Visiting Queenstown is a must for anyone holidaying in New Zealand.

Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the majestic Southern Alps, this South Island gem has been dubbed the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’. 

However, as well as bungee jumping, sky diving, canyon swinging and white-water rafting, the town offers much, much more than breathtaking landscapes and adrenaline-pumping activities – it also invites tourists to enjoy scenic drives through its winding roads and picturesque terrain. 

If doing this tickles your fancy, there are plenty of car rental Queenstown options available.

However, once you have procured a vehicle, you should be mindful that driving around the mountainous roads that define the area comes with its share of responsibilities.

These are not just for yourself but also for your fellow passengers and drivers on the road. 

For this reason, we’ve put together this post of nine safety tips for those intending to drive around Queenstown.

Hopefully, it will resonate enough with you to have the presence of mind and knowledge to confidently, and safely, its twisty and winding roads. 

Why Visit Queenstown

There are many reasons to visit Queenstown.

For a start, its stunning landscapes of snow-capped peaks, crystal-clear lakes and lush greenery will blow your mind. You’ll no doubt snap thousands of photos while hiking and witnessing some of nature’s finest creations. 

Aside from the gorgeous scenery, there is also a host of adrenaline-pumping activities you can enjoy.

Whether it be bungee jumps into canyons or jetting boating along rampaging rivers, thrill-seekers will well and truly get their adrenaline fix. 

Elsewhere, Queenstown is a delightful alpine town that you should take the time to explore.

It boasts a buzzy gastronomic scene, happening nightlife and great fishing. It also has some of the friendliest locals in the whole of Aotearoa and some pretty good shopping too.

Overall, your time in this part of the South Island of New Zealand is something you will cherish forever.

Lively board walk in Queenstown, New Zealand

Why Hire a Car?

If you do visit Queenstown, you would be wise to hire a car.

Doing so will allow you to take in more of its incredible landscapes than you otherwise would be able to if you did not have access to a vehicle. 

Hiring a car will also allow you to explore where you want, when you want, for as long as you want, without being tied to a schedule or dependent on others.

You will also have the freedom to venture off the beaten path, discover lesser-visited spots and enjoy the region’s breathtaking tranquillity away from the crowds. 

Furthermore, if you don’t have a vehicle, Queenstown’s remote and captivating locations are not easy to get to.

For this reason, you would be well advised to hire an SUV or 4X4 to enable you to easily navigate even the more difficult terrains.

Hiring a car also allows you, time permitting, to visit other destinations on the South Island including Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill and Nelson. 

9 Safe Driving Tips in and around Queenstown

Having secured a hire car to use during your stay in Queenstown, here are ten road rules and best practices you should follow whilst out and about on the road. 

1. Familiarise Yourself with Driving Rules and Regulations

Before setting off on your exploration of the scenic routes of Queenstown, it is worth taking the time to familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations of driving in the South Island of New Zealand. 

In Queenstown, as in the rest of New Zealand, driving is on the left side of the road.

So for those not practised in doing so, it is worth taking the time to get used to – particularly when it comes to turning and traffic lights. 

It is also worth getting a handle on speed limits – which are in kilometres.

You shouldn’t exceed more than 50 km/h in urban areas or 100 km/h outside of urban areas or on highways unless otherwise stated. Some of the road signs might be new to you as well, so it is a good idea to understand what they mean. 

2. Weather Preparedness

Much like its tremendous landscapes, Queenstown’s weather can be diverse and unpredictable – indeed, its not uncommon to experience the four seasons in a day! Therefore, when driving, it pays to be prepared for all weather conditions. 

Before setting out on any drive make sure you stay up-to-date with the local weather forecast of where you are going, especially in the mountainous areas where conditions can change rapidly.

New Zealand experiences seasons opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere, with winter occurring from June to August.

During these colder months, prepare for snowy and icy conditions when driving. Also, check to see if the vehicle has snow chains (they are mandatory for all hire cars in New Zealand), as some roads can quickly become unpassable without them. 

In the summer months, which run from December through to February, it is not uncommon for rain showers to hit from nowhere. For this reason, always carry and umbrella and a change of clothing.

The best way to stay up to date with the weather is to download the MetService NZ Weather app on your smartphone from Google Play or Apple Store.

3. Drive Cautiously on Winding Roads

Traversing the mountainous roads of Queenstown can be a real challenge If you are not used to it. So when driving on them you should always err on the side of caution and be alert.

You are not embarking on the Le Monds car race, so you don’t need to zip around like Tom Kristensen!

Instead, take your time to make your way through the sharp twists and turns of the windy roads, paying close attention to road signs, speed limits and the distance between you and the car in front of you.

Occasionally you might find an impatient driver tailgating you. In this circumstance, keep calm and allow the vehicle to pass you when a safe opportunity to do so presents itself.

At the end of the day, the more sensibly you navigate these winding roads, the more stress-free your driving experience is likely to be. 

Typical weather conditions on winding road in Queensland

4. Avoid Distractions

Although Queenstown has some jaw-dropping landscapes they can be quite distracting whilst driving.

So as hard as it might be, you should always keep your eye on the road.

This also means not doing anything else that can divert your attention. So, insert the driver’s prerogative card and get your front passenger to record footage of the scenery, change your playlist on Spotify or look up what direction you are heading on the map.

Whatever you do, do not take photos of the scenery whilst driving.

If you do want to check out the views, make sure you park somewhere safely before doing so. 

5. Stay Alert for Wildlife

A quirk of driving in Queenstown is that wildlife like deer, possums and birds, may suddenly appear at a moment’s notice as you drive on the road.

Therefore, to reduce the risk of roadkill and protect the local ecosystem it is imperative to stay alert at all times when behind the wheel. 

You should be especially vigilant when driving at dusk or dawn as animals are more active at this time.

Watch out for animal crossing signs as they are there for a reason. 

6. Plan Your Routes in Advance

Before visiting Queenstown it is worth taking the time to plan your route.

While doing this might go against a romantic notion of travel where you just see where the road takes you, practically speaking, it would be good to know where you are going. 

Your itinerary does not have to be set in stone – some flexibility is good as you will stumble across unexpected destinations along the way you’ll want to check out.

But it is worth having a general outline in place of where you want to go. 

Be sure to take into account the driving time between your destinations and not just the distance.

Doing this will allow for changes in speed limits and any potential challenges you may face such as winding mountain roads or rough terrain. 

Online navigation tools like Google Maps or Waze can help you work this out, as can liaising with local organisations. 

Scenic route through Queenstown

7. Take Breaks and Stay Hydrated

Driving can be tiring, so it is important to take regular breaks and stay hydrated when making your way through the spectacular landscapes of Queenstown. 

You should be able to find plenty of rest areas or scenic spots to stop at, which will enable you to get out of the car, stretch your legs and appreciate the breathtaking scenery. 

It is a good idea to stop every couple of hours as the roads – with their challenging twists and turns – require plenty of concentration.

Along the way, make sure you drink plenty of water and hydralytes to avoid the potential for dehydration. 

8. Respect the Local Community

Queenstown is not just a tourist destination.

It is a vibrant town where a permanent population of around 29,000 people reside all year round.

Therefore it is important to be respectful of the local community as you explore the area. 

Make sure you follow speed limits when driving through residential areas and keep noise to a minimum, especially at night.

Also don’t be rude, aggressive or condescending to locals and don’t litter. After all, you are the ones visiting where they live. 

9. Emergency Preparedness

Wherever you travel, especially if overseas, you should always prepare for unforeseen circumstances, because unfortunately you never know what might go wrong.

This is particularly true for a destination like Queenstown as you can find yourself facing a challenging situation in a remote spot. 

As the Boy Scouts say, it is best to be prepared.

So it is a good idea to have important emergency contact numbers to hand, including local services and roadside assistance. (Have them both on your phone and in the form of a hard copy as backup).

It is also wise to carry a basic first aid kit with you, including items like bandages, anti-septic creams and plasters and have a rough understanding of the nearest medical facilities in relation to where you will be driving. 

Unfortunately, on the winding mountainous roads in and around Queenstown, there is the potential for your car to break down.

Should this happen to you, it is important to stay calm, find a safe spot to pull over and put on your hazard lights.

Call for assistance if you are able to do so.

However, if you find yourself without a phone signal, use road signs to guide you to the nearest help or flag down someone who can be of assistance – though be mindful of stranger danger. 

You should not worry yourself sick that an emergency will pop up, as statistically, it is very unlikely.

That said, you should never say never, so being well-prepared for one should ensure that you can navigate any unexpected situations with confidence and appropriate resources. 


Overall, driving in Queenstown offers tourists a fantastic way to experience the region’s picturesque landscapes and charming rurality.

But whilst on the road, it is important to prioritise not only your safety but that of everyone else. 

The nine tips we’ve highlighted should help you do that, so long as you are not too fixated on the wonderful scenery around you.

So once you’ve buckled up, please remember them as you explore the wonders that Queenstown has to offer. 

The last thing you’ll want to add to your itinerary is a trip to the local police station or hospital. 

Featured Photo by Michael Amadeus on Unsplash

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