To the Left, to the left!If you’re planning on driving in New Zealand you’re likely already aware that you have to drive on the left side of the road. Aside from getting used to this (if this is opposite to what you’re used to), there are a few other things that are...well, interesting, about driving in NZ.
Outside of the main cities, one-way bridges are just about everywhere. Does anyone know why they’re so prevalent in this country? Be familiar with the signage indicating who has right of way as you approach these bridges...don’t assume you always have the go-ahead. Don't really want to get caught in the middle having to reverse!
|East Cape, North Island|
NZ roads and highways are no German speedways but 100km/h speed limits are common on very narrow and windy roads, the majority of rural roads. Rather than driving faster than you’re comfortable, pull over to a safe area when someone is following too closely. Roads are generally in good condition and are well-marked.
|Straight roads are rare in New Zealand|
Unlike in Australia, you won't have to make last-second swerves to avoid an animal that has run out onto the middle of the road (most of the time anyway). It’s much more pleasant to drive in a country where animals are not a driving hazard. What about all the sheep, you ask? Sure, there are sheep everywhere (really) but thankfully fences keep them off the roadways.
|I'm not saying it doesn't happen, it's just not the same as a roo or wombat jumping out into the middle of the road|
For someone who loves holding onto memories through photographs, I count on lookout points along the highway to provide me with a safe place to put my camera to work. Surprisingly, these are few and far between in NZ. I suppose in a country as beautiful as NZ, there would have to be a lookout point every 100 metres (you’ll know what I mean once you hit the road). Although probably not recommended, there are shoulders which often seem safe enough to use (pick and use them at your own risk). Near and around mountainous areas, you’ll come across “no stopping zones”; not worth ignoring given the increased risk of a rock-fall or snow avalanche impacting your car and therefore your trip.
|How can you just drive by a view like this?|
The White Stuff
If you’re in NZ during the winter, you’ve got another driving-related element to contend with – snow, of course. Rental cars do not come equipped with snow tires (it’s not Canada, folks). Instead, it’s recommended to have snow-chains in your possession during the winter season. In some cases, depending on the road conditions, the law requires you to have snow-chains on, or in less dangerous situations, to at least have them in the car with you. Snow chains can be purchased or rented. Rental car companies generally recommend that you rent chains when you pick up your car but you can also hire them from petrol stations along your route.
To see many of the most beautiful locations in NZ, you will have to drive near mountains and through mountain passes. In these areas, entire highways are often closed when conditions are less than ideal (usually related to snow and ice). In these cases, snow-chains won’t help you, of course. To limit your chances of getting stranded by snow – check the weather and road conditions before heading out (try metservice.com) – it will save you a lot of time and hassle.
|Yup, this white stuff does make it to the ground|
Price of Petrol
Well, this will depend on which country you are comparing to. In my case, the cost of petrol was about double what I was used to paying at home (Canada). This makes for another reason to pack light! It’s also great to be able to split this expense with a friend or two.
Regardless of the season, you’re bound to come across hitchhikers as you drive around NZ. I spoke to plenty of people who were more than happy to pick up a hitchhiker (or two) to assist them on their journey. They alleged that this added to their travel experience just as much as it did to the hitchhikers’. Yes, it’s legal to stick out your thumb in NZ.
|Rainbows make many appearances in New Zealand|
One more important note
In New Zealand, motorists have the right of way in almost all situations. Keep in mind that not everyone walking on the streets is aware of this; be very vigilant in high pedestrian traffic areas.
A couple of useful websites for those hiring cars in New Zealand:
www.vroomvroomvroom.co.nz - searches multiple car rental companies
www.transfercar.co.nz - search for car relocations across NZ
Stay safe on the roads and enjoy exploring this stunning country.