‘Wake me up’ by Avicii is playing. The road is long, straight, and empty, stretching into the distance. To each side are grassy fields where cows graze on grass kept lush by constant watering. In the distance snow topped mountains loom above.
An hour later and we’re driving over the mountains, I’m forced to slow as we ascend slowly around sharp bends. My little car struggles to gain speed, but it doesn’t matter, there’s no rush. We climb steadily, alone on the mountain pass except for occasional birds. At the top is a pull in. We stop and marvel at the amazing views around us. We see a beautiful lake below, a winding river and a grey road snaking it’s way across the landscape. The sky is out and the winters day feels more like chilly spring. It is indescribably beautiful. We soak in the view, take obligatory photos that will serve as meagre reminders of the atmosphere of being alone in the wild before returning to the car and continuing the road trip through yet more amazing scenery.
If you ever hear anyone ask what New Zealand is like, tell them to watch Lord of the Rings. I have, by pure chance, visited many of the areas around New Zealand where the movie was filmed. Only my visit to Hobbiton was intentionally for Lord of the Rings. The truth is, New Zealand is so amazingly stunning that choosing where to film would have been difficult, only because there is so much choice of natural beauty.
Driving in new Zealand is pure pleasure (with the exception of driving through Auckland). there are few cars on the road, particularly in the South island. There are few roads, so it’s hard to get lost, although a helpful navigator was priceless when finding a hostel in the towns we visited along the way. It’s so easy to explore New Zealand by car, and relatively cheap. My little car was NZ$2400, but you could pick up a car for less. Apart from a reliable car and a map, there’s only a few more essentials necessary for the ultimate road trip travel adventure!
1. Awesome Company
I was lucky to begin my road trip with my best friend from home, visiting me and New Zealand for 6 weeks. After she returned home I was extremely fortunate to make some fabulous friends who I travelled with for 3 months. Then my parents joined me, followed by another friend. Driving alone was lonely, driving with others was brilliant. They were my navigators, but more importantly, we chatted away the miles talking about anything, everything and nothing, and I discovered new music brought by my passengers.
2. Interesting Routes
The whole point of a road trip is to enjoy the drive. Chose the scenic route instead of the highway and see where you end up. The quiet roads are the most interesting, and don’t worry about getting lost, you will always find your way again. I had an amazing day driving on 90mile beach with new friends (who could push if I got stuck, I didn’t). I then went the wrong way (sorry Vivian, I should have turned back) and we ended up winding our way along gravel roads at night, culminating in my friend changing a flat tyre by the road in the dark. Driving on the beach was by far the most exhilarating drive of my life, and if a 1.3L Mitsubishi mirage can do it, then so can any car. (Just check the rules, rentals are not allowed)
Drinks and snacks are essentials for any road trip. In most places it’s really easy to find a place to stop for a quick drink and refuel, often while admiring the view. When driving it’s important to keep your energy (and alertness) up. it’s also good to get out and stretch your legs before you feel too cramped up. Make good use of public toilets when they’re available too.
The same is equally true of your car, no one wants to break down in the middle of nowhere and be stuck for hours (or longer) waiting for help. Keep the fuel topped up, especially if you know you are driving a long way without petrol stations, and remember that you’ll do lower mileage to the gallon on steep, windy mountain roads. check your tyre pressure, and all the important stuff under the bonnet. Take care of her, and she’ll take care of you.
When you have a long drive planned, it’s best to start early because you never know what will happen along the way. Maybe you’ll get held up waiting for a farmer to move his sheep between fields. Getting stuck behind a truck on narrow windy roads will add to your travel time (generally they’re good at pulling over). If you get stuck in a traffic jam consider stopping for a coffee until the road has cleared. It also means that you have time for that 1hr long walk to the pretty pools/ waterfall/ viewpoint you may otherwise miss, and the whole point of a road trip is to see the country you are driving through.
5. Road Rules
It’s worth having a quick google check of road signs. Changing from the UK to New Zealand was easy, we both drive on the left and the signs are pretty much the same, but that’s not always the case. Do you need an International licence? It’s also always worth having a hard copy of a map (even just a print out) in case you get lost and have no GPS/ data coverage. Work out a route before you leave, it takes no more than 5 minutes but means you’ll know weather to follow signs to Haast or Twizel. preparation is key.
6. An Open Mind.
You’re following the open road, so take an open mind with you. turn around and take that turning to the random place signposted, because you never know what you’ll discover. Stop when there is a pull in and a view, even if the weather is bad because sometimes you’ll get lucky, and when the cloud clears an amazing view could be waiting for you. You have hours to converse about the meaning of life, or how to break out of jail. Listen to your new friends music, even if it’s in another language and you’re not really that into country/ rock/ hip hop. Road trips are about the journey and what you experience on the way, without an open mind you will miss many everyday simple, but astounding things.
Where was your best road trip? What tips do you have to making sure it’s an awesome one?