Driving Safely in Queenstown New Zealand

Safety First

Yes, not only is Queenstown New Zealand at the bottom of the world, but we drive on the left-hand side of the road too.  Year in and year out we experience an unfortunate number of driving incidents and accidents on our roads, mostly with interactions with tourists. Our first thought is for your safety.  When you book a trip to Queenstown to stay with Spinnaker Bay Executive Apartments, we want you to have the best experience possible.  As such, this blog is designed to give you a few helpful tips on driving safely on our roads.


1. Left-Hand Driving

A simple rule with driving on the left is to always keep the driver closest to the medium line.  An easy tip is to wait until a car passes you before you pull out onto main roads to ensure you are travelling on the correct side.

2. Book an Automatic Transmission

Automatics are common in NZ and you can easily choose an automatic over a manual.  Avoid a little of the driving stress while you learn to master the left-hand side of the road by eliminating the footwork and booking an automatic car with your rental agency.

3. Don't Overtake

Please, just don't do it.  Practice patience  - we would rather you arrive alive than DEAD on time.   Also, note that NZ Drivers are NOT welcoming to tourists who drive above the speed limit and overtake dangerously.  We do not have a speed culture - we have moderate speed limits and are not prepared to deal with drivers coming at us on the other side of the road.  Unlike in Italy where it's almost expected, the oncoming traffic WILL NOT move out of your way or leave you more room to pass.  Many many accidents happen this way.

Driving in Queenstown New Zealand Accommodation Apartments Spinnaker Bay 2

4. It's NOT COOL to Drink and Drive

In no way, under no circumstances, for any reason is it ok to drink and drive.  Our bars will report you or stop serving you if they know you are leaving the establishment driving a vehicle.  We are also empowered to call in other drivers who are driving erratically.  Think what you may, but be safe out there - to yourself, your passengers and the other drivers on the road!

5. Road Rage 

Unfortunately, if you drive like Max Verstappen and force other drivers off the road, cut corners or tailgate (drive too close to the car in front), then Kiwis are likely to retaliate verbally.  We wish it was otherwise, but keeping to the road rules will avoid any nasty confrontations!  

6. Parking

Just a wee reminder that Kiwis are incredibly respectful of parking rules, unlike many European countries.  You can't park on a yellow line for any reason, even for 2 minutes.  You can only park facing forward - by this we mean, you cannot sight a car park on the other side of the road and drive forward into it.  AND parking up on a curb will have you towed within minutes.  Pedestrian walkways and boardwalks are for Pedestrians... not cars!

7. Winter Driving

A kind reminder that winter in Queenstown is an alpine destination and gets wet and snowy.  And more often icy.  If you are not a confident winter driver we suggest handing the wheel over to someone else in your group that is.  A few tips to help include:

  • Drive a little later in the morning after the sun and the grit trucks have had a chance to work on the road
  • Keep your distance from the car in front at all times, and more in challenging weather conditions
  • Rent snow chains and LEARN how to use them.  Ask your rental agency for a demonstration - not an instruction book!
  • Carry an ice scraper
  • Buy a torch and emergency blanket for the car (these are above and beyond the first aid requirements)
  • Buy a few muslie bar snacks and some water - in case you get stranded

Driving in Queenstown New Zealand Accommodation Apartments Spinnaker Bay 1

8. Cattle

yes, there are more sheep than people in NZ and quite often you'll find them wandering on the roads.  If you come up to a farmer mustering his sheep it is super important that you keep calm, turn any music down and keep your car moving forward in the lowest gear.  Watch the farmers for instructions.

9. Roundabouts and Bridges

We have a lot of roundabouts and bridges which require a little more attention.  Just remember - always give way to your right!

10. Cyclists

NZ roads are narrow, windy, single lane each way, and often full of cyclists.  Keeping your speed down will help you identify cyclists early and allow you to slow down before checking for overtaking possibilities

11. The Weather

We touched on winter driving, but actually, Queenstown is an alpine environment and as such the weather can be quite unpredictable.  Allow time to get home in adverse conditions if need be.  Plan ahead and know that the best plan is to expect the unexpected!

We want you to thoroughly enjoy your time in Queenstown New Zealand so please drive safe and respectfully so we can welcome you on your next trip down South!