Nobody taught me how to drive on the left-hand side of the road in New Zealand. I drove from Auckland to Taupo to Napier via Rotura. Then I went from Christchurch to Mt. Cook to Queenstown. The only time I wasn’t driving was when I took a coach and two boats to Doubtful Sound.
You don’t need an exclusive drivers license when you’re an American. Just show up, sign over your life, and try not to kill anybody.
Here’s how I taught myself.
1. Read the rules of the road. I have never read the rules of the road in America, but I went to the NZ Transport, which is like the nation’s DMV, and learned about one-lane bridges and roundabouts. It was the single smartest thing to prepare myself for a 550-mile road trip. Download the driving brochure.
2. Watch videos. I went to the CamperMate RV website and watched videos on YouTube that reiterated the rules of the road while showing me what it would look like to drive on the left-hand side of the road. I also learned some useful tips. First, the yellow line should always be at the driver’s door. The second, it’s essential to talk yourself through turns. Say things aloud like, “Look left, turn right.”
3. Rent a car with lane-assist. I was mentally prepared to be killed in a head-on collision. While driving left, I hung out too far on the left-hand side of the left lane (meta) and nearly side-swiped my car a few times. The lane departure warning system singlehandedly kept me steady in my path and warned me if I started to veer too far right or left. Get it on your regular car!
4. Minimize distractions. I’m a horrible driver in America. I’m heavy on the brake, my speed is inconsistent, and I can’t drive and talk. I am the driver who makes you want to puke. I’ve taught several members of my family to drive, and now they all have my bad habit. So, I turned off the radio for the entire trip and drove in silence. Other than my GPS, I had no distractions and enjoyed the scenery. Being mindful of my driving meant that it was slow and steady.
5. Take breaks. New Zealand is beautiful. You can stop 100 times before you get to the super-awesome-amazing destination on your map. Don’t be in a rush to go anywhere and you lessen the likelihood that you’ll die.
6. Sleep before you drive. I didn’t jump into the car after traveling for 24 hours, either. I took two days to acclimate to Auckland before hitting the road. The single biggest reason why people die? Fatigue. Don’t be one of those drivers who can’t keep her eyes on the highway but pushes forward, anyway.
I had a fabulous time in New Zealand. I saw so much of that country, and, yet, barely any of it. Can’t wait to go back. Hope I can continue my legacy of driving past the Lord of the Rings nostalgia without stopping, ha! I love being a tourist, but that’s not my jam.