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Upside Down and Backwards

We arrive in New Zealand at 6:30 a.m., two days after we left our house. Where did that day go? Crossing the date line erases a day. We are actually 19 hours ahead of Central Standard Time in the US. As I explained to our children, it means we are 5 hours behind their clock time so imagine moving the clock back five hours, and then turn the calendar ahead one day! Actually we are on the same day from midnight to 5:00 a.m. in the Central Time Zone. What about other time zones? Well, it is 18 hours difference for the Eastern Time Zone and 20 for Mountain Time and 21 for Pacific Time. When daylight savings time goes into effect we all effectively move east one time zone so adjust accordingly. What happens here in New Zealand? I have no idea. That is why I came to explore this strange land. I’ll tell you when I find out.

As everyone knows, when you are in New Zealand and Australia, you are “down under.” It takes special concentration and great toe strength to hold onto the Earth and keep from falling off. Yes, we really are upside down. I saw the constellation Orion one night and the Great Orion stands on his head in the southern hemisphere! His sword is pointed up toward the zenith, overhead and his head is low on the northern horizon. In the northern hemisphere his feet are toward the equator and his head is near the zenith.

The real thrill is to watch the water go down the drain. I haven’t been able to observe this just yet. The drain in the campervan sink is so slow that I could fall asleep before it finally drains out, no spin there. The toilets are water conserving toilets, there is no swirling to the water, just a strong splash and everything is gone. Another thing to be resolved. I can tell you that the rotaries do rotate in the opposite direction!

Both New Zealand and Australia are former British Colonies. Despite being half a world away, they decided they would follow Great Britain’s model and drive on the wrong side of the road. This creates great confusion particularly in my mind. Knowing this they have taken special steps to ensure that everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. They have neat little blue signs with arrows to show you which side of the islands and barriers in the road to drive on. Every place you enter the road from a side road they paint large white arrows on the road showing which direction each lane is traveling. Clearly we need to work on the US roads and include these arrows to help remind our drivers where to drive.

It is funny (and sometimes not so funny) to learn to drive completely backwards from how you have driven all your life. I worked for days just getting the position within the lane correct. I’m on the right side of the campervan. Constant reminding from Louise has moved me from the line at the edge of the road toward the center line. Louise insists that the line at the edge of the road is near the edge of the world and in a few places here it really is! When I turn off the road into a parking lot I revert to driving on the right side! Then there are the one lane bridges, come off the bridge and my first instinct is to go right – oops. I have tried to be at my most humble when being corrected by Louise. She has after all saved me several times by pointing out my mistakes. She will not take the wheel, at least not yet. Maybe I’ll find some remote road in Australia and convince her to take a turn at it. It is an experience that no one should miss.

One of the best things I did before we started the trip was to order the map sets for New Zealand and Australia for my Garmin GPS. I ordered a hard copy as opposed to downloading it from a web site. It arrived in the form of a mini-SD card that simply plugs into the side of the GPS unit. On that tiny little chip is an amazing array of information. I could have rented a GPS here but that would mean learning how another unit works and we all know how painful that is. I have my familiar GPS, I know how it works and am able to use it to its full potential. It is just so wonderful to have step by step directions in a strange country with confusing city and street names, unusual traffic patterns such as rotaries and then learning to drive differently than in the past. Having those directions has taken one mental strain off my mind allowing me to concentrate on my driving. I think we have had to pull over to consult a map or check directions a couple of times. Otherwise, we just get in and drive to our destination. I have found it to be quite accurate and complete with parks and tourist sites usually in the data set. I switched it to read in kilometers and it gives distances, speed and speed limits.

Of course it is summer here in the southern hemisphere. February weather here is the equivalent of August weather in the US. You no doubt have read or heard of the weather in Australia and the intense fire season they have had there. We aren’t in Australia. We started the trip in New Zealand which is an island nation. The ocean is within a one hour drive from most of New Zealand and the climate reflects that. We are using our heater at night to take the chill off the night. Daytime temperatures are in the 60’s, 70’s and a few 80’s.

One of the mind-bending backward features of the southern hemisphere is that when you travel south the weather gets cooler. Go north to warm up! In fact when we are on the north shore of Australia we’ll be well within the tropics (in April and May, think October and November weather in US) and will see tropical rain forests at or near the end of their wet season. This time of year is also typhoon season. We get alerts from the US State Department regarding travel safety including notices about typhoons and tropical storms near where we are. What great service!

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