10 Minute Read
The big question on your mind is probably, “What’s driving in New Zealand like? Is driving on the left scary?” The short answer: it’s not too bad, honestly. We’re going to share with you what a few of the signs and road paint in New Zealand mean. If you’re planning on visiting NZ, you’ll undoubtedly see this stuff sooner or later, so get a jump on what to do with them. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it will help get you attuned to the way of the road.
First, some of the basics.
Is your license current and valid? Is it in English? If so, cool, you’re good to go for up to a year. After 12 months you must register for a NZ license. Licenses in other languages need some sort of translation and/or may need other validation.
Driving in New Zealand is not as stressful as you might be used to. Kiwis are usually pretty chill (some would say passive aggressive) when it comes to driving. If you’ve driven in South America, Asia, or any road rage prone areas, you’ll be pleased to know driving in New Zealand is not stressful, generally, even for a first time left side driver.
The biggest annoyance I experienced was switching the windshield wiper instead of the blinker when making turns. Since the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, the blinker switch is on the right side of the steering column and the windshield wiper is on the left.
And since the blinker switch is on the right, you have to flick it up to signal ← left and down to signal right →. Backwards from what I’ve been used to back in the U.S. Weird right?
Automatic and Manual Transmission
Most Americans can not drive a manual transmission car. Most of the world drives a manual transmission vehicle. Luckily, New Zealand has plenty of automatic cars. Not all, but they are plentiful. I’ve never driven a manual while on the right side of the car but the gear pattern is the same: first gear is up and to the left. Example below:
1 3 5
Reverse varies from vehicle to vehicle.
Clutch – Brake – Accelerate pedals are the same.
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
We all like to have a drink now or then. Before you get behind the wheel you should know how much alcohol you can legally have in your blood.
If you are under 20, your BAC must be 0.00. Legal drinking age is 18.
If you are 20 or older, the maximum BAC you can have is 0.05. This was lowered from .08 a few years ago.
Your BAC is dependent on a number of factors: your weight, drinking experience, and if you’ve eaten recently, among others. Know your body and your limits before driving in New Zealand.
Mobile / Cell Phones
This should go without saying, but do not use your phone for anything other than an emergency when you are driving. Using your phone for any other reason will result in a hefty fine. The emergency number is 111.
No Turns on Red Light
When driving in New Zealand, you can not turn left on a red light. You can not turn right on a red light. You must obey the traffic light.
Buckle up or face a fine.
Since you’re driving in New Zealand, sooner or later you’ll have to navigate a roundabout – get used to that idea. And to add on top of that, you’ll be driving on the left. If you’re taking one of the first couple exits, make sure you’re in the left lane(s). If you’re exiting on the last few exits, stick to the lane(s) on the right.
And remember: stay in your lane within the roundabout.
Understanding Basic Road Paint
Sooner or later you’ll notice the paint on the road looks a little different than in, say, the U.S. There are dashed yellow lines, yellow rectangle, white rectangle, green squares, and zebra crossings.
Pedestrian Crossing / Cross Walk
When you see those tall, black & white poles with orange circles on top, you know it’s where folks generally cross the street. Keep your eyes peeled for pedestrians. And as a bonus – cars actually stop for pedestrians in the cross walk! This is one of our fun facts about living in New Zealand.
Dashed yellow lines means “Hey, don’t park here, alright?” You can see them on both sides of the one-way street below. In the pedestrian crossing picture above you can see a van on the left parked in a no parking area. Naughty!
These areas are a combination of the no parking, yellow dashes and the yellow rectangles (more info below). Notice how these areas form a rectangle but have dashed lines connecting the solid end lines. These spots are for buses – don’t park or stop here or you’ll incur the wrath of the bus drivers.
The green, square area at the front of the lane is for cyclists to hang out while waiting for the traffic light to change. Even if no bicycles are in front of you, do not pull into this section.
You can’t see the other end of this white rectangle because the white car is parked in it but these spaces indicate anyone can park here (more details later), granted you have an appropriate coupon. Sometimes the first 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours are free, but you must display the parking coupon in your window.
These parking spaces are for neighborhood residents only. Parking can get quite cramped in many areas, so to make it easier on people in certain neighborhoods, they are given priority parking in some areas. You must display your proof of neighborhood residence in your wind shield.
Don’t Drive Here, Don’t Park Here – Get Outta Here!
These black and white, diagonal, striped areas in the middle of the road are not for parking, lingering, or driving on. You may have seen these in other countries as well. They generally divide driving lanes.
Keep “This Way”
I love these little blue signs. They always help guide me into the right lane. Love ’em!
Give Way / Yield
Another reason I enjoy driving in New Zealand are the Give Way signs. They’re just another name for a Yield signs. Now that I think about it, Give Way makes more sense that Yield. Yield is being used correctly here, of course, but how often do you really use the world Yield? It’s just an uncommon word. The phrase Give Way is more commonly used. Anyway, there aren’t nearly as many stop signs as we have in the U.S. Yes, you can roll-stop through these. Just make sure you yield to oncoming traffic.
Notice the white triangle paint on the road. This indicates that your lane in the intersection has to Give Way.
Speed Limit Sign
This is more or less self explanatory. The national speed limit, with only a few rare exceptions, is 100 kph.
One Lane Bridge
Many rural bridges have space enough for one vehicle only. If you have a little red arrow you must give way to oncoming traffic. The big white arrow means proceed when safe to do so.
This certainly wasn’t an exhaustive list but it should help point you in the right direction before you begin driving in New Zealand. If you’ve decided to get behind the wheel in NZ, just remember to take it slow and stay in your lane. People are forgiving and traffic is usually pretty chill. We’d recommend driving in the country or in small towns before heading into the big, bad city – which is always awful, no matter which country you’re in.
Have you driven in New Zealand before? What did you like the most? What did you enjoy the least? Let us know in the comments below.