New Zealand has some pretty impressive scenery, and taking a long distance car journey is a really good chance to enjoy some of it. However, the secret to a successful trip is to remember one important rule: that long trips require a completely different mindset to driving around town. No matter where you’re driving or how far you're going, pace yourself by giving yourself plenty of time. That way, you won’t need to rush at any point.
Here are a few useful tips to help make sure your journey is as enjoyable as it should be:
Before you go
- Buy yourself a hard copy road map. Sure, you may already have a map on your phone but your battery might die or you might go out of service. Simply picking up an inexpensive road map from a gas station or bookstore can help you avoid getting lost or confused out there.
- Make a rough plan of your trip before you go, even if it's just in your head. It shouldn't be too rigid, as you need to take into account weather conditions, traffic flow and isolated incidents like roadworks. But if you have goals, such as refuelling or having a toilet and food break in particular towns, then you're reducing the chances of having to rush while out on the road.
- Keep alert. The New Zealand Transport Agency has done a lot to improve our roads, but there are still plenty of hairy bits here and there that will command your full attention. And not everyone may be as good a driver as you are, so you'll need to be ready for anything.
- Check the weather forecast and road conditions before you leave. New Zealand has a changeable climate, so while it can be sunny in one part of the country, it could be pouring down in another. This can catch you by surprise. Also consider the time of day that you're travelling and whether the sun is going to rise or set in your eyes while you drive.
- Check your oil, water, windscreen washer fluid and tyres before you go. Or better still, get your car serviced.
On the road
- Remember the ’two second rule’ for keeping your distance from the car in front. As they pass a fixed object like a power pole start counting "one Whakarewarewa, two Whakarewarewa”. If you pass the fixed object before you're done, you're too close.
- If someone's tailgating you, pull over and let them go. It's just not worth the aggravation.
- If you're towing, keep checking your rear vision mirror for cars and please, take every opportunity to let faster vehicles pass you. So many accidents can be avoided if you do.
- A stop every two hours is a good rule of thumb to avoid becoming too tired behind the wheel. When stopped, give yourself and your family time to stretch. A stop of five to ten minutes will help prevent children from getting too fidgety and disruptive.
- If you've got kids, think up some games they can play to keep them amused. ’I spy’ is always a good one to get them looking out of the window and avoid feeling carsick. Reading or video games that require looking down might have the opposite effect.
- If you're stuck behind another car for a long period of time, don't just rely on them to think for you. Keep scanning the road ahead and to the side for yourself so you can anticipate and react to potential hazards, even before the person in front has seen them.
It's always a good idea to brush up on the Road Code every now and then. You may be surprised to find that some of the ‘facts’ you thought you knew are actually just urban myths! See this for yourself at the NZTA website.