I just started working for a campervan rental company and I’m in the middle of a full on training. Today I had to drive one of our vans around for the second time. A challenge for the second time. Man, those things are big! I’m thinking a lot about where I am on the road and not hitting anything and don’t focus enough on the traffic around me. This made me think what it must be like for our customers, who just come off an endless flight and are not used to driving on the wrong side of the road.
Driving in New Zealand is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I had enough challenges with my tiny minivan. A good point is that there is barely any traffic, at least here at the South Island. I think it will be shocking to see all the traffic back home again. I’m so relaxed when I drive here. Even though everything is different, the lack of cars makes it an enjoyable thing to do. The gorgeous scenery can’t hurt either.
There are a few things to get used to though. Imagine the main highway on the South Island, SH1. It runs through the green land passing cities like Christchurch, Oamaru and Dunedin. It’s just like any other two-way street, with no division between the north- and southbound lanes. Every now and then you’ll get a passing or slow vehicle lane. As you’re cruising at 100 km/h you have to take care though. There are normal crossings and even dirt roads end up onto the highway. With all the agriculture, it’s not uncommon to find tractors on the road.
Talking about agriculture, there are plenty of sheep about. In the paddocks, at the side of the road, or… on the road. I’ve encountered several herds of sheep that were being moved from one paddock to another. Admittedly, twice this was on a dirt road, but once it was on one of the main roads leading to Christchurch. As I closed in on the sheep I saw the farmer waving for me to push through. I drove slowly, trying to make the sheep get out of my way.
What a lot of people don’t understand, is that you can’t drive as fast here as you would at home. Suddenly you’ll see an odd sign that suggests a one way street. At home there is no way you could stop on a highway. Here, you’ll have to as you come across a one way bridge. Often it’s pretty hard to even see if anyone is coming. Another cool feature of driving in NZ are the windy mountain roads. Locals race through them, but there are signs everywhere saying ‘high death rate, slow down’. So go easy and enjoy the views.
I really enjoy driving around and have got the hang of it by now. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s definitely one of the more beautiful places to drive through. It’s not like in the Australian outback, where you don’t see anyone for a long time, but just quiet enough to feel like you’ve got all the freedom to do whatever you like. Maybe one day I’ll even be comfortable manoeuvring one of the motorhomes across a one way bridge.