How to Not Fail at Your First Road Trip in New Zealand

Snowcapped mountains, meandering meadows, and a road that stretches far beyond what you can see. Some countries are made for road trips and New Zealand is one of these places.

It’s no wonder why you’d meet so many backpackers and travellers there. If you’ve spent most of your days in a traffic congested city, road tripping is definitely something to look forward to. With long distances and windy roads ahead, though, driving around New Zealand (read our guide to avoid getting into trouble with the traffic police) isn’t the same as cruising along your city’s highway.

To make the most of your travels, here are a few things to note before jumping right into your road trip:

Download offline maps

New Zealand is by no means a backward country but internet connection can be pretty unstable and expensive. There aren’t many places with public WiFi (see the dangers here) and certain areas completely cut off from data reception. Being lost with no idea where you are on the map is the last place you want to find yourself in on a road trip and getting offline maps on your phone is going to save you from these nightmare situations.

new zealand road trip

To download offline maps, simply use the Google Maps application and you can choose to download the map of an entire city or customise the area of your download. Even without an internet connection, offline maps let you know exactly where you are headed to and track your movements – an absolute necessity for road trips.

Check for refuelling stops along the way (in advance)

new zealand road trip

Another situation you don’t want to find yourself in is being miles away from the next petrol station when you’re running low on fuel. With lots of windy, mountainous roads ahead, fuel runs out pretty quickly when you’re on a road trip in New Zealand. It’s always smart to pin a few refuelling stops on your map before you set out.

Expect dramatic changes in speed limits

The speed limit could be 45km/h at one turn and then 100km/h just 10 metres later. When you’re driving along New Zealand’s windy roads, you might find yourself wondering how anyone can match speed limits that change so very rapidly. While speed limits give you a rough gauge of how fast (or slow) you should be going, it’s also important to remember that you don’t NEED to match speed limits all the time.

new zealand road trip

Locals who are used to New Zealand’s bumpy and windy roads probably go a lot faster so if you find that you’re driving way below the 100km/h speed limit on mountainous terrain, it’s completely fine. Don’t let the speed limit put too much pressure on you, safety always comes first.

Give faster vehicles a chance to pass you

It’s quite common for cars to be driving beyond 100km/h on motorways in New Zealand. If you’re not confident of driving at high speeds, or find that cars are starting to form up behind you, it’s probably a good idea to let them pass.

new zealand road trip

There are many slow vehicle bays along New Zealand’s motorways. When you see one, just give a left signal and slide right in and then get back on the road when other vehicles have passed you.

Familiarise yourself with the local road signs

new zealand road trip

Since there are many windy, narrow roads and few traffic lights, there are some road signs that let you know when you have to give way. It might be confusing if you encountered one along the way and have no idea what they mean so it’s better to read up briefly on some of these road signs online before your trip!

Psst: You can read up on these signs at here.

Prepare a feel-good song playlist

Besides it being a great way to hype up the mood, having a playlist can keep tired drivers from falling asleep. Driving from city to city can be quite a long drive and mentally exhausting especially if you’re not used to driving long distances. Having an upbeat playlist (on top of having a vigilant road-trippin’ partner) can do wonders to keep you awake and alert on the road.

Pro tip: Download your favourite tunes and albums on Spotify (get the premium account) prior to the road trip, preferably when you have access to the house WiFi. If not, rent our New Zealand #ChangiWiFi router here and stay connected 24/7. 

new zealand road trip

In general, roads in New Zealand are smooth and not that difficult to travel on, however, it’s still important to always put safety into consideration. It might take some time getting used to long distances, road signs, and windy roads but it’s nothing to stress over. Just be sure to stay prepared and ultimately, have lots of fun and remember to take in the breathtaking views you’ll pass by along the way!

Share with us any tips to conquer a New Zealand road trip!

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