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Saturday, July 25, 2015

tips: road tripping new zealand

New Zealand is a wonderful country for a road trip. The roads are usually wide open and the scenery is stunning. That said, there are some things to know and consider before hitting the road.

drive on the left 
Simple enough, right? Wrong. We chanted left-left-left-left the first few days we drove around the South Island, and on more than one occasion, one of us pulled into the wrong lane when entering or leaving a roadway. We also watched a rental van drive for a scary long time on the wrong side of the road in front of us. It was pure luck no accident occurred. In hindsight, we really should have sped up and honked and honked to help the driver realize his mistake. Some roads are very windy with fast speed limits, and accidents can happen very quickly. Drive very carefully in the beginning if you come from a country that drives on the right. 

pull over safely
Once again, this sounds simple enough. We all know better than to slam on the brakes in the middle of the road to stop and gawk at something, but the beautiful scenery will blow your mind, and you will want to stop and take pictures. Just don't be stupid about it. Even pulling over onto the shoulder can be very dangerous on a single lane, narrow, windy road with a fast speed limit. I found that many places have designated rest stops with great views just for this reason. The pictures you will get from these rest stops are typically much nicer than the ones you can get from the side (or the middle) of the road anyway! 

know your route
It is important to know some things before hitting the road. For example, there is no gas station from Te Anau to Milford Sound. That is a three hour drive, and I am sure some people realized too late that there were no options to fill up along Highway 94. Doing some simple research, especially before heading into the more remote locations of the country like Fiordland National Park, can help you avoid headaches later. 

pay attention to signs
They are there! You just have to actually notice them! They tell you critical information like the lights regulating traffic in and out of the Homer Tunnel will turn off at 8pm. That and all the internal lighting as well. Maybe you would care about that because as someone who did not pay attention to signs, I can attest that driving through the pitch black, narrow tunnel not knowing if anything was headed our way was kinda scary. 

wear sunscreen
Reminder: you can get sunburned through your rental's windows, and what a sad way to get sunburned. NZ's rays are strong, and you will want to lather on the sunscreen if you are sitting in the front. Don't forget the tops of your thighs either! Ouch! 

choose the most coverage
Just do it. You will kick yourself if you don't and then need it later. We opted for the best insurance because, you know, what if? It was sure a good thing too! Our SUV was broken into the very first night we had it; the back window was completely smashed in and we had to get a new one the next day. We were not charged a cent. Then, we ended up with our third rental when something started acting funny half way through the road trip. Once again, due to the insurance, the swap was free and easy. I guess this also begs the point: choose overnight parking carefully. Our car was broken into while on hotel parking property. 

don't leave stuff in the car
Easier said than done, but just be careful. Sometimes you will need to leave your car in remote parking lots to hike up a mountain. Make it so your car is not a target by making sure you don't leave anything enticing or anything that could look potentially enticing in the back. 

get lost occasionally
NZ calls for a certain spirit of adventure. It is so easy to be beckoned down meandering roads. Sometimes those roads lead nowhere, and you have to turn around, but sometimes they also take you through the most beautiful and the most remote places in the world and the 20 or 30 minute trek off course is totally worth those moments of adventure and awe and excitement. 

allow for more time
Research the drive times, but know they will take longer. You are going to want to stop to crawl under a cool bridge or take a picture or go to the bathroom. Your GPS may lie to you too, or you may end up stuck behind someone driving reeeeeally slowly. Make sure if you are trying to make an appointment or be somewhere at a certain time that you cushion your drive a little by leaving earlier than the drive time tells you to. 

expect the unexpected 
Life happens. When we were leaving Christchurch, a brush fire rerouted us. Our drive was on rural farm roads rather than the highway like we planned, and it took much longer due to speed limits and traffic.

prepare for some off roading 
Should you take your rental off roading if you did not plan to or properly insure yourself? Probably not, but we did not plan on doing any off roading, and this was our camp site at Mt. Cook. The drive was bumpy and required some navigating through bushes. If you plan to camp or head down south, you should probably expect to drive off road at some point in time. 

get the GPS, seriously
It knows more than you. Like, by a lot.

navigate bridges carefully
Many of NZ's bridges are true single lanes. Usually, before each bridge, there is a sign indicating which side has the automatic right of way. Even if it is you, stop before crossing. There could already be a car on the bridge, or someone could have failed to notice the signs directing the flow of traffic (or your car's approach). I think it's better to be safe than sorry with these bridges. 


I walked away from my NZ road trip itching to do it again ASAP. While I did not personally enjoy driving an SUV more than 60km per hour on the left hand side of the road on some of NZ's back roads with tricky bridges, I did thoroughly enjoy my husband and friends driving us all over the south and north islands! 

Add your comment

  1. WOW! What a fun thing to do! This looks absolutely incredible and I've never wanted to visit NZ before until reading this post! Glad you had a great time.


    1. You should do it! It was such an amazing experience!!

  2. It looks like a really awesome experience and something I'd definitely like to do. Driving on the left? No problem, I miss the left side of the road haha

    1. I am sure you do! Do you drive in Belgium?? I don't know how you do it. I was stressed the whole, entire time!