NZ by car: the best and worst

16:00, Nov 05 2012

Indulged in a little motoring over the weekend. Well, more than a little, really: Queenstown to Picton on Saturday, Wellington to Auckland on Sunday. Best part of 1500 kilometres; 20 hours behind the wheel. The mission, should I accept it, was to fly south, pick up a vehicle at Queenstown Airport and courier it back to Jafaville. No scenic routes, unnecessary stops or Saturday morning sleep-in. No catching up with friends or family.

Of course, I went for it straight away. Who wouldn't? There's something still a little special about long-distance driving in New Zealand, and particularly in the South Island. In a couple of places on Saturday it was like driving after the apocalypse: could easily imagine there was no-one else left in the world. You get an interesting perspective of the country, too; a long-distance driver's view of the best and worst on offer. Here's what it looked like to me:

Most Traffic: No surprises here. Am intending to have some very frank discussions with those Twitter friends who suggested I finish the journey via SH2. Guys, you can't call it a short-cut if it takes longer. Wellington's Kapiti Coast road was heavy as well, and, of course SH1, just south of Christchurch.

Least Traffic: Fans of old-fashioned motoring should head down south to remember what it used to be like. From Queenstown through the Lindis Pass and into Mackenzie Country, there was hardly a car travelling in the same direction. Same with Kaikoura to Blenheim. Bliss. Lightest loads in the North Island were on the Central Plateau and just north of Taupo.

Good Cop: The one who came around a corner to see me charging at him on the wrong side of the road while overtaking a bus. There was plenty of road left; no danger in the manoeuvre - but I was concerned he might nick me for exceeding the 100kph limit. His response? A friendly wave.

Bad Cop: The nasty little sod who was hiding in roadside bush at the bottom of a long straight descent just south of Taihape. Remarkably, an on-coming motorist flashed his lights at me as a warning (not that I was booting it), a gesture I thought had expired in the eighties. Did my best to combat speeding by reciprocating over the next couple of kilometres.

Best Road: Was also the newest I travelled on, the new Taupo bypass. What a treat that was. Must have sheared 20 minutes off my time and, with plenty of passing lanes available, allowed frequent opportunities to overtake Sunday drivers and the ubiquitous logging trucks.

Worst road: The road out of Wellington, via the Kapiti Coast, is a basketcase. No wonder so many people come to grief. Same goes for SH2, Maramarua to Pokeno; both are known as "killer" highways. Fine, blame bad driving and poor decision-making if you want. But the bottom line? They're singularly ill-equipped for the traffic loads they carry.

Best Drivers: Happily, by far the majority of all those I saw. But particularly the calm and patient ones who kept a decent following distance; the ones in slower vehicles who pulled over to allow others to pass (rather than causing tail-backs). The ones sensible enough to not use passing lanes where traffic was particularly heavy.

Worst Drivers: Those who were the opposite; plus the very few who would use the entire length of a passing lane to inch past a slower vehicle, apparently not wanting to exceed 100kph in the process. The lunatic who, for whatever reason, strayed across two double-lines near Maramarua, causing me to jink to the left and yell an expletive.

Best Places: It was snowing through the Lindis, the mountains were cloaked; wondrous scenes. South Canterbury was idyllic: Ohau, Tekapo, Burkes Pass and Fairlie. So too was the countryside between Feilding and Taihape. And the view of Ngauruhohe and Ruapehu (on a rare Central Plateau good day)? Spell-binding.

Worst Places: When you're driving, the worst places are always those towns that take an eternity to get through. Taupo can now be taken off that list because of its bypass. Hamilton and Oamaru would be there, but weren't on my route. Which left? Ashburton. Even with a bypass it's a royal pain in the arse; made worse by a whole lot of Jenny Shipleys driving around at 30kph.

» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
» Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardboock.

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