Friday, May 22, 2009

Rotorua to Whangarai, New Zealand

Firstly - sorry for the delay - been busy doing nothing which can become very time consuming!

Right where was I...

16th Feb

I had to make a major decision as to where I wanted to go to after Rotorua as my time in New Zealand was dwindling - I had just over a week remaining to do the rest of the North Island - including Auckland. I had heard a lot of good things about Coromandel Peninsula but in the end I decided that I would try to get to the Bay of Islands.

One problem with that - it was about 400km away and it was already past lunchtime. Also in order to get there I had to travel through Auckland itself. After about 3 hour of driving (including a greasy lunch break of burger and chips) I came to the outskirts of the city.

At the very start of this trip I nearly wrote off a hire car (and myself) by trying to read a map while driving. I swore never to do something as stupid again - yet here I was reading a map while driving through Auckland. To be fair there wasn't much else I could do. I was travelling on a multi lane motorway trying to get from one side of the city to the other. I couldn't really pull over to the side of the road and ask for directions as there was no side of the road - just endless slip roads off to various parts of the city. After a couple of near misses and one or two hasty changes of lane ('Same to you mate' was shouted a couple of times) I finally made it across the harbour bridge to the other side of the city.

Now came my next task - the toll road. While I was driving round the south island a new section of motorway called the 'Northern Gateway Toll Road' was opened up to the North of Auckland. On the first day it was opened there were so many cars wanting to use it that it caused tailbacks for miles. It was now my turn to use it.

I had to pay the toll first. Because it's one of these new 'state of the art' electronic tolls there is no actual toll booth on the road. Instead each cars number plate is photographed while you are driving along it and unless you have preregistered online you have 2 days to pay or face a fine. I choose to use the prepay option which meant that I had to drive into the service area just before the road started, queue at a payment machine alongside other drivers and enter my cars registration and payment. For a state of the art toll road it was a bloody long winded way to use it!

Finally I got on the road. What I saw I just could not believe. There must have been about 10 other cars on the road with me and this was still in what should have been rush hour. It was a spectacular piece of road which included a tunnel and several bridges but at a cost to build of over $365million (that's $49m per kilometre) it seemed to me to be an incredible waste of money!

Here is a link to a youtube video of some idiot kiwi who seems to be using a camcorder and commentating while he is driving on the new road - that's almost as bad as trying to read a map while driving! I like the way he nearly veers off the road while trying to turn the camera to a sideways view.

Northern Gateway Toll Road

Apparently the road does now get a lot of traffic on it, especially at weekends when bottlenecks build up as the two lanes of traffic try to merge into one lane to go through the tunnel (who the hell designs these things!)

Things I have NOT learnt:WHEN TO DO A U-TURN (part 1)
After the motorway finished I decided that I needed a spot of food to keep me going so I turned off the main road at the next town which happened to be Puhoi (don't ask me to pronounce it). Unfortunately Puhoi was just a village so had nothing in the way of eateries except for a tea room which was closed.

At this point a person with common sense would have done a U turn and headed back to the main road - but not yours truly! No, I stupidly thought that there was BOUND to be a route back onto the main road once I was through the other side of the village. Even when the road turned into a gravel track I doggedly stuck to my assumption. 4 MILES later when the gravel track turned into a dirt track I finally stopped the car and looked at my map. The map just about showed the road I was on and indicated that in another couple of miles there was indeed a way back to the main road.

I thought 'in for a penny...' so continued on my way up forest tracks, behind logging trucks and over humpback bridges until I finally came to a sealed road that headed back to the main road. One hour later I was back on my way to the North vowing never to do that again (at least until the next time).

My route

Things I have NOT learnt:WHEN TO DO A U-TURN (part 2)
On on on I drove - I was determined to at least get to Whangarai before I stopped and at about half 8 at night just as it was getting dark I arrived - hungry and exhausted. I stopped at the first motel I could find and went to reception to book in. I nearly collapsed when I heard what the price was - $110! A SENSIBLE person would have done a U TURN right back out of there. I just handed over my credit card and wearily took my stuff to the room.

It was really a family room I had booked - as they supposedly had no other rooms available. I mentally added the motel to my 'Places I am going to firebomb' list then drove into town to find something to eat. On the way I passed loads of other hotels and motels with vacancy signs up and a YHA hostel. I got a Thai Curry take away and brought it back to my room so I could gorge myself while watching idiotic American crap on the TV.

The next morning I continued on my way to the Bay of Islands vowing never to waste good money on a hotel room again on this trip.

One thing I did learn after leaving Whangarai was that any place name starting with WH in New Zealand is actually pronounced as if it started with an F. This probably explains with I didn't have a clue where people were talking about when they said 'Stay away from Fangarai - its a dump!'

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