Top Tips For Driving In The South Island, NZ

Michelle
9 months ago
.
3 min read

Roads in the South Island are very different from almost everywhere else in the world. Here are our top tips to help you drive safely, make the most of your travels and arrive at your destination safely.

Road to Mount Cook/Aoraki photo credit Bernard Spragg.
Road to Mount Cook/Aoraki photo credit Bernard Spragg.


  1. Plan Your Route and Allow Plenty of Time.

Most tourists totally underestimate how long it will take to reach their destination. NZ roads are narrower and often windy. You will not be able to drive very fast in a lot of places, particularly over the passes eg. Arthur's Pass, Lewis Pass etc. There are photo opportunities around every corner and you will want to stop and enjoy them. Allow yourself time in your schedule to do this.

2. Keep Left!



Never ever EVER cross the center line! Roads in New Zealand may seem to have less traffic on them but that does not mean you can cross over to the wrong side of the road. Many people have been killed by tourist drivers crossing the center line and hitting an oncoming car head on. South Island roads have many sharp, blind corners and you must keep left at all times. If you take a break to take in the view, always remember to pull out into the correct lane again.

Yellow lines = no passing.

3. Drive To Your Ability

NZers are used to driving on these roads. They know the area and how to manage the conditions. You may not. If you are holding up traffic because you are driving slower than the cars behind you, find a safe place and pull over. Let the cars behind you pass. They will be grateful and you can drive at your own pace. Don't be pressured into driving faster than you are comfortable with because there is a car following close behind you.

4. Stay Focused

It is easy to be distracted by things when you are driving. The views alone will be a big distraction. If you want to have a look at the views, stop and pull over.

It is illegal in NZ to use a cellphone or any other handheld device while driving. Never use your phone or GPS/sat nav while driving. Stop and work out where you are going/make a call etc.

5. Check the Conditions

Roads in the South Island may close suddenly at any time of the year. In winter, it may be because of snow or ice. In summer or spring it may be flooding and rock falls. Often there are no detours so it is best to know before you go. You can check at www.nzta.govt.nz .You can also check to weather forecast here: www.metservice.com/national/home

Make sure you have travel insurance, not only for your vehicle but in case you can not reach your destination because of road closures. If you have an accommodation booked and you can't get there, your insurance will cover it. You can't expect the accommodation provider to give you a refund.

6. Slow Down For One Way Bridges


The South Island has a lot of one way bridges. It is really important that you slow down so that you can see if the bridge is clear. You must never drive onto the bridge if there is a vehicle already on it or about to enter it. Be prepared to wait and let the traffic off.

7. Take Care on Gravel Roads

There are times when you may need to travel on a gravel road. If you aren't used to this, it may be a bit dangerous. Just take it easy and slow. Always keep left and never brake on a corner as you will spin out. If it is summer, the road may be very dusty so visibility may be reduced if there are other cars on it. Often your GPS may tell you the shortest route is on a gravel road. This is not always the best or safest way to go. There have been many accidents happened because tourists have followed their GPS and slid off a gravel road. The shortest is not always the best. If in any doubt, stick to the main road.


Take care driving on gravel roads. Click here to see what you should do: https://www.drivingtests.co.nz/roadcode-questions
Take care driving on gravel roads. Click here to see what you should do: https://www.drivingtests.co.nz/roadcode-questions

8. Wear Your Seatbelt

All occupants in the vehicle must wear their seat belts. It is the law and could save your life. Even when you are in a campervan - wear your seat belt. The driver of the vehicle will get a ticket and a fine if any passenger isn't wearing their seat belt.

9. Obey the Road Rules and Keep to the Speed Limit

Make sure you are familiar with the road signs in NZ. There may be some that you have never seen before so check them out online before you arrive.

A stop sign means STOP! Not slow down, not give way but STOP. You must come to a complete stop.

Slow down for corners and use the posted speed limit as a rule. Tight corners will have a speed sign posted.



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