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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in New Zealand

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: June 2017


Citizens from other countries are permitted to drive in New Zealand using an International Driving Permit or their existing licence for up to twelve months. If the permit is not in English, it must be accompanied by a certified translation. Note that the New Zealand Translation Service will be happy to provide one for you.

A few weeks before the 12 months have elapsed, you should apply for a New Zealand driving licence. Depending on what your home country is, you may need to pass a theory test and/or practical driving test at one of the conversion centres given on this NZ Transport Agency webpage.

Your vehicle will need to be inspected annually and road tax is payable. Driving in New Zealand is on the left. If this is unfamiliar territory to you, this website will help you to become better acquainted with it and with other driving conditions in New Zealand. Road distances are measured in kilometres, and typical speed limits in New Zealand are given in the table below.

Road Type

Speed (kph)

Speed (mph)

Motorways (cars)



Motorways (large vehicles)



Rural areas



Urban roads



Note well that there are hidden speed cameras in some of the places where speeding is a frequent occurrence. New Zealand has a very low level of fatalities from road traffic accidents, approximately 6 deaths per 100,000 people per annum.

The drink-driving limit for those up to 19 is zero. For over 19s, the limit is 50 mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (the equivalent of 250 μg per litre of breath). The punishment received is determined by the amount by which the limit was exceeded. Drivers who exceed the above limits but not the upper limits (30 mg for youths and 80 mg for over 19s) have committed an infringement and will lose licence points. Those who exceed the higher limits can expect to be fined, banned from driving or even imprisoned.

For most people, driving licences expire every ten years, so you will have to renew them. In addition to your driving licence, insurance and registration documents, whenever you are driving in New Zealand, you should have a warning triangle in the vehicle; it is a good idea to keep a high-visibility jacket inside as well.

There are many hills and mountains in New Zealand; this constrains the road network to some extent. There are many ups and downs and bends, even on the motorways, of which there are only 100km. Most main roads have only two lanes, and in some places the roads are narrow and windswept.

As it is a sparsely populated country, traffic congestion is not much of a problem in New Zealand, except in parts of Auckland. There are three toll roads in New Zealand, all on North Island. Electronic payment is available; for more details see this NZ Transport Agency page. If you are going to be driving in New Zealand long-term, it is a good idea to join a breakdown organisation such as NZ Roadside Assistance or the New Zealand AA.



In this car-orientated country, the passenger railway network is very limited and trains are not very frequent. The railway service, run by Kiwi Rail, runs from Auckland to Wellington and, on South Island, from Picton on the north coast via Christchurch to Greymouth on the west coast. This means that the three largest cities are connected, but if you want to travel elsewhere, you will need to make alternative arrangements. Though, as the Auckland to Wellington line is one of the most scenic train rides in the world, it may be worth travelling on anyway.

Auckland is the only New Zealand city to have a metro network. There are four different lines covering most areas of the city.


Buses and Coaches

Buses are a cheap and convenient means of getting around town and country. There are regular services via major city routes and between airports and city centres. There is no national bus company; instead bus services are contracted out. The largest company running bus services is NZ Bus.

Coaches do an important job filling in the gaps where there are no train lines. This is particularly the case on South Island. You will normally need to book your coach in advance. Deals for multiple or season tickets are always available. There is also a flexipass system, in which you can switch between two networks. Kiwi Experience and Naked Bus are two examples of coach companies.



Given the dearth of trains, taking a domestic flight may be the quickest and most convenient travel option, especially for longer distances or when travelling from one island to the other. Prices for domestic flights are reasonable, or very reasonable if you fly economy class with a bargain carrier. The three largest airlines are Air New Zealand, Jetstar New Zealand and Pacific Blue.

New Zealand has 13 major airports, of which Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are fully international. A further four offer flights to Australia only.



Taking a ferry is a leisurely means of travelling between North and South Islands. For example, there is the Interislander Ferry run by Kiwi Rail. Both passenger and car ferries run frequently, between the national capital Wellington and Picton on South Island. The Cook Strait has some beautiful scenery. Otherwise, there is the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry. The journey takes about three hours.




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