In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

Time travellers on suicide highway

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From:       Kirstie
Subject:   Time travellers on suicide highway
  Date:         29th March 2005
     Kaukapakapa, North Island, New Zealand


Another double logging truck shot past at more than eighty kilometres an hour, the invisible whack of its' backdraft pushing my bike and buggy onto the grass verge once again. I recovered my composure in time to notice Stuart's fist thrown into the air in protest at the driver's lack of courtesy. But this was no truckers' tea party; we were on Suicide Highway; otherwise known as North Island's notoriously dangerous State Highway Two. We weren't keen to cycle such a nasty stretch of road, but if we were to carry on travelling north, a section of it was inevitable. We took advice and timed it so we would cycle at the weekend, where the traffic and trucks were minimal. Or so they said. This killer stretch of road has taken the lives of more than forty people in five years and is lined with police warnings to motorists. At one point on the road seventy five simple white crosses in a field act as a morbid reminder of the danger and ever mounting death toll.

Another cryptic police warning to distract motorists

One of the drawbacks of holidaying in North Island is the heavy traffic on roads that simply weren't designed to carry so many cars. Cars are very cheap here, and the roads are flooded with inexpensive Japanese imports. In Auckland, our hosts told us that eighty new cars are sold every day to this comparatively small population. Second hand cars are even cheaper, insurance isn't compulsory and fuel is cheap so most young people can afford to own and run a car. This leads to misuse; both North and South Island are plagued by 'hoons,' kids in souped-up Nissans, carrying a carload of overexcited teenagers, tearing around the streets pumping loud music and revving engines noisily. On more than one occasion we have almost settled down to camp at a deserted roadside, only to find 'hoon signals' at the last minute; empty beer cans, chewed up earth, piles of cigarette butts. Hoons come at nightfall, and they come unannounced. We met a reformed hoon back at a beautiful wild campspot near the Maruia Falls in South Island. He is now a respectable dairy farmer, although the tattoos up his arms, shaved head and nervous twitch gave some indication of a more rowdy past. "Watch out for the hoonies here," he said with glee. "They come late and drive hard. Doing their donuts. You don't want to be in your tent when they turn up." Enough said, he lit up a cigarette, turned up his speakers, accelerated and spun through three hundred and sixty degrees before speeding off into the night. Once a hoon..

Hoons aside, we found Highway Two stressful and tough; hilly, windy and winding, with little hard shoulder to protect us. We witnessed the aftermath of two road accidents; while police held up the traffic, they let us through and we turned our heads away to avoid viewing the carnage as bodies were cut out of wrecks. By Saturday afternoon we decided to give ourselves a break from the intense concentration and pulled into a campsite, planning an early night and a getaway at first light. "Daylight saving time ends tomorrow," the woman at the counter informed me as I paid for a tent space, "don't forget to adjust your watch."

Stuart's wristwatch beeped a wake up call. For once Cameron hadn't woken before us. "It's seven o clock, we'd better get on our way." Determined to make the most of a quiet Sunday morning on Suicide Highway we packed the tent, lifted sleeping children into their buggies still in their pyjamas and pedalled onto the unforgiving road. But if we had hoped to beat the cars then we had been naïve, as it was almost as busy as the day before. "Can you believe it?" Stuart asked, during a pause for breath, "eight o' clock on a Sunday morning and it's like this." "You did change your watch didn't you?" I confirmed as we rode off, shouting at Stuart through the smog. We gritted our teeth, ignoring the noise, diesel fumes and sheeps excrement being flung at us from passing trucks.

By eleven, we were jaded, and relieved when we saw a sign for a café. 'Open seven days a week 10am-7pm.' Unfortunately it was a kilometre and a half up a hill. We arrived sweating and tired, but there was no sign of life from the café. Extremely indignant and desperate for refreshment I grabbed the mobile phone and rang the phone number left on the door in case of emergencies. A sleepy voice answered and confirmed that the café would be opening as promised at ten. I cursed as the phone went dead. "But its eleven o clock now and we've cycled all the way to have lunch with a bunch of idiots who've forgotten to change their watches." But we were too hungry to leave, and had no idea whether there would be another café on the highway. "I hate this road,"complained Stuart as we tried and failed to shelter from the hot morning sun. "Great big diesel filled trucks polluting our air. It's not right. Here we are saving the planet, doing our bit not to spoil their environment.. and they drive past with no respect for our efforts, guzzling fuel in their four wheel drive off road monsters..pumping hot exhaust gases in our faces as they speed along on their pointless journeys, going nowhere important quickly for a barby or boat trip, trailing their boats, camping trailers and kitchen sinks, spewing sheeps piss, throwing up dust, beeping their horns, driving us off the road. There's nothing green about this country. We sweat our guts out every day, powering ourselves across their stupid hills, but does anyone care? And I wouldn't mind but when they get to the campsites they pay less than us to stay there. Do we get a discount for being quiet and environmentally friendly? Not at all. We come in, put up our tent and try to enjoy the peace while they all guzzle the electricity and dump their sewage all over the place and chew up the grass. And then they have the cheek to invade our quiet Sunday morning. know what, I think there should be a.." The stress was telling.

The café owner appeared and halted his rant, bustling about in the kitchen. But we waited in vain to be served, getting more exasperated by the minute. Half an hour later she came over with her notebook. "You do realise Daylight Saving Time ended last night," she said as we ordered. "Yes we do realise that and we changed our watches." I answered. "Then you'll be aware that it's still only half past nine and I've opened up a half hour early for you?" she said. We looked at her, mouths open. We had put our watches an hour back instead of forward and were running two hours ahead of NZ time. "Oh my god, we got the kids up at five," I said to Stuart. "And it's breakfast time not lunchtime," he replied. "and the bloody highway was still a nightmare."

It was a relief to leave Suicide Highway and get back onto quieter back routes, without having to make any kind of accident claim. The stress was telling and for days we were stuck on Family On a Bike time, living the life of time travellers, out of sync with the rest of the world. Waking at six in the morning and on our way by seven, catching the sunrise, having lunch at breakfast time and dinner for lunch while the nation's hoons slept soundly in their beds.

A happy sign on one of the quieter routes North of Auckland



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