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Driving Me Crazy - Quirky NZ Road Rules

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Rebekah Joy
Rebekah Joy

Its not rocket science. Research the road rules if you intend driving in another country. On a recent trip back to New Zealand, I tried explaining some of the quirky Kiwi road rules that exist to confuse our foreign friends. My Aussie partner looked at me blankly.

‘Never mind’, I thought, ‘the rental car place at Auckland airport will be able to explain things more eloquently.’


As we picked up our six berth camper van (I didn’t realise just how meaty a six berth was) I asked the nice lady to explain the’ big corner little corner rule’.

She looked at me blankly.

"You know,"I prompted, "the rule that can only applies in NZ".

Still no luck. I tried explaining it in grown up terms.

“Ok, if I’m turning left, I got to give way to the right.”

She still looked blank.

‘Maybe it’s changed,’ I thought.

“I’m sure that such a weird rule would be promoted on the aeroplane, or leaflets would be distributed at the car hire offices”’ my partner sighed. “Do you have any leaflets?”

"I’m not sure what your talking about, but if your confused just give way to everybody," she smiled.

Needless to say, the rule hasn’t changed. We drove from Auckland to Wellington in a flurry of beeps and red-faced locals because we weren’t giving way. I saw not one sign promoting speed cameras (not that a six berth camper van goes over 80km per hour) and wondered just what was New Zealand hiding with its obscure signage and obtuse information.

As it turns out the police and the Ministry of Transport have tried to have the rules regarding the quirky give way regulation scrapped as many overseas drivers are unaware of it and end up in pickle at intersections.

But perhaps locals are just as at fault as international guests when it comes to the road code. On return to Nelson (safe and sound – a few minor near misses) we found navigation of the narrow hill streets equally dangerous (yes it’s Russell Street).

‘Who gives way to who?’ my partner asked as we moved upwards towards an oncoming car.

“Oh that’s easy,” I replied, confidently, “On steep, narrow roads, it is easier for vehicles moving downhill to give way to vehicles moving uphill” (it was quote from the old handbook we had to learn at school to get our driving license).

“So why is he still coming?”

I looked at the car descending downhill in horror.  We served into a driveway.

“You’re supposed to give way to uphill,” I yelled.

“Never heard of it,” he screamed back before giving me the finger.

What is happening to the state of New Zealand roads?

Does nobody toot a friendly acknowledgement anymore when you pull over to let someone pass? Does everybody ignore the uphill downhill regulation? Why is no one giving way at intersections? Has it turned into a free for all out there? But what’s of more concern is that nobody is instructing international guests on the unique rules that govern New Zealand roads. Is it a case of ‘if they’re ignoring it, were ignoring it too?’

For anybody interested, the official road rule code is at:

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