Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Meditations, Part 2

Meditations, Part 2

Ratio of visitors by nationality (or language): Aussies and Brits make up what seems like 80% of the visitors, Dutch and Americans probably another 17%, a few Kiwis, Germans, Japanese, and very few French, Indians, and Malaysians the rest. Most of the Brits complain how far it is to come, yet come they do. Clearly, speaking the language (or nearly so), makes it more comfortable for them, plus there are the fixings of tea in every hotel, motel, homestay, farmstay, home, cottage, overnight room with the exception of the boat in Doubtful Sound.

Rental cars in NZ: THB thought he was saving money by renting from the low cost provider, Apex, on both the North and South Islands. And, this turned out to be true until the earthquake happened and, with restructuring the itinerary, the (third) Apex car went back early and THB should’ve read the fine print: the policy is no refunds, pay up front. Ah, one way to be the low cost provider! Another learning with Apex: the local pick-up spots appear to be franchises and have some control over their inventory as does the national office. Oops, the national office turns out to be in central Christchurch, so after the earthquake you got referred to the Christchurch airport location. Needless to say, they weren’t the proficient folks that THB talked to before the earthquake, nor were they, understandably, in much shape to provide cheerful customer service.

When we picked up the rental car (our fourth) from Europcar, the Aussie (all service people are apparently not allowed to be Kiwis) guy very cheerfully offered us two levels of insurance: $25/day to limit your liability from $3500 to $2000, and for $35/day you could get the no worries, no liability at all coverage. THB hears a loud voice going off in his head: THIRTY FIVE DOLLARS A DAY, YOU CAN RENT A CAR PER DAY FOR THAT! As another ex-pat said, it almost made you want to take the $35/day and have a royal smash-up right quick. A big smash-up…

Country driving: courtesy, one lane bridges, stop and give way, GPS, winter and road repair: How many kilometers did THB and DB drive? It’s not like you turn in the car and they give you the before and after numbers on a contract. Apex doesn’t really do contracts, nor do they really do final reckonings, they barely collect the keys (and sometimes not even that). Sorry, got sidetracked….THB guesses something like 2000 -2500 miles. High? Low? Damn…probably low…lots of mini-trips that boosted the miles up there.

Overall, staying on the wrong side of the road was pretty easy because every time THB wandered to the right DB would remind him that he was not where he should be and more importantly the car was really not where it should be. The few times THB drove without DB, it was actually a lot more nerve wracking, since now THB could be both on the wrong side of the road AND going the wrong way (yes, this happened). DB, as always, did a great job of getting us to the right spot. The GPS helped, mostly (as we had been warned) in the towns (K&E: THANKS!!!). Once you are on a road from one famous spot to another, there is pretty much only one way to get there (same-same for US in the Southwest).

There is a truism about driving anywhere: there are two seasons, winter and road repair. It’s true here, we saw lots of patching going on, and in general the roads are in very good shape. And, drivers respect the work being done and slow down as appropriate. In general, drivers here are pretty courteous. Ah, the reason for that: most of the drivers outside of main areas are tourists who don’t want to damage their cars since they have waived the insurance! The locals drive like maniacs!!! They have something here called Give Way. That means that as you come up to a turn you can ease out and gun the engine if you think it is clear. HA! For the Kiwis, that means you go way out there assuming the road is always clear. Sort of like exaggeratedly fast California stops. Very intimidating if you see some car coming up to you on the perpendicular, because now doubt has set in: are they gunning it or stopping? Needless to say, the idea of a stop sign them becomes ridiculous; THB suspects that Kiwis dig them out and replace them with Give Way signs whenever the three traffic control people (the entire country’s allotment) are looking the other way. And, there are plenty of rotaries, and THB loves them. As long as you remember to always go left to get on, they work really well. Combined with the Give Way mentality, sometimes it looked like a start to a race: gentlemen, rev your engines when approaching a rotary.

There are also a number (many….1000s) of places where the traffic narrows to one lane. Not one lane in each direction, that’s pretty much everywhere; one lane for both directions. One direction has the right of way (solid line with arrow) and the other doesn’t (smaller line, usually red). Only a few times did DB have to point out to THB that he did NOT have the right of way (what sign? THB did not see a sign…what sign?). And, along with Give Way, the Kiwis pretty much assume they have the right of way unless proven otherwise while the tourists (THB not the only one) assumed it was always better to stop and look before moving on (remember, most drivers have waived the insurance…and the few that haven’t have taken out the No Worries version that means they can gladly total their car).

Finally, THB has decided that (along with old age), these drives are a lot more pleasant if there are no cars in front or behind, so he has become the ultimate nice guy: the one that pulls over when being tailgated or slowing down to leave 20 car lengths between him and the car in front. Now, that is actually not a huge concession because in the Southwest and NZ in the mildly off-season there aren’t that many cars on the road. In any case, these two driving trips have been very rewarding, whole days with massively beautiful vistas.

Finally, it does appear that gas costs here are just like everywhere but the good ol’ USA: high. A fill-up on our dinky little 4 seater Tiida (say, what?) was close to $60. Must mean either the tank is 40% of the available space in the car or the price of a liter is pretty steep (bet on the latter).


  1. Now that you're home you can see gas prices in the good ol' USA aren't so good. $77 for Jim's car last week when it was only $4.11/gal

  2. Yes, we noticed that gas prices have jumped way up...at first, we thought, hey, this must be a type...oh nooooooooooo...