“Get out of Auckland as much as you can.”
That was the number one piece of advice that I heard from New Zealanders. While the big city has plenty of perks, it’s the small towns and miles of beautiful, rugged landscape that people come all the way across the world for. Unfortunately, those are a little hard to get to by public transportation.
So, I took my first real road trip in New Zealand this past weekend. In an unexpected turn of events, I ended up driving. Here are my rules of the road after cruising more than 400 kilometers:
1. Watch the wipers: Driving on the left actually wasn’t the most difficult part of the whole endeavor. Ten minutes in, and I barely noticed it anymore. The real challenge was learning to become familiar with the car. The levers that control the windshield wipers and the turn signals are on the other side of the steering wheel in foreign cars, so I kept accidentally turning on my wipers when I wanted to turn right. And it was clear, blue skies. All weekend long. Awkward.
2. Bring a Bluetooth speaker: My friends and I tried to tune into the radio, but finding a station with the right vibe and a strong signal proved to be harder than we thought. In the end, we ended up using a Bluetooth speaker and an iPod to get some driving tunes. An aux cable and a phone charger would also be some handy accessories for a road trip.
3. Grab those free maps at the car rental: Those maps have “tourist” written all over it, but I’m not ashamed. Those maps were easy to read and had labeled a lot of the tourist stuff we wanted to see. It’s also good to know some of the names of the towns that are in the same direction as your destination, so that you know you’re going in the right direction along the way.
4. Map without cellular data: If you are trying to save money abroad by skimping on the international phone plan, you can still be a stellar navigator/co-pilot/DJ/shotgun rider by loading the Google Map directions when you have Wi-Fi. On the app, you can download the map beforehand and the GPS will still work when you leave the free Wi-Fi zone. The only catch is that it won’t re-route, but by looking at your little blue dot, you can usually figure out how to get back on track pretty easily.
5. Give yourself plenty of time: Every single time, renting a car ends up turning into a race against time. Make sure you save time for filling up with gas, getting stuck in traffic and dropping off your friends. These weekend trips are quick, but “fast and furious” is no way to road trip. Instead, take your time and see where the road takes you.