* Our thanks to Tourism New Zealand for the following information - current as at January 2013
What's different about driving in New Zealand?
You can find out what's different about driving in New Zealand on the NZ Transport Agency website.
International Driving Licences and Permits
You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver's licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP). After 12 months you are required to convert to a New Zealand licence. This applies to each visit to New Zealand.
In New Zealand all drivers, including visitors from other countries, must carry their licence or permit at all times when driving. You will only be able to drive the same types of vehicles you are licensed to drive in your home country. The common legal age to rent a car in New Zealand is 21 years.
Make sure your driver's licence is current. If your licence is not in English, you must bring an English translation with you or obtain an IDP. Contact your local automobile club for further details about obtaining a translation or an IDP.
A translation of your overseas licence or permit can be issued by:
It is important to note that if you are caught driving without an acceptable English translation or an IDP, you may be prosecuted for driving unlicensed or for driving without an appropriate licence. You will be liable for an infringement fee of NZ$400, or up to NZ$1,000 if you are convicted in court.
The Police also have the power to forbid an unlicensed driver to drive until they have an appropriate licence. If you continue to drive after being forbidden, the vehicle you are driving will be impounded for 28 days, at the vehicle owner's expense. You may also risk not being covered by your insurance in the event of a crash.Road Safety
Although New Zealand is a relatively small country it can take many hours to drive between cities and other destinations of interest. Even when distances are short, hilly or winding terrain or narrow secondary roads can slow your journey. Overestimate your journey times to ensure you have time to stop and enjoy the view.
You can check driving times and distances here.
Never drive if you are feeling tired, particularly after you have just completed a long-haul flight. Take regular breaks on long journeys - rest every 1-2 hours and when you're sleepy.
Cycles and Motorbikes
Road conditions are variable. Off the main highways some roads may be unsealed and extra care needs to be taken. A few of these roads are not safe for vehicles and insurance does not cover them - ask your rental car company to mark these roads on your map before setting off.
In winter some roads may be treacherous due to ice or snow, particularly around mountain passes. Look out for signs indicating slippery surfaces in winter and drive slowly - do not brake suddenly on ice. In some cases chains may be required (rental cars usually come with chains supplied). Make sure you're familiar with how to fit them.More information
Refer to the NZ Transport Agency website for country wide information on New Zealand roads, road rules and vehicle safety. For up to date information on South Island roads you can also call toll free 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49).