I’ve been back in New Zealand for just over a month now. For three weeks of that month I went for a bit of a drive, just to have a look around, as one does. I drove about 3,500 Kilometres or 2,100 miles in old money. I didn’t see all that many other road users, not by international standards anyway. I’ll tell you a bit more about that later.
You know what I’m finding hardest to get through my head back home in NZ after having been living in England for so long? Don’t take this the wrong way my wonderful countrymen but I’m still struggling to think of New Zealand as a whole proper country rather than an island nation where you might go to on holiday. Yes I know it’s two islands, well three, OK, lot’s of little islands dotted about but only two proper islands. Although I’m sure the hardy souls of Stewart Island will insist they are a proper island as well. But New Zealand just feels little, small, intimate, friendly and like an island rather than a nation. Maybe it’s something to do with the closeness of the sea in every direction you look. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing at all, just an observation.
New Zealand is a vibrant dynamic country covered in beautiful scenery which you largely have to yourself when you get out of Auckland. I felt a road trip to reconnect with the country might be in order, so I drove south. When I say I, I mean we, my co-driver Anna was in the passenger seat. Anna had self-proclaimed to be the world’s worst passenger. Hates being driven I was told, by her. She hadn’t been in a car with me yet. Let’s see how that turns out.
The Auckland Motorway narrows to a dual carriageway when you are about 15 minutes south of the city centre, the dual carriageway turns into a regular road with a just a white line down the middle about three quarters of an hour beyond that. The road is still New Zealand’s main thoroughfare called State Highway One (SH1). This main road called SH1 goes all the way to Wellington where you catch a boat for nearly 4 hours to get back on it again to continue down the South Island. We’re still just south of Auckland though, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The thing about this regular road with a white line down the middle is that it’s mostly quite wide but with some frighteningly and surprisingly narrow bridges here and there and oddly intermittent signage. There are also either a reassuringly or disappointingly large number of police patrol cars depending on how you feel about the speed limits and road safety in general. The speed limit is 100 km/h and almost everyone sticks to it religiously, as I gather everyone in New Zealand has been caught speeding at least once, because there are so many police cars.
I mentioned the signage briefly, let me elaborate. New Zealand has signs beside the road advising you of things in the near distance you might like to look at. Be it some scenery of particular note or a memorial or something of historical significance. It would appear though that once you’ve been made aware of its existence, the actual location of the thing you might like to see is now up to you to find. You have a general direction to work with from the sign you spotted but that’s about it. They also like to put a sign on the outskirts of a town advising you of a speed limit, the signs and limits can vary a bit though. It might be 50, 60, 70 or 80 km/h depending on the town and which bit of it you are in. You are never quite sure which though and the very few signs advising you accordingly may have been missed while you were chatting to your co-driver who was probably pointing out other things you might like to look at. The government people in charge of road signs in New Zealand have not been wasting the Kiwis hard-earned tax dollars on excessive signage.
That said, the road signs are the least attractive part of the stuff you can see out of the window anyway. Luckily I had taken both my camera and my mobile communication device equipped with image capturing facilities to record some of the stuff I could see out of the window or from where I was standing when I chose to leave the vehicle for the purposes of image capturing.
The road trip was something of a revisiting of my early years and something of voyage of discovery for both of us. Anna was largely raised in the South Island while I spent all of my life in New Zealand in the North Island. In between the two islands is a body of water called Cook Strait. We took a voyage of discovery across it. Our discovery voyage was on the first ferry to leave Wellington after Cook Strait crossings had been cancelled due to storms. We discovered how big the sea can get in Cook Strait and just how very sick a big angry sea after a storm can make people feel.
Firstly, do you know how big a Cook Strait ferry is? No? Let me tell you about our one in particular, the Arahura. The Arahura weighs 13,600 Tonnes and can carry 125 cars and 12 trucks. It’s 150 metres long and has 9 decks. So it’s a pretty large ship. Anna and I were in the lounge on the 8th deck. The 8th deck is quite a long way above sea level. The sea level proved to be something of a moveable feast once we were out in the middle of Cook Strait.
I don’t know about you but I’ve not seen ocean waves crashing over the front windows of the 8th deck of a large ship before. I do know that this phenomenon can cause people who came unequipped with ‘sea legs’ to vigorously dispense with any meals they may have consumed earlier in the day. Luckily for me I had packed my sea legs as had Anna and we got to get maximum value from our $20 pie and coffee combination if value as a term is used loosely. The 8th deck floor resembled something from a casualty room by the time we crossed through the Tory Channel into the far calmer waters of the Marlborough Sounds at dusk. The transformation from giant angry sea to calm water was total and quite sudden.
Once we had made landfall in Picton we drove during the night to the Blenheim district. Awoke to a frosty clear day looking at vineyards and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
From Blenheim we drove down SH1 via Kaikoura to Christchurch. Time was against us though and rather than making a whistle-stop tour of the great sights of Central Otago and Southland we decided to make a special trip later when we could do it justice. This isn’t the sort of place you can see in a hurry.
We had to head back North via the Lewis Pass and Nelson. The sights on the South Island trip don’t really need any help with my descriptions so I’ll post a few of the images I captured along the way. This isn’t landscape photography, these are just snaps from the road side or a ferry ride on a drive about New Zealand. I hope you enjoy them. Oh, and for the record, Anna says I am a totally awesome driver, just don’t ask her about my ability to tell left from right or follow directions.