It seems an awful lot more people are visiting, or moving to New Zealand these days. Either because of Brexit, or Trump, or cheap airfares and new aeroplanes, which can fly further. Whatever the reason, New Zealand has more people sharing the roads with the locals than ever before.
I’ve touched on the topic of driving in New Zealand briefly in previous posts, but I feel something so important and topical, deserves a post all of it’s own, especially with a British and Irish Lions rugby tour about to deposit tens of thousands of British rugby fans into motor vehicles and onto our roads.
There are two issues with driving in New Zealand, separate but connected of course. Issue one is the state of our road network and issue two is the state of our road users.
First things first, if you are even considering a self drive holiday to New Zealand, congratulations on your choice, as NZ is one big road trip, it’s the worlds best road trip. Making the most of your New Zealand trip is all about the getting from one incredible bit of scenery to the next, then looking at that scenery, or climbing up or jumping off it. It’s not about any of the largely low rise unattractive towns where you might stop, or stay.
There are only two towns in New Zealand worth making a special trip for, the rest are simply there for the purposes of supplies. (The two towns are Russell in the Bay of Islands and Queenstown). Everywhere else out of town is worth making a special trip for. New Zealand is about the country, not the towns. You’ll see.
With respect to the roads, there are few of them. We have a remarkably low number of sealed road surfaces here. In many cases, there is only one practical route from one place to another. In the alarmingly frequent event of your chosen road having half a mountainside tumble onto it, or being washed into the sea. The detour can be measured in days rather than hours. New Zealand is a mountainous, earthquake prone wilderness with a small population. The roads are reflective of this. Outside the main cities and large towns and away from the wide single lane main artery in the North Island, the roads are often steep, usually winding, mostly narrow and it will take you the visitor much longer to get from one place to another than you might think after first glance at a map.
But mostly the roads are fine, if a bit exhilarating in places. The views from the roads are amazing. You’ll spend far too much time looking at the view instead of the road. Which brings me neatly on to the greatest driving hazard in our fair country. The locals. The locals will tell you it’s the tourists that pose the greatest danger on our roads. I’m on our roads every day. Yeah nah, it’s the locals.
Put simply, New Zealanders are the worst drivers in the developed world. As I’ve said before, it’s not so much the lack of driving skill, but the complete disregard for other road users. I’m generalizing of course, but spend any time on the road here and you will be aghast every single day. So I’ve put together 20 helpful tips to aid your survival when driving in New Zealand.
- Assume every driver of every car you see is a complete imbecile.
- Expect the other drivers to do selfish, ignorant, obstructive things in their car that you couldn’t imagine anyone with any regard for human life would do.
- Assume the other drivers haven’t seen you, or don’t care you are there.
- Expect that they would rather crash into you to make a point than give way.
- New Zealanders see giving way as a sign of weakness.
- Do not expect any considerate driving.
- Do not assume the indicator is telling the truth.
- In NZ, usually the indicator apparently also immediately transfers the right of way to the driver who used it, regardless of who actually has the right of way.
- Do not expect a slow driver to concede their space on the road by pulling over even when the perfect opportunity presents itself.
- Kiwis hate sharing the road with you. You being anyone.
- If you are driving a rental car, they will assume you are an idiot with zero driving skills and will try to bully you out of their way by tailgating.
- Expect that despite driving at 80km/h on the open road, many road users will accelerate to 110 km/h in passing lanes then decelerate back to 80 when you can no longer safely pass.
- Footwear is optional when driving, winter or summer.
- Kiwis don’t know how to use roundabouts. They’ll stop to see if anything is coming.
- When you go round a blind corner, or crest, expect some halfwit to be stopped on the wrong side of the road gazing at the scenery, they will be a tourist.
- If you see another rental car, expect the driver to be looking at the scenery rather than the road. See point 11.
- The roads have sheep on them sometimes.
- ‘State Highway’ doesn’t necessarily mean highway, it just means road, which could often be a barely more than a track.
- Any single lane bridge, no matter how remote the road, will have another car approaching it from the opposite direction at the same time as you. Even if you’ve not seen any other traffic for hours.
- There is probably a Policeman, often an Ex-Pat British one. waiting in the hope of writing you a speeding ticket around every corner on any road. They have nothing better to do during the day and they really enjoy giving out speeding tickets.
That should be enough for starters. Assume and expect the worst and you are unlikely to be surprised, which is disappointing but true. It’s better to be amazed, or incredulous than surprised when it comes to safe motoring.
Don’t be put off though. New Zealand really, genuinely is the world’s greatest road trip. You’ll see the most incredible natural wonder and experience wonderful hospitality from New Zealanders once they’ve parked their vehicles. Plus as an added bonus it’s very far from Donald Trump or Theresa May.