Jumping into a rental car in a different country can sometime be daunting – knowing which side of the road to drive on, what speed limit to travel and even working out the indicator vs the windscreen wipers can leave you feeling more than a little confused. Luckily, New Zealanders are a pretty mellow bunch, and used to sharing their roads with international visitors, but here’s some tips that you should definitely know before driving off in your hire car.
Drive on the left: Australian and UK visitors will have no problem with this one, but for anyone visiting from the US or Europe, remember to always drive on the left side of the road. An easy way to keep things straight is to remember that the steering wheel is always towards the middle of the road – if you’re driving with the steering wheel on the outside edge, you’re on the wrong side! And while some of our curvier cliffside roads might make you want to creep across that middle line, you never know what might be coming around the corner, so stay as close to the left lane markings as possible.
Watch out for one-lane bridges: If you come across a one-lane bridge, which you’ll typically find on quieter roads in New Zealand’s South Island, the first step is to slow down and check for any signs saying which direction has right of way. A white sign with small red arrow pointing up and big black arrow pointing down means you should stop and wait for oncoming traffic to pass. A blue sign with a large white arrow pointing up and small red arrow pointing down means you should cross the bridge as long as it is not already occupied. No signs, or traffic building up on one side of the bridge? Be courteous and give way to others before safely crossing when you can.
Know your roundabouts: Again, our US visitors will want to brush up on their knowledge for this one, as you’re sure to find plenty of roundabouts on any itinerary through New Zealand. There’s a number of rules to be aware of, so we’ll let this handy guide from the NZ Transport Agency explain them all, as it can be confusing to anyone who’s never come across a roundabout before. Now can someone explain the US four way stop sign system to us?
Drive to the conditions: New Zealand roads are often windy, and weather conditions can be unpredictable (four seasons in one day? Try six!). If you find yourself on a particularly bendy stretch, or rain or snow are making it hard to see, slow down, keep your cool and pull over somewhere safe with your hazard lights if things get too wet or wild.
Don’t drink and drive: Yes, there are a lot of amazing wineries in New Zealand, and you’ll probably be tempted to stop at every one. Pay them a visit, by all means, but when sniffing and swilling, just remember that New Zealand’s legal blood alcohol content limit is 0.05%, and you can expect random breathalyzer tests around most major towns and cities. So stick to sniffing and buy a bottle you can enjoy in your hotel later.
Leave plenty of time: New Zealand might look small on a map, and that 120km long distance might not seem far, but throw in winding roads, one way bridges, the occasional spot of roadworks and some unexpected weather and before you know it, you’ve added an hour to your trip. Don’t risk missing your flight or getting a late return fee – make sure you leave plenty of time or use a GPS to calculate how long it’s going to take (then add some extra time on top of that, just in case).
If you’re still feeling nervous, New Zealand’s Drive Safe website is full of handy tips, and even a driving quiz to help you recognise road signs and driving differences. Check it out at http://www.drivesafe.org.nz/.