Driving Guide

New Zealand Driving Guide

New Zealand is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit

2023-11-21 · 9min read

New Zealand is a small yet highly sought-after travel destination in the Pacific Ocean and is renowned for its stunning landscapes.

The country offers a variety of popular activities for tourists, such as camping, hiking, sightseeing, and other adventurous pursuits. Highlighting ecotourism, New Zealand showcases its natural areas as prime attractions while practicing green, sustainable methods like water conservation and using electric trolleybuses.

You may opt to elevate your experience by choosing to drive in New Zealand.

Is it easy to drive in New Zealand? Absolutely!

It truly was much simpler than we thought. There is only one route which connects one town to another, so navigating and driving in New Zealand is not difficult. There also aren’t that many cars on the road, so you can drive at your own comfortable speed.

Renting a vehicle, in my opinion, to drive around New Zealand is by far the easiest, most affordable, accessible and convenient way of moving around New Zealand.

Isabel Leong, a full-time traveler and digital nomad, shares in her post, Driving In New Zealand The First Time? published on Bela Around the World.

Moreover, the picturesque driving routes in New Zealand provide an unforgettable driving experience! Road-tripping has gained popularity among visitors, especially with the improved availability of public facilities catering to campers.

Beyond its majestic mountains and clear bays, New Zealand also features quaint towns and cities inhabited by friendly locals.

We crafted this guide to help you familiarize the local driving regulations in New Zealand, simplify your driving experience, and accomplish the best things to do in the country.

Let's Take a Closer Look at New Zealand

Before diving deeper into New Zealand's driving culture and etiquette, here are some interesting facts about this island country:

Geographical Setting

New Zealand is an island nation located in the southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises two major islands, the North and South Islands, and approximately 600 smaller islands.

Moreover, it is situated about 2,000 kilometers east of Australia and 1,000 kilometers south of Pacific nations like Fiji, Tonga, and New Caledonia.

Land and Terrain

Stretching over 268,000 square kilometers, New Zealand is characterized by its elongated and narrow shape. The country boasts one of the world's most extensive exclusive economic zones, about 15 times its land size.

Renowned for its rugged mountains, deep fjords, and volcanic plateaus, the South Island is predominantly mountainous, while the North Island features volcanic plateaus.

Language and Ethnicity

New Zealand's population is predominantly European, comprising 71.8%, and the Maori comprise 16.5%. Other ethnic groups include Asians (15.3%) and Pacific Islanders (9%), with a significant number residing in the Auckland area.

English, as the primary language, ensures ease of communication for visitors. Additionally, Maori (te reo) and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) are official languages, with Maori recognized since 1987 and NZSL since 2006, a vital inclusion for the deaf community that is influenced by British Sign Language.

Historical Background

New Zealand's isolated position made it one of the last places to have human settlements. The Maori, originating from Hawaiki, were the first settlers, arriving between 1280 and 1350, leading to the unique Maori culture. Abel Tasman became the first European to sight New Zealand in 1642.

In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi, a pivotal moment in New Zealand's history, was signed between Maori chiefs and the British, marking the start of British sovereignty and colonial status. New Zealand gained complete independence in 1947, while the British monarch remained as the head of state.

Political Structure

Regarded as one of the most stable and transparent governments globally, New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy. The British monarch serves symbolically as head of state, with the Prime Minister and Cabinet holding executive power.

The Parliament, including the House of Representatives, exercises legislative authority, and elections are held every three years. The Chief Justice leads the judiciary, encompassing the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the High Court.

International Driver’s Permit FAQs

Before renting a car in New Zealand, it's crucial to familiarize yourself with the local driving regulations, including the importance of an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Is a Local Driver’s License Valid in New Zealand?

A local driver's license is valid for up to 12 months in New Zealand. You must provide an English translation if your license is not in English. An IDP in New Zealand should precisely translate your native driving license.

Does an IDP Replace a Native Driver’s License?

An IDP is a translation of your local driving license and does not replace it. It helps overcome language barriers while driving in a foreign country. Therefore, you should carry your local driving license alongside your IDP when driving in New Zealand.

Do I Need an International Driver’s Permit to Drive in New Zealand?

An IDP is necessary in New Zealand if your local driving license is not in English. The IDP should translate your license into English and is typically available in the 12 most commonly spoken languages globally.

How Do I Get an International Driving License in New Zealand?

You can apply through the International Driver’s Association to acquire an IDP in New Zealand. The process involves completing an application form on their website, uploading passport-sized photos, and providing a valid copy of your driver's license for review. The review process takes approximately 2 hours.

After your application is approved, we will email you a digital copy of your IDP for New Zealand within 20 minutes. The physical copy will be mailed to you within 7-15 days if you're in the US or up to 30 days for international shipping.

Car Rentals in New Zealand

Renting a car in New Zealand enhances your travel experience, allowing you to explore the country at your own pace. A valid driver's license and an International Driving Permit (IDP) are essential to rent a car.

Car Rental Companies

Reserving your car rental online before arriving in New Zealand is advisable, particularly during peak seasons, to ensure availability and potentially save costs. Some of the best car rental agencies, like Hertz Car Rental and New Zealand Rent-A-Car, can be easily found online.

Required Documentation

When renting a car, you must present a valid local driving license and an additional government-issued ID, such as a passport. If your driving license is not in English, an IDP is mandatory. This IDP must be in English to be accepted by rental companies in New Zealand.

Types of Vehicles Available

New Zealand's car rental companies offer a diverse fleet of vehicles to match various budgets and travel needs. From compact cars to SUVs and minivans, there’s a suitable car for every traveler.

For those seeking more thrill, sports cars are available, and luxury cars like Mercedes, Porsche, and Range Rover are on offer for an upscale experience. Wagon or estate rentals are also available, ideal for camping trips.

Age Restrictions for Renting

The standard age requirement for car rentals in New Zealand is 21, but this can vary. Some companies allow 18-year-olds to rent specific vehicle types, while others might set the minimum age at 25.

Car Rental Cost

Car rental rates in New Zealand can start at $9 per day, with camper vans from $19 per day. On average, costs can go up to $150 per day for cars and $350 for camper vans, varying based on vehicle size, model, type, season, and market rates.

Rental costs often include additional fees like young driver fees, one-way fees, ferry costs, and snow chains. Optional extras like child seats, GPS, Wi-Fi hotspots, and outdoor equipment may affect prices. Pickup locations are flexible, including airports, but requesting specific drop-off locations may incur additional charges.

Car Insurance Policies

It's legally mandatory in New Zealand for all vehicles to have at least third-party insurance. This basic cover protects against damage to other people's property and personal injury in an accident.

Other car insurance coverage includes:

  • Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)/Loss Damage Waiver (LDW): These waivers limit your financial liability for damage or loss of the rental car, typically including an excess charge.
  • Comprehensive Insurance: Provides broader coverage, including theft and sometimes personal injury or property damage.
  • Personal Accident Insurance (PAI): Covers medical costs and accidental death for the driver and passengers.
  • Personal Effects Coverage (PEC): Protects against losing personal items from the car.

Car Insurance Cost

Depending on the vehicle and car insurance company, insurance fees can vary up to $60 per day. This typically includes theft and collision protection. Some companies include insurance in the rental fee, while others require separate purchases.

Always read the policy details for exclusions and consider insurance offered by credit card companies, which may vary in coverage and compliance with New Zealand's legal requirements.

Driving Regulations in New Zealand

While many local rules align with global standards, some may differ from those in your home country.

General Rule

Drivers aged 18 and above with valid driving licenses and an International Driving Permit (IDP) can drive and rent cars in New Zealand. The IDP should accurately translate your local driving license. Additionally, if you've been in New Zealand for less than 12 months, you can drive using your foreign license unless you've been disqualified or suspended.


Driving under the influence is particularly risky due to New Zealand's narrow and hilly roads. For drivers under 20, the alcohol limit is zero, while for those over 20, it's 50 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. Penalties for drunk driving include license suspension, fines, and a possible criminal record.

Driving Orientation

New Zealand drives on the left side of the road, which is familiar for UK drivers but may require adjustment for others. Incorrect lane driving can result in fines.

The minimum driving age is 16, with learner licenses available. After holding a learner license for six months, drivers can apply for a restricted license, allowing solo driving between 5 AM and 10 PM.

A full license is attainable after 18 or 12 months (with an advanced driving course). However, most car rental companies require drivers to be at least 21.


Adhere to parking signs, indicating how long you can park in the area, and an arrow pointing to the parking area’s direction. Avoid parking on broken yellow lines, bus lanes, designated bus stops, and taxi stands.

Speed Limits

Speeding is strictly prohibited. Urban school zones have a 40 KpH limit, rural schools 60 KpH, cities and towns 50 KpH, and open roads 100 KpH. Speeding penalties range from $30 for minor offenses to license suspension for significant breaches. The speeding fines are as follows:

  • From $30 for speeds less than 10 km/h over the limit
  • Maximum of $630 for speeds up to 50km/h over the limit
  • 28-day license suspension for more than 40 KpH above the speed limit

Seatbelt Laws

Seatbelt use is mandatory for all passengers. Children under seven must be in approved seats. Non-compliance results in a fine, with drivers responsible for passengers under 15.

Traffic Signs and Right of Way

Understand the various traffic signs, including warning, information, mandatory, priority, and prohibitory signs. Follow roundabout rules and T-intersection guidelines, and give way as required.

Overtaking Laws

Overtake on the right cautiously, ensuring a clear 100-meter path after passing. Observe lane markings and avoid overtaking on solid lines. Overtaking on the left is permissible under specific conditions, such as slower traffic in the right lane.

Driving Etiquette in New Zealand

When traveling in New Zealand, it's essential to know the road rules and familiarize yourself with proper driving etiquette. This knowledge can help you avoid engaging in actions that may be considered offensive or illegal.

Here are some common scenarios you might encounter on New Zealand roads and how to handle them appropriately:

Handling a Car Breakdown

Experiencing a car breakdown, particularly in a foreign country, can be daunting. Although regular maintenance can reduce breakdowns, preparing for such incidents is crucial. If your car breaks down on a busy road, move it to the left side as much as possible.

Activate your hazard lights to alert other drivers and use parking lights in low visibility conditions. If it's safer, leave the car and move to a secure location with your passengers, then call a road service company for assistance. It's advisable to wait for professional help rather than attempting repairs yourself. Remain calm and patient throughout the situation.

Police Stops

If the police signal you to stop while driving in New Zealand, do so promptly. Police stops can occur for routine checks of licenses, insurance, and other legal documents. Having all necessary documentation on hand is essential.

Officers may also conduct breathalyzer tests to ensure you're not driving under the influence. You and your passengers must provide names, addresses, and birth dates but have the right to remain silent beyond this. Police searches of your vehicle can only occur under specific conditions, such as with a warrant or your consent. Stay patient and cooperative during these stops.

Asking Directions

While GPS systems are helpful, sometimes you might need additional guidance. New Zealanders are generally friendly and willing to assist with directions. Always approach others politely when asking for help. Using a map or a photo of your destination can aid in getting more accurate directions. You can ask people at traffic stops or service stations for assistance.

Checkpoints are a standard security measure and may include practices unfamiliar to you. When approaching a checkpoint in New Zealand, slow down, dim your lights, and keep your doors locked.

You should be prepared to present your valid driving license, passport, and an English-translated International Driver's Permit. Ensure the checkpoint is officially manned and well-lit before rolling down your windows. When speaking to officers, open your window slightly, remain calm, and follow their instructions respectfully.

Driving Situations and Conditions

New Zealand's roads are recognized for their safety and comfort, accommodating local and international drivers. Familiarizing yourself with the country's driving conditions and scenarios is crucial to ensure a secure and informed driving experience. Here are some key aspects to consider:

Is it dangerous to drive in New Zealand?

Not at all. In fact, I love driving on New Zealand’s highways more than anywhere else because there would be times where you are the only vehicle on the road. There’s no pressure coming from other vehicles.

Isabel Leong, a full-time traveler and digital nomad, shares in her post, Driving In New Zealand The First Time? published on Bela Around the World.

Accident Statistics

The frequency of vehicle accidents in New Zealand has decreased due to the enforcement of seatbelt laws, visible road warning signs, lower speed limits, and stringent drunk driving regulations.

Speeding remains a major cause of road fatalities, alongside accidents involving underage drivers. In terms of global road traffic accidents, New Zealand is ranked 148th with a death rate of 5.96 per 100,000 people, making road accidents the 14th leading cause of death in the country.

Vehicle Usage

In New Zealand, light passenger cars are the most commonly used vehicles, followed by light commercial vehicles. The country also has many motorcycles, buses, and trucks. Light passenger vehicles constitute about 91% of the total vehicles, a number that continues to grow annually.

Road Characteristics

The country's roads are often narrow, hilly, and winding, featuring many sharp curves. Driving in New Zealand is considered safe and feasible despite these challenging conditions, provided drivers adhere to local traffic laws. Many roads outside urban areas are single-lane, and gravel roads are common.

In urban settings, traffic lights often have cameras, and during rainy seasons, drivers should be cautious of puddles on the roads. You'll find numerous road signs across the country, providing guidance and information to ensure safe driving.

Driving Culture in New Zealand

New Zealand's drivers, known as Kiwis, are generally safe and quick but are known for their courteous nature, especially towards foreign drivers.

However, like any driver, they're not without flaws. Driving carefully and avoiding risky behaviors like overspeeding is important, given New Zealand's many sharp bends can increase accident risks.

Optimal Driving Season

May is considered the ideal time for driving in New Zealand. This period offers a picturesque journey as autumn leaves change color, with roads less congested and more serene. However, due to quick changes in weather during the autumn, it's advisable to plan for up to four hours of driving time.

Off-Road Driving Experience

New Zealand boasts a vast network of back-country roads, including gravel and dirt tracks, suitable for off-road driving. These off-road experiences can vary, from dune adventures to farmland tracks, offering unique driving experiences worth exploring.

Winter Driving Safety

Driving in New Zealand during winter is generally safe, as roads are well-prepared for various weather conditions. However, certain precautions are necessary, so consider the best time to visit New Zealand.

If heading to mountainous areas like the South Island, carrying snow chains is essential to prevent slipping on icy roads. Always check the weather forecast for any impassable roads due to snow and consult with your car rental company about snow chain availability.

Slower driving below the speed limit is recommended for safety in winter conditions. Motorcycle riders should be particularly cautious about slippery surfaces during winter.

Top Road Trip Destinations in New Zealand

New Zealand's landscape, encompassing snowy peaks, stunning coastlines, quaint towns, and vibrant cities, makes for an unforgettable road trip experience. Here are some of the best places to visit in New Zealand:

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

This national park is a haven for the country's tallest mountains and longest glaciers. It's the premier climbing area in Australasia, offering breathtaking views of the peaks and a starry sky. Adventure seekers can enjoy mountaineering and skiing, while those preferring calmer activities can opt for mountain walks or glacier tours.

Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier

These unique glaciers descend almost to sea level, an extraordinary feature in an era of melting ice. They stand out for their temperate climate, among the most accessible glaciers globally. Visitors can explore the Franz Josef Glacier's river valley on foot or experience guided ice adventures.


Nestled between the Seaward Kaikoura Range and the Pacific Ocean, Kaikoura is a coastal gem known for its marine wildlife and a prime spot for crayfish. Just a two-hour drive from Christchurch, it's ideal for day trips focused on wildlife, with whale and seal-watching tours and tranquil coastal strolls. The town also boasts charming cafes and restaurants.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve and offers exceptional stargazing and viewing of the southern lights. Famous for its clear skies and minimal light pollution, the lake's turquoise waters enhance the beauty of the night sky. Visitors can also admire the picturesque Church of the Good Shepherd by the lake.


Known as the filming location of 'The Hobbit,' Matamata features 44 hobbit holes, including the iconic Bag End. The area comes alive at night with tours that offer a hobbit-like feast. Additionally, visitors can enjoy farm stays, visit the majestic Wairere Falls, and explore walking tracks with stunning views of the Waikato plains.

Milford Sound

This destination on the South Island's west coast is a haven for adventure seekers with cliffs and waterfalls. Activities include day and overnight cruises, kayaking, and exploring hidden waterways. The journey features sights like the Sunderland Falls and encounters with local wildlife. The Milford Track offers a four-day trekking experience for those less inclined toward water activities.


In Hawke’s Bay, Napier is celebrated for its well-preserved 1930s architecture, housing one of the world's most extensive Art Deco collections. Exploring Napier feels like a journey back to the 1930s. The area also features excellent wineries and restaurants, with scenic photo opportunities at the Viewing Platform on the Marine Parade foreshore.

Explore New Zealand with an IDP

Secure an International Driving Permit and drive to your next adventure in New Zealand, where you can discover the marvels of the North Island and venture to the South Island's snow-covered mountains and premier skiing locales!


Get your International Driving Permit in 8 minutes

Instant approval

Valid for 1-3 years

Worldwide express shipping

Back to Top