New Orleans When I would return from a trip to some country where neither of us had ever been, when my dad was alive he would ask me to tell him the things that would interest him. Over the years I have found it a useful way of paring down an often overwhelming cultural and geographic experience, so here’s the New Zealand report that would have engaged him, shared now with all of you.
Let’s just start with driving on the left. Ten days of driving that way for about a thousand kilometers on the North Island was my rookie run on the left side of the road while sitting behind the wheel on the right. I heaved a sigh of relief when we turned the car into the airport that the family was still alive and well, and that the car was undamaged. I only turned into the wrong lane twice and came near to catastrophe only once along the Bay of Islands, although I could claim distraction watching out for bicyclers, it was still too close for comfort. On the other hand, I tended to hit a curb on the left side parking or driving almost daily. I had perfect depth perception when I left high school and have always prided myself in that area, but this opposite site driving would take some practice on a regular diet.
New Zealand traffic around Auckland is what you would expect from a city built to accommodate suburban, single family sprawl in the post-war years. In a country of less than 5 million more than 1.5 million are in and around Auckland, so it sucks up a lot of the country. An hour north you pay a toll and all of a sudden are on two-lane roads the rest of the time and often on windy ups and downs on mountains. I take my hat off to the country’s traffic engineers though. The signage was excellent, the turning lanes wide and well-marked, and slow traffic turnoffs or passing lanes every ten kilometers or so. The only thing I couldn’t figure as I was extolling the traffic engineering was the fact that curves were often not marked with solid lines to discourage passing. I thought the traffic accident rate in the country would be minimal, but was surprised that it was better than the USA, but not by a huge margin, although that seems more an issue of drunk driving than engineering.
The North Island is not Hobbit country, so don’t ask me about that. Talking to some of the locals, it was hilarious to see how they were still scratchy their heads about the Lord of the Rings thing, although conceding it was good for tourism on the South Island.
The geography is stunning in the north as well, if you try to see the kauri reserves, rivaling the sequoias of my father’s native California. The whirlpools where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet at Cape Reinga where amazing through binoculars. The most distinctive geographical feature was the legacy of volcanic activity. Walking to the top of Mount Eden overlooking Auckland at the lip of the cone was breathtaking, but an even bigger reward for travelers and the locals are the geothermal hot springs. We went to one enjoyed by the locals off the beaten path near Kawakawa for $3 NZ with varying degrees of hot, dark water and carbon infused mud and a bunch of worn out folks like ourselves that was a lifetime experience.
I wish my dad and all of you could have been with us!
Please enjoy Politician by Big Daddy and the Mammas Boys.
Thanks to KABF.