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New Zealand’s roads – my view for what it’s worth

January 4, 2010

Before Christmas a Belgian-Spanish couple arrived in New Zealand along with their two year old, their bicycles and set off on a charity cycle tour of the country.

Excited about their journey they set off from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island heading south, towing their child behind them. Having planned their trip using what I can imagine resources such as guidebooks and internet sites, the couple got as far as Wellington and stopped. Disgruntled about their trip so far they complained to the media about the safety on New Zealand roads seemingly misled about New Zealand’s clean and green imagine which in their view — it’s not. These may seem strong words for people who had only been in the country for a couple of weeks, but I’m inclined to agree with them although for very different reasons.

As I listened to their story and complaints I couldn’t help wonder: “What were they thinking?”

Auckland to Wellington is one of the country’s busiest roads with cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes ploughing the often narrow winding road daily. How horrible it must have been for the two year old sitting in the back breathing in carbon monoxide fumes, listening to the traffic roar past, not to mention that frightening experiences with trucks.

No doubt the Spanish couple, like many others, planned their cycle trip well but somehow became misled in the idea that New Zealand’s countryside is as tranquil as Hobbitville, and stocked with cycle friendly lanes. The reality unfortunately is very different. Hobbitville like everything else in the Lord of the Ring’s Triology was a movie scene, set up on farmland only miles away from noisy roads. New Zealanders don’t commute on horses, or have a buggy tied up in their backyard. Cycles are abundant but let’s be real — not everybody likes to ride their bike around if they can take a car.

The reality is New Zealand roads, particularly in the North Island, can be dangerous.

True, any road can be dangerous depending on the driver, the road conditions and the weather. Add narrow roads, small shoulders, logging rigs, freight rigs, Christmas traffic, single carriage highways, sharp bends and you begin to understand the hazards. In New Zealand there are no freeways, very small sections of expressways, no turnpikes or Autobahns. There are primary state highways which run top to bottom on both islands and on the both coasts, going by the abbreviations SH 1, SH 2, SH 3 and so on. All other roads are secondary roads.

So here is what I would like to advise people particularly parents with young children thinking about cycling touring in New Zealand.

1) Avoid busy holiday periods – Christmas, Easter, Labour Weekend and New Zealand Day these are usually when the central roads are at their busiest.

2) Ask yourself whether you need to cycle straight down the country on the main highway, look at alternative routes.

3) Check out the Land Transport Safety’s site for up to date information on roads and tips for tourists here

4) Don’t be fooled by the marketing of New Zealand it’s not all clean and green nor 100% pure. Keep it real like you would for other countries.

5) South Island roads are not as hectic as the North.

And to the Spanish couple, well done so far, great idea, you should enjoy cycling around Stewart Island — it’s empty.

via SkyScraper City

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. Bear permalink
    January 4, 2010 9:34 pm

    I can’t agree more but there are a few other things, too.

    Yes, New Zealand’s highways are meant for cars with little thought for bicyclists, like in most countries. The majority of a highway is two lane and most often undivided. Cyclists have the right-of-way but to be real — drivers are paying attention to the road and opposing traffic. So, I would leave the bike riding to secondary roads and towns.

    Also, once I was fearless riding bicycles — my main concerns were only cars pulling out onto roads not seeing me as well as dump trucks and buses being so wide and having a tendency to pull me out into the lane as they passed. Then I rode motorcycles and became fearful — so very very fearful. A motorcycle allows you to view car drivers with a lot of clarity. I saw a large minority were driving with little attention to driving. Most of this group were actively engaged in conversations on cell phones, arguing with children in back seats, eating, applying make-up — and once a week I would see someone reading a paper or book. All while going down a road — not stopped at an intersection.

    So … if they thought a country as advanced as NZ was wholly bucolic and entirley serene with no commercial roads — I say shame on them and especially when caring for a small child. Spain is not like that, I am sure, so why would they think that NZ would go through the expense of bicycle lanes on highways?

    Of course I hope, as any travelers should do, they adjusted and had a nice time on their bicycles. I liked NZ. The highways were good, if narrow. I’m glad I didn’t have to steer around bicyclists due to lack of room. I also didn’t have to deal with horse-drawn carts, mule trains or people pulling carts laden with produce between towns. But, once off the highway the roads were nearly empty, the scenery beautiful and the people kind.

    • January 4, 2010 9:38 pm

      Well said Bear. One young women was caught speeding @ 140KM while texting, this on NZ’s bucolic roads, it happens everywhere not just here for sure but NZ roads means you have to be that extra vigilant there are no room for errors.

  2. Catherine permalink
    January 5, 2010 7:05 pm

    sounds like a very sensible reality check!! happy new year

  3. Erica Johansson permalink
    January 10, 2010 9:39 am

    Marketing can be pretty misleading at times. My view of New Zealand up till now has definitely not only reflected reality. It can be easy to get caught up in movie scenes and get a false impression of a place.

  4. katydid permalink
    January 27, 2010 2:09 am

    The marketing on New Zealand is very slick. 100% Pure is a successful nation brand, but bucolic and advanced this country is not. Potential migrants and tourists should inform themselves about the reality of this country or the more negative aspects before making plans. and a couple other sites on the Net spotlight the impressions of people who were taken in by the public relations and efforts of the migration industry and didn’t like what they found.
    They sound too angry to be taken seriously, but in all fairness the marketing on New Zealand is deliberately deceptive and some of those people have lost a great deal by moving there. Luckily, these bikers weren’t injured.

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