Traveling in Otago.

My family and I are traveling around Otago on a work/holiday excursion. We flew to Dunedin and rented a Toyota Corolla for a week. Here are my observations of what it is like to drive here. I have driven up and down the South Island before, but this time some things struck me.

Dunedin is a tricky place to drive. The main arteries are fine but once you get off the beaten track there is much windy, hilly, narrow road weirdness with many side street merges and other unexpected yield intersections. That would not be too much of an issue except for one thing: Dunedin drivers. I never would have thought that anything could be worse than Auckland drivers, but there is a sub-set of Dunedin drivers who consider tailgating and horn honking to be the standard approach to vehicles in front of them regardless of speed or traffic conditions (or stop signs and red lights!). Not cool.

We left Dunedin after a couple of days and are in Cromwell on our way to Wanaka after spending some time on the North Otago coast. The Mackenzie Country landscape is impressive. But here again we encountered primed-for-road-rage tailgating arm wavers and finger-givers. Mind you, I learned to drive in South America and have been in NZ 22 years, so I am not plodding along below the speed limits on the wrong side of the road. In fact, given that there is a wife and child in the car, I tend to average around 100 kph on the open roads and whatever the speed limits are wherever I am located. My days of being a Formula One wanna-be are over but I am not drooling on my seatbelt as of yet.

It was not until after a tailgating, arm waving incident as we were entering Cromwell that I realised what was partly the reason for the road craziness. Our car has a rental car license plate holder. It dawned at me that people would see the car (a generic white late model Corolla), look at the license plate and see the rental car plate holder, and then decide to turn into bullying a-wipes to some foreigner. I say this because I chased the last of the miscreants after all the tooting and bumper-riding arm-waving, and boy oh boy were they surprised to see that it was an older Pakeha male who was at the wheel of the car that they had been harassing. You could see the dim-witted gears clicking as it dawned at them that they had been ball-busting someone who could just be from HERE! Someone who was willing to pull over and then chase them down while stuck in small town traffic! That really seemed to adjust their attitude.

Forget the old saying about the shadow of the future hanging heavily over present decision-making. For car bullies like these, the future holds no consequence. Moreover, it clearly has not dawned on them that even Kiwis do the fly/rental car thing in-country. I should note that in all instances the bug-eyed mouth frothers were Pakeha, which is not surprising given the demographic around these parts.

Mind you, I live out near Piha in West Auckland, and that iconic beach town is a magnet for foreign tourists, who funnel over there from all over the region. That makes the Piha Road a nightmare at times, as visitors drive 60 in 100kph zones, slow down to take photos from their cars, cross the centre line, at times head the wrong way, refuse to pull over in slow vehicle bays and generally turn local frustrated and impatient commuters into homicidal maniacs. But on the open roads of Otago there is no such concentration of gagglers, so the bullys should have little reason to be annoyed.

The same day we got to Cromwell I read an editorial in the ODT about the approach to foreign drivers. Let’s just say that there may be a slight hint of racial bias in the calculation to target rental cars for intimidation and abuse. That makes things understandable but not excusable.

In any event we are enjoying the lake and local sights. But I am much more sympathetic to the hapless foreign tourists who, through no fault of their own, get fire-breathing Rambos on their tails just because assumptions are made about who drives rental cars in Otago and Southland.

11 thoughts on “Traveling in Otago.

  1. Hello Pablo, I’m pleased you’ve had the opportunity to have a break with your family. Two things: have you driven in Christchurch recently? I believe the worst driving behaviour in the entire country can be witnessed at any time of the day here – especially post-quake. My other observation is that, as I grew up in Southland, lots of youngsters learn to drive on family farms. In tandem with that, there was Teretonga racetrack. My memories of driving in those days was that, as lots of people grew up driving with lots of space around them and the lessons from the racetrack, it’s been a pretty potent brew. The redneck aspect is another more recent thing. This makes for a very scary driving experience for many of us just trying to safely get from A to B. I wish you a safe journey home.

  2. Thanks Di,

    We had no problems with what were clearly working vehicles, including big trucks. The miscreants were in a mix of Utes and cars. I said to my wife that people raised in the part of the country must be used to traveling long distances at high speeds, so it could be that it is ex-urbanites who have relocated to these former small towns for lifestyle purposes who have the rage gene. Or, it could just be hatred of tourists/foreigners that fees their anger. Who knows? But definitely not a good luck for what otherwise appears to be a friendly place (but then again, in spite of the accent I do not look like a “foreigner” at first glance).

  3. As a Southlander I apologise for that behaviour. It’s not the norm but yes, there probably more of that type here than in other places. And they stand out because of this. They also fail to recognise that their own driving habits fall well short of the ‘average’.

  4. People are idiots, Pablo. All we can do is blog about their idiocy and hope that, against all logic, they change.

  5. I am ashamed to share a passport with these subhuman mouth breathers… and now, Pablo, you can be ashamed too!

  6. “I have driven up and down the South Island before, but this time some things struck me.”

    lol, I hope not.

  7. Have been to Queenstown and Wanaka twice over the past two years in rental cars and never had any problems. I’m not white and neither is my wife. Went in November when perhaps tourists are fewer and the cooler weather helps keep the tempers down.

  8. Theo:

    It would be comforting if the Southern car bullies are not motivated by racial animosity or xenophobia. We had a couple more tailgating incidents in our travels between Wanaka and Dunedin, but it is possible that can be attributed to bad driving rather than any dislike of rental cars and the people in them.

  9. It is definitely racism. The south island is not Auckland, people there are far less familiar with non-white faces and react with suspicion at best and hostility at worst. Is it really surprising that the Mosque shooter chose Christchurch, a city famous for white supremacy, not Auckland or Wellington, cities famous for tolerance?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *