Thursday, April 19, 2007

10K k

According to my odometer, I have now driven over 10,000 kilometers. I think this entitles me to comment on New Zealand road conditions with some authority.

Obviously, it is quite different driving here than in the US. You'd think that this is due to the cars driving on the other side of the road, but I was actually able to get used to that with surprising speed. There's also a weird "give way" (yield) rule about left turners giving way to right turners coming from the opposite direction, but that was also not too bad to get used to as long as you're aware of it. I was also surprised at how much I actually like roundabouts now--they really reduce the amount of time you sit around waiting, which I cannot say for traffic lights.

The biggest adjustment has been the road conditions. I have done a fair amount of long-distance driving in the United States, and I now understand how lucky we are to have the interstate system that we do. The major state highways in New Zealand are small--one lane on each side almost the entire way. This has taught me how to pass other drivers by having to drive in a lane occupied for oncoming traffic, which I find ridiculously frightening. Significantly more frightening than jumping out of a plane. The only time I have have noticed "motorway" is around the five largest cities, and even then it's not really significant motorway except in Auckland. I can't tell you how how exciting it was to get back to Auckland and have what I consider to be legitimate highways to drive on.

More frightening than two lane roads are one lane roads, which are a surprisingly common feature of New Zealand roads. One lane bridges pepper the roads, and even though there are signs stating which direction has the right ow way, I still get very very nervous driving on them. The worst, however, was a nice stretch of one lane road on State Highway 6 on the West Coast of the South Island. It snaked along a winding cliff face, only giving you blurry mirrors to see if there were cars coming in the other direction.

Speaking of windy roads... New Zealand is full of them. I have never seen so many hairpin turns, even when going through, say, the Rocky Mountains. They're everywhere, and they're usually accompanied by steep hills and sheer cliff faces, often with little or no guard rail. On the upside, I think I'm going to be very good at race car video games by the time I'm finished here.

I do have to say I've actually been grateful for the windy roads sometimes. New Zealand is full of breathtaking scenery, and the twists and turns around mountain corners mean that instead of a slow approach to a beautiful lookout, you're hit with it all at once as you come around a hill. It's kind of an adventure to find out what's around the next corner, because many times I've found that it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

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