New Zealand Driving Guide

Driving to Paradise from Glenorchy

Driving in New Zealand


Self-driving holidays are one if the most relaxing ways of enjoying New Zealand’s landscape. Many of our roads are scenic and traffic is low when compared to international standards. 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. If you’re used to driving in the city, you should take care when driving on the open country roads.

New Zealand has a good motorway system but weather extremes, the terrain and narrow secondary roads and bridges require drivers to be very vigilant. Never drive if you are feeling tired, particularly after you have just completed a long-haul flight.


In order to rent a car in New Zealand you must have a valid full national driving licence which has been held for at least one year. Make sure your driver’s licence is current. If your licence is not in English, you must bring a current International Driving Permit (IDP) or an official translation as well as your original driving licence. Contact your local automobile club for further details about obtaining a translation or an IDP.

Recent law changes mean 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.


  • In New Zealand, all motorists drive on the left-hand side of the road
  • All road distances are measured in kilometres.
  • When turning left, give way (yield) to traffic crossing or approaching from your right. On March 25 2012 New Zealand’s Give Way rule changed to align with international give way to the left rules. While this may be normal for you, New Zealand drivers may take some time to get used to the change and you should take extra care at intersections.
  • When the traffic light is red, you must stop. There is no left turn rule as in North America
  • The speed limit on the open road is 100kph (approx 60mph). In urban areas the speed limit is 50km/h.
  • Both drivers and passengers must wear a safety belt in both the front and back seats. All children under the age of seven must be properly restrained by an approved child restraint when travelling in cars or vans
  • Make sure that you have plenty of sleep before a long drive. Take regular breaks – one every two hours and when you feel sleepy.
  • Do not drink alcohol before driving in New Zealand – drinking and driving laws are strictly enforced


Even if you have driven in other countries, it’s important to understand our rules for driving in New Zealand before you get behind the wheel.

  • Further Drive Safe infomation can be found here
  • Take a tourist/visitor Test to learn about New Zealand’s road rules
  • Download the TravelSafeNZ app to stay updated with local conditions (weather, civil defence, marine, road closures etc..)


The following chart gives you an approximate indication of distances between the main New Zealand centres.


1 kilometre equals 0.62 miles:

North Island Mi/Km Time
Auckland to:
Napier 262/422 6:35
Paihia 149/240 4:15
Rotorua 145/233 3:35
Waitomo 124/200 3:10
Wellington 409/658 9:15
Napier to:
Auckland 262/422 6:35
Paihia 411/661 9:50
Rotorua 139/224 3:50
Waitomo 190/306 5:05
Wellington 201/323 4:50
Rotorua to:
Auckland 145/233 3:35
Napier 139/224 3:50
Paihia 295/475 7:50
Waitomo 103/166 2:45
Wellington 286/460 6:30
Waitomo Caves to:
Auckland 124/200 3:10
Napier 190/306 5:05
Paihia 273/439 7:25
Rotorua 103/166 2:45
Wellington 294/473 7:10
Wellington to:
Auckland 409/658 9:15
Napier 201/323 4:50
Paihia 558/898 13:30
Rotorua 286/460 6:30
Waitomo 294/473 7:10
South Island Mi/Km Time
Christchurch to:
Milford Sound 480/772 10:40
Mount Cook 206/331 4:55
Nelson 263/423 6:15
Picton 209/336 5:00
Queenstown 302/486 7:15
Nelson to:
Christchurch 263/423 6:15
Milford Sound 712/1146 18:35
Mount Cook 469/775 10:30
Picton 68/109 2:10
Queenstown 431/693 12:45
Mount Cook to:
Christchurch 206/331 4:55
Milford Sound 342/550 8:55
Nelson 469/755 10:30
Picton 414/666 9:45
Queenstown 163/262 3:50
Picton to:
Christchurch 209/336 5:00
Milford Sound 689/1109 18:25
Mount Cook 414/666 9:45
Nelson 68/109 2:10
Queenstown 511/822 13:20
Queenstown to:
Christchurch 302/486 7:15
Milford Sound 181/291 5:05
Mount Cook 163/262 3:50
Nelson 431/693 12:45
Picton 511/822 13:20

Note: Highways were used to calculate distances between major towns.

Relaxing Journeys are New Zealand’s leading self drive touring specialists with over 60 itineraries covering the breadth of the country.

Newsletter Signup

Sign up now to stay up to date with our latest promotions, exclusive special offers and NZ travel tips.