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Healthy Road Tips for Healthy Road Trips

Driving in the New Zealand South Island is pretty much a road trip paradise, with interesting, well maintained and relatively uncrowded roads, traversing the most glorious landscapes. They after all were one of our inspirations to set up RentAClassic in the first place, and appreciate the joy of travel in cars made for that very purpose. However, if you’re not familiar with New Zealand roads then as with any new adventure, just bear in mind you’ll need to acquaint yourself with a few things to maximise your enjoyment and minimise any stress. Here we give it to you straight, so you can take the twists and turns New Zealand roads can throw at you:

  • A number of factors can make driving dangerous, but the major safety factor is you the driver, and the decisions you make. Ignorance of our Road Code is definitely not bliss. We have quite a lot of signage but it’s there for a good reason e.g. single lane bridges, recommended cornering speeds. Please take the time to familiarise yourself online with the excellent visual, interactive Road Code tests for visitors.


  • Journey times and distances between cities are often significantly underestimated, due to the fact there are pretty much no motorways on the South Island, (except briefly on the outskirts of major cities), and very few dual carriageways. Use the driving distances and times calculators when planning your itinerary, and don’t forget to plan in refreshment breaks and photo opportunity diversions.


  • Arthurs Pass WaterfallSingle carriageway roads everywhere mean interesting roads….but you can read that both ways. There are no barriers or central medians to protect you from oncoming traffic, and often no breakdown lane or barriers to protect you from very long drops or sheer rock face on the other side. Enjoy the scenery, but don’t become part of it. Always plan ahead, read the signage and observe what the road and other vehicles ahead are doing.


  • Don’t be tempted to cut or ‘straighten out’ corners by crossing the solid central line, even if the road ahead appears clear. It’s an insult to all our cars cornering abilities, it’s dangerous, and will get you an instant heavy fine if seen by the police.


  • Most mountain roads will by nature be very twisting, with infrequent passing lanes for slow vehicles. Thus you may need to be extra patient and plan your overtaking very carefully on infrequent straights, so ensure you know how your car responds. If someone considerately pulls over to allow you to pass, it’s customary to honk-honk and wave them a thank you as you do so, (that’s the only time Kiwis use the horn). If you prefer to take your time, pull over frequently in the designated slow lanes and passing bays to allow faster motorists to get by and not prompt impatience to make risky manoeuvres. And don’t be fooled into thinking that trucks will go slow on mountain passes going up or downhill. They know the roads very well and you really don’t want a 40 tonne log truck getting frustrated at your failure to progress downhill at a satisfactory pace. Shouldn’t be an issue in our cars though…

Greymouth train road

  • Single lane bridges are fairly common – some are so long they even have passing bays in the middle. Observe and understand who has priority right of way before entering….especially the single lane one on the main State Highway south of Greymouth which has a train track running through it…yes it really does, and you don’t want a disagreement with the 7:45 to Greymouth…


  • The New Zealand police are very speeding intolerant and often love to sit and admire those long inviting straights. The latter can often have surprisingly sharp corners at the end of them and those single lane river bridges again.


  • Weather conditions can change quickly, especially outside of summer, and very heavy rain can occasionally be a serious hazard, causing rivers to rise extremely quickly and potentially causing slips and significant debris across roads. ‘Four seasons in one day’ is a well known kiwi phenomenon, so please adjust your driving style to suit the conditions. If storms or extended torrential rain occur, strongly consider delaying your journey.


  • Because of the large distances between populated areas, petrol stations are pretty infrequent outside of towns, to the extent they don’t really exist and certainly not after 5pm! We recommend you don’t let the fuel tank drop below a third full, as climbing mountains in particular can be thirsty work, and there are many inviting long detours to explore along the way.


  • Don’t drive if you’re tired, take time to break up your journey by stopping for a relaxing walk, refreshments or getting out and really soaking in those views.

NZ wilderness road

  • And if you do get tempted to stop for photo opportunities, (and you will frequently), only do so at designated stops or lay bys. Don’t stop with any part of the car on or very close to the road, even if the traffic appears infrequent. Better, hire our dash cam to easily and safely video the drive view for you!

Thanks to Liz from Young Adventuress for some helpful tips.

The DriveSafe site is an excellent resource for international visitors, as is the AA interactive training site for visiting drivers. All drivers can brush up on your Road Code knowledge by taking this interactive Road Code quiz for tourists. If you are completely new to driving in New Zealand, we strongly suggest you visit the informative What’s different about driving in New Zealand by the NZ Transport Agency as well.


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