State Highway 1 is the longest and most significant highway in New Zealand – it runs the length of the country from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south. You can drive the whole way but of course will have to put your car on the ferry to get from the North Island to the South Island.
New Zealand is a long and narrow country (I mentioned in a previous post that you’re never more than 128 kilometers from the coast) so the road is longer than you’d expect – it runs for 2,047 kilometers with 1,106 in the North Island and 941 in the South Island and connects all of the major cities in NZ. When you’re in one of these cities, highway 1 doesn’t seem that much different from any other highway in the states. But then you get out of the city and reality sets in.
NZ is very rural. Of the 4.6 million people who live here, about 33% live in Auckland. Sixty-six percent of the country’s population lives in the 10 biggest cities. That doesn’t leave a lot of people in the rest of the country! The highways have a lot of ground to cover so they are very practical – for most of its length State Highway 1 is a two lane single carriageway. It looks kind of like a secondary road would in the US except better maintained and with more passing pays.
Highway 1 wasn’t fully sealed until 2010 and we were laughing when we went to Cape Reinga to see that the MAIN highway in New Zealand goes down to a single lane at times when crossing bridges. It twists and turns throughout most of its length – you’ll find very few straight sections of road so getting anywhere takes forever but you don’t mind because it is beautiful! There are passing bays pretty regularly when you’re going through mountains and hills (which is almost always).
One thing that I do really appreciate though is that the roads aren’t narrow like they are in much of Europe. The lanes are reasonably wide, parking spots are good sized (except in some places in the city) and the turns and such are pretty forgiving. A lot of that is because Kiwis (and tourists) love their caravans and camping and road trips are part of life here.
State Highway begins in Bluff and if you go to the beginning of the highway you’ll see a signpost with yellow signs pointing to different places and listing the distance to those places. Bluff also has the Southernmost Starbucks in the world so check it out if you’re there!
The highway ends in Cape Reinga in the North. Cape Reinga is about a six hour drive North of Auckland — the road ends in a pretty good size carpark (parking lot) and toilet facilities (bathrooms). It has a nice overlook and a walkway that takes you down to a lighthouse and another signpost with yellow signs pointing the way to different places. From the walkway, you can see where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet — a roiling toiling clash of currents that is cool to watch. Reinga means underworld. It was named this because of a Maori belief that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld.
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