What’s the difference between driving in New Zealand and Australia?

Reading time: 3 minutes

Across the ditch lies an island nation crowned by soaring mountain ranges, sweeping rivers and lush rainforest. Where thongs are jandals, bathers are togs and the national sporting colour is black.

This intriguing land, also known as New Zealand, is a holiday destination for many an Aussie, and for good reason. Inhabited by just 4.7 million people, there is one thing that unites the country, from Cape Reinga to Bluff – 94,000 kilometres of road. If you’re planning on exploring some it, we’ve put together few pieces of New Zealand driving advice to make your journey a smooth one.

Bring your Aussie licence

With Australians making up half of all visitors to New Zealand, it’s a good thing we can use our drivers licences over there. You are legally allowed to drive on your Australian licence in New Zealand for up to 12 months, and you are permitted to drive only the class of vehicle you are licenced for back home.

If you have an Australian Provisional Drivers Licence, you will able to drive in New Zealand, but you will need to adhere to your licence conditions regarding the class of vehicle and various restrictions as you would back home. You will need to have a current licence with you at all times when driving, but you won’t need to display “P” plates on your car.

Planning on hiring a car? You’ll need to be at least 21 years old and have a Full Drivers Licence.

The rules of the road

New Zealand’s road rules are very similar to those in Australia. In addition to driving on the left-hand side of the road and giving way to all oncoming traffic from the right, you must adhere to the speed limit at all times and not drive under the influence of alcohol. We advise avoiding drinking altogether before driving, as drunk driving laws are strictly enforced.

On the open road, it is common courtesy to stay left and allow faster vehicles to pass you. Some highways also have designated ‘slow vehicle lanes’, suitable for those towing caravans or driving motorhomes. To see how well you’ll fair with Kiwi road rules, we recommend taking the AA’s Visiting Drivers Test online.

Road signs in New Zealand

Worried about reading the road signs in New Zealand? Don’t be! New Zealand actually uses the same green and white destination road signs as Australia, making it fairly straightforward to make your way around.

However, if you are driving from Auckland to the capital city of Wellington, don’t expect to see signs for Windy Welly from the start of your journey. Rather than indicating the route to the final destination of Wellington, New Zealand’s road signs tend to advise drivers of the next closest major hub – so don’t worry if you only see signs for Hamilton, Taupo, Palmerston North for the majority of your journey – you’re on the right road!

Driving in New Zealand

Photo credit Getty/Georgeclerk

One key difference many visitors notice when it comes to driving in New Zealand versus Australia is that it is easy to underestimate how long it can take to drive from one destination to another. This is especially true heading out of the main cities and into the countryside. Due to rugged, often mountainous landscapes, roads can be narrower and steeper than most, meaning you’ll have to travel slower for safety reasons. This is the same for winding or coastal roads – don’t be fooled by the map, as towns that look relatively close can take quite a while to travel between on the road.

If you are driving in the South Island during winter, you may also need to adjust your driving to suit the conditions and attach snow chains to your tyres. Your car rental company will be able to supply you with some if necessary, as well as demonstrate how to fit them.

Fuel in New Zealand

One thing to note if you’re coming in from Australia is that New Zealand fuel prices in general tend to be slightly higher than back home. To keep up to date with trends in petrol and diesel prices and budget for your trip, keep an eye on the AA’s petrol watch blog.

Information current as of March 8 2017. Please check with official websites for the latest information.

See also: New Zealand SIM card guide

See also: New Zealand travel safety


TID is an Australian online travel insurance company.


Family-friendly activities to try on our Malaysian holiday

Planning a family trip to Malaysia but uncertain whether there will be activities to keep the kids happy? Fear not! ...



What to do in California

From sunny beaches to forests and cities, California has something for every type of traveller. So, how do you ...


The Americas

Experience the flavour of South America in Brazil

Brazil is a destination dream for millennials. Come check out all the excitement that you and your friends can ...