Driving in New Zealand


 

 

  New Zealand Roads 

Driving in New Zealand is pretty easy, but may be different than what you are used to. Distances between towns are relatively short, traffic is light (except for Auckland), and the roads are usually in good condition, though there are few multi-lane highways in the country. There are brief stretches of motorway around the major cities, but elsewhere the highways are single-lane in either direction and pass through the towns.

Generally the roads are hilly and windy, so do take this into consideration as it may slow you down a little. The speed limit on the highways is 100km/h, but count on averaging around 80km/h as you may get stuck behind a truck. As the weather is also very changeable - and when it rains in New Zealand, it pours - , driving conditions may become difficult, so do take care.

Kiwis drive on the left hand side of the road, and for those used to driving on the right, take care. Every year serious and fatal accidents happen involving foreign drivers, many of them driving on the wrong side of the road!

 

Some things to remember:

 We drive on the left-hand side of the road

 it's easy to underestimate travelling times

our roads are narrower, more winding and sometimes steeper than you might expect

our roads are mostly two-way, with one lane in each direction - we have few motorways

not all railway crossings have active warnings

seat belts are compulsory

it's illegal to use a phone while driving.

 

Make sure you allow plenty of time and take regular breaks. The trip may be slower, but the scenery is amazing so take your time and enjoy your journey.

A good resource for an introduction of the road rules for visitors who want to drive in New Zealand is provided by the New Zealand Transport Agency and can be found here. 


  Driving Licenses and Permits 

You can drive in New Zealand if:

you have a current and valid overseas license or driver permit, and

you haven’t been given a disqualification or suspension in New Zealand, and

you came into New Zealand less than 12 months ago, and

your overseas license is in English, or you have an accurate translation, and

you haven’t been granted a New Zealand driver license since you last entered New Zealand.

 

If you don't meet all of these requirements, you must apply for a New Zealand driver license to drive in New Zealand.

To ride a motorcycle you must have a valid motorcycle license or special endorsement on your home country driver's license.

All drivers must know the road rules, what the road signs mean and how to drive safely. Picking up a copy of the NZ road code is a wise investment that will tell you all you need to know. It's available at the NZ Automobile Association (AA) offices and bookshops.


  Hiring a car in New Zealand 

A valid, unrestricted driver's license from your home country is required to rent and drive a car in NZ. Usually you must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in NZ and under 26 often incurs a larger insurance excess.


  Other things to remember 

Avoid fatigue

If you're tired you're much more likely to have a crash. Before driving, allow plenty of time to rest when you first arrive in New Zealand and then make sure you get plenty of rest before each long drive. Ensure you allow enough time to drive safely between your destinations. If you find your attention wandering when driving, pull over to the roadside and have a rest.

Watch your speed

Excessive speed is one of the biggest killers on our roads. If there is a line of traffic behind you, find a safe place to pull over and let them go past.

Weather related hazards

The weather can vary considerably, even within a single day. During the winter months and early spring, watch out for ice and snow and other weather-related hazards.

Driving a camper

Many requirements for driving a motorhome are the same as for car drivers, such as the road and licensing rules, but there are other things you need to know, such as where to dispose of your waste at dump stations.

Alcohol and drugs

Alcohol and drugs, including some drugs given to you by a doctor, can seriously affect your driving. They can slow your reaction times and affect your senses. You risk causing death and serious injury to yourself and other people if you drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


  Travelling times and distances

 

 

Driving in New Zealand

 

 

 

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Auckland

 

Auckland is New Zealand's largest city and will most likely be your entry point into New Zealand. Also known as the City of Sails, or as Kiwis themselves name it Little Big City, Auckland is certainly the most vibrant and most happening city in New Zealand. By international standards it's quite small, but it's also one of the world's most exciting waterside cities. Situated in the Hauraki Gulf the city is surrounded by water, and this is reflected in the number of leisure boats per capita, which is the highest in the world. To really appreciate it, you have to take to the waters, sailing on the harbour or taking a ferry to one of the numerous islands, including Waiheke and Rangitoto Islands, or a little bit more off the beaten track, Great Barrier Island.

 

Bay of Islands

 

Northland is a region in New Zealand rich with historic significance, and it is also the birthplace of New Zealand. It is one of the first regions settled from Polynesia, and also the place where the European settlers first made contact with the Maori. The main attraction in this region is the sublime maritime park of the Bay of Islands, with no less than 144 islands and secluded bays. Most visitors queue up for the Bay of Islands, but all along the East Coast you'll find scenic, sheltered bays and exquisite beaches.

Also called the "Winterless North", the subtropical climate is pleasant throughout the year, and an aquatic playground for a whole range of leisure and adventure activities such as diving, fishing, sailing, surfing, kayaking and dolphin swimming. The main gateway for these activities is Paihia.

 

Coromandel

 

The Coromandel Peninsula is a favourite among New Zealanders themselves, and it's not hard to understand why. Its only a 2 hour drive from the major cities Auckland and Hamilton, but yet it feels quite remote and isolated, so it's an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The fact that is also boasts some of New Zealand's finest and most pristine beaches may obviously play a big role as well!

Lifestyle in the Coromandel is very relaxed and there are many coastal towns each with their own distinct character scattered across the peninsula. It is a haven for those seeking an alternative lifestyle away from the city. 

 

Hawke's Bay - East Coast

 

The East Coast of New Zealand is a sun blessed region and receives most sunshine hours annually across the entire country. No surprise it is also one of the largest wine regions in the country, and there's no shortage of world class wine to sample on a variety of available wine tours. 

Beautiful beaches can be found all along the East Coast, and as the first place to see a new day in the world, the sunrises on show every morning are devastatingly spectacular. Inland you'll find towering forested hills in the Kaweka and Raukumara Forest parks, and a little more inland the majestic Te Urewera Park, taking you back in time with ancient and enchanting forests.

The East Cape is a scenic, isolated and little known region in the North Island where the pace of life is laid back and the settlements are predominantly Maori.  The drive around the Cape offers magnificent views of the wild coast dotted with little bays, inlets and coves that change their mood together with the weather. For a unique, remote experience off the main tourist trail, this is a must place region to visit in New Zealand.

 

Southland

 

Southland is most famous for Milford Sound, and while a visit to Milford Sound simply cannot be missed, it is well worth spending a little more time in this incredible frontier of rugged fiords, mountains, spectacular coastal scenery and an abundance of marine and bird wildlife.

The spectacular Fiordland National Park, part of Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area, includes some of the best walks in New Zealand such as the world famous Milford and Routeburn Tracks. Along the Milford track you'll find a sign somewhere "the finest walk in the world", and we don't argue that. It is right up there and the scenery is jaw-dropping from start to finish. Three of the walks in Fiordland National Park also belong to the Great Walks of New Zealand, the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn. The gateway into Fiordland National Park is Te Anau, beautifully situated on the shores of Lake Te Anau.

 

Wellington

 

Wellington is a destination with many superlatives. It is beautifully nestled between bush clad hills and one of the most picturesque harbours in the world, it was named the best city to live in the world in 2017, and it is also one of the windiest cities in the world. But as Wellingtonians say : You can't beat Wellington on a good day, and we certainly have a soft spot for this fantastic city.

Wellington is the nation's centre for arts and culture, with the National Museum Te Papa one of the main icons of the city.  The city also contains a plethora of restaurants, cafes, bars, nightlife and activities and is also home to New Zealand's parliament. Due to its compact size it is easy to explore the city on foot.

 

Taranaki

 

Taranaki might be a slightly less known region in New Zealand, unless you're a keen surfer or windsurfer. The landscape is dominated by the perfectly shaped volcanic cone which is Mt Taranaki, or Mt Egmont. At 2500m not only does it entirely dominate the landscape, but it also creates its own climate. On any given day, the winds may be reaching gale force on one side of the mountain, while on the other side you may be relaxing on the beach without a sigh of wind, such is the impact of the mountain.

In winter you may ski down the mountain in the morning, and in summer there are a number of excellent hiking opportunities, including hikes to the summit or right around the mountain.

Surf Highway 45 offers word class surf and windsurfing conditions and the black iron sandy beaches are wild and beautiful and aplenty.

 

Marlborough

 

When travelling from the North Island to the South Island on the Interislander ferry, the sheltered waterways of the Marlborough Sounds are the first sight. Picton is the destination port, and a good base to go walking, fishing, sailing, kayaking and exploring the many secluded bays in the Sounds. 

The Marlborough region is internationally recognized for its world class wine, most notably its Sauvignon Blanc, and there are many different ways to sample these wines as their are many wineries offering excellent wine tours. By bike, or by luxury old timer cars, the creativity with which these tours are organized is brilliant. The seafood in this region is also sumptuous, great to combine with a glass of the local wines.

Those put off by the large crowds on the Abel Tasman Track will love the Queen Charlotte Track. The beaches are a little less exquisite, but the coastal scenery is still stunning and there are many accommodation options aolong the track.

Nelson - Tasman

 

The Nelson-Tasman region is blessed with an incredibly diverse natural beauty, offering no less than three of the finest National Parks in the country. From the golden beaches of Abel Tasman National Park, dramatic and lush rainforests in Kahurangi National Park, to the alpine environment of Nelson Lakes National Park, this region has it all. The area around Nelson is also one of the sunniest in the country, due to the protecting surrounding hills, so it's a popular region with travelers.

Nelson is the South Island's second largest city, noted for its fruit-growing industry in the Motueka Valley, wineries and micro-breweries. It also has an energetic local arts and crafts community with local artists exhibiting their products on the famed Nelson market every Saturday. Nearby Rabbit Island boasts great swimming beaches, boating fishing and forest walks. 

Further west, Motueka is the centre of a green tea, hops and fruit-growing area, and is a good base to explore the nearby parks. The drive over Takaka Hill takes you into Golden Bay, whre you may find the biggest cave in the Southern Hemisphere as well as New Zealand's largest freshwater spring, the Waikoropupu Springs, simply called "Pupu Springs", with reputedly the clearest water in the world.

Kaikoura

 

Kaikoura is a unique place by the sea where marine wildlife lives in abundance, against the backdrop of the impressive Kaikoura mountain ranges. It is well known for its range of eco-tourism activities and getting up close with the main inhabitant along its shores, the giant Sperm Whale.

Whale watching in Kaikoura is simply a must-do as you're guaranteed to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, and along the way you're most likely to see a pod of bottlenose or duksy dolphins play in the water, be impressed by the take-off and water landing of the Royal Albatross, and see a bunch of sea lions lazing about on a rock, suc is the diversity.

The ocean here also provides some spectacular seafood, and a stay in Kaikoura may not go by without having tried the crayfish

Aoraki - Mt Cook

 

The approach to new Zealand's tallest mountain, Mt Cook, via the blue lake of Lake Pukaki is something you will remember for a lifetime. At 3754m Mt Cook entirely dominates the landscape and as you draw ever closer, its imperious glaze on you only gets more and more impressive.

Mt Cook National Park, along with Aspiring and Westland National Parks, have been incorporated into a World Heritage Area extending from the Cook River in Westland down to the base of Fiordland. Of the 27 mountains in New Zealand which are over 300om, 22 of them are in Mt Cook National Park. The park also boasts New Zealand's longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier.

The park offer numerous hikes to get up close with Mt Cook, but also offer many other exciting adventure activities, such as mountaineering, helicopter flights, heli-skiing and sea-kayaking on glacial waters.

West Coast - Glaciers

 

The West Coast or Westland is a rugged and wild land with rocky beaches, deep river gorges,  bush-clad hills and towering icy-peaks. Extending across a 600km long stretch on the western side of the Southern Alps, a visit here takes you through a myriad of five National Parks, yes five!!, including the World Heritage Area - Te Wahipounamu. Each of the national parks - Kahurangi, Paparoa, Arthur's Pass, Westland and Mt Aspiring National Parks - have their their own unique and distinct features. You'll find New Zealand's highest mountains, most dense and lush rainforests, natural rivers, glacial lakes, deepest gorges,  and of course the two phenomenal Glaciers themselves, Fox and Franz Josef.

Canterbury

 

Canterbury is the hub of the South Island and contains its largest city, Christchurch. It is also one of the driest and flattest areas of New Zealand. The moisture-laden westerlies from the Tasman Sea hit the Southern Alps and dump their rainfall on the West Coast before reaching Canterbury. The region is dominated by the expansive Canterbury Plains, dead-flat farming land backed by the Southern Alps.

Christchurch was hit by devastating earthquakes in 2011 which damaged a lot of the inner city's infrastructure, but the city is bouncing back remarkably and the creativity and community spirit has made the city a vibrant place once again. The city's botanic gardens receive international acclaim and a great place to relax before you start your journey or have concluded your journey, as you're most likely to start or end your tour in Christchurch. The nearby Banks Peninsula was formed by two giant volcanic eruptions and has a strong French influence. The picturesque harbour of Akaroa is well worth a visit.

In North Canterbury the thermal waters of Hanmer Springs have been attracting visitors for many years, but the region is also popular for outdoor activities including hiking, rafting, bungy jumping and skiiing in winter. All of this action means it is a favourite weekend spot for people from Christchurch.

Wanaka

 

Wanaka receives slightly less attention than it's more famous neighbour Queenstown, only about an hour away, but one may argue which of the two towns is nestled in the most impressive scenery. While that may be a very difficult question to answer, Wanaka boasts a similar range of adrenaline activities, but with some more serenity about it all.  The town offers fine dining and living and is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park and the Treble Cone, Cardrona, Harris Mountains and Pisa Range ski areas. Every second Easter, Wanaka hosts the incredibly popular Warbirds over Lake Wanaka, a huge international air show that sees the town swell with visitors.

The central feature of the region is Mt Aspiring, surrounded by the national park with the same name. The alpine scenery does not get any more dramatic than this in New Zealand, and offers some of the best hiking in the country. The park has wide valleys, secluded flats, more than 100 glaciers and towering mountains. The southern end of the park around Glenorchy receives most visitors and includes popular hikes such as the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's great walks, but there are also excellent shorter walks and more demanding hikes in the Matukituki Valley close to Wanaka. 

Queenstown

 

For a long time Queenstown in Central Otago has had an international reputation for its spectacular scenery and adventure activities, but the region is now also recognized for its award winning wines. 

Queenstown is the unofficial 'adventure capital of the world', but the entire Wakatipu region with its stunning lake and surrounding mountains alone are a real attraction. The aptly named Remarkable mountains provide the most breathtaking backdrop, whether snow capped in winter, or at sunrise or in the afterglow at dusk.

Facilities in Queenstown are excellent as well, from budget to boutique accommodation options, some of the best dining in New Zealand and a buzzing nightlife with numerous cafes and bars. 

There's also great skiing in winter on Coronet Peak and Cardrona and plenty of substitute adrenaline activities in summer. Bungy jumping was invented in New Zealand and Queenstown offers a plethora of jumping options. There's also skydiving, jetboating, mountainbiking, canyoning, white water rafting, hiking, sledging, parapenting, the list is simply endless.


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Citylife Wellington (Heritage)

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Wellington prides itself on being not only the country’s capital, but also its cultural capital – and there’s no better place to soak up the atmosphere than CityLife Wellington, with hotel accommodation located right in the heart of the city. Situated on Lambton Quay, you’ll find the best shopping, tourist attractions and cultural landmarks all within easy walking distance.

When you want a breather, the hotel offers plenty of ways to make the most of your downtime. Enjoy a hotel experience unlike other Wellington hotels.

Whether you’re seeking Wellington accommodation for work, rest or play, our spacious rooms offer you the comforts of home - with the added benefits of housekeeping and room service.

Offering a range of one and two bedroom serviced apartments, After an exciting day of sightseeing or business, you can now enjoy an even better night's sleep with extra comfy beds in all rooms.

 

Huka Falls Jet - Tuapo

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Hukafalls Jet in Taupo is the only jet boat company permitted to take you to the base of the mighty Huka Falls. The half hour of thrills, fun and excitement takes you along a beautiful river environment, lined with native bush, sheer rock cliff face and natural hot springs. Combine 360° spins while passing through nature incredibly closely at disorientating speeds for an amazing must-do visitor experience whilst in Taupo, and that's even before reaching the awe inspiring majesty that is the Huka Falls.