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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 3

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

? Every town you pass through slows you to 50 kph, often after a lengthy 70 kph section on both sides of the town. ? The roads are very hilly and bendy, certainly on the South Island, on Coromandel and on all coastal roads on the West Coast. Advisory speeds for bends are as low as 25 kph (15 mph) and these are not uncommon. ? What is uncommon is anything but a two-lane road. There are very few motorways and dual carriageways are rare. What is more, there are only a few overtaking lanes. So, if you’re stuck behind a logging truck up in the hills, you’re there for miles and miles – its speed is your speed. ? Many (even most) bridges are one-lane only. You always have to slow down and often have to stop if you don’t have priority (and sometimes, even when you do)!

So, don’t plan to get places quickly; allow about twice the time you’d expect on a long drive in the UK.

All that said; New Zealand’s roads are excellent and well maintained for the most part. Kiwis are courteous drivers and NZ roads are often empty, especially on the South Island. Remember, NZ is a country with the population of North London – there’s only 1 million people on the South Island, and it’s bigger than England. All in all, driving in New Zealand is a pleasure.

About: Cars

When I picked up my 10 year old Nissan Sunny Super Saloon – one wheel trim missing – I thought to myself: this will be a bit of a disgrace in the motel’s car park. But, I’m happy to say that the Kiwi’s have an enlightened approach to cars. Once you move out of the cities, cars are old, unwashed and pretty much un-cared for – my jalopy fitted in just fine.

We saw more cars over 20 years old in NZ than anywhere I can remember (even more than India) – Minis, Morris 1000s, Austin 1100s, Triumph Heralds, MGAs, Mk2 Jags. Mk 1 Escorts, Ford Anglias and Capris, Hillman Minxs, and so the list goes on. Most of these old cars are being run every day. We spoke of a woman in Milton Street, Nelson – she was washing her 1965 Triumph Herald: “Yes, I use it every day – it’s a great little car”. In a car showroom in Paraparaumu there was an Austin Healey 3000, all the MGs from MGA to MGF, two Mk2 Jags and an old Mustang from the US. There was such an interest in the cars; the showroom was full of people. I even suggested to the proprietor that he charge an entrance fee – the NZ’ers have a genuine interest in old cars, and are not ashamed to be seen driving them.

About: WCs

NZ is ‘top country’ when it comes to the provision and cleanliness of public toilets. Not only in the towns but almost everywhere you stop there’s a WC close to hand. A scenic viewpoint 10 miles from anywhere; no problem, there’s a loo that smell nice, is clean, with paper, and somewhere to wash your hands and try them. There’s no sign of graffiti and no vandalism.

From one who needs a WC more than most – well done Kiwis.

About: i-Sites and DOC Information Points.

i-Site is the brand name for a nationwide chain of tourist information bureaux all across New Zealand. They are all excellent and all provide useful and friendly advice. Not only that, they will book any transport, accommodation or trips you are interest in, whether for the place your at, or anywhere else in the country and for any future dates. For example, I booked our ferry and Kaikoura whale-watching trip on the South Island from an i-Site near Waitomo Caves in the North Island.

Dept. of Conservation (DOC) Information Points, generally separate from i-Sites in big towns but combined with them on small towns, are also excellent. Obviously DOC Info Points concentrate on national parks; forest, mountain, scenic and nature reserves; and DOC walkways. Many of NZ’s best treks (tramps) are multi-day, so if you want to make overnight stops in a DOC hut or shelter, you book it at the DOC Info Point. Also, DOC limits the number of trampers on some walkways, so you have to ‘book a place’ with them, as you do for Ranger-led expeditions and guided tours. DOC also produces a stack of information about their activities, although there is generally a small charge – the DOC Pamphlet on Local Walks (and there’s one for almost every town) costs $1.

Both i-Sites and DOC Info Points provide an unrivalled range of detailed information sheets, brochures, and hand-outs – mostly free of charge. Staff are universally friendly and helpful. There’s always a free local street map at the i-Site, so it’s the obvious first port of call in every new town visited.

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