Driving in New Zealand can be a challenge, even for someone who learned to drive in England! There are too many differences to list here, but I wanted to give a quick indication of how frustrating it has been. First off, the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car. That means the seatbelt is on the other side of you for both putting it on and taking it off. It sounds weird, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve smashed my hand into the door trying to get my seatbelt off to get out. Any time I successfully reach to the correct side when getting in and out of the car is an accomplishment. Additionally, the turn signal lever is on the opposite side. The windshield wipers are also on the opposite side.
But not always if it’s an imported car from Japan or China.
Driving is stressful. When we drove down from Auckland to Taupo (like 4 hours), it felt like we had been driving for 18 hours. When you aren’t used to it, it can take a toll on your body. Fatigue sets in after about 2 hours, and you are just ragged after 4. The drive from Taupo to Wellington was another 4 hours, but we knew what to expect and traded after 2 hours. Much better that way.
There’s tons of other new things with driving to deal with. First and foremost, the traffic lane for a car is just 10’6″, compared the US standard of 12′. Let me tell YOU that missing foot and a half is MASSIVE! Plus, the shoulder here is 0.5m (1.5′), vs. the US standard of 8′. So, there’s a lot of space missing that I’ve taken for granted over the years of driving in the USA.
Cars are so cheap here, and they last forever, that it begs the question of whether it makes sense to ever buy a new car. We went to Turner’s cars, where they have weekly auctions on super-cheap (like $100) cars. We decided to just buy a couple outright and still didn’t spend more than $8000. I got a Nissan Note:
and Angie got a Toyota Avensis:
Many years ago while driving in England, I clipped a passenger-side mirror with my dad in the passenger seat. He was visibly shaken and upset, but what he didn’t realize was that I had avoided a direct head-on collision with a car on the driver side. Driving in New Zealand is basically avoiding head-on collisions and hoping that you are far enough away from the curb to prevent a blow-out.
Sadly, on our first day with the new cars, we hit a curb and heavily damaged the passenger tire on Angie’s Avensis. We drove it to the nearest tire store and spent NZ$200 on a new tire. They said the rest of the tires were fine, but they were low-profile racing tires or something, which explains the price. It was ironic, because we were still living in the AirBnB and didn’t know where to live. We ended up moving a block away from where we hit the curb. We even have plans to go to the pub (where we wrecked) for lunch this weekend.
I’m just glad I didn’t buy a manual transmission car. That would’ve made driving in NZ just impossible!!