New Zealand roads must surely be the best kept secret in the motoring world.
So said one of our very satisfied customers after their honeymoon jaunt in one of our Alfa Romeo Spiders. Driving the New Zealand South Island is pretty much a road trip paradise, with involving, well maintained and relatively uncrowded roads, traversing the most glorious landscapes. They were after all, one of our inspirations to set up RentAClassic in the first place, to appreciate the joy of travel in cars made for that very purpose.
Read our South Island Road Trips article for more of a feel of why driving here is so good, or visit our sister www.nzroadtrips.co.nz site for destinations and routes our escorted tours take you driving multiple sports cars!
If you’re not familiar with driving in New Zealand though, 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.
Please visit these websites to prepare yourself, and read our further tips below.
A number of factors can make driving difficult, 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 that may be new to you, so make sure you familiarise with our Road Code.
Single lane bridges exist, some are so long they even have multiple passing bays. Observe and understand who has priority right of way before entering….especially ones like the single lane one on the main State Highway south of Greymouth which has a train track running through it…OK it used to, the highway now has its own dedicated road bridge, opened very appropriately by the then Minister for Transport Mr Simon Bridges….but you didn’t want a disagreement with the 7:45 to Greymouth back in the good old days!
- Rest up first. It can take a day or two to acclimatise yourself to an unfamiliar country, especially if you’ve come from one with a very different timezone. If you’ve just stepped off a long haul flight, we strongly recommend you don’t drive more than a few km in a busy new city during the first 24 hours, ideally only picking up your car once you’re well rested.
- Journey times are long. Distances between cities are often significantly underestimated, as there are pretty much no motorways on the South Island, (except in major cities), and only short stretches of dual carriageways. Travelling between Christchurch & Queenstown in particular takes longer than you expect, (allow at least a long whole day, and if you’re taking the West Coast / Glaciers route plan an overnight stop). Use the driving distances and times calculators when planning your itinerary, and don’t forget to plan in adequate refreshment breaks and photo opportunity diversions.
- Petrol isn’t 24/7. Because of the large distances between populated areas, petrol stations are pretty infrequent outside of towns, and not many open after 5pm, although ones like NPD do provide 24/7 self serve. We recommend you don’t let the fuel tank drop much 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.
- Stay in lane. 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 our cars cornering abilities, it’s dangerous, and will get you an instant heavy fine if seen by the police.
- Stay focused on driving. Single carriageway roads almost everywhere mean interesting roads….but you can read that both ways. There are rarely barriers or central medians to protect you from oncoming traffic, and sometimes 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. And remember stopping distances of our older cars aren’t as good as modern ABS ones.
- If in doubt, don’t pull out. Most mountain roads and many valleys will by nature be very twisting, with few safe passing opportunities. Thus you may need to be extra patient and plan your overtaking carefully on infrequent straights or short dual lane sections, so ensure you know how your car responds. If someone considerately pulls over to allow you past, it’s customary to honk-honk and wave them a thank you once safely past, (that’s the only time most Kiwis use the horn). Never start overtaking when the central line on your side is solid yellow or becoming broken yellow.
- Let others pass. 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 risky manoeuvres due to impatience. And don’t be fooled into thinking that trucks will go slow on mountain passes going downhill, (and sometimes even uphill!). Most know the roads well and you don’t want a 40 tonne truck frustrated at your failure to progress downhill at a satisfactory pace. Shouldn’t be an issue in our cars though…
- Be ready for ‘four seasons in one day’. A well known kiwi phenomenon, 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 floods, slips and debris on some roads or around blind corners, so please adjust your driving style to suit the conditions. If storms or extended torrential rain occur, strongly consider delaying your journey. You’ll stay dry in our convertibles, but it’s so much more fun in the sun with the roof down….
- Never drive tired. Take time to break up your journey by stopping for a relaxing walk, refreshments or getting out and really soaking in those views. 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 spectacular driving bits for you!
- Need some stimulating and relevant discussion to help you stay alert? Download our Drive Alive podcasts from Fresh FM, where we discuss cars, better driving habits and play some great driving music….or hire one of our Portable Bluetooth Speakers to play your own, as classics tend not to have CarPlay or even Bluetooth connectivity….
- Stick to the roads and the law. Not wearing seat belts, speeding or driving whilst using a mobile phone or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, are obviously complete no-nos. The New Zealand police are very speeding intolerant and often love to sit and admire those long inviting straights. And the latter can often have surprisingly sharp corners at the end of them…and those single lane river bridges, so know your ‘who has priority’ signs!
Please be assured that all our cars have to meet the same standards for all NZ rental cars, a strict six monthly Certificate of Fitness. We maintain them to high standards because we also drive our loved ones around in them. However, whilst most of our post 1994 cars have many of the modern safety features like ABS, traction control and airbags, our older classics won’t, and neither will their braking, steering, acceleration or grip necessarily be as good or responsive as those of their more modern counterparts.
Therefore the main safety aid is you the driver, the way you drive and the decisions you take. We want you to have fun, but especially in the older classics which won’t suffer fools gladly, please maintain extra distance between you and other vehicles, and extra time when planning certain manoeuvres. Please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions page for further information.