Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

It’s been five days and New Zealand is amazing. There are so many things to love here.

We arrived in Auckland on Monday morning. To put it mildly, we planned poorly for our arrival. We had a two-hour layover between our arrival from the States and our connecting flight to Christchurch. I thought that would be more than enough time. Turns out it wasn’t.

We brought a mountain of luggage along for the ride. Air New Zealand allowed us each a 60lb bag and two carry on pieces. We packed that, plus a duffel bag full of fishing gear and one hunting bow in a ridiculously awkward case.

We landed after an overnight flight from Honolulu with two tired, cranky kids. We got through customs uneventfully with our freshly-minted visas and were moved along into the inspection area. New Zealand takes its biosecurity seriously and, because of the duffle bag full of fishing gear and the giant hunting bow, we had to move into a special area to have our luggage inspected. Fun.

After going through that luggage inspection area, we somehow walked around the place where bags are dropped for connecting domestic flights. So we had to haul our bags and testy children over to the domestic terminal ourselves. We had a lot of heavy, wobbly luggage. Wobbly luggage piled high on two carts, each topped by a whiney child. One of whom, all of a sudden smelled really foul.

One look at the connector bus and we quickly realized we had way too much luggage and way too little time. Besides, Little Hunter really smelled. Inflicting him upon a bus packed full of people would be cruel.

So, we quickly hired our own mini bus, loaded our stuff and bolted to the domestic terminal. We heaved our luggage inside, checked it, dashed through security and sped to our gate. They hadn’t called final boarding yet so we speed changed Little Hunter and boarded in the nick of time.

We arrived in Christchurch and checked into a hotel to stretch out and rest. Our plan was to buy a car at the local car dealer/auction. So, I hung out with the kids while Hunter went to check out a car. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the kids to stay awake. Three in the afternoon and they were out.

After a great evening sipping delicious Kiwi beer and eating real authentic Chinese food, we were all in bed for the night. It was 6:30. Our plan for the morning was to finish the purchase of the car and drive down to Oamaru.

The next morning found us at the car dealer ready to test drive our new car. They drive on the other side of the road in New Zealand. I’d never done that before. What fun!

I got into our potential new car, ready to start my test drive and noticed that there was no steering wheel. Oh yes, I got in the wrong side. The sales guy snickered. Can’t say I blame the guy.

I quickly forgot the car. It drove just fine. Instead, I made the sales guy give me a crash-course in driving on the other side of the road and New Zealand road rules.  

First thing I learned - the turn signal and the wipers are also opposite. There’s nothing more embarrassing than turning on the wiper blades to indicate to your fellow drivers that you mean to turn. Oh wait, there is – doing it a second time. And a third. Oh yes, and a fourth.

You work the gears with your left hand, of course. So yes, I smacked my right hand on the door while trying to put the car in reverse. It was not a good morning for my self esteem.

Mercifully, New Zealand has little blue arrows that point to which side of the street you’re to turn onto. Without them, I’d have been lost those first few days.  If you’re turning, look for the arrow, no doubt put there for people like me.

Hunter and I have been teasing each other mercilessly about our driving. I still try to get into the wrong side of the car. I make sure I bring something with me to the garage so I can pretend to be putting something in the car. He sees right through that trick and makes fun of me. No matter, he still turns on the wiper blades to indicate a turn.

For a while there, Hunter thought to solve the wiper blade issue by driving like an Alaskan – without using a turn signal. I guess that’s one way not to get teased. The award for first honk of the trip went to Hunter who took a quick right with no signal. He got the next few honks, too. Now the wipers are back.

It’s clear to me how much of the act of driving I do without even thinking. At least once a day I startle at a driverless semi truck full of sheep barreling straight at us. Of course it’s not. Just looks that way to my subconscious.  

Those who know me know I can’t tell my left from my right at the best of times. Now that turning left and right are muddled (you cross an intersection to turn right down here), I’ve had to resort to “my side of the car and your side of the car” to give directions to Hunter. It’s awful. I have no clue which way we’re turning.

After a few days, I think I have this down pat. Just keep the centerline beside you and you’re good. I still have to stop and think about U-turns and roundabouts but at least I haven’t been honked at. Yet.