January 26, 2005
Buying and driving a car in New Zealand
Buying a car in New Zealand is fairly cheap and fairly similar to the UK. My 11-year old Toyota Corona set me back about $4500, roughly £1800. Cars need two documents, the warrant of fitness (which corresponds roughly to the MOT) and the registration (which corresponds roughly to a combination of the V5 ownership document and the car tax disc). I wasn't required to provide any special paperwork to buy a car, only my UK driving licence.
Most cars available to buy in NZ are Japanese, often recent imports. Most cars are automatics: be prepared for limited choice if you insist on a manual.
Kiwis drive on the correct side of the road, usually, so it is possible to import your vehicle from the UK. This is fine is you have a Japanese car, but you may find it hard to service and maintain European cars. Also of course it will take time to get the car over here, and you won't want to send it immediately as you have to pay import duty if you don't have at least a work permit.
At any given time, 70% of New Zealand's roads are being resurfaced. You should therefore regard windscreens and paintwork as consumables rather than permanent fixtures.
NZ takes a long time to get around. The speed limit is 100 kph, but this is rarely sustainable due to sharp bends, steep climbs, sheep in the road, and having to read all the posters exhorting you to slow down. Towns slow you down too: there are no bypasses, largely because NZ is not wide enough to fit a town and a road side by side. Atlases and maps therefore tend to provide distances in hours, not kilometers.
New Zealand has many interesting driving innovations. One is a right-hand turn give-way rule which defies clear explanation. Another is the propensity on the South Island for one-lane bridges. These save a few dollars' worth of concrete at the expense of risking bringing traffic to a total halt whenever anything comes the other way. This is known as "Kiwi ingenuity," because the only other traffic on South Island is a tuberculotic Nissan Bluebird and a small boy being towed by a sheep, and you are stuck behind them anyway. On occasion the one-lane idea is also applied to winding stretches of road cut into cliffs, so that the direction with priority cannot see whether anybody is already on the one-land section and can only proceed on faith. This is the one time you will see traffic on South Island other than the aforementioned Nissan and small boy, namely a brief final glimpse of an oncoming 18-wheel articulated lorry as it pulverises your car and hurls it into the gorge fathoms below. This is known as "classic Kiwi ingenuity."