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Sunday, 25 February 2007

Rocks And Roadkill: Thoughts on Road Tripping in New Zealand - Page 3

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.

For example, driving through any small kiwi town will bring your high expectations down to earth real fast. At first, it seems inviting and picturesque. But the quaint inns and quiet parks are often found side-by-side with drab auto body shops, ugly used car dealerships, and petrol stations. Nary a Hobbit in sight.

But sheep and trees – you get to see a lot of both. And did I mention sheep? And then there are the sheep…OK, you get the picture. There are untold millions of sheep, which are a mainstay of the economy. Some of my favorite driving experiences occurred when I would round a corner and chance upon an endless flock being herded across a rural road. Nothing you can do but sit and wait. Other drivers would get annoyed, but I welcomed it. I loved watching the dogs intently working the herd, and the shepherd trailing behind, giving a friendly wave as he finally passed.nz

Trees are also an essential part of the economy, or so I learned. One day, while driving on a long stretch of rural byway between the geothermal cauldron of Rotorua and the lakeside resort town of Taupo, I passed through a seemingly endless forest. I was lulled into a trance by the eerie regularity of the trees, which were all perfectly evenly spaced, the same height, and the same species . . . until I hit a clear-cut area. In a “D-oh!” moment, it hit me: these were farmed forests, planted by timber companies, one of New Zealand’s largest industries.

nzI learned that most of the forests are planted on disused agricultural land, land that otherwise would have lain fallow. 150 years ago, most of New Zealand was covered with thick rainforests. Eventually most of it was cut down to make way for farming and grazing. Now I suppose it has started to come full circle, in a way.

Back home, I tried to avoid driving if at all possible. It generally was a stressful, traffic-plagued experience. But in New Zealand, it was mostly a pleasure, even in the big cities. What kiwis consider traffic pales in comparison with the gridlock we have in cities like Los Angeles and Boston, and drivers tend to be courteous and non-aggressive. So much so that I found myself feeling physically more relaxed behind the wheel than I had in years.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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