Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Northland Here We Come

For our first “out of city” exploration, we decided to head north to what is called the State of Northland. This was to determine whether the white toy car will keep up with traffic, and whether Tom the driver can cope with left side driving at freeway speeds. The answer to both is yes, but the Mercedes and BMW folks want to pass no matter how fast you are going. The highway speed limit here is 100 kph (60 mph) but once off the 20 miles of freeway to the north it is hard to do that speed due to curves and hills. They have however done well with passing lanes and they warn you 4 or 5 kilometers ahead about them, hoping to discourage unwise passing. Once you cross over the Auckland Harbor Bridge and pass the suburbs, the country becomes very rural.

Interestingly, for a country surrounded by water, the highways do not really get close to the shoreline, except in a few fantastic places. If you have a particular beach destination in mind there are roads heading to such places, but you must then return to the main highways on the same road. The driver of this tour bus is unconstitutionally able to return from anywhere on the same road. And if you miss a nice scenic road, it just isn’t right to turn around! This just may cause some frustration with the gorgeous navigator sitting next to me. Oh, by the way, if you are not familiar with the right side driver position in the British influenced lands, it can cause some laughter until you get used to doing everything backwards. The first thing that can happen is one or the both of you trying to get into the car on the wrong side. Only once did I actually sit in the passenger seat before realizing there was no steering wheel. Because of all the controls being reversed, the turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel, so when you want to signal, habit makes you click on the left side. Your mistake is obvious to the whole world as you have turned on your windshield wipers on a perfectly dry day.

Now I am no rookie to this goofy driving, having driven backasswards in England, Ireland, and South Africa. It just takes you a bit of time to break all those usual home driving habits. The car rental people must anticipate a few of these problems, as there is a very bright yellow and black sticker on the dashboard that says “KEEP TO THE LEFT.”

Our destination on this beautiful Sunday was the Bay of Islands, one of the “don’t miss” areas of the Northland area. We took the car ferry across to Russell which is a beautiful Victorian village situated on a peninsula jutting out into the bay. We wandered the village, had lunch and enjoyed the warm sunny afternoon. The north of the North Island is very green, amazing amount of unusual trees, and very rural with few towns. We wandered on back to Auckland on some pretty rural roads (that’s why I have such a good navigator) which crisscrossed the island. Road navigating can be a challenge because of few road signs and the unpronounceable Maori language names. Some of the towns and villages we passed through were named Orewa, Waiwera, Te Hana, Waipu, Whangarei, Paihia, Kaikohe, Pakotai, Dargaville (the only one that is easy), and Tokatuka. This is just a sampling of our language challenged day. It was fun, but a long 10 hour drive, safely traveling nearly 550 kilometers.

Quirky Living Note: When there is a sign the Kiwi’s are blunt about it. A large sign, of course on the left said: Drink Drive, Die in the Ditch.

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