Stephanie Holmes can't drive, but she can still enjoy a good road trip
There is one golden rule as a passenger on a road trip. Simply: stay awake. It shouldn't be difficult – just keep your eyes open and entertain the driver. Keep the chat flowing and the music pumping; open the lolly packet and pass the drink bottle. Easy, right? Yet I fail every time.
The passenger seat has always managed to lull me gently to sleep, my head lolling forward every so often, jerking me awake to the realisation that I'm a terrible road-trip buddy. To all the drivers I've accompanied, I apologise.
Kiwis are incredulous when I reveal I've never learned to drive. I like to think of it as a personality quirk, something that makes me a little more interesting. In reality, for those around me, it's no doubt endlessly inconvenient.
But while I can't share the driving, I still share in the joy of a road trip. There's nothing like the freedom of the open road, the knowledge that you know where you're headed but if you so choose you can take a detour, make an unplanned pit stop, enjoy a stretch of the legs and a new view.
And, if you can keep those eyes open, there's always something to look at. Unlike the poor driver, who needs to keep their eyes on the road and the mirrors at all times, the passenger is free to gaze and daydream. There's chance to reminisce on the times you travelled this road before, and how life has moved on since then.
New Zealand provides the best scenery for a road trip, the landscape changing so frequently you could never get bored. Moments of greatness are around every bend. Some of my favourites: the moment where you pop out over the Brynderwyns and suddenly get a glimpse of Bream Head and a shining expanse of sea. Or the winding coastal road that takes you from Thames up to the Coromandel – especially in December when the full-bloom pōhutukawa light the way like beacons of summer hope.
Once, we hired a campervan and tootled from Whakatāne to Napier on a five-day trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. It was winter and the roads were empty and at almost every bend there was a stunning ocean view. We nearly had an argument as we pulled into Waihau Bay – I'd read the map wrong and thought we were much further along our route than we turned out to be. But as we paid the $15 for a campervan site in the Waihau Bay Lodge car park, tempers calmed as we realised what a perfect spot we'd come to. An idyllic East Coast bay was just steps away from our van's front door, and when we woke up the next morning, the diluted winter sunlight on the water was magical.
Road trips are just as good when no one is driving. Or rather, when the driver is a professional and all of your party can become passengers. As Kiwis, we probably never even considered taking a coach trip around our own back yard, but these days, why not? Someone else does the hard work of map-reading and navigating those bends, while a guide tells you golden nuggets of information about the journey and the destination, things you'd never find out if you were in charge of your own road-trip destiny.
I've travelled by coach a number of times in New Zealand. When I first arrived here as a fresh-faced backpacker, I took the Kiwi Experience from Auckland to Paihia via the west coast, where our guide walked us through the Waipoua Forest and we stood in awe under the shade of Tāne Mahuta.
I made great friends on that bus and fell in love with New Zealand - both seen up close and through the window. I had a lot of great naps too.
I think it was that trip that first sowed the seed of an idea that I should stay here forever, that maybe this was the best place to call home. Now, as 2020 comes to a welcome close and I look forward to the freedom of summer road trips ahead, I couldn't be happier with my choice.
4 TOP TIPS TO BE A PERFECT PASSENGER
1. STAY AWAKE
Do as I say, not as I do - it's really important to keep those eyes open and keep the driver talking. They're doing all the hard work here – it's your duty to keep them entertained. If travelling by coach, however, sleep as long as you like. You deserve it.
2. BRING SNACKS
Make sure there's a mix of savoury and sweet. Sour jelly snakes, salt and vinegar chips, and Jaffas are non-negotiables.
3. MAKE A PLAYLIST
Put some thought into this, don't just chuck your music library on shuffle. Include songs that are excellent to sing along to at the top of your voice, and those you can practise your harmonies. Of course, 95 per cent of your playlist should include songs with the words "car", "road", "driving" and "wheel".
4. BE GENEROUS
Offer to pay for half the gas. And shout the driver a coffee and a pie at your first pit stop. With generosity like this, you'll definitely be invited back for the next roadie. And don't leave your manners at home, even if travelling on a coach tour where the driver is getting paid for their time. Say hello when you get on and thank you when you get off.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com