenty of self driving tours in New Zealand to cater to your flexibility.

20. How long does it take to drive around New Zealand?

Depending point to point, the driving duration can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours. It also depends on whether you’d like to stop at a small town along the way or not.

More often than not, there are small towns during your driving journey within an hour’s drive where you can stop and rest, use the bathroom and have a snack.

21. How is public transport like in New Zealand?

While staying and working in Fox Glacier. a small tourist town in the South island, there would only be one bus departing in the morning and one bus that arrives in the evening. Bus journeys are sometimes double or even triple the duration as compared to if you were to self drive.


Want to have a taste of driving in New Zealand? Watch our video below!

I hope I’ve helped bust some myths about driving in New Zealand and provided useful driving in New Zealand tips.

Is it easy to drive in New Zealand? Absolutely!

It truly was much simpler than we thought. There is only one route which connects one town to another, so navigating and driving in New Zealand is not difficult. There also aren’t that many cars on the road, so you can drive at your own comfortable speed.

Renting a vehicle, in my opinion, to drive around New Zealand is by far the easiest, most affordable, accessible and convenient way of moving around New Zealand.

Other useful posts on New Zealand:



Do you have further questions? Want a copy of my detailed South Island itinerary? Ask me, or drop a comment below!

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24 Replies to “Driving In New Zealand The First Time?”

  1. I found it really easy to drive in New Zealand. My favorite part though were all the signs posted for motorcycle safety. They were so cheesy it was hilarious!!

    1. Oh really? Remind me again what kind of cheesy sign posts it showed?

  2. Trippin' Turpins says: Reply

    Great blog! Great info! Born in NZ and raised in NZ & Aust I have no problem driving in NZ but really enjoyed your comprehensive post! Great work.

    1. Lucky girl! I only wish I had more time around New Zealand. I’m not done with it yet!

  3. Glad you had a safe drive around our nextdoor neighbour!

    Its scenery is supposed to be spectacular!

    1. Neighbour? Where are you from? I’m guessing Australia? 🙂

  4. Hey Isabel! I remember my first drive around New Zealand was also filled with all these doubts and questions so it’s great that you put all these tips and advices out there.

    1. I’m glad you find it useful Mar. 🙂 It was also nice seeing you in person. Wish we had more chances to converse!

  5. Seems like the biggest road hazard in NZ is getting distracted by all the amazing scenery and landscapes. Great pics and a great adventure.

    1. Hi Vannessa & Steve, you’re so right! My boyfriend struck a pole while looking at animals on the side of the road! 😛

  6. Lovely pictures and tips for a self drive in New Zealand. I think it is more fun to do this trip on the road by yourself than getting tagged by a taxi or a bus. Though the rental does seem steep!

    1. If you travel during off peak it wouldn’t be so bad. 🙂 That, and the long bus journey is really painful. Haha.

  7. You provided such great information to whoever is thinking of doing a road trip through this beautiful country. Will definitely keep this post in mind when I visit one day and thank you for sharing! 🙂

  8. Driving in New Zealand seems to be an absolute pleasure. Given the natural beauty and the breathtaking landscapes that you would be driving through, this promises to be an unforgettable experience. Hope to hit the road in NZ some day.

    1. I hope you do too!

  9. Excellent tips on driving through New Zealand. I am planning on driving when I visit, so it’s good to know that its very intuitive.

    1. Everyone drives here. You won’t have a problem too I’m sure

  10. […] the most important thing to remember when driving around New Zealand, is that they drive on the left. If you’re from a country that drives on the right, this is […]

  11. […] Driving in New Zealand can be dangerous, as distances between places are longer than you might think. For instance, it’s 5 hours from Christchurch to Queenstown, while Christchurch to Dunedin is a 3-hour drive. Allied to the unpredictable weather in the country, makes a seemingly routine journey more difficult. […]

  12. losangelesnewbie says: Reply

    How was sleeping in the campervan? Was it cold?

    1. Yes it can be when it comes to night time in winter! We had a heater on.

  13. Excellent tips on driving through New Zealand. I am planning on driving when I visit.

  14. Excellent tips on driving through New Zealand. I am planning on driving when I visit.

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