It was a delight to drive down the West Coast. For the last 17 years I’ve been living in Wellington, but before that I spent most of my life in Canterbury, where roads are generally long, straight, and flat. In the back country you can drive quite a way without seeing another car. In and around Wellington and the North Island in general there’s a lot more traffic.
On the West Coast, as least where we travelled, the roads were in good condition, interesting, bounded by luxuriant growth — generally bush or forest — and not at all busy. We could go long stretches before passing a car heading the other way. As we were dawdling about ‘touristing’ we several times pulled to the side to allow a ‘queue’ of two other vehicles to pass us.
There were also quite a few cyclists touring, loaded up with pannier bags, slogging up the hills or just easing along the flats. They were obviously the target for my all-time favourite road sign. There are a number of one-lane bridges on the West Coast, some of which share use between road and rail, meaning there are train tracks the length of the bridge. Unfortunately, I didn’t grab a photo, but you can see the sign on this web page, where you can also see a shared bridge. [Update: Alan Hamilton’s photo used with permission]
The sign is a bright yellow diamond, showing the front wheel of a bicycle caught in the dip of a flat surface, with the (handless and footless) rider flying over the handlebars. While road accidents are no joke, and I’ve fallen off bikes more than once, something about this sign just tickles me.
New Zealand has a lot of tourists. We drive on the left-hand side of the road, but quite a few visitors arrive from countries where they drive on the right. This has caused any number of more and less serious traffic accidents. On the West Coast I noticed a number of discreet but obvious, large, white arrows painted on the road to help remind people which side to drive on, especially after exiting a one-lane bridge or a rest stop. Every little bit helps.