The torture of the green desert of tedium

20:46, Sep 14 2012

In terms of sheer driving pleasure the New Plymouth to Auckland trip sits somewhere between thumb screws and kneecapping. But, painful as it is, there are times when it cannot be avoided and so you must spend $100 on fuel, $4 on a pack of overpriced service station Minties and gird yourself against the impending loss of five or so hours of your life.

The torture can be divided into four stages, three of which terminate at strategically placed hubs of foulness known as public toilets. The first of these is at Mokau - a beachside whitebait town in the Waikato, just outside the thin northern wall of the Taranaki bubble.

Many travellers might not know that before this sour pause in their journey they have actually been around the southern hemisphere's longest corner. It's somewhere near Uruti and just keeps going and going and going. Quite how it was determined to be the longest is not worth investigating as it might reveal itself untrue. And besides it doesn't need to be fact as its job is to temporarily distract you from what is otherwise a green desert of incomparable tedium.

After Mokau and the toilet and the feeling you have somehow been infected with an as-yet-unnamed disease, is the second stage of the journey. This will take in such delights as the Awakino gorge and, well, nothing else before it ends with another toilet stop in Piopio.

This stage is the Auckland commute equivalent of the Hawera to Whanganui section of the Wellington journey from which drivers have been known to emerge with an IQ measurably lower than when they started.

The hour this section takes will feel like three so you may find your mind wandering to all sorts of things. Such as why Pascall's lollies even bothers with its disgusting green flavoured jet planes, or how, during a recent hospital visit, you never got the chance to explain your dirty toenails, or how all words sound funny if you say them over and over and over again.


This is also the section at which you are likely to encounter the tourist. The tourist comes in a white Toyota Corolla and drives in the same manner you would expect of an alcoholic koala bear.

Timid and quivery the tourist believes the speed limit to be 80kmh and so sits comfortably under that on 65kmh. The intense irritation their seemingly random braking causes is only beaten by their inexplicable acceleration on the section's two passing lanes.

The stop at Piopio is a good place to get ahead of them, though forsaking the toilet break is a risky business. You may stay ahead of those offal trucks you passed and shake off that moronic tourist but you may also have to put up with the uncomfortable feeling you have swallowed an ever-inflating helium balloon.

The next section to Ngaruawahia is more exciting than the first half in that you will pass through at least two towns big enough to be included on a map, even if they shouldn't be.

Te Kuiti is a long misty hill- country settlement famous for sheep and Colin Meads. Nobody knows if it still exists as a functioning entity. Since the bypass went in some years ago just three people have stopped there and they have never been heard from again.

From there it is a short drive to Otorohanga, which is famous for having the country's best public toilet but this is largely unknown to Taranaki travellers as their experience of Otorohanga is limited to the 100m before the Ngaruawahia short-cut turn-off.

Quite how this route became known as a short cut is lost to the mysteries of time as within two minutes you are stuck behind an 18-wheeler driven by a man carrying out a telephone conversation with his mother.

You know this because his driving style rapidly changes between laid back and happy to furiously angry - the upshot being you can't quite manage to get past him. This increases both the time it takes to get to Ngaruawahia and the pressure on your bladder, which is now the size of a small pumpkin.

This can be remedied at the Ngaruawahia BP, which marks your entry into the properly populated part of the country and can initially be a little unnerving, especially when you look around and can't find anyone you are related to.

Keep calm and from there it's about one hour driving to Auckland, much of it on the motorway. The theory of the motorway is it allows automobiles to get between two points without delay. The reality is you will miss your exit or in a rush of nervous anticipation take one that sounds somewhat similar.

If you keep your wits you can rapidly remedy the situation and be back on track. This invariably never happens and you instead put false hope in the geographical knowledge of a service station attendant whose stunning self confidence hides the fact they can't even spell their own name.

In these moments of extreme stress you may take comfort in the certainty it will work out eventually and in an hour or two you will be where you are meant to be.

"I'm here. Sorry I'm late," you might say. "Can I use your toilet real quick."

Taranaki Daily News