Holidays Tours

Why long car rides don't have to be boring

When the traffic gets heavy, the smart pull out snacks and a podcast.

By Wendyl Nissen

When most people find out that the road trip north to our place in the country takes about four hours, they are horrified. City people who spend a lot of time in cars getting from A to B by necessity view unnecessary time in cars as something to be avoided at all cost, especially in four-hour increments.

But, for me, four hours is a very small price to pay when you know that waiting for you at the end of it is your haven. Once I open the gate and steer the car down the driveway, all tension is gone and life is good.

But that four hours has not come without its challenges, usually in the form of traffic jams.

Recently we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to head north on a Friday night. We had spent much more time in Auckland than we had budgeted for in our 2017 calendar, mainly because I had taken on a new job on the radio.

"If I don't get some time up north soon I am going to seriously lose the will to live," I told my husband Paul on that fateful Friday morning.

"If I don't get some time up north soon I am going to seriously lose the will to live," I told my boss later on that fateful Friday morning.

And so, at four in the afternoon, thanks to the machinations of these two important people, I found myself propped up in the passenger seat of the car while my husband drove north.

As usual before setting off, we had the standard discussion about which route to take.

I prefer heading out west through Helensville to avoid traffic on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and the ridiculous Puhoi tunnel, which was built to make it faster to get north but is a very sensitive soul prone to complete shutdown of its single lane north the minute there is anything resembling a breakdown.

Paul prefers State Highway 1, Puhoi tunnel included, so that is the way we went – for about half an hour, until everything came to a standstill. We had barely left the North Shore of Auckland and we were going nowhere.

Fortunately, I had packed some supplies, which included a nicely chilled bottle of wine. As I wasn't driving, I saw no impediment to me getting out of the car in the middle of a motorway covered in motionless cars to retrieve it from the boot, open the bottle and, failing in my efforts to find a cup or a glass, take delicate sips from it now and then.

Paul, meanwhile, fumed. The words "bloody" and "traffic" and "Auckland" may have left his lips until I did my calming mantra of "we can't do anything about it so we might as well enjoy it". Which worked for me after a few more sips, but not so much for him.

As we spent the next two hours in a queue not moving anywhere I watched the kids in the car in front of us perform a sitting song-and-dance routine for their very amused father.

To the right of us, a man got out of his car and stood on the side of the road calmly puffing a cigar. And one man simply got out of the car behind us and started walking. Perhaps he was going to investigate the cause of the hold-up or maybe he just wasn't good at sitting still.

Fortunately, I remembered I had downloaded the new podcast Black Hands, about the Bain family murders, so set that up and we both sat back to have a listen and try not to think about how late we would be getting to the Hokianga.

Eventually things started to move and we crawled through the tunnel, doing our best to see what had caused the hold-up and finding nothing – but we did see the walking man, who had covered a good few kilometres since leaving his car.

That trip took six hours, much of it in the dark, but we were on a familiar route, the podcast provided good entertainment and when we finally arrived it was well worth it just to be home.

Now, after nearly four years of frequently driving north, and two sets of new tyres, we no longer just jump in the car and go.

Instead, we check the traffic app for conditions on both our preferred routes, then have a sensible chat about which way to go, which doesn't involve me referring to "that Friday night we got stuck for two hours".

We try not to set an arrival time that plays over and over in our heads as we battle traffic and, most importantly, I now pack a chiller with wine, cheese and crackers. That way at least one of us has a nice Friday night on the road.

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