Driving in New Zealand

How to drive and tips for driving in New Zealand

New Zealand is an island nation with some pretty interesting roads and road rules, so if you are planning on driving while you’re here there are a few things to consider.

If you’re already a licensed driver

If you have a current valid driver licence from another country or an international driving permit you can drive in New Zealand for up to one year. After one year you have to apply for a New Zealand driver’s licence. New Zealand has a graduated licensing system that is a three step process.

Keep left

In New Zealand we drive on the left hand side of the road. When parking, the car has to be facing the direction of the traffic and it is important not to park over driveways, entrances or private property, especially if it is marked as a tow-away zone.

New Zealand Road Code

Before you come to New Zealand it pays to read The New Zealand Transport Agency brochure about driving in New Zealand. It explains all the driving laws and how to stay safe on New Zealand roads and has a tab with the New Zealand road code. Their website is qq.

Carry your Driver’s Licence

Carry your driver’s licence with you at all times because you could be fined if stopped by a police officer and you’re not carrying your licence.

Turning left

In 2012 our “right-hand rule” for uncontrolled intersections changed. Now drivers turning left go first at the intersection rather than giving way to traffic turning right. This new law change aligns us with most other countries and makes it safer for tourists who are used to this rule.

There is no free left turn when the traffic signal is red.


Be aware that when turning at traffic signals you must give way to pedestrians crossing the road even if you have a green arrow.


We have a very wide range of roads in New Zealand, from motorways (highways and freeways) to unsealed gravel roads, which can be narrow and hilly. At times you could encounter stray farm animals on rural roads or herds of farm stock moving, so take extra care and if in doubt pull over to let them pass.

Generally, you cannot drive on beaches. However, there are some beaches that are designated as official ‘roads’. Be aware that most rental companies for example, will not cover vehicles driven on the beach, so it pays to check your rental agreement carefully.

Many railway level crossings are not light and barrier controlled in small towns, so take care and make sure you slow down and stop so can see both directions are clear along the railway line before crossing.

Drinking and driving

Drinking and driving in New Zealand is illegal, the allowable limit is very small so it pays not to drink and drive at all. The fines and penalties are strictly enforced and severe.

Mobile phones

It is illegal to use a hand held mobile phone when driving, this includes reading and sending texts and just holding the phone, even if you aren’t using it. You can use a hands free kit to speak on your mobile but it must be mounted securely to your car.

Rental cars and campervans

You or anyone else planning to drive will need a current and valid driver’s licence for the type of vehicle you’re hiring. The vehicle must be safe and roadworthy and you need to check this before you leave, if there are small dents make sure the rental company knows this before you sign the agreement and take photos if necessary.

The rental company has legal obligations too, for example: They must have a register of their vehicles and who hires them. You must sign a written agreement when hiring a vehicle and make sure you read that agreement. If in doubt, ask them to explain. They must offer you insurance for the vehicle so definitely take it and confirm what the excess is.

If you incur a speeding fine while driving a hire car and it is not issued personally from the enforcement officer (such as speed camera fines), the rental company can and will pass these charges on to your credit card.

Renting a campervan is a great way to see the country. Campervans vary in size, so take into account that driving a campervan is different to driving a car. Campervans are welcome at many of the fully serviced campgrounds and the Department of Conservation campsites around the country. Many regions have rules against Freedom camping around the country and fines will be given if you are staying illegally. When you reach a destination look out for an iSite Visitors Centre and ask them for the right places to stay.

Borrowing a car

Car insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand and insurance policies vary from full cover to third party. If you borrow a car from a friend, or you are able to drive a company car make sure you know what the insurance policy covers. There can be different policies and rules for drivers under 25 and some policies only cover drivers specifically named on the policy, so you may not be covered. Third Party insurance only covers the car or property you damage, not the car you’re driving.

Buying a car

All cars in New Zealand must have a current warrant of fitness and registration, so when you are buying a car, make sure they are up to date. Check the vehicle has not been stolen or has fines owing, you can do this online. Once you have purchased the car, you are legally required to notify the NZTA. You must fill out a ‘Notice by Person Acquiring Motor Vehicle’ form, and supply a current drivers licence or a form of ID that includes your full name, signature and DOB. This can be done at an NZ Post Shop or online.