The ultimate way to make the most of both the North and South Islands is to embark on a classic Kiwi road trip. With stunning remote mountainous areas, picturesque ski fields, and breathtaking coastal views, you’ll have the power to create an epic adventure that suits your preferences. Check out our trip planning tool for the best inspiration to get you started. 

Kiwis are known for being relaxed, down to earth and friendly (we’re not biased, we swear!). We want you to experience the full laid-back culture on your New Zealand adventure. So, read up on our New Zealand driving rules and get some tips so you can be safe, chill out and get GOing on the open road.

driving in new zealand roads

Let’s talk road conditions in New Zealand: What to expect on your travels

Overall, New Zealand’s main highways and well-travelled roads are kept in good condition. However, you may be surprised that the major cities, like Auckland and Wellington on the North Island and Christchurch and Queenstown on the South Island, are not connected by large 4-lane highways like most other countries. The majority of our rural roads are one-lane highways but rest assured, they are mostly sealed and well-maintained.

New Zealand does experience a diverse range of weather patterns, like heavy rain, snow and ice, which can affect our road conditions. In certain mountainous areas, the roads can be steep and narrow with sharp turns, so it is always advised to check the road conditions ahead of any trip.

To ensure a safe and awesome journey, it’s advisable to drive safely, follow speed limits, stay alert, and be aware of any specific road advisories or warnings issued by local authorities.

Which type of car rental should you book?

The car you should book depends on where you want to explore, how many people you are travelling with and the adventure equipment you need. These are some of our recommendations:

City driving cars in New Zealand

Small car rentals are great if you are basing yourself in a city like Auckland and taking advantage of all the awesome day trips you can do. Zip through the narrow city roads with ease and squeeze into a parking spot and explore the rural roads to your heart’s content.

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Toyota Corolla 2021

Compact Auto

Toyota Corolla

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5 seats
Large Bags
Small Bags
Auto trans

Family Car Rental

Every parent knows that the worst part of a road trip is fitting everything you need into a single vehicle (and yes that includes the kids!). Luckily, we have a wide range of large SUVs that can take away some of the stress. Book a family SUV and have enough room to fill the boot with all of your equipment.

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Mitsubishi ASX

Compact SUV

Mitsubishi ASX

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5 seats
Large Bags
Small Bags
Auto trans

Car hire for Ski Trips

If you have a big group heading to the slopes, then a people carrier or off-road car rental may be the best option for you. Get GOing on your snow adventure and add on our ski roof racks!

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Toyota Rav4 2021

Intermediate 4×4

Toyota Rav 4

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5 seats
Large Bags
Small Bags
Auto trans

Sustainable car hire in New Zealand

Have a guilt-free road trip adventure with an electric vehicle car hire or offset your carbon emissions from your holiday. New Zealand is equipped for sustainable driving with around 300 charging stations across both the South and North Islands. Jump in a luxury GO Rentals Tesla and be on your way to an environmentally friendly and smooth self-drive experience.

Book a vehicle for this trip

We recommend:

GO Rentals Tesla Model 3

Premium EV

Tesla Model 3

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5 seats
Large Bags
Small Bags
Auto trans

Top 20 tips for driving in New Zealand

Wherever you are visiting from, we want you to be able to hit the road with absolute confidence. That’s why we have put together a list of our top 20 tips from our experienced New Zealand staff and you can explore and fall as much in love with this magnificent country as we are.


1. Check your International Driver’s Licence rules

One of the most stressful parts about driving in another country is trying to understand the overseas driving licence rules. The good news is that New Zealand is one of the easiest places to drive on your current licence as the majority of countries do not require a separate international driving permit.

You can drive in New Zealand full up to 12 months on your full overseas licence providing your licence is valid and does not require a permit. You must not have been given a disqualification or suspension in New Zealand prior and you must adhere to the New Zealand licence restrictions whilst driving. If your licence is not in English, you must acquire an accurate translation before driving in New Zealand.

For specific rules in your country, please ensure you check all restrictions before travelling. We have some helpful articles for various overseas licences:

2. Kiwi’s drive on the left-hand side

The number one golden rule for visiting New Zealand: Keep left!

It can be a challenge to remember if you are used to driving on the right-hand side. Take your time to double-check before turning into traffic and accelerating. Remember these top tips:

    1. When making a left-hand turn, look right and turn onto the left-hand side of the road.
    2. When making a right-hand turn, look both ways and make a wide right turn onto the left-hand side of the road.

car driving on left side of road

3. Take it easy and respect the speed limit

Most highways have a speed limit of 100 km per hour, and you can travel for hours without going through a residential area. Take care to stay within the speed limit, even on quiet highways when you may not pass any other cars.

Cities and towns have lower speed limits, and the signs will change quickly to as low as 25 km per hour so always stay alert. Fines for going over speed limits range from $30 to $630 so it pays to respect the road signs. Think of how many thrill-seeking Kiwi activities you could buy instead of paying a fine!

4. Take a moment to pause and respect the stop signs

Now, we know it may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasising that stop signs in New Zealand mean a complete stop rather than a rolling stop, like in some other countries. There’s a key distinction between “Stop” and “Give way” signs here. With a “Stop” sign, you must come to a full stop right there at the sign. It’s not a moment to simply slow down or roll through it, even in rural areas.

5. Know the traffic light sequence

Each country may follow a different sequence of lights, and a few do not have traffic lights at all. In New Zealand, the traffic light phases are as follows:

    1. Red
    2. Green
    3. Amber
    4. Red

The amber light will come on to let you know the lights are turning red and you should stop if it is safe to do so. This differs from the UK where the amber lights will flash after a green light to give way to pedestrians still crossing and will flash before a red light to come to a stop.

6. Don’t turn left on a red sign

In some other countries, you may turn left at a red traffic light if it is safe to do so. In New Zealand, this is not permitted at any time, and you must always follow the traffic lights and wait for a green light.

7. Share the road and let other cars pass

New Zealand roads often only have one lane in each direction. It can definitely be frustrating when you’re stuck behind a slow car or being tailgated by a speed demon. The truth is, there’s often no immediate solution to pass or get passed at any given moment. However, New Zealand has come up with two clever ways to address this: Passing Lanes and Slow Vehicle Bays. They may sound similar, but they have their own unique purposes.

Passing Lane: For a short stretch of road, an additional lane will magically appear on the right, giving you the opportunity to pass safely. Keep an eye out for signs saying “Passing Lane Ahead” and remember the golden rule: “Keep Left Unless Passing.”

Slow Vehicle Bay: This is another way to facilitate passing but with a slight twist. Again, you’ll have a second lane for a short distance. However, this time, if you’re the slow vehicle causing a bottleneck, you’ll move into the left “Slow Vehicle Bay” lane. By doing so, you create space for the cars behind you to pass on the right.

car parked in parking bay

8. Don’t get lost in a spin on New Zealand roundabouts

Roundabouts are almost everywhere in New Zealand and if you do not have them in your home country, you will need to get used to them.

Often there will be three directions for you to go, left, straight or right. You will always be entering clockwise and turning left, but you must always look right for a gap in traffic.

Turning Left: Simply signal left when you enter the roundabout and make your left exit.

Straight Ahead: Do not signal initially. Enter the roundabout and when you approach your turn, signal left and exit.

Turning Right: When you enter the roundabout, signal right and drive clockwise. Once you pass the halfway point, signal left and exit.

Multiple Lanes: Some roundabouts will have multiple lanes with marked arrows in the direction each lane is heading. It’s especially important to indicate on multi-lane roundabouts to let others know your intent when merging and exiting. 

Roundabout Road

9. Sobriety in the driver’s seat: Read up on the alcohol limit

Drivers below 20 years old must observe a zero-alcohol limit. 

For drivers aged 20 and over, there is some leeway but not a lot. The alcohol limit is 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood or 250 micrograms per litre of breath.

 Remember, impaired driving is a serious safety concern, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you’re going to drink, consider alternative transportation options like a designated driver, public transport, or rideshare services.

10. Don’t check your phone whilst driving

Just like in most countries, it is illegal to use a handheld phone whilst driving in New Zealand. We recommend setting up a hands-free system before embarking on any trip so you can easily answer any calls without too much distraction. If you do need to use your phone, wait for a petrol station or stopping bay so you can safely do so.

car dashboard and handsfree

11. Prepare for missing phone reception

When you are heading out of a major city, always prepare to be without a phone signal at some point, especially in rural areas. Download your map route so you can access it offline. Alternatively, set up a GPS system to ensure you always have your route, these can be hired from GO Rentals as an add-on.

12. Expect gravel roads

Not all roads are sealed in New Zealand and a lot of smaller roads in regional areas will be gravel. Always drive slowly and carefully on these roads and watch out for potholes.

car on gravel road with landscape background

13. Be aware of railway crossings

Not all railway crossings have lights and barriers, so pay attention. Always stop at the red flashing lights on railway crossings and only proceed again when the lights stop flashing. If there are no lights, look for either a stop or give way sign. Stop signs indicate that you must come to a complete stop and check there is no train before crossing. If there is a give way sign, slow down and double check there is no train and stop if there is.

14. Park on the left-hand side

This may seem obvious, but some countries may not have this rule. Always park in the direction of traffic on the left-hand side. On a one-way street, you may park on either side of the road.

15. Take care near cyclists

Unlike in other countries, cars do not have priority over cyclists in New Zealand. When passing cyclists, it’s the driver’s responsibility to ensure it is safe for both the cyclist and the car to do so. Always leave 1.5m of space between you and the cyclist.

16. Slow down and check the signs for one-way bridges

When you spot those one-lane bridge signs, pay close attention. The side of the road pointed to by the black arrow is the one with priority. That means vehicles on that side get the right of way.

If you see incoming traffic that has already started crossing the bridge, you need to be a courteous driver and let them pass first. It’s all about being patient and giving way when someone else is already on the bridge.

17. Always calculate your distance and petrol

Always make it a habit to calculate your distance and keep an eye on your petrol. It may sound like common sense, but trust me, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the road and forget about these important factors. You may not pass a petrol station for many miles in New Zealand so plan ahead and keep your car topped up at every opportunity.

18. Don’t be alarmed by animals on the road

Cars do not have priority over animals in New Zealand and it is a common sight to see various wildlife on the road such as herds of sheep or cattle. Never beep your horn or flash your lights at them. Always slow down and take over if it is safe to do so.

sheep on road

19. Pay your tolls

There are a few toll roads in New Zealand, particularly on the North Island. It’s important to pay attention if you drive on these roads and pay the toll charges online at Even in a rental car, you just need the vehicle licence plate number to pay any fee online. The good news is that you do have 5 days from the day you passed through the toll road to pay.

After 5 days, you are subject to an infringement from NZTA, and a rental car company will charge you a fine and an administration cost if this happens.

20. Plan your rest stops and appreciate the views

New Zealand is a stunning country, and you will want to make the most of every single view with frequent breaks. Planning ahead will help you decide on a magnificent backdrop for lunch, a beautiful walk to stretch your legs or even an unbelievable natural hot spring to relax in.

A group of friends standing outside their GO Rentals vehicle overlooking new zealand queenstown landscape

So, when will your New Zealand road trip be?

Driving in New Zealand does not have to be stressful. Following the road rules and differences means you can relax in the knowledge that you will be safe on your holiday. Driving to incredible landscapes like the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef on the South Island will make the research and preparation worth it.

At GO Rentals, we like to think we are more than a standard car rental company that gets you from A to B. We like to see and hear that our rental cars have helped you make memories, ticked off bucket list places and brought you closer to your family and friends. That’s why we have a Snap Happy Photo Competition so we can be a part of your travels. Enter a photo from your rental car period and you could win $500 back off your rental car costs.

With 8 car hire locations on both the South and North Islands, we’re ready to provide you with extensive New Zealand knowledge so you can get GOing on a trip of a lifetime. So, buckle up, get behind the wheel and prepare for an extraordinary journey.