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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.

Taupo Driving Guide

It’s not hard to imagine why you are coming here. Taupo and the local Great Lake Taupo region is surrounded by volcanic mountains, snow capped peaks in winter and a host of many events all year round.

It has the largest freshwater lake in Australasia and mountains that are internationally known, forming the World Heritage area of Tongariro National Park, and Mt Ngauruhoe. No wonder Mount Doom in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed here.

So without much further thought, we thought we would get you started on some of the best short drives in the region.

  • Taupo to Tongariro National Park
  • 1 h 22 min to Tongariro National Park (103.0 km)

Driving out along Lake Taupo’s eastern shore past Motutaiko Island, follow the signs to join the SH47, which then tags along the western side of the three magnificent snow-capped volcanoes that form the Tongariro National Park. It’s a World Heritage Site and New Zealand’s oldest national park.  It didn’t take long for the locals to preserve this beautiful area for eternity.

There are outstanding vistas of Mount Tongariro at 1968m, Mount Ngauruhoe at 2287m, and next Mount Ruapehu, the highest peak at 2979m.

After your adventure to this amazing place take the Desert Highway plateau which has the highest elevation of any road in New Zealand. Make sure you have car window open to suck in the fresh mountain air.

  • Taupo to Blue and Green Lakes and Buried Village
  • 1h 25 min to Blue and Green Lakes and Buried Village (105.0km)

Head north out of Taupo on the SH5, then join the Tarawera Road (30A) for an outstanding scenic drive past California redwoods and mountains with tree ferns with the most unusual . Above Blue Lake (Tikitapu), you will see the stunning blue color from the lights reflection on the lake floors rhyolite and pumice. Close by you will see Green Lake (Lake Rotokakahi) which has a lake floor of sand reflecting emerald green, provided the light conditions are favorable.

You might want to stop over at the Buried Village (Te Wairoa) to visit its museum, waterfalls and geyser.

  • Taupo to Napier
  • 1 h 46 min to Napier (141.1 km)

Journey down the Thermal Explorer Highway and you will experience jaw dropping scenes across the landscape.  It’s a winding road with mountains that are covered in trees, and as you descend into Napier there are outstanding views of Hawkes Bay.

This coastal town has the affectionate reputation of being of Art Deco architecture and having an Art Dec Trust shop to buy presents for your friends back home.

  • Taupo to Huka Falls, Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve, and the Aratiatia Rapids
  • 50 min to Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve (60 km)

Driving north up the SH5 north for around 6 minutes and only 5kms from Taupo to Huka Falls, you will see one of the most popular attractions in New Zealand.  The Maori word ‘Huka’ translates to “foam” and it is aptly named. This 100m wide river that drains Lake Taupo is forced into a 15m gap, down through a gorge that thunders in a dramatic roar.

Another 8km along is the Aratiatia Dam. If you get there before 10am, 12pm or 2pm ( 4pm during summer) go and stand on the bridge next to the power station. You will hear sirens just before the dam gates open, belching a huge volume of water from Lake Taupo, transforming the stream into a gush of foaming white water.

Drive another 47km north to Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve.  Here you can see the aqua-blue lake and majestic deep ochre-red cliffs of Maungakakaramea, with traces of steam coming from the geothermal springs.

If you want to spend a bit more time around some of these places we suggest that you consider one of the many accommodation options outside of Taupo.  There’s quite a lot to choose from depending on where you go.

At Cheaperthancars and Cheaperthanhotels you will find great deals on rental cars and accommodation in and around Taupo. We believe that by spending less you will be able to do more when you get there.

Your Cheaperthancars Team

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