New Zealand is a beautiful country, one that has continued to take my breath away during my current road trip. This New Zealand drivers guide will provide helpful tips and advice while driving on the left side in kiwi land.
As someone who received my drivers license the day I turned 16, I’ve always been drawn to the road. To me, my drivers license meant that I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I remember my brother saying to me while we were still in high school “isn’t it awesome how you can just drive and go anywhere on the roads?” Yes, it is awesome. Be prepared with a New Zealand drivers guide when you hit the road.
While I typically prefer taking public transit and using bicycles to move from place to place, I was well-aware that New Zealand was a place for your own wheels. There are particular places that do provide excellent access via buses, but sometimes you need to be in the driver’s seat.
Left is Best! A New Zealand Drivers Guide
Make the Decision
“is a self-drive vacation for me?” This is something that you need to consider before hitting the left side of the road. Make sure that you’re cut out for driving in a foreign country and in a different environment. If you’re feeling very nervous or unsure about driving on the left side of the road, it might be worth reconsidering. That being said, I was quite nervous and I have been just fine.
I think it helps to have a healthy dose of nervousness, as it forced me to prepare myself.
Choose the right vehicle
Hitting the road in a camper van is the best way to see New Zealand in my opinion, but there are plenty of other options. You could rent a smaller car, a larger RV, or something in between. Be sure to start out with the right vehicle before hitting the road. Things to consider is the size of vehicle you feel comfortable with, whether you want to camp or not, price, and fuel efficiency. Also you’ll need to decide if you prefer a manual or automatic vehicle.
Ask for advice
Before I set out on my journey I had a few weeks in New Zealand. When I met foreigners who were driving on the left side I would ask them about their experience and for helpful tips. I spoke with quite a few different people who gave me some great ideas, which I’ll share in the rest of this New Zealand drivers guide. Speak with your rental company as well, as they’ll more than likely have helpful information.
Determine what level of insurance is best for you. Then fully understand what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t. There are different factors when it comes to insuring your rental vehicle in New Zealand so be sure to ask questions before picking coverage.
Do your research
Websites such as Drive Safe New Zealand has quite a few nice resources. As an American, I have never felt totally comfortable with roundabouts so I watched this moderately low budget YouTube instructional video and then everything made sense! I may have gone overboard on my research, but it all has been very helpful for me.
Know the laws
The road traffic laws in New Zealand might be different from what you are used to at home. Take some time brushing up on the basics. There are also different types of road signs you will encounter in New Zealand such as the right of way for one lane bridges and what to do when encountering livestock on the road. There are a couple useful self-directed tourist driving quizzes.
Note: you will most likely encounter livestock if you venture off the beaten path like I did!
My Escape camper van had an AUX port, CD player, radio, and USB port. This meant I had tons of options for good tunes and podcasts too. Create and download excellent tunes to enjoy the scenery with, it’ll be the soundtrack for your beautiful adventure.
I met a couple from California in my hostel when I was in Wellington and they had some great advice. Practice driving in a parking lot before really hitting the road. You’ll be forced to drive slow, use your turn signals a lot, and stay to the left. This also will give you a chance to practice parking.
Keep left, keep left, oh yeah, and keep left. The camper van I’ve been driving in even has helpful no brainer stickers to keep me in check. This is probably the most important tip in this guide to driving in New Zealand, be sure to keep left!
Check the weather
No matter what the season is, the weather of New Zealand can change quickly. Be sure to check the weather and road conditions before hitting the road. This is especially important when crossing over the mountain passes.
There’s been a few moments where I just want to say “zoiks!” and some other choice words, but staying calm and breathing has helped. Taking a few deep breaths before setting out on the road was a big help for me. Stopping and taking in the scenery helped me relax as well.
Because you’re driving on the other side of the road, the windshield wipers, turn signals, emergency brake will also be on the other side. It feels really strange to be using the turn signals on the right, so just be patient with yourself. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve turned the windshield wipers on instead of using the turn signals. Laughing helps!
Limit your distractions
This is super important. Put your phone down and focus on the road. As a solo driver I’ve had to rely on myself for driving in New Zealand which means I don’t have assistance for navigation or changing songs, etc. Limiting my distractions has meant that if I need to do something like look at the map I’m always sure to pullover. If you really can’t control yourself from checking your phone, consider putting it in the glovebox while you’re driving.
Let the traffic pass
Because New Zealand is breathtaking, you’ll want to drive slow to take it all in. The scenery has given me goose bumps on more than one occasion here. Soak up that beauty! If you have traffic behind you, use the slow lane or pull over at a turn out or lookout spot and let the traffic pass. You’ll feel more at ease without cars stacked up behind you and it’s the courteous thing to do.
Fill up that tank
Download an app like Campermate or Camper which will show you where the gas or petrol stations are. There have been a few big stretches sans gas stations, so it’s always best to fill up your tank when you can.
Act like a Grandma
Driving like a grandma or a “nanna” as they like to stay in New Zealand has been a big help for me. Because I’ve been driving a camper van it has more weight than cars I’m used to driving in the states. Slowing down means that I have more time to stop and make decisions. Many of the roads in New Zealand have plenty of windy curves so it helps to slow down. Being a slow poke also helps you enjoy the scenery!
The memories you’ll make from the left side of the road will be priceless and you’re likely to have an adventure of a lifetime. Driving in New Zealand ended up being easier than I expected, as being on the other side of the car put me in check. I can’t emphasize how much I recommend touring New Zealand with your own vehicle and I’m so happy I decided to use an Escape Camper van for my journey.
Side note and disclaimer: Escape Rentals provided me a camper van free of charge, but please keep in mind I’ll always give you my honest feedback no matter who is picking up the bill.
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