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Join the RAC – Roads Appreciation Club

Roads. If we love our classics, we really should be more appreciative of the black stuff providing the means to enjoy them as they were intended, by actually being driven. I appreciate many readers derive much satisfaction from rebuilding their car to the standard the Quality Control Manager had sort of intended before they got distracted by Fred recounting why Villa’s second goal was clearly onside, but I get my kicks from man and machine working as one, rather than only one working and both of us being in pieces.

New Zealand roads are particularly rewarding for drivers of classics and moderns, mainly because they’re so retro. Now pay attention 007, stats class. Firstly, traffic volumes are more like 1960s UK. New Zealand has slightly more land mass, but the UK has 13 times the population so needs a lot more roads. Giles Chapman’s charming Car Compendium states in 2007 there were 245,000 miles of them shared by 30 million vehicles. That’s (spookily) averaging .007 miles before you’re up the exhaust pipe of the next wannabe 007. New Zealand has 57,000 miles of roads but only 2.28 million cars, meaning we can go 35 times further before our stunning views are obscured by another pesky Ute.

New Zealand State Highway Metro Map (South Island variant) by Andrew Douglas-Clifford

And what views. But the problem with mountains as any engineer will tell you, is that they all want to become valleys. The Southern Alps run from the bottom left of the South Island a fair way towards the top right. Imagine a figure of eight with a vertical line down the middle – there are essentially three main routes you can take in the South Island. If one gets blocked as the East Coast did in the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake, that’s a 4-6 hours diversion. Possibly for months. Delays on the M25? Piffling.

Credit Tim Burt – Kaikoura 2016 earthquake road damage

And talking of motorways, we’re kind of 1960s there too, as they’re only found near big cities. Most State Highways that connect such are single carriageway ‘B’ roads….with lots of lovely curves….and dips….and crests…and the occasional escaped sheep. My MGB GT thinks it’s died and been reincarnated as an Aston, it can really exercise every last cubic centimetre. Even our ordinary-ish red Mercedes SLK rental assumes Ferrari-ish capabilities in my mind on a clear mountain pass. The topographies of some roads are frankly quite scary though as Bruce Ansley’s excellent Wild Roads book testifies – he has a ‘feral’ category. And whilst no motorways mean longer journey times, it means no bland eatery chains either. Don’t recall Little Chefs having terraces by the sea or rose gardens. 100km+ between cafes does require good fluid management though.

View from The Store Cafe Kekerengu

Such a shame our borders are still shut – mind you, someone’s got to appreciate the roads.


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