Q - OK George, you spent seven weeks in New Zealand. BFD! Did you learn anything?
A - Well, yes I did: They drive on the wrong side of the road down there.
Q - We knew that. How long did it take you to figure that out?
A - Oh - between one and two - seconds. It's that, or disaster. By-the-way do you know what foot you use on the gas pedal down there?
Q - How did you do with their accent?
A - Not too well, but Claudette got it and was able to translate for me. But I did learn their national word.
Q - What would that be?
A - Yep!
They also have some great phrases like: "good on ya", "I threw a wobbly" and "merge like a zipper". And they have some interesting road signs down there.
Q - Really - for example -
A - Look at the photos and see if you can figure them out. If you have any questions, just look at the answers at the end (answers below).
Q - Cute! So they like signs. What about their cars?
A - They really like their old cars. They keep them in good shape and drive them a lot. We saw many pre-World War cars being driven daily, and they have custom cars and hot rods too. One of the best car museums I've ever seen is the Southward Collection. Great cars of all types - and a fantastic motorcycle collection too.
Q - How were their roads?
A - Well, they don't spend a lot of money on building bridges down there.
Q - Whadayamean?
A - They have a lot of rivers, creeks, and streams down there and not a whole lot of people driving around, so why build two lane bridges over everything when one lane will do. All you have to do is make sure that two vehicles don't meet in the middle of the bridge. So they put up these interesting signs. Can you figure out what they mean? If you're driving down there you better learn fast.
Q - What's the country like?
A - They have three main islands. The north island is mostly volcanic with a lot of lakes and most of the population. The south island has a mountainous spine that goes from north to south. The west side of the mountains is narrow and steep with many glaciers and fiords, while the east side has most of the flat land and is agricultural. Both islands are beautiful. The west island is a wasteland inhabited by convicts and the Kiwis want nothing to do with it. It's called Australia.
And there's a whole lot of shaking going on down there.
Q - What?
A - Maybe you heard something about the earthquake in Christchurch in February of last year that destroyed the inner city. We got to see it. It's real bad - real sad. They have been having earthquakes all the time since that happened - over 400 of 5.0 or greater on the Richter Scale in the past year. One night while we were in Christchurch they had a 5.3 and then a 5.7 within two hours. Makes you nervous. The Maoris (the original inhabitants of New Zealand) told them not to build there - but what do a bunch of savages know! The center of the city was built on a marshland - just like in the SF Marina. Remember? Christchurch was the only place where we encountered drivers like we have here - everywhere else in NZ they drive with courtesy and patience. But you know - in Christchurch maybe they have a reason to drive nervously. What's our excuse?
Q - Anything strike you as interesting?
A - Yep! The best ad campaign I've ever seen is by the biggest beer company in the north island.
Q - Yeah - right!
A - That's it!
Q - Huh!
A - OK - I'll explain. You see a photo of a well endowed young lady wearing a tee shirt with some writing across the front of the shirt. Below the photo is a guy saying, "I'm just reading what's on her shirt!" And below that, in large letters is - "Yeah - Right!" You can image all the permutations of that - "Yeah - Right". They've published a book of their ads and the book is a sell-out. They also sell a lot of beer - and the beer isn't that good. And NZ has some great beers.
Q -Yeah - Right!
A - No - honestly. Their micro brews are great and their biggest brewery makes a fabulous dark beer. Their wine is pretty good too.
Q - OK Paige - but did you learn anything useful? Besides beer?
A - Actually, I did. There were 5 couples from the UK, 5 couples from the US, and 5 Kiwi couples, all in camping rigs of various kinds, on a tour arranged by two of the Kiwi couples. We got along fabulously. Each day we went our separate ways, sometimes meeting at various locations or waving to each other in passing. And each night, at 5 PM, we gathered at a pre-arranged camping spot (some wilderness
camps with no facilities, some plush campgrounds with all the goodies) for Happy Hour. We drank beer, or wine, or whatever; snacked on cheese and crackers, or nuts, or whatever; and we told stories about our day, or jokes or whatever - giggled, laughed or cried, or whatever. Everything, and the whatever was always the best.
I also learned that after this trip - 49 days in a 5' wide x 9' long x 6' high camper van (a Ford Transit), with a cranky 4 cyclinder diesel engine and a 6 speed, hit or miss (mostlly miss) gearbox, and the world's worst GPS, that Claudette and I are going to be together forever. We managed to get through the experience without killing eachother - or suing for divorce - even though it was a close call many times. Everything, and anything, is going to be easy now!
A - And one last thing - our kids don't have an inheritance any more. We spent it all!
Answers for road signs:
1 - not miles per hour; kilometers per hour (about 65) - and you thought driving in New Zealand was going to be fun. This is their max speed - except for 2.
2 - no regulations for speed - or "go as fast as you dare". - now it's fun in New Zealand.
3 - don't go here, or "oh damn, what do I do now?".
4 - there's a problem up ahead - get ready, get set - maybe STOP? maybe NOT!
5 - the middle lane that you're in is going to disappear. Look in your left mirror stupid.
6 - gosh, these Kiwis are polite.
7 - no - they aren't going to wash your car - but you should.
8 - suck it up - rotary ahead. Driving in a rotatry is a whole new skill set! Learn fast!
9 - your vehicle shouldn't be any higher than this - in meters -quick, how high is that in feet?
10 - choo-choo train tracks - all trains in New Zealand are choo-choo trains, even if they are diesels. Cute.
11 - so, you're blasting around a corner and suddenly you see a whole bunch of cars stopped for "Please Stop on Request". Queue doesn't mean a pool stick; it is a line you get to wait in.
12 - there is an information center, a picnic table and toilets up ahead - quick, how far is 300 meters in feet? Damn, missed the turn again.
13 - a sheep, or cattle truck, can dump their "effluent" here. Yes, honey, sheep and cattle go poop, and other stuff, when in the truck and the truck has built in poop, and other stuff, catcher and getting rid of the "effluent" is a good idea for many reasons. And since there are way more sheep and cattle than people in NZ, the government has made plans for this. This is a good government.
14 - no, not the make of car stupid - it means your going to have to drive through a river cause there ain't no bridge. Do you have a snorkle on your rig? Well, almost all four wheelers do down there have snorkles. Their rigs look like funny elephants.
Bridge signs (or, holy s--t, what now?)
15 - one way ahead and you have to give way (or else).
16 - one way ahead and you have the right of way (but don't plan on it).
17 - one lane bridge and they have the right of way (Yeah - Right! - not if I get there first.).
A few added comments about drivers in New Zealand (and other things - I do tend to go on and on):
They are very polite and patient. When you're driving throught the center of a city at 25 k (15 mph) looking for a store, or parking space, no one climbs up your rear or honks at you. They back off and wait for you. In all the time I was driving in New Zealand (over 4500 miles) I only got filpped off once and that was in Christchurch where everyone is shell-shocked from the constant earthquakes. I can't count the number of times I missed a gear and either killed the engine, or drove off like a wounded turtle, and yet no one yelled at me or gave me a dirty look. If you asked for directions they would always help you - and even if I couldn't understand what they said because of their funny accents, Claudette usually could get it and would translate for me. (I gotta tell ya - after driving that van for 7 weeks, I wouldn't buy it. It was a piece of junk in the first place and I think I ruined it for the rest of it's miserable life. God help the next sucker who rents it! Driving it was bad enough - living in it was awful!)
If you're cruisin' along at 90 k's and you see a car coming up on you and there is room to pass, you turn on your left turn signal and that tells them to go for it. If it isn't good to go, you turn on your right turn signal and that tells them, "Slow down Nellie, back off". (Remember, you're on the left side of the road.)
Kiwis are really nice, friendly people and it shows in their driving. They are really gentle souls - it's like they have nothing to prove, and so life is good and interesting. There's no left and right wing stuff there. The way they see it, a bird needs both wings to fly. And born again - nah - you got one shot at it, so go have fun! Sports are big time there. Rugby, cricket, horse and car racing, tennis, golf, swimming - what ever - go for it! Ask me about 'rugby sevens' - that's a sport I really could get into (watching that is - at my age changing the channel is hard enough). Oh - and seven weeks with them, that was a pleasure. If we can find the money, honey, we'll do it again! But not in a camper van!!!
One last thing - they don't mince words. It's toilets and pee. Get use to it! Yep! and Yeah - Right!
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