Safe Winter Driving in New Zealand
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.
Have the right equipment
The rental car company can supply chains and will be happy to show you how to fit them. 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. Always keep your phone handy and charged.
Look out for 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. Warning signs are displayed when black ice conditions are prevalent, but you need to be vigilant at any time, especially in shady places. Freezing conditions are more severe at daybreak, so take extra care when driving early. Allow extra following distances and avoid braking sharply or sudden changes in direction.
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 tips to Milford Sound
Use 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Are there other winter tips that you would like to share with us? Feel free to add them in the comment box below.