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Driving Tips - New Zealand

Drivers in New Zealand don’t have to know much about the country to realise that it is large, and that means big distances between towns and cities. The best way to truly appreciate the landscapes within this beautiful and natural part of the world is to drive, but of course, for foreign visitors, this can throw up all manner of questions and new rules to follow.

Let’s make it easy.


Drivers must have a valid license from their country of origin, and are able to drive for a maximum of 12 months from the date of arrival into the country. If the license is not in English, then an accurate translation called International Driver Permit (IDP) should be obtained and carried at all times. If you leave the country, and then return, your 12 months’ driving period resets itself. Also, it is a must to carry insurance while driving a rented car.

Age restrictions

The legal age of driving within New Zealand is now 16 years of age, and this applies to both natives and visitors.

Driving law

  • Drive on the left hand side of the road
  • Everyone in the car should wear a seatbelt
  • Children should always be in the back of the car
  • Do not overtake when there are yellow lines
  • Always carry license while driving
  • Always use indicator while turning
  • Mobile phones should not be used
  • Illegal to carry radar detectors

Speed limits

New Zealand’s roads are controlled with speed limits, which are monitored with plentiful speed cameras. If you are caught over the limit, it is possible that your license could be suspended on the spot for a period of time. The normal speed limits on New Zealand roads are as follows:

  • 100km/h (62mph) on highways
  • 50 km/h (31pmh) in residential areas

Of course, if signs instruct differently, then this should be adhered to taking particular care in rural or residential areas.

Drunk driving

New Zealand police are very strict with drinking and driving, and this is enforced with severe penalties for those who are caught. The drivers having blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of more than 0.08mg/100ml will be fined and might be arrested.


Parking within residential areas or city/town centres are clearly marked with regards to rules, and drivers should follow any instructions. Illegal parking is monitored and tickets/fines are given out. Only park in designated parking spaces, and these will more than likely be controlled by a meter, with pay and display the usual method. You must park on your side of the road, and not opposite the flow. If you see a sign saying ‘no parking’, don’t park as you could be spot fined.

As you can see, driving around New Zealand is quite standard, except for a few changes to rules. Be sure to familiarise yourself before you travel, and heed any signs or advice during your journey, and your road-trip throughout this beautiful, diverse country will be a memorable one indeed.

Rotorua Driving Guide

So you have come to Rotorua, the Sulphur City, to experience some of the 18 glistening lakes, majestic and exotic native forests, volcanic geysers, boiling mud ponds, hot springs and arguably the best of Maori culture. This is a land that beckons the explorer in you.

And you’ve chosen the right place to start your vacation because Rotorua makes a great place to start exploring lots of attractions around the Bay of Plenty and central North Island.

Simply put, there are some absolutely stunning scenic routes to drive on through mountains, farmland and forests, past lakes and geothermal attractions as well as state parks and small villages. Take your keys, and head out for an adventure of a lifetime with your rental car

Rotorua to Mount Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park

2 h 16 min to Mount Ruapehu (184.1 km)

To do this properly you really need a full day at least. Driving southwest of Rotorua and heading to the majestic volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park, this drive goes from Rotorua to Taupo, and along Lake Taupo's beautiful shoreline with vistas over to Motutaiko Island.

When you get to Turangi, turn right and head around the western side of the three permanently snow-capped volcanoes that form the Tongariro National Park.

Next up, are the ever popular ski areas on Mount Ngauruhoe at a massive 2287m above sea level.  Still further, about another 10kms, you will come to the highest peak of all in the area, Mount Ruapehu, in this World Heritage Park at a stunning height of 2797m.

Don’t miss the signpost for the historic Chateau Tongariro Hotel as well as the opportunity to take a walk to Tawhai Falls (used in Lord of the Rings filming) and also a trail to the Taranaki Falls.

Rotorua to The Hidden Valley

57 min to The Hidden Valley (68.4 km)

Heading south of Rotorua we suggest the first stop for an incredible photograph, soaking up the lens with the aqua blue coloured Crater Lake — you won’t be disappointed.  If you’re into amazing colors, Maungakakaramea (Rainbow Mountain) across the water is a standout, with deep red ochre rocks and numerous steam vents, interspersed with ferns, native plants and birds.

If you want to combine this with a geothermal experience go to Orakei Korako (Hidden Valley) and 17kms later turn right onto Tutukau Road and then right again onto the Orakeikorako Road to arrive at this thermal park.  Here you will see amazing geysers, hot springs, mud pool baths bubbling, and white and yellow silica terraces with the unique geothermal Ruatapu Cave. If you want to make this extra special you can go out to it by boat.

A short drive beyond Wairakei, watch out for the Huka Falls sign. This is a free attraction where you can see the 100 meter wide Waikato River suddenly dive down through a narrow gorge in a mass of swirling white water culminating in a small waterfall.

Taupo is only 6km further with all the modern shops you could dream of, plus restaurants and lake trip tours by boat.

Rotorua to the Thermal Explorer Highway and Napier

2 hours 40 mins to Napier (222kms)

If you still have time consider this unbelievable experience through stunning landscapes. The initial 80kms takes in rolling farmland with sheep, and then take in some astonishing views of Lake Taupo before entering the Thermal Explorer Highway.

This road climbs through hairpin bends up into wondrous tree-covered mountains with tall moss-covered tree trunks along the highway. When you drive here it’s unavoidable to not be a part of the landscape with its gushing rivers of white water. Remnants of volcanic activity are all around with ridges and gorges, interspersed with yellow gorse if you are driving in spring.

As you drop down the road you will spot the first glimpses of Hawkes Bay. You might want to consider pulling the car over and taking a few photos or having a bite to eat looking out over the coastal view.

Napier is considered an Art Deco town with beautiful botanical gardens and walks.

If you are short of breathe after reading this, maybe it’s because you’d like to extend your stay and stop off for a while. There’s plenty of accommodation close to these attractions and maybe a glass of wine over a dinner relaxing after the enormity of what you have experienced is a great way to cap this off.

At Cheaperthancars and Cheaperthanhotels we offer a wide choice of rental cars and accommodation to enjoy the area. We believe the less you spend the more you can do when you get there.

Your Cheaperthancars Team

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