There’s no denying that the best way to experience New Zealand is on the road. From exploring remote areas to having the freedom to travel as you please, you simply won’t regret hiring a campervan on your holiday.
To make sure you stay safe while having the best trip yet, we have some do’s and don’ts you’re going to want to follow.
Do: stick to the New Zealand road rules
The first tip to ensuring a safe road trip is sticking to the New Zealand road rules. Over here, that means driving on the left side of the road, wearing your safety belt, and obeying all road signs. Failing to do so is not only extremely dangerous but can also result in fines starting at $150.
The most common signs you’ll need to follow are speed limit signs. These circular red and white signs will generally have a 30, 50 or 100 written in its centre, indicating how many kilometres you should be going per hour. When you’re on the open road, however, the 100km/h sign may be displayed as a circular white sign with a diagonal black line drawn through it.
Other frequent signs you’ll come across on the road are STOP and GIVE WAY signs. While they both have somewhat similar meanings, it’s vital you know the difference between the two. A red triangular GIVE WAY sign means that you must prepare to stop if another driver is proceeding through an intersection (which will be marked by a white line on your lane of the road). A red octagon STOP sign, on the other hand, indicates that you must come to a complete stop, and check for pedestrians and vehicles before continuing to drive.
Additionally, as New Zealand is filled with numerous creeks and rivers, it’s essential that you understand the signs placed at the entrance of one-lane bridges. On these signs you’ll find two arrows, pointing in opposite directions. The biggest arrow, in either white or black, indicates that you have priority, and the smaller red arrow means that you need to give way. Although seeing you have priority might have you rearing to go, if a car is already on the bridge, you’ll have to wait your turn. Likewise, regardless of what your sign displays, make sure to slow down to check if it’s clear before crossing.
Familiarising yourself with these road rules shouldn’t be too tricky, but do allocate time to prepare. Although we provide you with a free driving handbook when you collect your campervan, we suggest brushing up on the NZ Road Code before you arrive.
As you read over it, you’ll also find rules such as no drinking and driving and no driving while on your mobile phone. Laws like this are pretty much a no-brainer, but with safety, fines and possible jail time on the line, they’ve got to be taken seriously.
Don’t: underestimate New Zealand roads and weather
Despite its lovely scenic surroundings, driving in New Zealand can be extremely dangerous due to its windy and narrow roads. In addition to obeying regular speed signs, it’s essential to drive to the conditions, which means slowing down when it’s rainy, icy or foggy. Another way to stay safe on the road is by following any recommended speeds that are displayed on yellow diamond signs.
Not only is New Zealand filled with corners and bends, but sometimes getting to an attraction might involve venturing off the beaten track. Although a bit of gravel isn’t the end of the world, it’s crucial that you drive slower than you usually would, to avoid your wheels potentially slipping.
As you travel down south, the weather starts to become a slightly bigger safety concern, as unlike the North Island, temperatures down there can often drop below zero degrees Celsius. Such low figures, often result in frozen surface water on the road that then freezes into transparent sheets of ice, known as black ice. Driving in these conditions is very dangerous, so it’s crucial to drive slowly, increase your following distance, and avoid suddenly changing directions or breaking.
If you’re planning on heading to any ski fields or driving over mountain passes, remember to request our free snow chains (available on request and subject to availability). Keep in mind that some roads, such as those leading to Lewis or Arthurs Pass, may require that you have snow chains to drive on them.
Do: plan out your major stops
Before hitting the road, it will help to plan out a rough itinerary and take note of the estimated travelling duration. Instead of frantically following the map for the first time, pre-planning will leave you feeling less stressed. Using a GPS will also help you miss traffic, and discover alternative routes if needed.
When deciding on your itinerary for your New Zealand trip, you may want to include some of the popular attractions below:
Top North Island Attractions:
- Cape Reinga Lighthouse (Cape Reinga)
- Cathedral Cove (Coromandel)
- Waiheke Island (Auckland)
- Waitakere Ranges (Auckland)
- Waitomo Caves (Waitomo)
- Karangahake Gorge (Karangahake)
- Marokopa Falls (Waikato)
- Mount Maunganui Summit (Mount Manganui)
- Hobbiton (Matamata)
- Blue Springs (Putaruru)
- Redwood Forest (Rotorua)Huka Falls (Taupo)
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Tongariro National Park)
- Rere Falls and Rere Rockslides (Gisborne)
- Cape Kidnappers (Hawkes Bay)
- Castlepoint (Wellington)
Top South Island Attractions:
- Mount Cook (Mount Cook National Park)
- Castle Hill (Arthurs Pass)
- Franz Josef Glacier (Waiau)
- Abel Tasman National Park (Nelson)
- Lake Pearson (Christchurch)
- Lake Tekapo (Canterbury)
- Larnach Castle (Dunedin)
- Dunedin Railways (Dunedin)
- Lake Matheson (South Westland)
- Arrowtown (Queenstown)
- Queenstown Hill (Queenstown)
- Coronet Peak Skill Area (Queenstown)
- Lake Wanaka (Wanaka)
- Roys Peak (Wanaka)
- Milford Sound (Fiordland National Park)
- Sutherland Falls (Fiordland National Park)
As you travel to these different destinations, it’s best to have plenty of breaks. Whether that’s a quick toilet stop or a scenic picnic, you’ll thank yourself later for taking a rest from the road.
Don’t: be afraid to pull over (when it’s safe)
As you spend time familiarizing yourself with the campervan, we advise driving slightly slower than the speed limit. While this may result in a few impatient cars behind you, always remember your safety comes first. Rather than feeling pressured to speed up, wait until it’s safe to pull over and let the other cars pass.
Compared to most cars, campervans are much slower to accelerate due to their heavy weight. As a result, you won’t often find yourself in a position to overtake. If, however, you end up feeling like you need to overtake, we don’t encourage doing so unless you see an extremely safe opportunity to. Plus, keep in mind that crossing a solid yellow centre-line is illegal in New Zealand.
Do: make the most of New Zealand food along the way
In addition to witnessing endless stunning scenery, trying new foods along the way will make the road trip extra memorable. Here are some of our must-eats while on the road:
- A Hangi is a traditional New Zealand Māori way of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. The meal will usually include fish, chicken, and kumara (sweet potato). You can experience this unique meal at one of the many Maori Villages in Rotorua such as Tamaki Village.
- Giapo in Auckland takes gelato and sorbet to the next level. With gourmet flavours and extravagant presentation, this dessert spot is worth a stop.
- New Zealand is known for its hokey pokey ice cream made with vanilla and honeycomb pieces. If you don’t decide to try this flavour at Giapo, you can often grab a scoop at a local dairy or regular ice cream shop.
- L&P, which stands for Lemon and Paeroa, is a sweet fizzy drink manufactured in New Zealand. There’s no better time to try this delicious drink then while you’re a tourist in its country of origin.
- During your trip, you’ll no doubt come across lots of bakeries. Make sure you try a mince and cheese pie when you get the chance. These are a big deal here, and you’ll soon see why.
- If you decide to venture down to Queenstown, Fergburger is a must. Don’t let the queue turn you off; the line is always long because it’s that good!
- Fish and chips on the beach is a classic kiwi experience. With its never-ending popularity, you’ll have plenty of fish and chip shops to choose from. Be prepared for it to come wrapped in newspaper, that’s all part of the experience.
- Pineapple Lumps and Jaffas are some of our classic kiwi treats. With pineapple and orange at the core of these chocolates, it appears we like our fruity flavours.
- Home to some of the best lamb in the world, if you find yourself at a restaurant struggling to decide what to order, get the lamb.
- Lastly, pavlova is a meringue-based cake you’ll see on most dessert menus. It’s a tasty kiwi classic, so again, is worth a try.
Don’t: forget to pack the essentials
A USB cigarette socket adapter will come in handy when charging devices on your trip. To avoid spending unnecessary cash, make sure to pack it if you own one already. You’ll also want to bring an aux cable to plug in your phone for music.
For warmth and safety, having a travel blanket and torch in your campervan will be a good idea. For more details on how to stay warm and comfortable in your campervan, click here.
We understand that packing, in general, can be quite the mission, so if you’re planning on coming this winter check out our New Zealand winter packing guide.
Do: obey camping regulations
If you decide to opt for one of our self-contained campervans for your trip, you’ll get to experience the freedom of camping almost anywhere (emphasis on almost). In New Zealand, you’re legally allowed to camp in any local authority area unless camping is actively prohibited or restricted in that area. Most of the time, this means that you’ll be able to camp on Department of Conservation (DOC) and local council land.
Read our article for more information about freedom camping in New Zealand.
Alternatively, if you’re travelling in a campervan that isn’t self-contained, you’re likely to be spending most of your nights in holiday parks. You may want to check out Holiday Parks NZ to help you decide where to stay.
Don’t: forget to empty your waste
If you’re driving a self-contained campervan, you’ll need to remember to dispose of your waste (from the shower, sink and toilet) every 2-3 days in an approved dump station. You’ll find these stations at most holiday parks or can locate them using the online AA map, the CamperMate app (iOS & Android) or the Camping NZ app (iOS & Android).
Dumping your waste incorrectly is not only disrespectful but illegally dumping it on public land can result in fines of up to $10,000.
Do: be a tidy traveller
There’s no denying that New Zealand is one stunning country. To keep it this way, we rely on ourselves and tourists to tidy up before leaving an area. This means that in addition to appropriately emptying your waste, you should never leave rubbish behind or damage an area you’re camping in. It’s pretty straightforward, but with massive fines and our country on the line, it’s worth the reminder.
Now, you’re jam-packed with knowledge and ready to hit the road. We hope that with these tips you’re feeling prepared for an epic kiwi road trip. If you need any further advice don’t hesitate to call us on +64 9 302 4139 (Auckland) or +64 3 379 3941 (Christchurch), or just pop into one of our locations for a chat.