Hello! This is a belated post from the DEM Flyers crew from our recent trip to New Zealand (and Australia, Fiji, and Hawaii!)
We knew we wanted to visit some of the more scenic parts of New Zealand like Milford Sound as well as Hobbiton, and without an extensive public transit system, what else was there to do but to rent a car? As the most confident driver, I volunteered to do the rental and all the driving. But I had never driven on the left side of the road before, and was worried about how easy it would be to adjust. So how did it go? I’ll talk about what was easy to get used to and what wasn’t so easy.
First, what’s needed to drive in a foreign country? There are a large number of countries (95 or so) that have ratified a treaty allowing citizens of those countries to obtain an International Driving Permit that will allow them to drive in other countries. You can pick one up at the local AAA if you are a member for $15.
Fortunately New Zealand doesn’t *actually* require an International Driver’s Permit, as long as your overseas driver’s license is in English or you get an approved translation to English. I never once was asked for the IDP. However, since I’m definitely going to need the IDP in Japan next month, it didn’t hurt to get one anyways. After filling out some paperwork, I was given an upgrade to a nice new Toyota Corolla by the friendly agents at Ezi Car Rental. The cost of the car was only $45 USD a day, which I found through Holiday Autos.
So what’s similarities and differences between driving on the left side and the right side, as well as the easy and hard parts about adjusting to the other side?
First, the easy parts: the foot petals are exactly the same. Which was a good thing because I didn’t want more things to think about as I’m pretty sure I would have confused the accelerator and brake pedals to disastrous consequences.
Actually being on left side of the road was extremely easy to get used to as well. Staying on the left side, changing lanes, keeping proper distance from other cars, and knowing where to look for signs was all fine. Although sometimes I would accidentally start turning into the right side of the road and have to catch myself.
Parking in parking lots is really easy. I don’t feel like it is any different than parking lots anywhere else.
Other parts that are the same: filling up gas. Though in New Zealand you pump first then pay. Also, I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the fuel pump stay in the pump position – in the US there always is a very obvious thing that you fiddle with to make the pump stay running. At least the pump stops automatically once you have filled up.
Adjusting your speed to kilometers per hour vs. miles per hour is very easy too. Just look at the speed limit signs and look at the meter. It doesn’t really matter what unit speed is in when controlling your speed.
Some things that took more time and effort to get used to:
Having the intuition of where to look for cars when you are turning, or trying to cross an intersection without obvious medians or a roundabout. Basically I ended up checking every lane for cars going in both directions before I would make turns.
Getting used to the fact that all the buttons and levers are now placed on the other side was really difficult. As the rest of the DEM Flyers crew can attest, I turned on the windshield wipers at least once per hour when I was trying to activate the turn signal. Furthermore, because I’m right handed, fiddling with the gear box and radio on the left hand side felt really unnatural.
Now, parallel parking on the left side was really hard. I’m decently good at parallel parking, as I drive in San Francisco all the time. Because you’re not used to being on the other side of the car, properly judging your distance to the curb as well as where you need to turn to parallel park is extremely difficult. Just pulling straight up to the left side to park isn’t quite as hard but it is still hard to judge your distance.
Overall, it only took me about 2-3 days before I got pretty used anything the road and traffic threw at me. Anyways, I love driving and really enjoyed the chance to drive through the beautiful New Zealand country side. It really gives you a freedom and raw thrill that you don’t get with other forms of transport. Enjoy and drive safely!