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Sunday, 25 February 2007

Rocks And Roadkill: Thoughts on Road Tripping in New Zealand - Page 2

Written by Karen Elowitt
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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.

I had first noticed the phenomenon on a prior trip, but it didn’t register. This time though, I started to wonder. Why was a goat tied to a tether on that little strip of land between the edge of the road and the farm’s front fence? I posited a few explanations: maybe it was some kind of signal to the letter carrier that there was mail waiting to be picked up. Or maybe it was punishment for a wayward goat who had eaten through a hedge or committed some other unspeakable offense. Turns out that the explanation was much more mundane – it is simply a low-tech way to keep the weeds and grass trimmed in areas where the law requires it to be neat.

nzDuring my trip I also got to do some “off-roading,” though it was mostly unintentional. I learned by trial-and-error that where the map showed a pink-colored road, it meant the road was “unsealed,” or in plain English, unpaved. Though New Zealand is a modern industrialized Western country, there are still plenty of places, mostly off the beaten path where roads are not paved. This usually means that whatever beach or hiking trail that lays at the end of that road is spotless and untouched. In fact, one day I found myself all alone on a stunning postcard-perfect beach thinking ‘can I really be only person here?’ But off-roading also means that you expose your vehicle to a lot of dirt, grit, and potential damage.

Luckily I didn’t have to worry about damage because it turned out that serendipity was my savior. At the rental car counter on the first day of my trip, the clerk had walked me through the usual formalities – license, insurance, credit card, damage check, etc – but when he asked me if I wanted the optional windshield coverage, I had to pause a bit and consider if it was really necessary. I didn’t recall having any problems in that department on my prior trips, but I figured that at 50 cents a day, it couldn’t hurt. And my intuition was right - barely two hours later, when I found myself unexpectedly on a gravelly unpaved road, rocks flew up and cracked my windshield in a number of places.


nzThough the cracks did prove to be something of an inconvenience during the rest of my trip, they were not bad enough to make me turn around and swap my car for a new one. Besides, there was something almost poetic about it. Viewing the loveliness of New Zealand through a lens of fractured glass seemed to reinforce my impression that New Zealand is a land of imperfect beauty.

But don’t get me wrong - imperfect does not equal bad. It simply means that a realignment of expectations is required. Expectations, driven by glossy brochures and slick advertising, that lead one to believe that NZ is a fantasy-land of fire and ice, Hobbits and hedgerows. But it’s just a country like any other, with warts and all.

(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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