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New Zealand is without a doubt one of the world’s most beautiful countries. Yet there are a few important things to understand about this breathtaking land before you hit the road.
From road safety to sandflies, sirens to drones, here’s our list of New Zealand travel tips to give you all the information you need to get the most out of this spectacular country.
A large percentage of visitors to New Zealand take the self drive option to see as much of the jaw dropping beauty that the country has in spades. Yet driving in New Zealand is often unlike driving in most other parts of the world, (though very similar to somewhere with a similar landscape, such as Iceland).
In cities and large towns the roads are often wide and an easy drive, yet the rural roads are usually long, narrow, steep or a combination of all three. Driving conditions can change in instant, so here are a few tips to help you stay safe when driving in New Zealand.
Always plan long routes in advance and be aware of how long it can take to get from one place to another. With so many bends in every road and usually only one choice of route to take road journeys can be very long.
If you add in the number of unplanned stops you might take to admire the many incredible views that you’ll pass on the way, then journey times can soon creep up.
Plan your route in advance and take rest breaks if you need to. You can easily find yourself driving tired as night starts to fall, which is not a good combination.
For some reason tailgating seems to be a national sport in New Zealand.
If you’re driving in New Zealand at some stage you’ll find the car behind you needlessly close to your rear bumper. It appears to be an Australasian problem, though it wasn’t something that we ever encountered in Australia.
The only real advice is to not panic, stay focused and to let them pass when the chance arrives. Even in the most rural of areas there are often stretches of road with a short passing lane that allows you to let those behind you to pass.
Almost all of the rural network of roads has no street lighting, so driving at night requires a lot of attention.
Use full beams when it’s appropriate to do so and keep an eye out for the wildlife. Unfortunately night time doesn’t stop the tailgaters.
There are a lot of bridges over the many rivers that run down from the mountains and into the sea, and the vast majority are only single lane. One direction of traffic will have priority over the other, so queues can sometimes form at busy times on the road.
Single lane bridges are signed posted and also announced in advance in huge letters on the road surface though they can often appear without much warning, especially around bends in the road, so always pay attention.
Roadworks and running repairs are common on rural roads. Minor landslides do occasionally happen and it’s not uncommon to see temporary traffic lights used with one lane closed whilst repairs are carried out. Again these can sometimes cause small queues at busier times of day.
There are plenty of places to stop and take in the many stunning views in New Zealand, though be aware that many of these are quite poorly signposted. Some scenic lookouts aren’t signposted until you get to them, making them very easy to miss altogether.
Using a mapping app and keeping tabs on where you are is highly recommended rather than relying just on the road signs alone. However……..
….. mobile phone network coverage is virtually non-existent everywhere outside of towns and cities in New Zealand.
Our tip is to download Maps.me, a map app that can track your location even when you have no signal. It also shows the location of viewpoints and scenic lookouts and can be used as a sat nav for planning routes.
Maps.me will drain a sizable chunk out of your phone’s battery life, so either use it sparingly or have a USB charger cable to hand so that you can recharge your phone whilst you drive.
Depending on the season, the weather in New Zealand can be incredibly changeable. An incredible sunrise in the morning can turn into beautiful blue sky and sunshine, yet by lunchtime it can turn grey and torrential rain can fill the afternoon.
Also, one day of glorious sunshine and warm weather can easily be followed by a day of non-stop rain and vice-versa.
Always check the weather forecast in advance. Another of our New Zealand travel tips is to always have a plan B in mind in case the weather interferes with your original plans.
If you’re going anywhere near Fiordland you’ll more than likely have fun with sandflies. These little critters seem to appear out of nowhere and will make a beeline for any exposed areas of skin.
Though their bites are harmless they are incredibly itchy and annoying. You can buy sandfly repellent which does a pretty decent job of keeping them at bay.
Many areas popular with tourists in New Zealand are no drone zones. This is especially the case in and around Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier due to the high number of helicopters operating in the area.
If you’re taking a drone with you on your travels to New Zealand always check to ensure that drones are allowed to be used in specific areas.
It can be quite terrifying to be awoken in the middle of the night by a huge unexplained siren blaring from out of nowhere. Thankfully this isn’t an earthquake warning (as many people first assume it to be).
Many of the fire services in small towns are staffed by volunteers and if you hear a loud long siren it’s the call to the volunteers to let them know that they’re needed.
Our final New Zealand travel tip is to ask a local for the best places to visit. The people in New Zealand are an extremely friendly bunch and happy to strike up a conversation.
Kiwis also love their country and know if better than most, so if you get talking to someone tell them the route you’re taking and ask them where they’d recommend going or for recommendations on somewhere to eat that’s on your way.
We were told about Okarito beach and Nugget Point by chance conversations with a couple of different Kiwis. With so many beautiful places to see in New Zealand you’re spoiled for choice.
Getting a personal recommendation from someone in the know is a great way to help you decide what to see whilst travelling through New Zealand.
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