New Zealand is a great place for scenic road trips, but it’s also home to some of the most dangerous roads. Prepare for your trip in advance.
New Zealand is known as a great driving destination, with vibrant cities and towns, rugged countryside with stunning places to visit, and plenty to do. It’s the perfect road trip destination, however, it also has some of the most dangerous roads in the world.
Outdated design, narrow roads and poor surfaces all contribute to New Zealand’s treacherous highways. Police figures show that as of July 2022, 185 people were killed on New Zealand roads, compared with 170 at the same time the year before. It’s a confronting statistic that proves just how dangerous our roads are and that we should be careful when driving on them.
While slips and adverse conditions can’t be avoided, you can take steps to prepare for them. Here are our tips on how to prepare for a drive on New Zealand’s most dangerous roads and how to reduce the risk of an accident:
Make sure your vehicle is roadworthy
You shouldn’t be driving your vehicle if it isn’t roadworthy. This is especially true if you’re planning a road trip that requires driving along dangerous roads. Be sure to check the following:
Driving on dangerous roads means there’s a chance you’ll need to brake suddenly, or swerve. Tyre tread helps vehicles to corner tighter, accelerate more smoothly, and brake reliably. Ensure your tyre treads are not running low and that your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure before heading off on your road trip.
Unfortunately, most people only worry about their brakes when an issue is picked up during a service or a Warrant of Fitness (WoF). However, it’s important to be proactive about your car’s brake condition, especially when driving along a dangerous road. Pay attention to your brakes and if they’re making unusual noises or if it’s taking you longer than usual to come to a complete stop, take your car to a mechanic to get your brakes checked.
Watch your speed
Always pay attention to the posted speed limit and watch your speed as you’re driving. New Zealand has narrow, hilly, and winding roads and you may find you need to reduce your speed even more due to the road, weather, or traffic conditions.
Be cautious on gravel roads
You may come across unsealed roads on your trip. If you do need to drive on one, remember they can be quite narrow and often don’t have a shoulder. Reduce your speed and slow down even further when approaching bends, corners, or oncoming traffic. If you’re driving too fast, it can create clouds of dust, which can obscure your (and other drivers’) vision, and loose stones being flung up from the gravel can chip other drivers’ windscreens.
Have a spare phone or portable charger
No matter how prepared you are, accidents can and do still happen. And when they do, it’s important to be able to call for help. We use our phones for almost everything these days, so our everyday battery usage is high. Make sure you have a spare phone or portable charger with you, so you don’t find yourself stuck with a dead phone and no means of calling for help.
Know your dangerous roads
Finally, you should be aware of the most dangerous roads in New Zealand and drive accordingly. This will help you identify, plan, and prepare for the journey ahead. According to the Automobile Association (AA), these are New Zealand’s traditionally most dangerous highways (ordered from north to south):
- SH1 – Whangarei to Marsden Point
- SH1 – Warkworth to Twin Tunnels
- SH 1 – Auckland to Takanini
- SH22 – Drury to Pukekohe
- SH2 – Tauranga to Katikati
- SH1 – Cambridge to Piarere
- SH1 – Otaki to Levin
- SH58 – Hutt Valley to Porirua
- SH71 – Kaiapoi to Rangiora
Other dangerous roads to be aware of include:
Remutaka Hill. This route is part of SH2 and connects Wellington to the Wairarapa. This road section covers around 30km and is prone to slips, strong gales, and rain and experiences frequent road closures.
Skipper’s Canyon Road. This road is around 17km in length and is found several kilometres north of Queenstown. It has been listed as New Zealand’s most dangerous road according to an Australian survey. It’s an unpaved road, carved by miners over 140 years ago, and is a very narrow cut in the middle of a sheer cliff face. The road is mostly one-way, with no opportunity to turn around for about 6km. It’s so dangerous that some insurance companies won’t cover rental cars on this road.
Crown Range Road. Although fully sealed, this is the highest altitude main road in New Zealand, reaching 1,121m above sea level. This road features hairpin bends and steep drops and, if you’re driving along it in winter, expect it to be covered in snow and ice.
Desert Road. This is one of the most spectacular stretches of State Highway 1 and it is also one of the most dangerous due to unpredictable and rapid weather changes. The road is frequently closed during winter because of the snow.
Are you insured?
We can’t predict when breakdowns happen, but we can be prepared for them. Before heading for a road trip, check your cover. Protect your car with Autolife’s Mechanical Repair Insurance, which covers mechanical faults and repairs like steering problems, engine repairs, battery replacements or auto-electrical issues. You’ll also have access to 24-hour roadside assistance and free WOF inspection.