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The Drive to Lush and Beautiful New Zealand- Things to Know

The Drive to Lush and Beautiful New Zealand- Things to Know

Thinking of a trip to New Zealand! Planning to drive through NZ? Traveling adventure is not fulfilled unless there is an easy transport available to visit the surroundings. New Zealand has epic landscapes and wildlife to explore. Also, the real beauty lies in its inaccessibility and remoteness. Taking full advantage of your dream trip to New Zealand it is worth traveling by road to enjoy the scenic beauty, go for tramping. If you can manage your own vehicle then good enough otherwise it is always better to have a rental cab to visit favorite surprises in nature.

Either you hire a van or have your car or plan on a camping visiting each place by road there are few things to know and take care of.

Pick the right vehicle

Pick the right vehicle
Pick the right vehicle

You must always pick the right vehicle for your trip. There are many flashy and colorful vans around New Zealand.  Look for your budget and the budget options these van operators provide. According to the number of travelers you can choose to opt for a big or small vehicle. Most of the vans have bed pulls out from the benches and a mini kitchen in the trunk with all the cooking stuff and bedding that you would need. Curtains come down at night for you to rest peacefully.

But for some remote areas and ski fields and the modest roads to the mountains with snow and rain or creeks like the famous Mount Aspiring National Park in Wanaka, SUV vehicle is the best. So choose according to the roads when you drive through NZ and the trail also matters. Think about the kind of trip that you want to do and get a car or van that fits it.

Know the camping system

Know the camping system -Drive Through NZ
Know the camping system

It is better to understand how the campervan and freedom camping system works in New Zealand. There are two types of campervans you can rent here – fully self-contained and non-self-contained. The difference is pretty much a washroom. If you have a campervan that doesn’t have a toilet, you can’t freedom camp. This is one of the most essential tip when you drive through NZ.

Freedom camping is allowed around most of New Zealand and means you can camp on public land for free as long as you have the right facilities. If you are caught freedom camping without the right van or in a restricted area, it’s a $200 instant fine by the police. So it is better not to abuse nature by lighting illegal fires or emptying the sewage tank in the van in the wrong place. It is better to camp in holiday parks though they are not so cheap.

Never underestimate roads

Never underestimate roads
Never underestimate roads

While travelling to remote parts of New Zealand you will find that roads are crooked, winding and gnarly and without guard rails.  All the roads are basically one lane in either direction, with usually a dotted white line down the middle and either a mountain or a cliff on the sides.

The max speed limit to drive is 100 kph (63 mph), but it still is a bit disconcerting to be going so fast with traffic going in the opposite direction just next to you, on the left side of the road nonetheless. Nothing is straight so you always have to pay attention. Also, the New Zealand landscape frequently likes to add obstacles to the adventure like landslides, hitchhikers, and sheep, so be on your guard when you’re behind the wheel.

New Zealand roads are but really well labeled, for you to look about your driving area.  For example, when the road bends, there are massive yellow reflective signs warning you in advance and on the curve to lower your speed.

Remember to drive on the left

Remember to drive on the left
Remember to drive on the left

Here you have to be on the left when drive through NZ. Frequently there are enormous arrows pointing you in the right direction on the roads, and in cities with intersections, there are also arrows on the medians pointing you in the right direction. All the roads here are well marked. Never pull over just anywhere to take a picture New Zealand is really photogenic, and the urge to pull over to take a photo on the side of the road is really dangerous for both you and other drivers.  Just think about a safe place where you pull over when drive through NZ.

Carry your accessories from home

Carry your accessories from home
Carry your accessories from home

Make sure you bring along a USB charger adapter and your needy things along with you. They are overpriced here, and more likely than not you have one floating around at home. Also, bring a cable to plug in your iPod or music to the stereo so you can jam out on the long road trips when drive through NZ.

If you have a van that doesn’t plug in, you might want to also bring one of those adapters that plugs into the lighter and you can charge a computer or an outlet plug device too. If you get a powered van, they’ll have outlets and the works so you don’t have to worry so much about that. Also not to forget your torch and gumboots.

Pay attention to the weather

Pay attention to the weather
Pay attention to the weather

It’s important to check road conditions and heed all warnings. The weather in New Zealand can be intense, and especially around the South Island, landslides are a common occurrence, especially in winter and after heavy rain. Once you see the roads here, especially the mountain passes, you’ll understand when you drive through NZ.

There are 3 passes through the Southern Alps on the South Island to get between the east and west coasts – Lewis Pass, Arthur’s Pass, and Haast’s Pass. Do not drive these passes in bad weather and listen to the locals. Avoid the more “challenging” roads at night here in New Zealand, especially in the rain and definitely not in hurricane-type weather. Just remember how untamed and wild New Zealand can be and don’t take unnecessary risks.

Suggest your best driving tip? Or share your experience on New Zealand roads.


1. What are the most common mistakes made in planning a trip to New Zealand?

Considering New Zealand a tiny country in which one may easily move around within is one of the most common mistakes made by people.

New Zealand is almost about half the size of California, with no 5 lane freeways to move people throughout the country. Roads are narrow and one should not expect to get from one place to another near the time frame typically taken in the USA.

2. What are some of the biggest surprises while traveling for a first-time visitor to New Zealand?

The varied terrain and beauty of the country are the surprises, but in the United States many travellers often forget about a time when travel did not consist of the stress associated with modern urban centers (navigating rush hour traffic, the hassle of long TSA lines, etc.)

The first-time traveler to New Zealand equates the country to “going back in time.” An example of this is that domestic flights consist of checking bags and walking straight to the gate. There is no TSA in New Zealand.

Driving is also done on the left side – mostly on two-way roads. This sounds daunting until you realize you have not seen another vehicle on the road for the last 10 minutes.

New Zealanders, like the British and Chinese, take their tea seriously and with ceremony. They do not put ice in their tea!

3. What are the people in New Zealand like?

From 4.5m people who call themselves New Zealanders most are of British descent. The indigenous people, the Maori, comprise 14% of the population. A rich fusion of Maori custom and tradition exist today and can be seen and experienced throughout the country. New Zealander’s proudly call themselves “Kiwis,” a term that bonds the multicultural society that is emerging today.

Kiwis tend to be friendly, generous, straightforward and see things in a very practical manner. Many are active in helping in terms of community and country. Remaining humble is a common practice and arrogance is not tolerated. It’s amazing that for such a small country NZ has a history of production and results on the world stage: dominant in rugby, political stability, America’s Cup sailing, world-class wine, acting, and rights relating to social issues.

4. What are a few facts about New Zealand that I may want to know?

A Kiwi is a flightless bird native to New Zealand. Natives call themselves “Kiwis” because of this. There is also a fruit called the Kiwifruit but this actually came from China in the early 1900s.

There are no snakes in NZ, unlike Australia which is filled with all sorts of stuff.

New Zealand consists of two large and hundreds of smaller islands most of the country is near the sea. In this way, wherever you go you are always within about 80 miles of the water.

The first man to climb Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, was a New Zealander!

New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote (In 1893) and women have occupied many top offices, including Prime Minister.

One-third of the country is a protected national park.

The population of New Zealand is about 4.5 million people and 75% of them live on the North Island.

5. What are the passport and visa requirements to visit New Zealand?

You need a valid passport to drive through NZ. A valid US passport should be valid for at least three months after you depart from New Zealand. People with US Passport do not require visas to visit New Zealand for a stay of fewer than 3 months.

6. When is the best time of the year to visit New Zealand?

This country is an ideal vacation destination year-round. Peak tourism season starts from October through April and it is suggested to book well in advance for this time to ensure availability. New Zealand’s seasons are the other way round of the Northern Hemisphere, the warmest months being December through February, and the coldest June through August.

7. Is it safe to drink the water in New Zealand?

Yes. You get fresh tap water. It is safe to drink in all New Zealand cities and towns. Bottled water is available throughout the country as well.

8. Can I use my credit cards/ATM cards in New Zealand?

All major credit cards will work in New Zealand. You can use debit cards and credit cards encoded with a PIN to withdraw cash from ATMs situated at banks and shopping centers. You can also use these cards to pay for petrol (gasoline), etc. Traveler’s checks are accepted at hotels, banks, and some stores.

9. What is B&B (Bed and Breakfast)? What can I expect?

New Zealand offers a great-ranging selection of Bed & Breakfast and self-contained accommodations, which vary from luxurious to basic. In general, you can expect a clean, comfortable sleeping arrangement in a B&B which would have anywhere from 3-6 rooms. Usually, a cooked English breakfast will be included as well as pre-dinner canapés (appetizers and a glass of wine or two). It may cost you from USD 300- $600/ night for accommodation cost.

10. What is it like to drive in New Zealand?

To an American, New Zealanders drive on the “wrong” (left) side of the road. This takes a little accustomed with the practice so if driving, be sure to take time to situate yourself with the flow of traffic before to exiting the airport.

Exploring the back roads of New Zealand can be appealing to many and is often compared to stepping back to a time without massive 7 lane highways. New Zealand is diverse in its terrain. It means you will find hilly roads, winding, and narrow single-lane in each direction when drive through NZ. You may need a lot of time to get from point A to point B. 

You can also opt for comfortable transportation if you are not thrilled with the idea of driving. There are options to whisk you and your group between locations. It all depends on budget, and desire for convenience.

11. Are there ‘must visit’ locations in New Zealand?

You should go fishing, skiing, golfing. If, adventure and food & wine enthusiasts there are ‘must visit’ locations on both North and South Island – something for everybody. New Zealand is jam-packed with things to do and Best of New Zealand can help you when drive through NZ so everything works seamlessly.

12. What are cool things (outside of golf) to do in New Zealand?

New Zealand is packed with cool things to do. For fishing, skiing, adventure, and food & wine enthusiasts, art lovers, nature and wildlife enthusiasts, or for those just wanting some R&R. There are multiple locations on both North and South Island – something for everybody, and Best of New Zealand can help when drive through NZ so everything works seamlessly.

13. Is there tipping customary in New Zealand?

Although New Zealand is not a country of tipping North American tourists have helped change this. As most restaurants now have a line for gratuities on the credit card charge slip and many places it is appreciated and most now expect tips. If you are happy with the level of service and attention provided, feel free to tip, but do not feel obliged to tip. It is only for outstanding service.