Guide to driving in New Zealand

 

 

The land of the long white cloud is perfectly suited to self-drive holidays, but there are a few things to watch out for…

 Most people exploring New Zealand will be doing so in a hire car, but there are a few subtle differences to driving in NZ. Most are not major – it’s not like the culture shock of attempting to drive through Marrakech or Ho Chi Minh City, but a few adjustments need making to driving habits.

The long and winding road: New Zealand looks small, but the time it takes to get from one place to another can be surprisingly long. That’s because New Zealand is crumpled as hell, and roads are often climbing around mountainsides. ‘Direct’ is a relative term, so the as-the-crow-flies distance may have an awful lot of kinks and bends added to it when you’re not a crow. 

Slow it down: The narrower roads mean New Zealand’s maximum speed limit of 100km/h broadly makes sense. Police will generally allow you up to a maximum of an extra 10km/h before pulling you over, but only on roads where it’ll not make much difference. For many, you need to apply common sense and go considerably below the limit to safely navigate the twists, turns and conditions.

 

 

Patience is a virtue: If you’re expecting big motorways, freeways or autobahns, prepare for disappointment. Much of New Zealand is traversed by two lane roads, and it’s generally only when you get to the outskirts of big cities that they’re widened to accommodate more traffic. On the whole, this doesn’t matter all that much – New Zealand is hardly choked by traffic. But it can mean having to be patient when it comes to finding a suitable overtaking spot for slow cars and campervans. 

Changing islands: New Zealand is made up of two main islands, and while you can take your car on the ferry between them, most hire car companies prefer to operate a policy whereby you leave your car at Wellington or Picton, then swap it for another one at the end of the crossing. Be aware of this if you’ve packed your car full of stuff – you’re going to have to get it out and keep it with you on the ferry.

Snow joke: In the winter months, on the South Island in particular, you’re probably going to need snow chains fitted if you’re planning to drive on mountain roads. This means that you need to check your rental company provides them, and you know how to fit them. Between May and September, it is a legal requirement to carry snow chains if you’re driving down the Milford Road to Milford Sound. 

One lane bridges: The country is riddled with rivers and streams, and it’s frankly cheaper to put little tiny bridges across them than big ones. This leads to a lot of one-lane bridges, but they’re well marked, and if you see the rounded red sign with one big arrow and one small arrow, prepare to give way to whatever’s coming in the opposite direction.

We have some great car and motorhome rental dealsin New Zealand here

We have some great deals to New Zealand here

 

 

The City of Sails, by Sail

 

 

 

David Whitley takes to the water in Auckland aboard an America’s Cup racing yacht – and quickly becomes part of the crew.

Auckland is a city that rapidly improves when you get out on the water. And this is perhaps why New Zealanders tend to make such good sailors. Team New Zealand is the reigning America’s Cup champion, and the next championship regatta will almost certainly be held in Auckland.

Chances are, anyone reading this is not going to be racing in that. But Auckland has a cheat’s method for any bumbling amateurs wishing to try their hand.

Moored in Viaduct Harbour are two yachts that have been used as training vessels for America’s Cup crews in the past. They are designed for speed rather than comfort, so any thoughts of sitting down on a comfy chair for a leisurely cruise around the harbour can go straight out of the window. The only adjustments to tourism have been a slightly heavier sail, a handrail, and a motor installed to get out of the marina.

Once into open sea, however, it’s all about getting that sail up to do the donkey work. And that means the crew – namely, the paying passengers – also have to do some donkey work. This generally involves taking to the winches, which are essentially hand-powered bikes, and grinding away. Then grinding away some more, and grinding away some more, as the sail inches its way up. A proper sailing crew would indisputably do this considerably faster, but concessions have to be made for the fact that today’s crew has no idea what it is doing.

It’s a workout for the arm muscles and the back, but the pay-off comes when the NZL 68 takes flight under full sail. From the deck, it feels astonishingly fast. The wind through the hair factor plays a part here, but it’s effortlessly cutting across Waitemata Harbour at speeds of between 9 and 12 knots. For context, that’s about as fast as the ferry heading between Auckland city centre and Devonport – and that’s travelling under motor.

It’s a vessel built for speed and manoeuvrability – the deep ocean swells would smash it to pieces, but close to the shore it is an imperious king.

 

 

Being built for speed means the crew have to lean against the edge of the boat for a semblance of comfort. But those edges do not stay on a level – and to the uninitiated yachtsmen, it feels like the deck is almost vertical. The bottom edge is practically in the water, and being on the top edge triggers a mild fear of heights.

But it doesn’t take long for this to become absolutely commonplace normality. The inner sea dogs come out surprisingly quickly, and reactions to barked commands as the yacht tacks and jibes in front of the Auckland skyline backdrop get faster and faster. There’s an infectious thrill about the whole thing, and it becomes easy to see why someone might get obsessive about spending as much time out on the water as possible. America’s Cup team selection might be a fair way off, but Team NZ has won over some converts.

Details

The two hour America’s Cup Sailing Experience with the Explore Group costs from NZ$170.