Getting Around in New Zealand – Driving, Biking, Walking and Busing

By LINDA MCCARTHY

Driving in New Zealand is definitely different than driving in America. Folks drive on the left side of the road, and the driver’s side is on the right side of the vehicle instead of the left. It’s been four weeks since we bought a 1996 Subaru Legacy, and we have traveled about 1,500 miles in it.  Still things are extremely backwards for me, and I’m fearful of a brain lapse that could be extremely dangerous!

Most of the major intersections are roundabouts with traffic circulating clockwise. Most intersections use yield signs instead of stop signs, and there are green-painted cycle track all over town. The bike-ped experience here makes me so grateful for those who have done to work to advocate and implement better bike-ped programs in Missoula: Bob Giordano, Ethel McDonald, Jim Sayer, Phil Smith, Rod Austin and others.

Although Missoula is missing sidewalks and there are still disconnections in its riverfront trail system, local drivers are generally polite and considerate of those travelling without vehicles. Missoula’s bike-ped connections across town and river crossings have improved, and the community’s bike-specific assets and programs are progressing. Missoula’s bus system is well-organized, modern and focused on amenities. We have a lot to be proud of and thankful for as it relates to multi-modal transportation in the lovely Garden City.

Wind Turbines on the horizon in this shot of the riverfront trail.

It seems to me that most folks in this community of Palmerston North drive like they’re extremely late: fast, furious and oblivious to those walking and biking. It’s crazy! The other day Maddy and I were crossing in the middle of an intersection on foot, and a young girl turned right in front of us. I could have touched her hair if I had reached through her car window. Tom bikes about eight kilometers (about five miles) to Massey University, and the few blocks he has to bike from our house to the trail system is a scary ride at best due to the cars and their drivers. Maddy crosses two five-lane roads (with bike lanes and bike boxes) that come together at a major intersection; Just last week a college student was run over by a van while she was walking to Queen Elizabeth College at 8:30 am, the same time Maddy walks through that busy intersection. It scares me to death, but unfortunately, she doesn’t want her mother to walk her to school anymore! 

Tom and I keep reminding each other to drive on the left side of the road here in New Zealand, but it takes extra care and concentration that’s borderline exhausting. Additionally, the rural roads are small in width and very curvaceous and roller-coaster like, which wreaks havoc for those of us who have motion sickness. I am grateful for the good roads and road service we have in Montana.

Finally, I drove to a little town called Feilding (yes, it’s spelled correctly) last Friday and came upon an intersection that had 80-kilometer speed limit signs about 600 meters from a stop-sign intersection. Needless to say, it made for an interesting conflict and photo opportunity. Jay Leno might even be interested in that one!

Cheers from Down Under!

 (CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE AND USE ARROWS TO SCROLL THROUGH ALL IMAGES)

80 KPG Intersection
80 KPG Intersection
Bridge Pedestrian Crossing
Bridge Pedestrian Cr...
River Front Trail
River Front Trail
River Front Trail
River Front Trail
River Front Trail with Wind Turbines in the background.
River Front Trail wi...

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Linda McCarthy has served as Executive Director of the Missoula Downtown Association since 1999. Prior to that, she served as a Sports Information Director for Grizzly Athletics for 10 years. She is a two-time graduate of The University of Montana, where her husband, Tom Gallagher, is a professor in the Applied Computing and Electronics Program at Missoula College. Her daughter, Maddy Gallagher, is an outgoing and kind 11-year-old who has spent all of her school years at Lewis & Clark Elementary. They can be reached via email at: tomlinda@centric.net.