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Before you navigate winding roads and scenic routes, learn about road rules, driving distances, and license requirements.

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

Table of Contents
  1. New Zealand Roads
  2. Driving Licences
  3. Road Rules & General Information
  4. Drive Safe & Other Resources
  5. Driving Distances - North Island
  6. Driving Distances - South Island

New Zealand Roads

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.

International Driving Licences and Permit

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.

Road Rules & General Information

  • 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.

Drive Safe & Other Resources

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 information can be found at drivesafe.org.nz.

Driving Distances - North Island

The following chart gives you an approximate indication of distances between the main destinations in the North Island of New Zealand.

From To Distance (Km) Distance (Mi) Time
Auckland Napier 422 262 6hr 35min
Auckland Paihia 240 149 4hr 15min
Auckland Rotorua 233 145 3hr 35min
Auckland Waitomo 200 124 3hr 10min
Auckland Wellington 658 409 9hr 15min
Napier Auckland 422 262 6hr 35min
Napier Paihia 661 411 9hr 50min
Napier Rotorua 224 139 3hr 50min
Napier Waitomo 306 190 5hr 05min
Napier Wellington 323 201 4hr 50min
Rotorua Auckland 233 145 3hr 35 min
Rotorua Napier 224 139 3hr 50min
Rotorua Paihia 475 295 7hr 50min
Rotorua Waitomo 166 103 2hr 45min
Rotorua Wellington 460 286 6hr 30min
Waitomo Auckland 200 124 3hr 10min
Waitomo Napier 306 190 5hr 05min
Waitomo Paihia 439 273 7hr 25min
Waitomo Rotorua 166 103 2hr 45min
Waitomo Wellington 473 294 6hr 30min
Wellington Auckland 658 409 9hr 15min
Wellington Napier 323 201 4hr 50min
Wellington Paihia 898 558 13hr 30min
Wellington Rotorua 460 286 6hr 30min
Wellington Waitomo 473 294 7hr 10min

Driving Distances - South Island

The following chart gives you an approximate indication of distances between the main destinations in the South Island of New Zealand.

From To Distance (Km) Distance (Mi) Time
Christchurch Milford Sound 772 480 10hr 40min
Christchurch Mt Cook 331 206 4hr 55min
Christchurch Nelson 423 263 6hr 15min
Christchurch Picton 336 209 5hr
Christchurch Queenstown 486 302 7hr 15min
Nelson Christchurch 423 263 6hr 15min
Nelson Milford Sound 1146 712 18hr 35min
Nelson Mt Cook 775 469 10hr 30min
Nelson Picton 109 68 2hr 10min
Nelson Queenstown 693 431 12hr 45min
Mt Cook Christchurch 331 206 4hr 55min
Mt Cook Milford Sound 550 342 8hr 55min
Mt Cook Nelson 755 469 10hr 30min
Mt Cook Picton 666 414 9hr 45min
Mt Cook Queenstown 262 163 3hr 50min
Picton Christchurch 336 209 5hr
Picton Milford Sound 1109 689 18hr 25min
Picton Mt Cook 666 414 9hr 45min
Picton Nelson 109 68 2hr 10min
Picton Queenstown 822 511 13hr 20min
Queenstown Christchurch 486 302 7hr 15min
Queenstown Milford Sound 291 181 5hr 05min
Queenstown Mt Cook 262 163 3hr 50min
Queenstown Nelson 693 431 12hr 45min
Queenstown Picton 822 511 13hr 20min

Please note highways were used to calculate distances between major towns.