Thursday, April 16, 2009

Driving in New Zealand

I love driving. I am one of those weird people who actually enjoy driving on the M25. If your like me and one of your favourite things in life is putting the radio on really loud and changing gear in time to appropriate bit in "Sweet Child of Mine" then you will enjoy driving in New Zealand. For one thing Kiwi radio stations seem to like playing soft rock (sad I know but they seem to just play stuff from my record collection) and the roads are not crowded and go through some stunning scenery. Its no wonder that Jeremy Clarkson says New Zealand is one of his favourite countries.

There is a surprisingly large amount of traffic on the roads for a country that only has 4.5 million people in it. There are 6 million people in London alone so you would imagine that the roads here would be virtually empty. However it can sometimes feel like every single person in Wellington owns a car and decides to head home at 5 o'clock exactly most days.

It can get very busy and it has taken me 45 minutes to get from the airport to the motorway, a journey you should be able to do in 10 minutes. However once you get out of the city itself and onto the highway the traffic clears very quickly and its like driving on the roads in rural France (only on the proper side of the road and with no funny little French cars going at a dangerously high speed).

I have found adapting to driving here fairly easy. Its virtually the same as in the UK but with just one or two rather odd differences. They have a very strange give way rule at junctions which I still don't really understand. If you are turning right across the road and someone is coming in the opposite direction and turning left - they stop and give way to you. This has led to some very awkward confrontations at junctions when I am not sure whether to give way or keep going. This website will hopefully explain it better.

The other very odd and slightly scary thing I have found about driving in New Zealand is the way that perfectly big highways can suddenly turn into terrifying roads climbing through mountains with sheer drops on one side. This weekend we decided to take the girls for a picnic to a forest the other side of the Tararua Mountain Range. The route we had decided to take was along State Highway 2 which we assumed would be a simple motorway trip. No its not. Once you get past Kaitoke the road starts twisting and climbing up the mountains. At several points you turn corners and are confronted with sheer drops on one side and little or no barrier. The wind whips through the valley and hits your vehicle with a lot of force as you turn corners. It managed to make our large people carrier shake so it must have felt much worse in the large camper van we were following. I didn't get over 30km/ph it was too scary. By the time we had got to the top my fingers were hurting from gripping the steering wheel to hard, and we still had to get to the other side. However I am assured the view was fantastic and probably worth the risk. I didn't get to see it as I was concentrating on keeping us on the road!

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