Driving in New Zealand: Experience and tips

During my New Zealand visit, one of my main agenda was to rent a car and drive around on the scenic roads of New Zealand. While many suggested I drive all the way down south to Wellington from Auckland, I didn’t have the luxury of time, so I decided to focus on areas in North Island. I rented a Toyota Corolla from Avis for about 3 days, drove some 350-400 kms from Auckland to Puhoi to Matakana to Pihu and back to Auckland. In this post, I am sharing my experience and tips, which will help you if you’re planning a New Zealand trip and considering renting a car.

Renting a self-drive car in New Zealand
In fact renting a car is very common in New Zealand and is most convenient and economical option. A small car can be rented for about 80-90 NZD per day including insurance (INR 4000-4500, fuel extra). Indian driving license in English is good enough, no IDP is needed. Other alternatives like using public transportation or taking packaged tours aren’t really convenient/exciting due to various limitations. Unless you can’t drive or just don’t want to drive at all, self-drive will be best way to explore New Zealand country side.
Points to consider:
  • If you have a second person who would be driving, it is mandatory to register them as well. Do inform rental company.
  • Insurance is optional- if you wish to save about 25 NZD per day, you can skip insurance but in case of accidents your liability will be upto 3000 NZD (INR 1.5 lakhs). If you pay the insurance premium, liability is limited to 300 NZD max (INR 15000). (Insurance premium may vary from agency to agency and depending on car type- what I quoted was for AVIS, Toyota Corolla.
  • Create a loyalty account in rental company’s website- you might be able to save a few dollars or get some extra priority with customer care
  • Navigation may not work in some remote areas- better to have a clear plan and download offline maps of have a printout with major towns/your high level plans
  • Highly recommend taking some online courses and watching videos on how to drive in New Zealand. Having clear understanding of rules makes a lot of difference. Below post is also crafted to guide you on how to drive safely and legally in New Zealand without attracting trouble.
I took my car from Avis in Nelson Street, Auckland. The 3.5 day rental cost me about 225 NZD in rental + some 85 NZD in Insurance. Plus I had to spend some 50 NZD on fuel and 2.3 NZD on toll.

Driving a self-drive car in New Zealand

Extreme basics
  • Just like India, New Zealand follows left side driving, so that’s half the problem solved.
  • You’re the least priority on the road- cyclists, pedestrians, bikers, other cars, everyone gets priority. You should learn to give way and develop patience to wait. Don’t rush.
  • Understand various road signs- turn only where allowed, do not overtake over double yellow lines, don’t park at spots not marked for parking and so on. Many online tutorials and courses are available.
  • Rules are rules and are meant to be followed. If the sign says you’ve to stop n proceed, you need to fully stop and then proceed. No exceptions. Non-compliance can cost you dearly.
  • Don’t make any random, unpredictable moves. Have clear plan on where to go, what to do- if in doubt keep driving, pull over when safe, reconfirm your plan and then proceed.
Avoid renting a car for within city travel
Driving a car inside a metro area is not fun. Lots of traffic, hard to find parking, too many signals etc. So my suggestion is to rent the car for out of city travel only. When you arrive in New Zealand- say Auckland, first few days manage without renting car- you will probably be taking boat trips to nearby islands- like Rengitoto, Waiheke, Coromandel etc, so having a car is no use, plus within city you’ve better off using bus/taxi or just walk given the traffic, signals etc. You can save a few days rent. Also use this initial day or two’s time to observe traffic signals, what they mean, how other car drivers are driving and so on. Rent from Day 03 or Day 04 onwards, so that you can finish your city based visits/activities, then rent a car and drive off to next city.

Driving on NZ roads
It was easier than I thought. Nothing too complicated, but pay attention to the following
Have clear idea on where you’re headed. Have the map loaded and ready before starting. Be sure to be in correct lane for your intended turn- like if you’re turning right, you need to be in central or right most lane, if you’re turning left you should shift to left lane when safe, be in central lane if you’re going straight and so on. Do your lane change when it is safe, after giving indicator signal for 3+ seconds and be considerate to others.
Most of the time you’ll be just fine if you keep following the car ahead of you at a safe distance.
Keep enough gap between vehicle ahead of you.

Beware of public transport lanes- during weekdays, city areas, peak hours, some lanes (left most ones) are reserved for vehicles carrying multiple people- indicated by signage- you should avoid using such lanes.

There should be enough gap ahead of you should the vehicle behind you decides to overtake you
Turning right:
If you’ve to turn right, be in central or right most lane, look for a shoulder opening up with right turn mark in white on the road, put your right turn indicator on for 3+ seconds, wait at intersection either for right turn green signal or if there’s no signal till it is completely safe to turn right. Then turn right.
At times you may miss the turn, or see something interesting on the right side but have crossed the turn or you missed changing to right lane in time for the turn- Do not worry. Do NOT make any abrupt turns or lane changes. Keep going straight. Either take next available left turn or pull over when it is safe, make a safe U turn, come back and then turn left. You may end up driving a km or two extra but it is important not to make any sudden/unauthorized turns and risk collision with other vehicles.

While turning right, recommended practice is to keep your wheels straight till you begin the turn- this is because if you’re rear ended you’d go straight and not on to the path of a vehicle coming in opposite direction

Turning left:
Lot easier than right turn- be in left most lane, use indicators, turn left when safe/signal permits left turn. Be mindful of pedestrians and cyclists who might be crossing/overtaking you from left side. They get priority, so don’t rush

Overtaking:
You’ll largely do fine without any need to overtake. This is because almost all road users- mostly cars- would be going at decent speed. Unlike India there’re no slow moving traffic like bullock carts, autos or other jugaads that need to be overtaken. If the vehicle ahead of you is going slow, it could be for a reason- may be there’s a speed limit, may be there’s traffic ahead. So unless absolutely necessary, try to stay in line and follow the vehicle ahead of you. During my 350-400 kms drive, I overtook only a few times on a multi lane toll road. All other times I was just fine following car ahead of me.

If you decide to overtake then there’re a half a dozen factors you’ve to consider
  • No overtaking permitted if there’re double yellow lines
  • If there’re dashing yellow lines, you can’t begin overtaking process, but if you’ve already started and half way through, you need to complete your overtaking maneuver before solid yellow line begins
  • Don’t overtake if road is narrow, has only 1 lane, turning or not safe enough due to any other reason
  • Overtaking is known as 'Passing' in NZ
Stopping/Parking
You can’t stop at random places-say for photography. If you’ve to stop, there should be an extra space to the left of the road, called 'shoulder'.
  • You can park by the roadside if there’s solid white line. No parking over yellow dotted lines.
  • Do not stop in a bus stop or in areas meant for disabled people parking or any other place that would obstruct traffic or not safe enough
  • While entering designated parking spots do note any terms and conditions- some gates close at specific time- like 9 PM, some parking spots could be 5 minutes only and so on. Some entries like to National parks are controlled by automated gates- if the display says gate closes by 9 PM, be sure to get out before 8.59 PM. At 9.01 PM you will be stuck in the park till next day- no one to talk to- you may call the authorities/emergency numbers for help, but will cost you dearly- so if there's a rule, ensure 100% compliance.
  • Don’t enter private properties and don’t park blocking drive ways
  • Parking was free in all the country side areas I had been to, but in cities many areas have pay and park.
  • Be sure to take all valuables, roll up windows and lock the car before leaving. Though NZ is not known for lots of thefts and crime, I saw many police signages that suggested possible thefts from parked cars. So you might want to be safe than sorry.
Toll Road
There’re a very few toll roads in New Zealand and toll roads are not manned. There’re no toll booths with human to collect cash. Cameras will register details of the vehicle entering toll road and car owners get 5 days to pay their toll online. Thus as a driver it is your responsibility to know when you’re entering a toll road (there’ll be enough sign boards) and make a payment within 5 days.

Speed limit:
Obey speed limits all the time. Most major roads permit 80 kmph, while select highways permit 100 kmph. Other roads will have varying speed limits. Watch out for the signs and comply fully.

Giving priority:
This is important. In India we’re accustomed to assume importance and try to squeeze our way through at slightest possible opportunity. If you give way to others and wait for road to be clear, you’ll probably be waiting whole day. However NZ expects car users to have lots of empathy. Pedestrians and cyclists get priority, so you need to watch out for them and give priority. There would be intersections without a traffic signal- vehicle owners need to coordinate among themselves and move. Exact preference rules are hard to memorize and enforce, so you’re better off waiting a few seconds more to let other drivers go first. At times they are considerate and may wave you to go first, or if you’re behind another vehicle that has already entered the intersection you may follow it if deemed safe.

In general, be very clear of your intentions (use indicators), be considerate, let others pass, proceed when safe.

Special scenarios
  • There would be a narrow bridge with clear indications on who gets priority- respect it
  • Turns will have a safe speed marked in yellow-better to slow down and comply. Enter a corner too fast and you may lose control
  • You need to give priority to anyone comes with a siren- medical or even wide loads or extra long vehicles.
  • Take enough rest- no more than 2 hours of non-stop driving at once stretch.
  • Check and cross check- the scenario on the road changes every second- you checked left- no vehicles, you checked right- no vehicles- check left again as scenario would have changed.
Mistakes can be expensive.
Any mistake you do can cost you dearly. If you’re not sure, don’t do whatever you planned to do- pullover somewhere safe, check online, ask friends or call rental agency customer care and proceed once you’re sure what is right and what is wrong. Mistakes like damage to car, trespassing private property, filling wrong fuel, traffic rule violations, violating rental company’s rules-such as no off-roading etc will cost you lots of dollars. So play it safe.

Keep buffer
Don’t book till the last minute- Keep 2-3 hours buffer for any delays, breakdowns or other issues. For example, if there’s a breakdown and tow service is needed, the process of requesting for a tow and till it arrives could take a few hours depending on various factors. If you fail to keep some buffer you might end up missing your flight.

Similarly do not pack too much into your plan. New Zealand is best enjoyed in leisure. Keep free time- you might find new attractions on the way to divert to or traffic could be much higher and so on.

Keep things handy- on a highway you may not find anyone to talk to. Your phone may die down, your destination may be closed, you may get lost etc. So have some backups, plan Bs and a sense of situational awareness should something go wrong.

In general road users in NZ are very considerate- even if you do minor mistakes you might be pardoned. However do your homework and try not to make any mistakes. There have been incidents of Indian drivers performing dangerous maneuvers (such as overtaking in a corner or across the yellow line). Other road users may report you to cops and cops can catch up with you real quick, even if they were not present at the spot where you violated the rule. Plus there’ll be cameras monitored remotely. Traffic cops may work with rental agency to confiscate your car right away if they deem you’re an unsafe driver who may endanger your own life and that of other road users- you might have to walk your way to the hotel if that happens.

My experience:
I had done some online reading, watched some videos and took a few tests online to familiarize myself on how to drive in New Zealand. This added to my confidence. On my first few days I was doing boat trips from Auckland- observed various signs and how people drive cars. I didn't drive much in city, except to get out of it. So I was largely driving on highways and country roads. Google maps was guiding me through out. There were couple of instances where I had some challenges
- At intersection, who gets priority- often other drivers would wave at me to pass, or I would follow the car ahead of me.
- At some junctions I wasn't sure if I have free left turn- waited for a few seconds, ensured there was no red light and moved when safe.
-Had to resist my temptation to stop at various places for photograph, as there was no safe shoulder to park. Eventually I stopped bothering about photography, just indulged in driving and enjoyed scenery around me.
-Filled gas myself for the first time- a new experience for me
-Avis staff was very supportive- they said minor damage like a lose gravel hitting the car is perfectly fine.

Let me know if you have any questions about driving in NZ. Will try to answer to the best of my ability.

Enjoy your trip.
Similar: New Zealand visa for Indians *

6 comments:

  1. Amazing experience. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Reminds me of Hrithik's drive on the roads of New Zealand in his first movie- Kaho Na Pyaar Hai :)
    Having your own vehicle does have its advantages.
    Great pics and info.

    ReplyDelete
  3. One of the reasons we didn't hire a car initially in New Zealand, was the strict adherence to traffic rules :) But once we were out of Auckland, especially so in the South island, it was a breeze. "Drive straight for the next 150 km"!
    By teh way, tell us honestly - did you get honked at ?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good tips. A couple of photos would have helped even more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I didn't take photo of road signs- they are available in plenty online. Will try to add few more scenic photos

      Delete

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