5 things to know about driving on the left in New Zealand and Australia

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Driving on the left? Terrifying—and totally worth it for views like this from McKinnon Pass on the Milford Track in New Zealand.

So, we’re back. After four weeks of honeymooning around New Zealand and Australia, Tovin and I have returned to the land of drip coffee and fog. I won’t claim we were ready to leave, but it is good to be home.

Given that we had four weeks (more on that in a future post) and didn’t fancy becoming alcoholics with skin cancer, we decided to forgo the stereotypical all-inclusive resort honeymoon in favor of a more active exploration. We biked (to a winery), hiked (the gobsmacking Milford Track in New Zealand), rode (horses in the damn ocean!), paddled (kayaks alongside baby seals) and dove (the just-as-great-as-you’ve-imagined Barrier Reef).

But by far the most nerve-wracking, risky, challenging endeavor we took on during the entire trip was this: driving on the left.

Yes, like Pakistan, Japan, Suriname and the UK, both New Zealand and Australia zoom around on, ahem, the wrong side of the road. And in a rental Toyota sedan with all of its text in Japanese, we decided to join them. Here’s what we learned:

1. Keep your bitch in the ditch. We received this invaluable piece of advice from some friendly locals in Queenstown, and it became something of a mantra for us and a way to check that we weren’t about to motor into head-on traffic. Having a moment of vehicular self-doubt? Bitch in the ditch. Confusing intersection? Bitch in the ditch. About to enter a round-about? Bitch in the ditch. Just your regular old right turn? Bitch in the ditch.

2. The windshield wiper salute is universal (at least among righthand drivers). Here’s what will happen: You will be driving on the left. You will be keeping your bitch in the ditch. You will be preparing to make a turn, and you will reach for the turn signal with your left hand. Then, bam! Windshield wipers. If you see someone in New Zealand at an intersection with their windshield wipers going on a sunny day, give ’em a wave. Driving on the left is hard work.

3. The passenger seat is terrifying. I’m not sure why this is true, but just trust me that it is. From the passenger seat, it constantly appears that you’re about to slam into that guard rail/careen off that cliff/clip the car in the next spot over. Try your best to bite your tongue, because soon you’ll be driving and there’s nothing worse than a gasping and grimacing shotgun.

4. New Zealand roads are slow. Really, really slow. People will tell you this, and yet, you’ll look at Google Maps and think that you really can make it from Te Anau to Franz Josef in 6 hours. Maybe someone can. You cannot. Driving in New Zealand is stunningly scenic, but every single road seems to include at least one gorge and a hefty share of hairpin turns. These are best enjoyed during daylight when it’s not raining.

5. You will adjust. Perhaps this comes as the biggest surprise of all, but just four weeks after arriving in the Southern Hemisphere we were kind of getting the hang of the whole rolling lefty thing. Yes, I often still walked to the passenger side with the car keys, and no, we didn’t attempt to navigate Sydney traffic, but we turned in our final rental in Cairns totally unscathed. As the Aussies would say, too easy.

One quick footnote: When we returned to the relative sanity of our own car and right-side driving in San Francisco, Tovin actually hit the windshield wipers when he was going for the turns signals—twice.

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5 thoughts on “5 things to know about driving on the left in New Zealand and Australia

  1. This reminds me of driving on the left in England, from London to Scotland and Ross and I Yelling at each other so much that when we stopped for lunch you asked if we were getting divorced! You were 8.

    Love, Mom

    Sent from my iPad

    Roslyn Feldberg, PhD Independent Scholar roslynf@rcn.com (617) 969-5515

    >

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