Lovely Things: The Drive to Oamaru

State Highway One (looking south), Rangitata, South Canterbury, New Zealand, 28 October 2005

“Oh, but it’s such a boring drive,” one of my colleagues said when I mentioned I was driving from Christchurch to Oamaru that weekend.

Yes. That’s why I love it.

There are plenty of beautiful, interesting drives in New Zealand, if you like trucks full of sheep or logs or milk driving right up your ass while you navigate around steep corners uphill, swearing under your breath.

I do not like that kind of excitement, no matter how stunning the forested slopes that drop to the narrow ribbon of river. I am not in the right frame of mind to appreciate a landscape when a motorbike is trying to overtake me on a one-lane bridge. I do not give a single shit about the beautiful birdsongs of our native fauna when some speed-humping idiot is honking at me in sustained, malicious bursts.

The road to Oamaru does not hold with this kind of malarkey. The road to Oamaru is wide and flat, lined with green fields dedicated to growing as much grass as possible for cows. These fields are over-irrigated and destroying our waterways and contributing to both the destruction of our environment and those nakedly self-interested smug Fonterra ads, but they roll on and on and there are no tricky corners or hair-raising elevations. Occasionally, there are trees. Sometimes, you go over a bridge, or a mild rise that barely qualifies as a hill.

There are passing lanes every two minutes. If I don’t get around a trailer or a caravan in time, I just hang out behind it and wait for the next one, blissfully content. I did once overtake a truck without a passing lane, while the opposite lane was clear to the horizon, and this thrilling act of daring was the first thing I recounted when I got in the door.

The road to Oamaru passes through Ashburton and Timaru, which are the most pleasantly boring towns in the South Island, possibly New Zealand, perhaps the world. Frustrated young people in Timaru occasionally seek to relieve their boredom by roaring around in noisy cars with fat exhausts, but there are so many traffic lights on the main drag that all they can do there is sit next to me, tapping the steering wheel in time to their bass-driven music. It’s very peaceful.

This is not to say the road is safe. New Zealand’s road death statistics are tragic and appalling, and the road between Christchurch and Oamaru has collected a lot of lives.

But honestly, I don’t want to be safe so much as I want to feel safe. All I want in a long drive is that I don’t have to chant “shit shit shit shit” while attempting to appease mad drivers who would only be satisfied if I achieved lightspeed. So far, the drive to Oamaru is the only one that has satisfied this desire. What a lovely thing it is.

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