Guidebooks and advertisements perpetuate an image of New Zealand as a pristine, unspoiled territory, almost sterile in its purity – which on the whole it is. Soaring peaks rise above shimmering crystal-clear fjords, icy glaciers cut through craggy mountain passes, and picturesque herds of fluffy sheep lazily wander across the endless green rolling hills.
But once you take your eyes off the horizon and focus on the road in front of you for just a moment, the picture isn’t as pretty. To put it bluntly, there is a LOT of roadkill in New Zealand.
Having been on two prior trips to New Zealand, I was somewhat aware of this paradox, but on my most recent journey to Aotearoa, “The Land of the Long White Cloud,” I spent a lot more time driving (as opposed to taking the bus or train) so I suppose the roadkill “issue” became more obvious to me. By the way, I’m not talking about pet dogs and cats, just hapless possums and moles and other small furry critters that end up spectacularly squished all over the vast network of backroads that zig-zag across New Zealand’s rural countryside.
Roadkill was only one of many road “hazards” I encountered during my two-week odyssey around the North Island. I learned that driving in New Zealand can be alternately a messy, perilous, funny, or heart-warming experience, depending on the circumstances. I also found that the driving itself can end up becoming one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
Seeing as my trip involved mostly backroads instead of main highways (which I had mostly stuck to on prior trips to NZ), my journeys took longer, but the trade-off was that I got to have some uniquely rural experiences and even learn the origins of pastoral traditions. Other people may already know of such matters, but being a city girl, I must confess ignorance of all things farm-related. I wouldn’t know the difference between a pitchfork and a hoe. But at least now I know why there are so many lone goats by the roadside.