What's different about driving in New Zealand?
Before you begin your journey on New Zealand roads, learn more about what's different about driving in New Zealand. For example, we drive on the left hand side of the road, not all railway crossings have active warnings, safety belts are compulsory, and it's illegal to use a cellphone while driving.
If you're tired you're much more likely to have a crash. Allow plenty of time when you arrive in New Zealand before driving, and take time to rest before each long drive. Ensure you allow enough time to drive safely between your destinations. If you find your attention wandering when driving, pull over to the roadside and have a rest. See more tips about how to avoid fatigue while driving.
Excessive speed is one of the biggest killers on New Zealand roads. Find out more information about speed limits and safe speed guidelines.
Alcohol and drugs, including some drugs given to you by a doctor, can seriously affect your driving. They can slow your reaction times and affect your senses. You risk causing death and serious injury to yourself and other people if you drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Find out more about alcohol and drug limits.
The weather can vary considerably, even within a single day. During the winter months and early spring, watch out for ice and snow and other weather-related hazards. See more tips on driving in bad weather.
Things about NZ roads to be aware of ...
I get the feeling earlier built roads were not well angled and instead of the camber being up so that inertia pushes you into the corner like a race track, you actually feel as if inertia is pushing you off the road; but newer twisties seem well built in this regard.
Heavy rain downpours often cause noticable pothole damage although isolated and not too frequent, but the ones that form can be quite jarring. Fortunately these are usually patched quickly so seeing them doesn't mean overall degradation of the road quality, just an ongoing hazard to watch out for.
You can come up suddenly on roads that where the edges are quite literally falling away. Again, these are usually fixed quickly and it is possibly a result of seismic ground shifting not bad road building. It isn't too drastic as the riding area of the road will be intact but can be quite surpising to see. Any area which trucks have overused, like building site access, will also usually result in folded surfaces which can catch you by surprise and require concentration to negotiate.
Roads are patched with rubbery strips that snake along and can result in back tyres sliding a bit. This seems to be more of a problem in residential areas than on the open road. Some popular roads also have gravel repair patches which can be a bit scary if situated in corners and especially if there are no warrning signs on approach. On the upside this means that the road is being well maintained but if your corner approach is fast it can be quite unsettling. The tar used in NZ also seems to be for colder climates and sometimes during hot spells the tar will be soft a pliable but this has not yet bothered me on a bike.
Multiple weather surface conditions ~ amazingly, on a dry day with a dry road surface, you will come around a corner and suddenly find yourself in a wet twisty. Not the end of the world but certainly very opposite driving conditions in a short distance which you simply don't anticipate if you don't stay alert.
Highways don't bypass towns and you will have to slow right down to pass through what is considered a "town". Cops love to police these areas between change of speed limits. This also increases a planned trip's average time so that you might think a 3 hour journey is roughly 300 km away when in fact it is just 200 km. You will also find yourself racing along a multiple lane highway to arrive at a traffic jam formed at a single lane traffic light.
Large strectches of single lane road , while not too restricting for bikers, do mean very slow going over peak holiday times on roads to popular travel destinations.
Very narrow roads which, while not in itself too bad, can get hairy when trucks come barrelling past at reasonably fast speeds. Although trucks should travel 10km slower than the speed limit, somehow truck speeds don't seem to be priority to cops. I'm not saying this is good or bad, just that I think trucks logically pose more risk than cars and bikes as they simply can't stop as quickly yet it is not where cops seem to focus their energy. For some reason most bridges in rural areas are as narrow as possible which is not comforting when you arrive at the same time as an oncoming truck and even more so in low visibilty. It seems nobody thought to add a few centimetres each side for safety.
Cyclists are not a major headache on NZ roads to me as a biker and seem to be a breed apart everywhere in the world in that they pay no road tax and don't seem to be held to the same duty of care other vehicles are. Sometimes they will ride several abreast but this will bother cars more than motorcyclists. I certainly understand they are more vulnerable than other road users including motorcylists and deserve at least the same caution bikers would like to enjoy.
Local and visitor "foreigners" who don't grasp the basics - at the risk of "profiling", it will become clear to any biker that some foreign national groups seem to be worse motorists than average. You will develop a sixth sense and fortunately on a bike you can simply give them a wide berth. If you are from a big city you are probably used to good and bad drivers so this won't bother you. Auckland bikers are simply bemused by this and by people who are driving cars way to big for their spacial perception and who land up driving with two wheels in your lane. Out of town tourists can be very dangerous if they are distracted and there have been a few cases of accidents caused by driving on the wrong side of the road but again, presumably this is faced by any country that is a popular tourist destination and it hasn't yet proved a prolific problem in NZ.
Reduced holiday speed limits - while fine in theory to reduce road accidents and fatalities it shouldn't be necessary as the maximum speed limit is only 110 kmph (100 kmph with an enforcement tolerance of 10 kmph) which is fairly slow by modern vehicle capabilities. You may wonder why one week the risk is acceptable and the next it is not and I would think the element of drugs, alcohol or oncoming speeding trucks on busier roads is more important to enforce but during holiday periods there is no 10 kmph tolerance. In most modern cars you could feel so frustrated you will feel like getting out and walking is quicker; and it is not just applied on highways but everywhere so even going to the local shop means you will be pinged today for something acceptable yesterday. There are also High Crash areas with reduced speed limits which again, while sounding reasonable in theory, is odd in practice and you will find some beautiful stretches of road with great visibility and you will ask yourself how on earth it can be a high crash area. Over festive times you will also see Police Traffic Road Blocks will test for alcochol and allow police to check vehicle and driver license status. As far as I'm aware the breath test does not detect drugs.
Some quirky Kiwi driving habits...
No fast lanes. NZ drivers are supposedly taught to drive slow in the left lanes but in reality once drivers have hit anywhere from 80 - 100 kmph they feel that anyone behind them has no legal right to pass so, for the most part, they simply don't allow drivers to pass. This shouldn't bother bikers but it is a pain and with modern fast cars it is starting to cause some irate feelings to surface. Having said that, you do feel a bit silly rushing past slow drivers only to sit for 10 minutes at the first red light and see them behind you. NZ doesn't have many intersections that allow crossing without arrows so while you don't see too many intersection accidents you do sit at traffic lights for a long, long, long time. Kiwis, especially in resdiential areas, also mostly see stop signs as yield signs and will usually pull out in front of you regardless of how fast you are approaching them. What will puzzle you as they crawl along in front of you is that there will generally have been no cars behind you so no need to "take the gap". You will also find that the slowest driver suddenly speeds up before a road narrows and merges to beat you and then slows right down again once in front of you. They will do this even more if you look like you might be in a hurry. This is all quite quaint really and more of an issue in a car than on a bike. Having watched YouTube videos from around the world I think the modern Kiwi driver is pretty much the same as in most other countries and certainly less violently aggressive. Like anywhere in the world, Kiwi drivers often just don't see motorcyclists so do what you have to do to be noticed. If they cut you off it is usually by accident and most will apologise.
Drivers are prohibited from using Cell phones while driving unless they have handsfree units but this hasn't stopped many from still doing so and it is usually easy to spot as a biker especially when cars snake all over the road. I understand the reason drivers of older cars don't go to the cost of installing hands free units but am always puzzled why driverd in a modern luxury or sports cars can't afford them.
My understanding of the NZ Road Code is that Lane Splitting is legal if cars are stationary such as in traffic jams but not technically allowed in moving traffic. I have not, however, seen bikers any pulled over so can't comment if passing between moving vehicles is legal or just tolerated.
In summary... I would suspect that any visitor on NZ roads will find their time here a safe and enjoyable one. You may miss the higher speed limits of other countries on your motorbike but you won't have anyone up behind you at 160 kmph flashing their lights and a baseball bat at you which is a great comfort if you are here with partner or children and/or wanting to savour the breathtaking scenery at a more respectable pace. If you have any roadside issues you should find you are assisted fairly quickly and efficiently by police or friendly Kiwis. You won't have any "Driving in Russia" moments to upload to YouTube but you will have many amazing shots of some of the most beautiful places on earth to share. I'm sure on a roadbike there will be the odd stretch of unpoliced road to test some limits and on an off road bike there will be a host of places that will satisfy your cravings. I think you will leave with a view that Kiwi bikers are a spoilt bunch.