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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 safe, uncrowded roads traversing the most glorious landscapes. They after all were 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.

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. Travelling between Christchurch & Queenstown in particular takes way longer than you expect, (allow a whole day if you’re taking the West Coast/Glaciers route and that’s not recommended without 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.


  • 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.


  • 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!


  • Arthurs Pass WaterfallSingle 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.


  • 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.


  • 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. If in doubt, don’t!


  • 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 very well and you really 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…

Greymouth train road

  • Single lane bridges are fairly common – some are so long they even have multiple passing bays. 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. And 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 floods, slips and debris on some roads or around blind corners. ‘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. You’ll stay dry in our convertibles, but it’s so much more fun in the sun with the roof down….


  • 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 if they do, likely not after 5pm! 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.


  • And finally, 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.

NZ wilderness road

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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