Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Thu October 29 2015

Tips for Driving in New Zealand

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | October 29, 2015

Tips for Driving in New Zealand

PHOTO: Kiwi crossing in Rotorua. (photo by Janeen Christoff)

Driving is one of the easiest ways to get around in New Zealand, and the country offers an intricate network of highways that connect visitors to the country’s most remote and iconic destinations. For visitors from the U.S., the country is easily navigable by car or, even better, by campervan — one of the most popular ways to travel around the country. There are just a few minor things that visitors should know.

Here are the basics:

• New Zealanders drive on the left-hand side of the road and the driver sits on the right side of the car.

• You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver's license or an International Driving Permit. If you are staying longer than 12 months, you are required to convert to a New Zealand license.

• If your driver’s license is not in English, you are required to provide an approved translation.

• The common legal age to rent a car in New Zealand is 21.

• New Zealand adheres to standard international driving symbols and distances are in kilometers

Here are some things you should watch out for when driving:

Winding roads leading to longer driving times. Here in the U.S., we have an abundance of interstate highways that connect some of the country’s main tourism hubs, streamlining driving times. New Zealand’s roads, by contrast, wind through the countryside and traverse a varied terrain, meaning that driving times based on distance can be hard to predict. Visitors should leave extra time to reach a destination as it may take longer than you think.

Surprising weather. It’s common for sunny days to turn rainy and then sunny again, so check the weather forecast before you hit the road so you know what to expect. As an island nation, clouds can roll in quickly and just because the sun is shining when you leave, doesn’t mean that can’t change in minutes.

One-way bridges. U.S. visitors may find that one of the most unusual things about driving in New Zealand is the abundance of one-way bridges. Navigating them, if you aren’t acquainted, can be tricky, but once you are familiar with the signage, figuring out the right of way is simple.

Before each one-way bridge, there is a sign with an arrow that indicates the direction of traffic that has the right of way for crossing. There are two types of one-way bridge signs:

There is a round sign with a red border that has a small red arrow pointing up and a large black arrow that is pointing down. The red arrow is you, and it indicates that you should stop and give way.

There are also blue rectangular signs with a large white arrow pointing up and a small red arrow pointing down. The red arrow indicates oncoming traffic and the white arrow indicates you have the right of way.

Rail crossings without warnings. Another thing to note when driving in New Zealand: Not all rail crossings have automatic alarms the way they do in the states, so you should be extra careful when crossing the tracks.

Illegal use of a mobile device. Driving while using a cellphone is illegal in New Zealand, as it is in most of the U.S. So, make sure to put down that handheld device, because you don’t want to create an international incident over a text message.

Unusual animals. It goes without saying that you want to keep an eye out for wildlife — especially from a photo op standpoint — but you may come across some pretty unusual signs, like penguin crossings and reminders to watch out for kiwi birds.

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