NZ road trip tips from an expert

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If I was in therapy playing word association and the therapist said “long weekend”, I would say “road trip”.

I get excited about a highway in The States heading out in a perfectly straight line that you can’t see the end of, I love a road sign in Australia where the kilometres to your destination are over a thousand.

This year’s Easter weekend was no exception – the perfect chance to head out of Auckland on a road trip to my favourite part of the country, Hawke’s Bay.

Now while I am prone to exaggeration, I have also in the last ten years been to Hawke’s Bay over a million times. I love it, I will retire there, my beach house is there and every chance I get, I go there. 

In the last decade, I have only ever flown there twice. Both times, my face was glued to the window as I said over and over, “Ooh I love that bit of road”.

So why take a road trip rather than a flight? There are so many reasons. A flight is just a flight, but a road trip is part of the destination – the holiday begins when you start the engine.

The perfect road trip requires the perfect car and I know nothing about cars except that I have the best car in the world. It’s a Mustang, I love her and she is the perfect road trip companion.

It’s like being on a rollercoaster in a La-Z-Boy chair, just the right mix of comfort and shitting yourself.

So last week I packed a bag, slapped a Navman with a camera on the dashboard – for safety and for the memories and hit the road.

Time

There’s a tipping point where it’s quicker to fly than drive and a five-plus hour drive over a one hour flight is basic math, but the physical act of driving for hours and hours gives you time to not only physically, but mentally get away from wherever you’re fleeing.

Also, just knowing that if shit goes down back home, you’re too far away to not have to think about it. It’s quite therapeutic.

There are a few ways to get from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay, if you want the frustration of the safer speed zone you can go towards the Coromandel and set cruise control to 90.

On this trip I went through the Waikato, home of one of our precious few 110kph zones.

Traffic

I’m not going to bang on about holiday traffic – get on a plane if you want to avoid it, it’s a bit annoying but it’s part of the deal.

If you live somewhere popular and you’re headed somewhere popular, there’s going to be a payoff.

I’ve lived in Sydney and spend a lot of time in LA, so I know what traffic is and for some reason, unless I need to pee, it doesn’t bother me that much. I’m basically sitting in the best seat in the house, next to someone I like enough to have picked up in my car, listening to music at the exact temperature I want to be.

Kids love my car and they wave, guys roll down their windows and tell me I’m driving a Mustang (always good to know); it’s nice, we’re all in this together and we all don’t have to go to work tomorrow.

I was road tripping with my dear friend Sally, we had a lot to catch up on and she’s the de-clutter queen so I’m pretty sure I can get her to reorganise my neglected pantry. I just think if you can, you should ride in a Mustang with a Sally.

It just feels like you should ride, Sally, ride. 

Playlists

The thought of over five hours on the road listening to music is almost Heaven.

“West Virginia, Take me home, country roads”.

The playlist is indeed a glorious feature of the roadie that you just can’t replicate on a flight. Especially the way we sing – loud, flat and with our own special lyrics.

Safety briefing

To be fair, the onboard safety briefing is better on the plane than the one in my car, which is basically a series of instructions about what not to touch or do or look at, and why you can’t eat or drink or breath funny.

I am quite protective of my car, which is no fun for my passengers.

Food

I eat like I drive on a road trip. Fast.

We stopped in Huntly because I see American flags and the promise of ‘dawgs’ from a food truck. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be.

You also have to go through at least one drive-through per road trip, it is the actual law.

I love terrible food on the road – it’s just so America, and so road trip.

Banter

When you’re in my car, no one can hear you scream, or talk crap. It’s the opposite of being on a plane – the perfect place to catch-up, plan the vacation and not hear about what a bunch of strangers are up to.

Carry on

I need my boot space, especially as I have an uncontrollable habit when I go away of buying vintage radios, which I never want to check in and which rarely fit in the overhead locker.

Also, I’m bringing back 30kg of fruit from the garden.

Scenery and smells

While AvGas is the best smell in the world, the thermal activity around Taupo is a very close second. The horsey smells of the Waikato, the cows, the fertiliser, the pine, the bush, the sea, the ice cold snowy smell in winter, the baked hay in summer, the weird Kinleith mill aroma – it’s all good.

Then you hit the Napier/Taupo highway and the real reason to take to the road over the air. That long stretch out of Taupo for half an hour, if you pick it right you can hit cruise control and just watch the ever changing heights of the pine forests go by.

Then there’s the winding section up and over down into Hawke’s Bay, some great corners and plenty of opportunities to fire the imaginary missile launcher on the bonnet of my car into camper vans.

Arriving

I love coming down into the Esk valley, the river to the side, the railway… you just know you’re approaching something special.

Then the fruit trees and the grape vines and the vineyards and the fruit stalls begin.

Arriving in Napier, I love the flatness as you approach the city, it feels like when the ground was lifted out of the ocean it didn’t quite get above sea level and it looks like the water is coming at you.

I head left around the port every time, even if it takes longer, so all the fishing boats and cafes and bars welcome me to the city.

Then, round the next corner, it’s an art deco delight and there’s the beach and the tourists and Marine Parade lined with trees. It’s just divine. The blue sky the palm trees the art deco, it could be LA – but you drove there, and there’s no traffic.

Linzi Dryburgh is a producer for RadioLIVE, her car is a 2017 Ford Mustang Ecoboost called Britney.

Dashcam video shot on Navman Drive Duo.



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