Road Trip: New Zealand


Abel Tasman Park
It was an epic adventure just to get to the starting point of this 14km hike in Abel Tasman Park.  First, a busride driven by Evil Knievel, propelling our group like we were shot from a cannon.  Seat belts tethered us in to keep from playing an accidental game of human pinball.  We boarded a water taxi while it was in a parking lot, then towed to and deposited in the sea by a tractor, finally reaching our departure point.


I often joke most Americans get their driver's licenses out of Cracker Jack boxes.  In New Zealand, you can drive for up to a year using any other countries' driver's license as long as it's current and valid.  You might need an international driving permit or a translation of your license if it's not in English.  If you're staying longer and need a Kiwi license, you can basically just convert your license with an eye and medical test.  There's no requirement to pass a written test, which seems crazy given my question mark attempts at deciphering some of the road signage.  I suppose this is a vast improvement over obtaining a Mexican driver's license, which simply requires proof of residence, your blood type, y poco dinero.  There's not even the question of si se puede conducir un carro or perhaps require a seeing eye dog to navigate the streets. 

New Zealand sign

Signs in New Zealand offer insight into the slightly morbid sense of Kiwi humour.  One warned “Undertaker or Overtaker: Your Choice” while another instructs drivers to “Merge like a Zip.”  I've been saying that all along!  There was even one that simply said “Live” on the left side and “Die” on the right side.  

10 Things I learned while driving in New Zealand

Lesson #1: Drive on the “wrong” side of the road

This is probably a duh moment, especially if you get behind the wheel and there is any other traffic on the road.  It actually came pretty natural to drive on the left but it takes a little getting used to where you position the car in the lane.  You will probably find yourself wandering towards the shoulder since you're used to sitting on the left side of the lane rather than the right.

Lesson #2: Plan your route

It's not too difficult to get around in New Zealand, save for some fairly double roundabouts.  Use a bluetooth GPS receiver dongle like the Holux M1200 to turn your cell phone, notepad, or pda into a GPS system.  Just add a mapping program and maps for your destination. Check to make sure your cell phone technology (GSM or CDMA) is supported by the country you're visiting in order to get service or call for a tow truck because you forgot which side of the street you were supposed to drive on.  You may need to buy/rent an unlocked cell phone that carries that technology and swap out a SIM card when you arrive.  As a backup, print up detailed paper instructions as well since cell phone reception is negligible around glaciers and volcanoes.  

And don't let your GPS lead you to jail.  While I have no plans to spy in North Korea, Russia, China, or similar (non-democratic) places, using a remote GPS navigator could be considered illegal in some countries.  For North American, Western European, and South African countries, Australia and New Zealand, and most island nations, there is no issue.

Wellington traffic lights
The 30 second shutter speed on a mostly deserted Wellington street on a Sunday night made traffic appear much heavier.


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