Autumn drive

With increasing numbers of tourists visiting New Zealand and wanting to drive themselves around the country, there has unfortunately been an increase in road deaths.  Like Britain and Japan, New Zealand is a left hand drive country. However, many of the tourists arriving are from places where they drive on the right. To add to the problem, New Zealand has no motorways connecting any city. They only extend a few kilometres from the centres of Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Expressways can be found approaching Tauranga,  Hamilton and between Napier and Hastings. Auckland does have a network of motorways but these are often congested and don’t allow for the high speed driving found on the motorway systems of Europe and the USA.


The highest concentration of foreign tourists are found driving around the country’s southern scenic hotspots on roads unsuited for speed. These roads are all single lane with many of them having numerous sharp corners. The main roads linking the interior towns are also narrow and during the months of June, July, August and September.

narrow road sign

The Central Otago town of Queenstown is one of the world’s top alpine resorts and is on the itinerary of most foreign visitors who choose to drive. It is also around this part of the South Island where the majority of fatal road accidents have occurred in the last two years. Other black spots are in the central North Island where tourists, unused to driving on the left, can drift onto the wrong side of the road and collide with oncoming traffic. In many cases, they smash into speeding trucks that are common on roads in this part of the country.

As of the 1st August this year, there has been 166 road smashes across New Zealand. This is a high number considering the total population of the country is similar to Berlin or Los Angeles.


Car rental companies have recently introduced new driving instructions for foreigners who hire their cars. Some companies put these drivers through a short driving test before handing over the keys. New road signs have also been erected in the tourist areas reminding drivers to keep to the left. It is hoped these measures will help reduce the deaths on NZ roads. However, it is hard to train a tourist from China, Korea or India where they don’t usually get the opportunity to drive on open roads where speed is a temptation. Too many accidents are caused by visitors from these three countries. To add to the problem, motorhomes, also called campervans, are popular with young Europeans who have never driven a vehicle of this size before, let alone on the other side of the road. The New Zealand Transport Agency has produced some safe driving videos reminding foreign drivers how to drive on Kiwi roads. http://www.drivesafe.org.nz/ Although a good idea, the number of accidents caused by these drivers continues to climb.


There are currently 70,000 campervans/motorhomes in New Zealand Not all of these vehicles are self contained, meaning they don’t carry a toilet so those using them have to find toilet facilities somewhere. Since many tourists like to experience the great outdoors New Zealand is famous for, many of them park overnight in the middle of nowhere, and use the bush nearby as a toilet. This has become an increasing problem and doesn’t do anything to help the country’s ‘clean, green’ reputation. A number of local authorities are now taking action to stop people leaving waste in public places and issue infringement notices if possible. Those wanting to stop for the night in a town or city often park illegally in public car parks. Some councils have introduced bylaws banning ‘freedom campers’ as campervan/motorhome occupants are referred to, from parking overnight in their local car parks. The issue has become a bit of a problem. Kiwis are happy to see the foreign tourist and like to think they are friendly and welcoming but it’s also a matter of keeping the public protected from stepping on human waste while enjoying the great outdoors and from the litter that some leave behind in public car parks. It’s really a matter of both sides respecting each other so both have pleasant experiences.