You simply can’t beat the freedom of exploring New Zealand with your own set of wheels. To make sure you stay safe along the way, we’ve compiled our top campervan driving tips for staying alert on New Zealand roads.

Keep left

In New Zealand, we drive on the left side of the road. If this isn’t the norm back home it may feel unsettling at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. Just remember to take extra care when exiting a car park and always check to your right when entering a roundabout.

Make it click

When driving, everyone in your campervan must be wearing a safety belt. As the driver, you are responsible for ensuring that all passengers are following this rule. If you or your passengers aren’t wearing a seatbelt you risk not only your lives but also a $150 fine if you are caught. Anyone over the age of 15 not wearing a seatbelt can be fined as well, even if they’re not driving. This rule applies whenever the vehicle is in motion, that includes carparks!

Speed limits, not targets

Speed limits in New Zealand are displayed on circular red and white signs with the speed written in black. Generally, the limit is 30km/h around roadworks, 50km/h in towns and cities and 100 km/h on open roads and highways. An open road is indicated by a circular white sign, with a diagonal black line through it.
Remember to drive to the conditions. The weather in New Zealand can change quickly and dramatically, so make sure to drive to the conditions. Reduce your speed if it’s rainy, foggy or icy.

When you are familiarising yourself with the campervan, we suggest driving slightly slower than the limit. Although 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 you can safely pull over and let the cars pass.

Expect a lot of corners

Although driving in New Zealand is much easier than in some countries, the roads are often windy and narrow. To help you take these corners safely, you will find recommended cornering speeds displayed on yellow signs. These are often in a diamond shape with the direction of the corner pictured.

Think before you overtake

Campervans are usually heavier than your average car, and therefore are slower to accelerate. Don’t overtake unless there is an extremely safe opportunity to do so. Be aware that crossing a solid yellow centre-line is illegal in New Zealand.

Understand the one-lane bridge rule

You will often find one-lane bridges in New Zealand when crossing rivers and creeks. These bridges operate on a priority system, dictated by the sign you’ll see to the left of the bridge entrance. The sign will show two arrows, pointing in opposite directions.

The biggest arrow on these signs will have priority when crossing the bridge, and will either be white or black. A smaller red arrow shows which car will have to give way. If you have the priority to cross, but there is already a car on the bridge, you will have to wait your turn. In any case, make sure to slow down before a one-lane bridge and check that it is clear before proceeding.

Be wary when going off the beaten track

Campervan travellers often have more incentive to travel off the beaten track, as it allows you to camp comfortably in any location. Getting to remote locations however often involves driving on less maintained, unsealed, or uneven roads. To do so safely, it is crucial that you drive slower than you usually would. A heavier vehicle means longer stopping distances, so make sure to take extra care on gravel or wet roads.

Know the difference between ‘GIVE WAY’ and ‘STOP’

This may seem obvious, but people still make the mistake. The red triangular ‘GIVE WAY’ sign indicates that you must prepare to stop if there is another driver proceeding through the intersection. It will be accompanied by a white line marking the start of the intersection on your lane of the road.

A red octagon ‘STOP’ sign means you must come to a complete stop, and check for vehicles and pedestrians before continuing. Failing to do so is not only dangerous but can result in a $150 fine if caught.

Plan your road trip

Before hitting the road, it will help to plan out your route and take note of the estimated travelling duration. Rather than frantically trying to follow the map for the first time, pre-planning will leave you feeling de-stressed and prepared. Using a GPS will also help you avoid traffic, and find alternative routes if required.

Give yourself a break

Taking regular breaks from driving will help keep you alert, and also allow you to see more of our beautiful country. From a quick toilet stop to a picnic at one of New Zealand’s many lakes, you’ll feel much better after taking a break from the road.

Remember to empty your waste

Speaking of break times and trip planning, if you’re driving a self-contained campervan you’ll need to remember to dispose of your waste. Every 2-3 days you’ll have to visit an approved dump station to empty your shower, sink, and toilet waste.

You can find these stations at most holiday parks or locate them using the online AA map, the Camping NZ app (iOS & Android) or the CamperMate app (iOS & Android).

Take extra caution in the slippery South Island

During the winter nights in the South Island of New Zealand, the temperature often drops below zero degrees Celsius. When it gets this cold, surface water on the road freezes into a transparent sheet of ice. This is known as black ice, and is extremely dangerous to drive on. In such conditions, it is essential to drive slowly, increase your following distance, and avoid suddenly breaking or changing directions.

If you’re planning a winter drive over mountain passes or are heading to the ski fields, remember to request our free snow chains (available on request and subject to availability). Some roads, especially those leading to ski fields, mandate that you have snow chains available to drive on them.

Be aware of the toll roads

There are only three toll roads in New Zealand, all of which are located in the North Island:

  • Northern Gateway Toll Road ($2.40) – North of Auckland, between Silverdale and Puhoi.
  • Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road ($2.10) – East of Tauranga, between Papamoa and Paengaroa.
  • Takitimu Drive Toll Road ($1.90) – Between Judea and Tauranga South.

Using an electronic system, a toll is charged each time you use one of these roads, which you are then responsible for paying. The charge will be applied automatically to Escape Rentals, which you will then pay upon return of the vehicle.

Avoid obvious (and illegal) distractions

It’s a no-brainer, but here’s a quick reminder that drinking and driving is illegal in New Zealand. In addition to this being a risk to yourself and others, such a reckless action can result in hefty fines and possible jail time.

Similarly, like many countries, it is illegal to use your mobile phone while driving. If a call or text is urgent, wait until you can find a safe spot to pull over before answering.

A little reading will go a long way

Although New Zealand’s road rules and road signs are widely understood, brushing up on the NZ Road Code will undoubtedly boost your driving confidence. Plus, on the collection of your campervan, you will be reminded of these rules in your free ‘What’s different about driving in NZ‘ handbook.

Now, you’re good to go! It’s time to hire that Escape campervan and have an epic road trip of a lifetime.