Thursday, February 23, 2017

Top 10 New Zealand Driving Tips

We drove for 63 days around the South and North Islands. It only makes sense to share what we learnt when driving around New Zealand. With that here are some tips that we learnt on the go.

1. Use A GPS
Some folks may argue against it as their ego says otherwise. However, if you are not familiar with New Zealand, I strongly recommend that you use a global positioning system (GPS). And not just any GPS. Just use the simplest and cheapest one at your disposal - Google Maps on your smartphone. It comes with real time traffic updates and you just need to buy a SIM from a telco provider to get it to work.

2. One-Lane Bridges 
We came across our first one-lane bridge on the way to Arthur's Pass which thankfully was empty on the other side so we passed through smoothly. I did not see the road signage but realized in subsequent signs through our journey that it indicates which side should stop first.
One-lane bridge cum railroad crossing just south of Greymouth

3. Railroad Crossings
We came through our first railroad crossing, again toward Arthur's Pass. The lights were twinkling red so to err on the side of caution, I stopped. A train immediately ran past. I was a little taken aback as I half wanted to go through due to my inexperience with NZ railroad crossings as I was not exactly sure at that moment if the flashing was to tell me to stop or to go through. The lesson is if you are not sure, just stop. Better safe than sorry.

4. Overtaking
On the way to Greymouth, I made the mistake of a novice driver on NZ roads. There was a slow car in front so obviously, I wanted to overtake the bullock cart. I do not think I underestimated the speed of the car in front, but I did not consider the curve a few hundred metres ahead. So I initiated acceleration, was side by side with the car ahead and then around the curve popped out an oncoming car. I immediately slowed down to dart behind the car I was overtaking but it also slowed down too! Thankfully, the oncoming car had the cow sense to reduce speed and I safely slipped back to my original position. This was a lesson to me and I vowed not to take silly risks like this.

5. Cars Flashing You

When we were closing in on Kumara, an oncoming car flashed its headlights at our car. Now in Singapore, if a car is behind you and does that, it means 'Get the hell out of our way, pedestrian'. So in NZ, we decided to be cautious and to follow the road signs (not that we weren't already doing so :) 'cos we did not know what this flashing meant. On we went into the town and voila, a police car was stationed at the side, keeping the peace and the road speed as it should. Lesson here is just be aware of your surroundings and return the favor if you can.

6. Road Courtesy
If you are traveling slowly, just keep left and let the pack behind you drive past. It's a good gesture of consideration given that lots of roads in the South Island only have single road. It is indeed very annoying to be stuck behind a road hog moving at the speed of a snail. Even if you are traveling at 90kmh and everyone is moving faster, just give way. Conversely, when someone gives way to you, honk once and wave. Only after half our trip, I found this out randomly when navigating up the windy slopes from Wellington to Greytown when giving way to a few folks. 

7. Topping Up Petrol
Never underestimate distances between towns. I found this out when I was driving on a low fuel gauge. I topped up in Greymouth and headed southward. Somewhere between Haast and Lake Hawea, the low fuel indicator lit up and I was in a bit of a panic as it would be another 50km til I would reach Lake Hawea. Thankfully, the car did not stop and we managed to top up successfully.
Danger danger! Low Fuel

8. Keep Those Supermarket Receipts
If money is no issue, ignore this tip. However, if you are traveling long distances, the supermarkets like Pak'nSave and New World will give receipts that will indicate a discount of 6c to 10c per liter of fuel. You can also sign up for the Countdown / AA card that will give offers through email occasionally. The cost savings may seem like nothing initially but it can add up. 

9. Keep Your Distance
Always consider the distance of the car in front of you. You never know when a random tourist spots something nice (or trivial like a kea) and hits the brakes. 

10. Rest
If you are tired, just rest. Distances in New Zealand are really far and if you are taking a touch-and-go road trip where you move from destination to destination every day, you will need to catch forty winks. We did not encounter this that much as most of our trip was split up with breaks of 3 days at certain locations. On the long journeys (Te Anau to Twizel and Greytown to Taupo), we made sure we took lunch breaks and stopped every now and then.

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