What Did The Romans Ever Do For New Zealand?

by Continental Club on April 30, 2009

The answer, of course, being: nothing. Nor were they likely to, since they had no idea that it existed. However you’d have thought that the vast majority of those who’ve since settled Aotearoa – The Land of The Long White Cloud – would have picked up at some point that the Roman idea of building roads in straight lines, directly linking origins and destinations, was a not half bad one.

Well, they haven’t. Let’s take Auckland as an example. There are two motorways in the metropolitan area. One goes to the airport and one goes to the city. The two motorways are miles apart and separated by densely-packed suburbia. At no point has anyone apparently said: ‘look lads, this is a bit daft. If we’re going to call it ‘Auckland Airport’, shouldn’t we have a road that goes between ‘Auckland’ and the ‘Airport.’

Nope, far better to ram the traffic down a maze of side streets and clear off to London to make your fortune.

When, through accident or design, a straight-line road does occur, it’s invariably far too narrow for the traffic that needs to use it. The Auckland Harbour Bridge, hardly a thing of beauty other than in the dead of a moonless night during a power-failure, links the city centre to the burgeoning North Shore. It’s the only practical means of connecting the two (other than an unsurprisingly circuitous 40km route through the hills) but, in a remarkable lack of foresight for a rapidly developing country, was built as if it might get the odd horse and cart crossing it.

The original plan was to include railway tracks in the design, but whether for cost reasons or because they just forgot, it opened with just two lanes for road traffic in either direction.

Just ten years after it opened, a Japanese company was contracted to build additional lanes to be fitted to the outboard parapets of the bridge, and the nickname ‘Nippon Clip-ons’ was promptly applied. The increased width doesn’t even begin to deal with the levels of traffic now trying to use the crossing, and rush-hour jams regularly begin at 5.30am and extend for miles in each direction. And, as if drivers’ nerves aren’t frayed enough by the time they finally manage to get onto the bridge, they’re unlikely to be comforted by the 2007 press publication of a report which concluded that the Clipons are at risk of sudden and catastrophic failure in certain circumstances. Which would, presumably, be quite messy.

Things are arguably worse once the city limits are finally reached. For here, showing remarkable courage in the face of blinding common sense, recent New Zealand governments have presided over the closure of almost all of the country’s rail network. Accordingly, the bulk freight which used to amble from forest, farm and factory to port and processing along the iron road, now shares the winding lanes which twist and turn through every ditch and dip that the landscape possesses, cheek by jowl with the swarms of aged (non-rental) Kiwi cars. Although, in fairness, it still used to share the roads, even when it was on the rails….

Yes, rest assured that if there’s a way to get from A to B that goes via C, D, E, F and G, then the good road builders of New Zealand will have found it. Meanwhile, the signpost erectors will have given up before they’ve even started and just assumed that if you’ve got that far, you must know where you’re going.

So it’s perhaps little wonder that almost the only thing of note to have emerged from New Zealand since Hillary planted his flag on Everest is the twin-drawer dishwasher. Oh, and Hayley Westenra. Everything else is stuck in a traffic jam just outside Auckland.

Which is, in itself, an extremely round about way of saying that practical day trip options from Auckland are very few and far between. There’s one though, that given half a chance and a good alarm clock, you really should get up in time to make.

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