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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.

Hamilton - Waikato Driving Guide – SPEND LESS, DO MORE

This landlocked city of Hamilton -Waikato sits apart from the coastal cities and towns that cover New Zealand, but what it lacks in personality it makes up for in the beauty of the surrounding region.

Sure you’ll find pulsating bars and nightlife around Hood St and Victoria St, plus excellent restaurants and side walk cafes, but the chances are that when you arrive in Hamilton, you will be searching for something extra, so as to take advantage of your rental car and the freedom that it offers.

So we came up with some driving ideas to make this a really exceptional visit.

Not far from here you’ll find caves glistening in the dark with glow worms, stunning river walks, black sandy beaches, beautifully green gardens and many more scenic highlights.

Hold tight, grab the steering wheel of your rental car and set your compass to one of our local Hamilton-Waikato drive suggestions.

Actually, we’ve separated out these ideas, but if you wish to, you can combine them, as they are all to be found in a similar direction down the SH39.  You’ll just need more time to enjoy them, perhaps with a night stay or two if you want. Here goes:

  • Hamilton to Waitomo Caves

1 h to Waitomo Caves (74.7 km)

Head south out of Hamilton down the SH39 and head to Waitomo.

Here, beneath the lush green hills of Waitomo there is a hidden a labyrinth of amazing caves, sinkholes and underground rivers. Waitomo in Maori language comes from the word “wai”, which means water.

These caves were formed by subterranean streams of water pushing through the soft limestone substrata for many thousands of years.  Around the many stalactites coming down from the ceilings and stalagmites growing up from the floor of the caves, you will see vast star like galleries of glow worms on the cave walls.  If you’ve never seen them before, it will be a special sight to encounter as you wonder how these creatures come to populate and display so incredibly their lights.

We would suggest that the best way to see the caves is by doing either a walking tour or a boat tour.  If you’re more adventurous there is blackwater rafting on rubber tubes where you will end up crawling, swimming or simply floating through the glowing caves in darkness.  So bring some gear to change into after you get really wet. There’s no doubt this trip will leave you with a lasting impression.

  • Hamilton to Pirongia Forest Park
  • 1 h 41 mins to Pirongia Forest Park (65.5 km)

Heading south west of Hamilton along the SH 39 where you will arrive at this glorious park.

This is a place where we suggest you that you take a small backpack, as there are walks leading to mountain summits, caves and incredible river gorges.  Along the way try nibbling the horopito bush which is one of New Zealand’s natural spices. Put that in you dish and eat it.

The Pirongia Forest Park has three extinct volcanos - Mount Pirongia (959 metres), The Cone (945 metres) and Mount Karioi (756 metres). Although covered in dense forest the vegetation changes as the altitude increases.  Depending on how long you have, there are walking tracks from 1 hour to 10 hours.

One area that we suggest is the walk to the Kaniwhaniwha Caves, close to the beginning of Bell Track. Here you can walk through 20 metre main cave with a short crawl at some point. You’ll need waterproof boots as the floor is wet and torches are also needed. The park is a mecca for wildlife where you may be lucky to see of tui, kereru (wood pigeons), bellbirds, harriers, kingfishers and pipis plus many more.

So if you’re into nature in New Zealand, yet again this place scores highly on the must do list.

  • Hamilton to Kawhia Harbour
  • 1 h 22 mins to Kawhia Harbour (Arrive around · Leave around · 85.3 km)
  • This is another drive down the SH39 out of Hamilton. But it’s well worth the trip.

This is a drowned river valley system on the Tasman Sea coast that has formed into Kawhia's Harbour. There is a large bar of black sand along the ocean beach, and if the low tide is in the afternoon, Kawai’s hot water beach will provided you with the opportunity of a sandy beach spa with the sun going down.  Try finding that anywhere else in the World.

To find these springs, you will need to drive to the end of Te Puia Road and wander over the dunes.

A significant area on the northern shore of the inner harbor, is the final place of rest for Tainui Waka, the Waikato Maori people’s migration canoe.  Here, two large stones stand upright to signify the stern and prow of the buried canoe. These stones are reached on the walk to Maketu Marae.

These locations really do deserve more time spent in them, so rather than making a quick dash in and out consider stopping combining them in one visit over for a night or two at one of the many budget accommodation or quality places to stay in the areas.

At Cheaperthancars and Cheaperthanhotels we offer a wide selection of rental cars and accommodation deals. We believe that the less you spend, the more enjoyment you will have when you get there.

Your Cheaperthancars Team

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