Drive Round NZ - Self Drive tours around New Zealand - Best Advice, Best Tours, the Best


The information below will be useful to short or long term trips but is orientated towards a tour planned mostly around camping/motels/hostels. Some of the advice may make you wonder what on earth you are letting yourself in for but in reality you'll be safe if you take a few precautions and use some common sense! Rough Guides

Lonely PlanetA good book on touring New Zealand will help you get the most out of your trip. It will tell you about tourist destinations, what to expect when you get there, accommodation, places to eat and just about everything else. There are dozens of books and web sites out there but many people find the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides literature incredibly useful.

General Advice

The weather and time of year to visit:
The weather is never so miserable that there's no point in going to New Zealand: there are things to see and do all year round. The warmer months (November to April) are busiest, especially during the school holidays from December 20 to the end of January. Ski resort towns are obviously busier during the winter months. If you're travelling during peak periods (especially the Christmas season) it's best to book ahead, as much accommodation and transport fills up. It's probably more pleasant to visit either before or after this hectic period, when the weather is still warm and there aren't as many other travellers around.

Camping is always an optionAccommodation:
New Zealand is extremely well prepared for the traveler and the summer months is perfect for the outdoors way of life. Campsites can be found almost everywhere and are mostly clean and well kept. You'll pay anything from NZ$10-25 per day for a two man tent. National parks and other remote areas often have bush campsites. These are off the beaten track and provide useful basic facilities such as toilets and an area for a fire (always check fire restrictions before starting one). These sites are great if you enjoy getting back to nature. You'll find birds and animals all around and there's nothing better than sitting round your fire cooking dinner, downing a beer and gazing up at more stars then you ever knew existed.

Sometimes a bit of comfort is welcomeThe most popular accommodations for visiting tourists are B&Bs, motels and hotels. These range from mid price 3-star to very highly priced resort and boutique style hotels. As with all accommodation you get the good, average and bad and so knowing the sensibly priced, good quality places is useful. The excellent ‘i-SITE’ Visitor Centres are all over NZ and they will help you find accommodation in each area. However, you tend to find that by turning up at the end of a day’s drive and searching for somewhere to stay often means that the good, medium priced places have all been booked.

The expensive and poor quality rooms tend to fill last and so organising accommodation in advance means you’ll often get better value. This is especially important in summer when accommodation in some areas is booked many months in advance. Trying to find accommodation in major tourist centres such as Queenstown in school holiday time for example is challenging to say the least and you can expect to pay a premium.

Booking in advance is essential at these times and so while a carefree drive stopping wherever you fancy may be your preferred style of travel it is often not practical at the busier times of year unless you have a very flexible wallet! If you are part of a group the accommodation issue is a very important one as there are many places where accommodation is limited and if you need several rooms together it can be impossible to find at the time of arrival. Booking in advance is essential in this case.

Insects and flies:
Flies can be incredibly annoying at certain times of year in some areas but it's surprising how quickly you get used to a few hanging around! Insect repellant is a must. Even if you think there's no chance of mosquitoes or sand flies (common in the south island around water) there normally is and so make it a regular routine to put it on in the morning and if you stop for long periods.

Preparation before you leave:

Firstly, always prepare a detailed list of things to take and then check it thoroughly before leaving home. Leaving your credit cards and cash at home won't make for a good start to your holiday!

Dont forget all important documentationDocumentation:
Don't forget to take your car license, passport with visa, flight tickets, booking confirmations, credit cards/cash, travel books etc. We strongly recommend you obtain personal health and general travel insurance before you depart for New Zealand.

Riding/Driving tips:

At some stage of your trip you'll probably spend a long time holding the accelerator in one place. It hurts after an hour or two and you should plan to stop and stretch regularly. Some of the more modern vehicles you might be traveling in will come fitted with cruise control, an absolute godsend on the the longer stretches of highway. Don't get lulled into a false sense of security though. Don't forget, it'll take you longer to react to anything happening on the road up ahead if you've got the cruise control on and your feet on the dash.

Falling asleep:
You'll see signs all over New Zealand warning you of the consequences of falling asleep whilst driving. It is one of their biggest killers and if you feel drowsy don't take chances. Some of the mountain roads are particularly unforgiving if you're feeling drowsy.

Air conditioning:
Most cars and campers have air conditioning, just don't forget to keep the windows up if you're using it. No point in air-conditioning New Zealand instead of the inside of your car.

Whatever the animal, slow down and make sure it is out of harms way before you pass.
Animals and travelling at night:
The rule for traveling at night, dawn and dusk is simple - don't! Animals feed at this time and hitting anything at night (or day for that matter) can be pretty damn unpleasant. Make sure you're safely tucked up in bed before the animals come out to play.


For the most part New Zealand tarmac roads are in good shape and you can get to the majority of the tourist sites without leaving them. Many tourists want to see some of the less traveled routes and to do this you'll drive on roads without the 'black top'. The condition of these can vary dramatically and it's worth asking locals/the police what to expect. Many of them require a 4WD car/camper. If you've little or no experience off road just take your time and drive within your abilities at all times. Don't try and be a hero. It's just not worth the consequences of a nasty accident especially in a remote location.

Be aware: New Zealand law prohibits the use of rental vehicles on the following roads: Tasman Valley Road (Mt Cook), Nevis Canyon Road (Otago), Skippers Canyon (Queenstown), Macetown Road (Queenstown), Ninety Mile Beach (Northland) and any unformed road (including any beach.)

The police are extremely rigorous when it comes to speeding. Mobile cameras are used in many cities and if you are just 2-3kph over the limit you'll be in for a fine. This zero tolerance policy means that for the most part New Zealanders don't speed.

Drink driving:
There was a day when distances were measured in the amount you could drink between two places. One town to the next might be a six-pack or a long journey could be a crate! Those days have gone and drink driving is just as socially unacceptable as it is in most of the world. If you do then one large, typically New Zealand authority billboard I've seen sums you up…"If you drink and drive you must be a bloody idiot!" No expensive marketing man needed for that succinct slogan!

Water crossings can be hazardousWater crossings:
Water crossings can be dangerous so don't go rushing in. Look carefully and walk your route first. Check for large boulders and holes. In some regions of New Zealand water levels can rise very rapidly and the force of water can be stronger than you think. Storms are very heavy but often short. If you get stuck between two rivers the best thing to do may be to wait as levels go up very quickly but come down just as fast. You may be there for a day or two but that's better than chancing your luck in the water.

Petrol, oil and water:
Don't take chances with these. If you're out hiking (tramping) you'll drink much more than you expect and if you reach the point where you are thirsty you're not drinking enough. Make sure you take enough with you, and even more than that if you need it for cooking, washing or anything else. Don't rely on other travelers to have spare petrol, oil or water - they'll need it for themselves! Plan your route carefully and check that you have plenty spare when you reach the next roadhouse or town. Be very careful if you intend to go into remote regions.

Tongariro National ParkPlanning your route and daily preparation:
Always take a detailed map especially if you're in remote regions. In these areas talk to local authorities about your intended trip. Always plan your route carefully noting roadhouses and towns and work out the distances to cover. Be aware of possible wrong turns - it can literally save your life. Imagine traveling on a track when you unknowingly take a wrong turn. You reach the point where you don't have sufficient fuel to return to civilisation before realising you've gone the wrong way. You may be stuck in a hostile environment for days before anyone comes along - if you're lucky. It's no exaggeration to say that many have died making this kind of mistake. Remote trips are incredibly exhilarating but you must plan the distances and points of return properly. ALWAYS let others know (local police for example) your route and estimated time of arrival and be sure to check in as soon as you arrive. Buying or hiring an emergency radio and/or beacon may be wise in very remote areas.

Tools and useful extras:
A toolkit is often included with the car or 4x4 but there's a couple of extras you might find handy. Firstly, always carry a good knife. You may only need it for opening beer bottles but it can also be put to many other uses. Another handy item is a tube of "liquid metal" or similar that allows you to mix two putty like materials together. It cures to a solid and can be used to fill holes in sumps, repair petrol tanks etc. Interestingly, soap can be used to fill a hole in a petrol tank as fuel won't dissolve it. Another useful quick fix is putting pepper into a holed radiator to stop the leak!

Breakdowns and punctures - always carry a tool kitBreakdowns and punctures:
New Zealanders are generally extremely friendly and will help if you've broken down and are really stuck. If on a long term hire then the toolkit and spares will cover most of the problems you might encounter.