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How to plan a great road trip

How to plan a great road trip

You might dream of chucking a few items in a backpack and setting off with some friends to an unplanned destination. But unfortunately, life is not an Enid Blyton adventure series, and a lack of planning increases the chance that things won’t go as you hoped. Whatever sense of fun sparked by your spontaneity, it could easily be outweighed by booked-out accommodation or swarms of mosquitoes that have been waiting for someone to forget the repellent. Rather than see planning as a chore, use it to maximise your enjoyment of the trip – at least half the fun of any road trip lies in the anticipation.

Choosing your destination

One of the key balancing acts of road-trip planning is choosing a destination that’s close enough that you can get there in the time you have, but far enough from home to feel like a holiday. There’s no point planning a road trip to anywhere if you have to drive a thousand kilometres each way when you only have a three-day weekend to do it. The road trip itself is a big part of the holiday and it shouldn’t be so long that you don’t enjoy it – plus, you don’t want to arrive tired and stressed out, only to head straight back after a snack and a catnap. There’s also little point in choosing somewhere close enough that you may as well drive home each night to sleep in your own bed.

Another reason to choose your destination carefully is to avoid crowds. If you don’t have a compelling reason to go anywhere that’s usually overrun by tourists, then don’t – at least not during the holiday seasons or school holidays.

If you’d like to narrow your options further, you could combine the road trip with a special interest of yours. For instance, if you’re an astronomy nut, take a relaxed trip to the most remote corner of the country you can find, where there is no light pollution to spoil your view of the heavens. Alternatively, if you enjoy climbing mountains then make sure there’s a peak or two to conquer. Just check that anyone you invite along will be into it, too.

Some popular destinations

New Zealand has some of the most dramatic scenery in the world – probably why the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed here. Make the most of your own backyard and head to one of these destinations:

  • Taranaki

Situated on the North Island’s west coast, this area is dominated by a spectacular volcanic mountain. A road trip to this area is recommended for its stunning gardens, monster surf and unspoilt scenery.

  • Bay of Plenty

Here you can literally walk on an active volcano, White Island – which is a short helicopter ride away from the mainland. Or, learn to surf or take a wild ride on a blow kart.

  • Northland

The Twin Coast Discovery Highway stretches from Auckland all the way to the very tip of the North Island – where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet – and all the way back to Auckland. This epic five-day excursion is one of the most spectacular road trips you will ever take.

  • Marlborough

If you are within easy reach of Marlborough on the northern end of the South Island, this area offers some of the best skiing in the entire country. Or you can spend your time fishing in the Marlborough Sounds, and nights in one of several remote and secluded lodges.

  • West Coast:

The west coast of the South Island is a spectacular area that offers everything from action holidays to quiet and tranquil relaxation, with some of the most dramatic scenery New Zealand has to offer.

These are only a few of the near-endless options. If you get stuck deciding where to go, there are many route planners online. Try http://www.tourism.net.nz/road-trips.

Check your chariot

Now that you’re all fired up and ready to have the road trip of your life, you should have your car checked to ensure you get there without suffering break downs, flat tyres or oil and water leaks on the way. Here is a list of the most important items to have checked before you leave:

  • That your Warrant of Fitness is current and valid
  • V- and other drive belts
  • Radiator and hoses
  • Tyres for cuts, bulges and foreign objects. This check must include the inside sidewalls as well as the spare tyre for proper inflation and any other problems
  • Windscreen wipers
  • All exterior lights
  • Oil and coolant levels
  • Check that you have a working jack and a proper wheel spanner

In short, ensure that your vehicle is road worthy and in full compliance with the law. Full particulars can be found at: http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/roadcode/about-your-vehicle/car-requirements.html

What to bring

Anything can happen on a road trip; insect stings, allergies, stomach upsets, flat tires and a host of other irritations and unforeseen circumstances. Here’s how to be ready for anything.

  • First aid kit. You don’t need to take an entire pharmacy, but make sure the kit includes some bandages, plasters for minor cuts, aspirin or other pain killers, something to settle upset tummies and some antiseptic ointment and insect repellent.
  • Fire extinguisher. Having a fire extinguisher in the car is always a good idea. If you’re going camping, a fire extinguisher could save your tent from burning down should your camping stove fall over or catch fire.
  • Basic tool kit. Chances are you won’t need it but to be safe, invest in a small but good quality tool kit in a carry case. Most tool kits include the basic tools needed to fix minor roadside emergencies.
  • Games and activities. Children (and, let’s face it, many adults as well) can become bored very quickly, so bring along some games and other stuff to keep everyone occupied during the trip, and make sure you take a break from driving every two hours.

What to do before leaving

It is easy to forget some very important things in the excitement of preparing for your trip, so keep the following in mind:

  • Cancel your mail and news paper deliveries if you are going away for more than three or four days – or ask a neighbour you trust to collect them. A letterbox that’s overflowing with mail is not only a pain to come home to, it can make your home a target for thieves by giving a clear indication that no one’s around.
  • Ask a trustworthy person to feed your pets as well as water your garden and indoor plants.
  • Set light timers to give the impression of someone being at home.
  • If possible, arrange for a house sitter. Make sure this person knows where and how to get hold of you while you are away.
  • Switch off the stove and geyser.
  • Confirm all your bookings for accommodation, activities and side trips.
  • Confirm all your bookings again!

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