Safe Winter Driving in New Zealand

Winter Driving Tips in New Zealand guide banner

VroomVroomVroom can not only make sure you have a great rental car for your trip at the best possible price; we also ensure you are equipped to handle any hazards you may come across on your drive. Here are our winter driving tips for New Zealand:

Keep up to date with weather and road conditions

As an oceanic country, the weather can change suddenly. If you are heading to the mountains, it is best to check the weather forecast and highway conditions before you get on the road. For weather, try MetService for the most comprehensive weather forecasting available. You can download their app, or use their 0900 phone service for local forecasts, whichever technology works best for you at the time. For the South Island, you can call 0900 999 03 and it could cost around $1.99. For highway conditions call their 24/7 freephone number 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49) or check out the live traffic cameras at NZ Transport Agency.

Will I need to hire snow chains?fitting snow chains

You most certainly will. Please note that the rental car company can supply chains and will be happy to show you how to fit them. Note that chains must be installed on the drive wheels. If you need help in coordinating with the supplier, feel free to contact our customer care experts. Make sure you also carry gloves and a torch; there's every chance you'll be putting them on in dull light. Further, always keep your phone handy and charged.

Driving on the presence of black ice

Black ice is a thin sheet of ice, dark in appearance and difficult for drivers to see. It is commonly found on frosty mornings around lakes and waterways, as well as in bridges, intersections, highway overpasses and underpasses. Warning signs are displayed when black ice conditions are prevalent, but you need to be vigilant at any time, especially in shady places. Remember that ice is much worse than wet roads, hence all drivers are advised to stay alert and take extra precautions when driving. 

Things to consider:

  • Freezing conditions are more severe at daybreak, so take extra care when driving early. 
  • Reduce your speed and allow extra following distances.
  • Don't overestimate the capabilities of your vehicle.
  • Should you hit a patch of black ice, remain calm and keep a steady grip on the steering wheel.
  • Avoid braking sharply or sudden changes in direction.
  • It's recommended to always travel during the warmer part of the day. However, if you have to travel at night or in the early hours of the morning then you better be come prepared.

Choose the best route

Generally speaking, snowfall shouldn't change your plans for long on the main highways and byways.  The issues will be if you are planning to cross the mountain passes over the Southern Alps. Having up-to-date information is vital, as the passes may close for longer periods of time. The two most commonly travelled on tourist itineraries are Arthur's Pass on State Highway 73, along the route between Christchurch and the West Coast, and Lindis Pass traversed by State Highway 8, linking the Mackenzie Basin to Central Otago.

Driving the South Island during winter

Driving conditions in South Island especially during winter (May to September) can be very challenging. Please take note of the following information.
using two way radio
  1. Carry snow chains - State Highway 94 is one of New Zealand's most challenging winter drives, taking you and your passengers to heights of 940 metres above sea level. The road is prone to snow, ice and avalanches, and it is mandatory to carry chains in the winter.
  2. Have a stopover - It is a long drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound at around four hours. A good idea to make the drive less challenging is to have a night in Te Anau. It is just two hours from Te Anau to Milford.
  3. Fill up your rental car - Whether you stay in Te Anau or not, you will need to stop there to fill up the car as there are no petrol stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound.
  4. Beware of restricted area - Take note that you are not allowed to take the area of road between the Hollyford Road junction and The Chasm as this is an avalanche zone.
  5. Have backup communication - There is also virtually no cell-phone coverage. It's absolutely necessary to have communication backup in the form of satellite phones or two-way radios.
  6. Don't miss your schedule - As you will most likely be going on a cruise in Milford Sound, arriving at the right time is important. Either allow plenty of extra time, or book a coach/cruise combo to take away the stress, and be able to make the most of the views.

Take your time and enjoy the view

Remember that you can't always travel along at 100 kilometres per hour. This is especially true in winter, when there is more potential for disruption. Allow plenty of extra time, especially if you are travelling to a time specific activity. After all, you're on holiday! It's important to be able to pull over for those photo opportunities.

 Important:

Don't drive if the weather is really bad

If driving conditions are daunting and you think you may be holding others up, pull over and let them pass. Likewise, if the weather forecast is truly awful, don't try to drive. Adjust your plans and stay put. Sometimes spontaneity means you'll uncover a treasure you would have missed if you'd stuck doggedly to your planned itinerary. It's a good idea to drive with your headlights on at all times, day and night.

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