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The Roads Less Travelled – why the best driving holidays are in New Zealand

I’m not going to even try and sell New Zealand on it’s scenic splendour. If you’re not convinced of it after looking at all the photos you probably wouldn’t be reading this. But, truth be told, other countries also have some pretty alluring driving destinations too, with magnificent mountains, sumptuous sea views and lashings of twisty tarmac.

There are, however, some very good reasons why New Zealand is in pole position for the driving holiday / road trip you’ve always promised yourself. These reasons have more to do with real world factors which make a major difference to your driving enjoyment.

Traffic  – at last, something New Zealand is lacking in

It’s all very well having vistas that take your breath away – but not if exhaust fumes have already done that for you. Or if they’re periodically glimpsed from the back of the convoy of the eyesore caravans and lorrys you’re stuck behind. So how can I convince you this is least likely to happen in New Zealand? Hard, cold, statistics is how. Chapmans Car Compendium cites a study showing New Zealand has the least crowded roads…..cue Mr Clarkson impression… the world. Despite having a fraction of the road network kilometres, according to data published in 2007, New Zealand has three times more road space per car than China, five times more than Australia, fifteen times more than the US and thirty six times more road space per car than the UK ….and an amazing 250 times more than the admittedly tiny principality of Monaco. Although, in that last one you’d probably have the consolation of staring up the tailpipe of some very expensive exotic going nowhere too.

Here, you actually have some serious space to yourself on uncrowded roads to just enjoy the drive. How does this translate in the real world of say, parking in RentAClassics’ home city of Nelson? Multi storey car parks? Never heard of them here. Park & Ride schemes? That’s for toddlers being transferred from their car seat to their pushchair. Most days, even in summer, you can park no more than 2 minutes walk from the shop you want to browse, some days right outside. Feeling less stressed already? Let’s talk about the weather then….

Weather – you do always take it with you

So said New Zealand popsters Crowded House, and indeed dramatic mountains or seas don’t look quite so appealing when covered in slabs of grey cumulus. Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand, and means ‘land of the long white cloud’. And they tend to be accompanied by very blue skies. OK, so New Zealand isn’t a tropical island, although the far north does vary between a temperate and sub tropical climate.

But hey, who wants to be sweltering? There’s no point hiring RentAClassics cool four seater Saab Convertible if it’s going to be too hot to put the roof down. The summer sun around our Nelson area is strong but not  frying eggs on the bonnet strong – with the Saab’s rakish profile, they’d just slide off anyway. And along with Blenheim, those two Top of the South Island locations feature consistently in the top four sunniest places in NZ, averaging 2400 hours of sunshine a year.

So assuming 12 hours of daylight and excluding winter months, that means all other days round Nelson have a 70% chance of being sunny…..mmm, just what convertibles were made for. Fancy those odds on a European spring or autumn holiday?

Yes it does rain occassionally, but NZ rain is very decisive. Little to none of these patchy showers or drizzle; when it rains here, it rains properly (storm drains would swallow bicycles whole if the grills were missing). But at least that means you can plan your days accordingly. And the Saab’s mohair soft top resists water better than a duck at a malt whiskey distillery (probably).

Routes – get your kicks, on State Highway 6

To ease congestion and speed progress, many countries build motorways. Mainly, they just speed progress to the next traffic jam and in an extremely tedious manner. You wonder why some car manufacturers bother fitting steering wheels at all. Apart from a few in and around the big three cities, New Zealand has hardly any motorways, or even dual carriageways to speed you from A to B. And that’s because many NZ roads are the ‘B’ you want to get to.

They tend to run alongside rampaging rivers, meander up majestic mountains, veer via vast valleys(alleviation from alienating alliteration approaching…). The concrete jungle is an isolated spot rather than a rash in Aotearoa, the roads a stimulating drivers delight through rich, diverse tapestries.

State Highway 6, for instance, will take you all the way from the Marlborough Sounds, through RentAClassics Nelson base, right down to the bottom of the South Island. Yes, single carriageways and long distances between populated areas mean your journey may well take more time and planning than you’re used to, but that increases the potential of the final desirable factor.

Hidden Gems – New Zealand is a goldmine for them

It’s hard to stumble across a pleasant eaterie or interesting attraction from a 3 lane motorway – actually given the standard of most motorway service stations, I know it’s virtually impossible. In New Zealand, however, it’s the work of a moment to just pull out from the rat race, stop, take in that fresh air that is natures balm, and chance upon a hidden gem you weren’t expecting. Could be a waterfall, frollicking lambs, dappled evening sunlight….or is that a cafe restaurant I see before me?

On many occassions, I’ve unexpectedly come across such hidden delights. In the middle of nowhere, south of Murchison, I saw a coffee flag on the side of the road seemingly in the middle of a wood. Turn off and I came out at an expensive lodge with individual villas that just happened to serve high tea and luxurious cake to refresh weary travellers, while you watch the prime spot fishing river gushing by below.

Or, another sign on the way to Tapawera for the ‘Hidden Cafe’. Disappear down the dirt track through a small wood and you find a delightful cafe with a walk through a sculpture garden round it’s own mini lake. There are cafes where you can feed eels, play outdoor chess, and down an ice cold beer under vine covered trellis. Places where you can walk through cool forests of Nikau Palm, follow waterways cut into steep hillsides, or traverse boardwalks over crystal clear streams, sleep in a house truck and take a hot bath outside underneath starry skies, hire a kayak and have the river to yourself. And further south you can indeed explore a goldmine…..although the memories are the real treasures that you can take home with you.

Oh and the final thing that makes for an extraordinary driving holiday, is driving an extraordinary set of wheels….and we at RentAClassic believe we have just the thing for you….but more of that in another article.

If you like driving holidays, you’ll love New Zealand.

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