Hiring a Campervan in New Zealand?
If you’re heading to New Zealand from North America there are a lot of differences when driving. For a start, those crazy Kiwis drive on the wrong side of the road just like the Brits and Aussies, but also their road rules and road signs are quite different.
While it’s fairly easy to learn the basic road rules (you can try a free tourist Road Code quiz here http://www.drivingtests.co.nz/roadcode/tourist/) there are some scenarios that can easily catch you out, even to the point of having the campervan impounded.
Unposted speed limits
On the open road where there are no street light and no other signs, the speed limit is 100kph (62mph). If there are street lights and it’s an urban area the default limit is 50kph (31mph). However, there are two other scenarios where there is no posted speed limit, and they are both 20kph. Because exceeding the speed limit by 50kph or more means the vehicle will be impounded, you’ll be disqualified from driving and your wallet will be emptied by several hundred dollars, you need to know these two situations.
If you see a blue or orange sign with ACCIDENT written on it, only police can put these up and it means you are coming up to a serious accident. The speed limit is 20kph until you have passed the site of the accident. If you see a reflective warning triangle there is no prescribed speed limit, but you should still exercise caution and slow down; any motorist can put a warning triangle out if there vehicle has become a temporary hazard.
This is the most insidious: if a school bus is stopped on the side of the road and it’s picking up or dropping off children then the speed limit past the bus is 20kph and this is even if you are heading in the other direction on the other side of the road. On rural roads where the speed limit is 100kph you can occasionally come around a corner to find a bus on the side of the road, so pay attention to signs warning you that you are on a school bus route, and take care between 8-9am and 3-4pm on week days outside of school holidays.
Tourist drivers are watched by police
Police are particularly vigilant with tourist drivers in certain areas, especially in the south of the South Island where drivers without a New Zealand licence tend to make up a disproportionate number of the accident statistics. They are looking for speeding, poor lane use and discourteous driving. In some cases police have instructed rental vehicle companies to cancel contracts if a tourist’s driving has been deemed to have been extremely bad.
Many of the tourist routes can become very busy during peak season and police want to keep traffic moving safely. This means that if you are on a scenic journey and you are driving slowly because you’re looking at the scenery or you’re looking for a particular attraction or destination, it is your responsibility to let other drivers pass you periodically. There are marked passing bays, passing lanes and shoulders that you can pull into to help other drivers pass you.
Speed limit tolerances on public holidays and holiday weekends
During public holidays and holiday weekends the speed limit tolerance is often reduced to 4kph over the posted limit, i.e. police will prosecute at 104kph in a 100kph zone. They do tend to be sensible about this, though, in that if you are in a convoy of traffic moving at around that speed and no one is tailgating or driving dangerously, they will let it slide. However, fixed and moveable speed cameras will still capture you. If you see a van on the side of the road like this, it’s an unmarked camera – there will be lots of them on tourist routes.
Watch out for thieves
There are certain areas where campervans are targeted by thieves. These include car parks in some walking areas, and secluded spots such as Kerosene Creek near Rotorua. Lock everything out of sight – don’t give anyone any reason to break in to your campervan. Take your important documents with you if possible, just in case.
New Zealand is beautiful – live to see it
New Zealand is a stunning place; it’s just that it’s a stunning place criss-crossed with below average roads, and this causes both tourists and locals some problems. You’re going to be jetlagged when you get there, so take your time when you pick up your campervan to study any of the material supplied about the NZ road rules; you will almost certainly be given a copy of a booklet called What’s Different About Driving in New Zealand. When you’re driving, stop for a rest if you feel tired, keep left and drive courteously – that way you’ll be making the return journey with many happy memories.