Top Mistakes to Avoid when Roadtripping in New Zealand

Top Mistakes to Avoid when Roadtripping in New Zealand

January 13, 2020

New Zealand is a great country to explore by road - so much variety in the landscape within the space of one day - and between the two main islands. You will see even more contrast when you venture off the main highways into the interior of the country, as recommended in some of our other blog posts. 

To make the most of your New Zealand experience, we have added a few things that visitors from offshore might benefit from being aware of.

1. Forgetting to Keep Left Always!

We've talked about this before, but it can never be mentioned too often! New Zealanders drive on the left hand side of the road, and your campervan or motorhome will be set up for this, ie the driver sits on the right hand side of the vehicle. When you are driving in the cities, it is usually not too hard to remember, as you will be following other traffic, however when you are on the open road, it is easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the road when there is no other traffic around to remind you - until you come to a blind corner, at which point this can be extremely dangerous! So focus on keeping left at all times, even when there is no other traffic in sight.

2. Not Protecting Your Belongings

New Zealand has a reputation as a safe tourist destination, which it undoubtedly is, however many people assume that this means they can leave vehicles unlocked and valuable possessions like cameras, passports and money, visible when they park up to go exploring or walking. In a word - DON'T!

Nothing will ruin your holiday faster than having your vehicle broken into and those essentials stolen. So treat NZ locations exactly as you would back home - take proper security precautions, including ensuring you lock up your vehicle, take anything of value with you or ensure it is securely hidden.

This is particularly relevant when you are parking in cities or in popular tourist spots. Potential thieves can spot your campervan very easily, so you are more than a target than you would be at home in a normal vehicle.

3. Failing to Keep to the Speed Limits

The standard speeds in New Zealand are 50km in most cities, and 100km on the main roads. Roads will generally be signposted with speeds, and if you are using GPS that should also let you know. Do be aware though, because in the last 12 months (2019) some open roads have had new speed restrictions added for safety purposes. So look out for 80km or less speed signs in some areas. If there is a lower speed restriction, that is based on a higher than usual accident rate, so pay attention.

Also be aware that it is possible to be ticketed for driving too slowly on the open road! So if you want to really soak up the views and grab some video or pics, take the time to pull over at a suitable spot and stay out of the way of other traffic.

4. Trying to U-turn on Highways

Even though there may not be signs on the highways saying you cannot do u-turns, commonsense needs to come into play here.

The vehicles going in both directions are driving at 100 - 110km per hour, so this is not a good place to do a u-turn! Especially if there is a blind corner within 500m or so. 

Wait until there is an intersection on the left hand side of the road, turn left and then turn to come back out and turn right onto the highway. Depending on overall busyness of the road, you may have to wait for a while to make a right turn if there are no traffic controls, so think carefully and plan ahead where possible so you don't miss your turns.

Often there is an alternative route to where you are going, so if you want to just be able to stop or change your mind along the way, consider choosing the option that is not the main route.

 5. State Highways May Only be Two Lanes

Unlike many more populated parts of the world, in the majority of New Zealand, the state highways are actually just wider than normal two lane roads (ie one lane in each direction). The exception to this is on the outskirts of the main cities, and a few other cases on particularly traffic heavy routes. So don't underestimate the speed of drivers on state highways - they will be doing at least 100km most of the time.

6. Learn About One-way Bridges

Another thing you will find on highways and on the back roads, are one way bridges. These are all through the country so be prepared. There will be signs in the leadup to a one-way bridge that indicate which traffic has priority or right of way.

The traffic heading in the direction of the big white arrow has priority to get onto the bridge first, however if there is already traffic on the bridge coming the other way, you must give way to them. And ensure you haven't parked too close to the bridge to ensure they have room to exit the bridge safely.

one way bridge give way rules

 7. Parking on the Right Hand Side

In some countries that drive on the left (such as the UK) it is also ok to park on the right hand side of the road (according to the direction you are facing). That is NOT the case in New Zealand.

The only time you can park on the right hand side of a road is if it is a one way street going in that direction, in which case you can park on either side.

8. Not Knowing How to Navigate One Way Streets

One way streets are quite common in NZ cities like Christchurch, specifically in the central city. They are not there because the roadway is super narrow, but rather as part of the city's planned traffic flow.

Look out for signs showing you can't turn right or left when you are coming up to a one-way street - it is very embarrassing (to say nothing of dangerous) to turn the wrong way into one.

Again, GPS should be your friend, but in Christchurch there have been changes to a few of the one way systems in recent times, so make doubly sure by checking the signs.

If you do happen to make this mistake, pull over asap, and wait for any traffic to flow through before turning your vehicle to the correct direction.

Almost without exception, central one way streets will have traffic lights, so at the most you will just have to wait for one set of lights to change.

When you are checking Google Maps for your planned route, make sure you are aware which way the roads are heading. Streets that show arrows are one way, streets without arrows are two way.

one way streets on Google maps

There are of course plenty more things to be aware of on your journey, but getting a handle on all of the above will get you off to a great start!

Read our other blogs for more info and have a wonderful trip!

And of course, if you have yet to book your vehicle, get in touch with us for a very competitive quote.