New Zealand Road Network

By | October 31, 2022

New Zealand’s motorways & expressways.

Traffic in New Zealand drives on the left.

According to wholevehicles, New Zealand’s main road network is made up of the State Highway network, which is 10,895 kilometers long, which also includes the motorways and expressways, which together account for almost 300 kilometers of motorway. Of the State Highway network, 5,974 kilometers are on the North Island and 4,921 kilometers on the South Island. In addition, there are approximately 82,000 kilometers of secondary roads managed by the local authorities, only in Auckland these are numbered (Urban roads). Some of these roads are unpaved. The New Zealand roads are generally of excellent quality.

Motorways & Expressways

New Zealand has 414 kilometers of motorways and expressways. All motorways and expressways are part of the State Highway network, and also have a road number. There is no separate numbering for motorways or expressways, so State Highways can be partly expanded as motorways or expressways without the number changing. For the motorways, the names are often better known than the road number. Some roads are called a motorway, while they are single carriageways or have level crossings.

There is no national highway network in New Zealand, neither on the North and South Island. Most highways are in and around major cities, particularly Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch. Most are not much more than 10 to 20 kilometers long. The network is slowly being expanded. The Dunedin South Motorway is the southernmost highway in the world, the equivalent of 1,250 kilometers south of South Africa or southern Patagonia in Argentina. The road surfaces are usually asphalt, and New Zealand motorways are often well designed aesthetically.

Motorways & Expressways in New Zealand
  • Auckland: Northern Motorway • Northwestern Motorway • Southern Motorway • Southwestern Motorway • Upper Harbor Motorway
  • Wellington: Johnsonville-Porirua Motorway • Wellington Urban Motorway • Hutt Valley Expressway • Kapiti Expressway • Transmission Gully Motorway
  • North Island: Waikato Expressway • Hawkes Bay Expressway • Tauranga Eastern Link • Takitimu North Link
  • South Island: Christchurch Northern Motorway • Christchurch Southern Motorway • Christchurch-Lyttelton Motorway • Dunedin Northern Motorway • Dunedin Southern Motorway


Despite having always been New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland is not home to the country’s oldest highway. The Johnsonville-Porirua Motorway near Wellington is the oldest highway in the country, and opened to traffic on December 23, 1950. The first section of Auckland’s Northwestern Motorway was opened in 1952 and the first section of Auckland Southern Motorway followed in 1953. The Harbor Bridge opened in 1959, which is also the first section of the Auckland Northern Motorwaymeant. Road construction in New Zealand was slow, usually opening only a few miles at a time, so the highway network grew slowly in the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1970s, the highway network was more or less in its original, limited form.

A new wave of highway projects followed from 2000, when Auckland’s missing links began construction, such as the Southwestern Motorway and the Upper Harbor Motorway. Also in 2003, the last section of the southernmost highway in the world, the Dunedin Southern Motorway, was completed. In 2009, a number of road projects were designated by the government as roads of national significance. In 2016 New Zealand’s first smart motorway opened on the Wellington Urban Motorway. In 2017, the Southwestern Motorway’s Waterview Connection opened in Auckland, which was New Zealand’s longest road tunnel. In addition, theWaikato Expressway expanded from 34 to 101 kilometers, creating a continuous grade separated dual carriageway / motorway between Auckland and Hamilton. In 2022, the Transmission Gully Motorway opened north of Wellington, New Zealand’s first mountainous highway.


There are no plans to build a long north-south highway from Auckland to Wellington. Traffic intensities are low outside the major cities, because the countryside is sparsely populated. In due course, a second crossing in Auckland under the Waitemata Harbor is planned. This should be a submarine tunnel.

State Highways

New Zealand’s main road network is made up of the state highways. This also includes motorways and expressways, which do not have separate road numbering. A distinction is made into two classes, the national highways with a one-digit number, and the other highways with a two-digit number. State Highway 1 is the only one that crosses both islands. State Highways 2 to 5 run on the North Island and State Highways 6 to 8 on the South Island. There is no State Highway 9.


In the early days of road transport, the roads were maintained by the local authorities. A network of main highways was designated in 1922, followed by the state highways in 1936. These roads were then managed by the National Roads Board, part of the Ministry of Works. The focus for road upgrading from the 1950s onwards was mainly in the major cities, apart from Highway 1, little attention was paid to developing a high quality road network to the different regions of New Zealand. Particularly on the less populated South Island, parts of State Highways were still unpaved for a long time. The first highway was the Johnsonville-Porirua Motorwayat Wellington which opened in 1950. In 1969 New Zealand began the transition to the metric system. Most signposts and road signs were metric by the end of 1972.

Between 1989 and 2008, the State Highways were managed by Transit New Zealand (TNZ). Although the name “transit” refers to public transport in most English-speaking countries, the task of the TNZ was mainly to develop the State Highways. In 2008 this organization was merged into the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). The road network is now largely asphalted, but on some remote State Highways there are still unpaved parts.

Road management

The State Highways are managed by the New Zealand Transport Agency, known as Transit New Zealand before 2008, which, contrary to its name, has nothing to do with public transport. The Maori name for this road manager is “Waka Kotahi”.

However, most roads are managed by local authorities, and are also financed with local resources.

Road safety

New Zealand’s roads were relatively unsafe, with 405 fatalities in 2005, or approximately 92 deaths per 1 million inhabitants, which was significantly higher than most Western European countries. Road safety has subsequently improved, with 254 road deaths in 2013, or approximately 56 deaths per 1 million inhabitants. The poor road safety is mainly due to the lack of motorways. Frontal collisions are relatively common, because a large part of the traffic performance on statistically unsafe single-lane roads is handled by oncoming traffic. Most road deaths occur outside the major cities. Driving under the influence is also quite common, which is why the alcohol limit has been lowered from 0.8 to 0.5 ‰ as of December 1, 2014. As in most countries, most road deaths are in the 15-24 age group.


In 1925 there were approximately 82,000 vehicles in New Zealand, comparable to Italy at the time, which is remarkable, because New Zealand had considerably fewer inhabitants than Italy at the time. By 1939 this number had risen to 170,000 vehicles and to 425,000 in 1953. By 1971 the number had reached 1 million. In 2006 there were 3,227,000 vehicles on New Zealand’s roads, including over 400,000 trucks. Most used vehicles are imported from Japan. In addition to passenger cars, there are also many motorhomes on the road, especially in the summer when many tourists come from abroad to tour New Zealand.

Maximum speed

The maximum speed outside built-up areas is 100 km/h, mainly on motorways, although since 11 December 2017 a maximum speed of 110 km/h has been introduced on two highways for the first time. Since July 13, 2022, 110 km/h applies at 78 kilometers of the Waikato Expressway. Within built-up areas 50 km/h applies. Speed ​​limits of 60, 70 and 80 km/h also occur, but 30 km/h are almost never encountered, at most during road works on secondary roads. Trucks are allowed a maximum of 90 km/h, school buses 80 km/h.

There is no minimum speed, but vehicles wishing to drive slower than the speed limit must allow other vehicles to pass. Speed ​​limits are indicated in the European way, i.e. with a round white sign with a red border showing the maximum speed in kilometers per hour.


There are a few toll roads in New Zealand, the main one being the Northern Gateway Toll Road, a 7.5 kilometer motorway just north of Auckland. The Tauranga Eastern Link, which opened in 2015, is also a toll road.


The Auckland Northern Motorway, with a State Highway number and an Auckland Urban Route number.

The signage consists of green signs with white letters on motorways, and resembles that of, for example, the United States or Australia. On other roads, blue signs with white letters are used. The Highway Gothic font is used, similar to that of the Dutch motorways, or the US. Signs are metric, and there is only one road number layer, the State Highways, which are indicated by a red shield with a white frame and a white number. No prefix is ​​used. Only in Auckland does a second numbered layer of Auckland Urban Routes exist. These are shown with a white shield with black letters.

The layout of the portal signs is very similar to that in the United States, including the arrows (up and down ), and the use of the text “exit only”. Exits are numbered by distance, with the word “exit xxx”. British English is used on the signage, so for example “centre” and not “center”.

Distance signs are somewhat similar to those in the United States, only in New Zealand a road number and wind direction are indicated. As in Germany, distances in New Zealand are accompanied by the text “km”.

Road markings

New Zealand predominantly uses white road markings, but on some major roads, driving directions are separated by a yellow stripe. Only white markings are applied on motorways.

Road numbering

There is one national road number layer, which is the State Highways. Numbers 1 to 8 are main routes, with State Highway 1 being the most important and longest. Numbers 1 to 5 are on the North Island and 1 and 6 to 8 on the South Island. Two-digit numbers are zoned by the first number, and run south. Zones 10 to 50 are on the North Island, and 60 to 99 on the South Island. It is striking that there is no State Highway 9, but there is the number layer 90 to 99. There is one three-digit State Highway, the SH 309.

Only Auckland has an Urban Routes subsystem, numbers 3 to 28, skipping the State Highways numbers so that there are no duplicate numbers.

New Zealand Road Network