If you’re planning a New Zealand motorhome holiday, you need to know what to expect on New Zealand roads. Here are ten things you should know about driving in New Zealand:
1. Unsealed Roads
New Zealand has a lot of unsealed roads, especially in rural areas. When you encounter one, it is important that you drive slowly and remember not to brake suddenly. Not only can the gravel cause you to skid, it can fly up and crack your windscreen. Also, the dust can obscure your vision.
Some motorhome hire companies will not allow you to drive their vehicles on unsealed roads, as their insurance will not cover any damage sustained on them. This can seriously limit your travel options, so make sure you choose a company that does allow it, and look for any restricted roads in their terms and conditions.
2. Winding Roads
New Zealand is a very hilly country, meaning that many of its roads, even major ones, are narrow, winding and sometimes steep. They can become slippery when it rains, and often have blind corners and sheer drops. If you suffer from travel sickness, you will definitely need to take preventative measures. Also, you will probably encounter one lane bridges, which require a degree of patience to navigate.
3. Longer Travel Times
Because of the nature of the aforementioned roads, people often underestimate the time it will take to drive from A to B. To give a few examples: it takes approximately 2.5 hours to drive from Auckland to Tauranga in a standard car, a distance of 200 km; Auckland to Wellington takes about 8 hours, a distance of 650 km; Christchurch to Dunedin takes about 5 hours, a distance of 350 km. Of course, it will take longer in a large motorhome, especially if you keep pulling over to admire the view.
4. Fuel Prices
The price of petrol in New Zealand is quite high, almost twice as expensive as in the US. Also, unlike in the US, it is sold in litres. To help with the budgeting of your holiday, you should get an idea of the current New Zealand fuel prices before you come.
5. Driver Licences
If you have an English language driver licence, then you are fine to drive in New Zealand for up to twelve months. If your licence is not in English, then you will need either an authorised English translation of your driver licence or an international driving permit. Many motorhome hire companies require you to have held your full licence for a minimum of three years before they will let you hire their vehicles, although some only require you to have held it for one year.
6. Driving Ages
Many New Zealand motorhome hire companies also have minimum age requirements for the drivers of their vehicles. Although the minimum driving age in New Zealand is sixteen (on a learner licence,) in order to drive a hired motorhome you have to be either twenty-one, twenty-three, or, in some cases, twenty-five, depending on the company. Drivers under twenty-five have a higher insurance excess.
In New Zealand, you have to wear your seatbelt by law. The fine for not wearing a seatbelt while travelling in a vehicle that has seatbelts is $150 per person caught. Children under fifteen are the liability of their parents. It is also illegal to use a cellphone while driving, unless it is hands-free.
8. Freedom Camping
No doubt you’ll want to do a spot of freedom camping on your New Zealand motorhome holiday. You should remember that whilst freedom camping may technically mean that you can camp anywhere, in reality you cannot camp just anywhere. For example, you should not park your motorhome for the night on the side of a street, or in a car park that doesn’t have a sign saying you’re allowed. Doing so risks a literal rude awakening, followed in some cases by a fine.
9. Speed Limits
Vehicle speed in New Zealand is measured in kilometres per hour, not miles per hour. For example, the speed limit on the motorways is 100km/h, whereas in urban areas it is usually restricted to 50km/h. Around schools, it is further restricted to 20km/h.
10. Left is Right!
New Zealand drives on the left-hand side of the road. (You’d be surprised how many tourists forget this!)
Article by Abigail Simpson, author of Poms Away: A British Immigrant’s View of New Zealand