New Zealand is a land of cars. Several factors have influenced the preference for the automobile. The single most obvious is that only the car has been able to provide convenient access to almost every part of the country and at a time and pace of the individual’s choosing.
Driving in New Zealand is usually easy. Roads are good and by international standards traffic volumes are light. However, city traffic can be heavy during ‘rush hours’. Heavy congestion occurs on the Auckland motorway network and to a lesser degree on some arterials serving the other main centres. Speeding and drunk driving both incur heavy penalties. Most ‘State Highways’ throughout the country are not large by overseas standards – many have only two lanes. Rural roads require special care, because many are winding and some have a gravel or metalled surface.
Driver’s license – Before you can drive in New Zealand you must have a current and valid driver’s license. Always carry your licensee with you when you drive. You can be fined if you do not have your license on you when stopped by the Police.
If you have a current and valid driver license from another country, or an international driving permit (IDP), you can drive in New Zealand for up to one continuous year. So Police can check that a license is current and valid, holders of a license issued in a language other than English are also required to carry a certified English translation.
The road code in New Zealand is similar to that in most western countries, but there are a few important features that need to be noted in advance of your arrival:
Keep left – This is easy to forget when you first arrive as old habits die hard and New Zealand’s rural roads often don’t have other cars on them to remind you – but such lapses can be fatal. Keep left at all times!
Speed limit – signs show the maximum speed at which you can travel. At times, you may need to drive at a lesser speed due to road or weather conditions. Exceeding the speed limit is considered a serious offence and carries heavy penalties. Speed limits are variable but in general the following rules apply:
Towns and cities: 50 kilometres per hour
Open road and most motorways: 100 kilometres per hour
Give way rules
- At a ‘Give Way’ sign, slow down, be ready to stop and give way to all traffic
- At a ‘Stop’ sign, stop completely and then give way to all traffic. At intersections that do not have ‘Give Way’, ‘Stop’ signs or traffic lights, the following rules apply:
– If you are turning, give way to all vehicles that are not turning
– In all other situations give way to vehicles crossing or approaching from your right. If you are turning left, this includes any vehicle coming towards you that is turning right.
– An easy way to remember is, if the other vehicle is approaching your driver side door, you should give way.
Parking – You are not allowed to park on or beside a broken, or dashed yellow line, or within six metres of an intersection or a pedestrian crossing. You are also not allowed to park or stop on the right hand side of the road except in a one-way street.
Parking signs with red writing on a white background apply at all times. Parking signs with white writing on a blue background only apply on certain days and times, for example, Monday to Saturday, 8:00am to 6:00pm. Read the sign carefully as it will state when the rules apply.
Safety belts – All people in a car (in the front and rear seats) must wear safety belts at all times.
Children in cars – If you are driving a car, you are responsible for ensuring that all children under five years old are restrained in an approved child seat. The only exception is when you are travelling in a taxi. If the taxi has no restraint available, the child must sit in the back seat. Children’s car seats are available for hire from Plunket. Call freephone 0800 933 922 or visit www.plunket.org.nz
Safety helmets – Safety helmets are compulsory for all cyclists and motorcyclists. This includes passengers and children being carried on bicycles. The helmets must conform to the New Zealand Standard and be securely fastened. Approved safety helmets can be bought from cycle shops. A fine of $55 is imposed if a cyclist is caught cycling without a helmet.
Drink driving rules – If you drink, don’t drive. Drinking more than the legal limit and then driving is a very serious offence. The Police can test any driver for alcohol at any time. If you are convicted of driving while over the legal limit, you will automatically lose your license and could also be fined or imprisoned.
Helpful guides – A handy guide to New Zealand’s road rules new resident drivers is available in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Fijian, Samoan, Hindi and Malay. For a copy in your preferred language: Freephone: 0800 822 422 or visit: www.landtransport.govt.nz
Public transport – New Zealand has good air and bus links but rail services, except for some tourist routes, are limited to suburban systems in Auckland and Wellington. All services are listed in the Yellow Pages. Schedules are available at most Information Centres and on the Internet. Public transport is clean, reliable and improving rapidly, as central and local government planner’s work to position the country for the next 50 years, where public transport is expected to be of increasing importance.
Bulk transport between regions is also mainly by road as a consequence of the country’s often spectacular geography again making it relatively expensive to build and maintain rail links. However, concerns about future oil shocks, climate change, and an over-reliance on a single network option have recently led to a return of some investment in rail, particularly in the Auckland public transport network.
Coastal shipping was the original backbone of the transport network, and is still preferred by some.
Domestic air travel is well established with regular connections to all cities and most provincial towns.
Two decades ago the cost of domestic air travel and the high daily cost of car rental encouraged many Kiwis to drive almost everywhere even if it meant several hours each way to visit friends or family for a weekend. Now however budget flight deals and keen rental deals mean many more people chose to fly then drive.
Connecting the North and South Islands.
Two ferry services now offer daily crossings of Cook Strait. Booth have online booking:
www.bluebridge.co.nz and www.interislander.co.nz