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New Zealand: the land of Kiwis, rugby and amazing beaches and scenery. Many people have the idea that New Zealand is a tiny little country in the bottom of the world.

To drive from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of Stewart Island takes a lot of driving time and two ferries. When superimposed on a map of Europe, it stretches from Denmark to the bottom of France.

The journey from Cape Reinga, (pronounced Ree-anga) the northern most tip of the country to Wellington at the bottom of the north island is a 13 hour drive. Then, there is a 3 hour ferry trip to Picton, the little south island town where the ferry docks. Driving from Picton to the Bluff, the southernmost tip of the south island is another eleven hours on the road.

There is currently just the one ferry route running between the Bluff and Oban on Stewart Island, the Stewart Island Experience with a scheduled sailing duration from about one hour. Although Stewart Island looks small on a map next to the South Island, it is large; 64 km long, 40 km across at its widest point, with a 700 km coastline. There are only 20 km of roads. You can't walk round the island in a day or even in ten days and hiking trails only skirt the northern third of the island.

In this series of travel blog posts on Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, (pronounced Eh-a-tee-a-rower and meaning Land Of The Long White Cloud) the journey begins at Cape Reinga, a magical and unique geographic location in the area known as Northland where two oceans meet: the Tasman Sea and the Pacific.

If you have a plan and the time to drive New Zealand top to bottom, the best city to fly into is Auckland, the country's largest and most cosmopolitan city. Auckland straddles the narrowest part of the North Island with the west coast port of Manakau opening on to the Tasman Sea and the east port, Waitemata that opens into the Pacific Ocean.

Assuming you are renting a vehicle and intend to meander from the tip of New Zealand to the bottom, the driving time from Auckland to Cape Reinga is around five and a half hours, not including stoppage time. There is much beautiful scenery along the way with glimpses of the white sandy beaches the east coast is known for. The roads are very good with the southern part a freeway or motorway as they all called down-under.

If you are arriving from Europe or North America, remember New Zealanders drive on the left hand side of road. It takes a while to get used to, with intersections and exits from shopping malls and supermarkets being a little tricky if you are not paying attention. It also takes the driver a while to get used to entering the car on the right hand side as the steering wheel is on the right, not the left. It's kind of funny to be daydreaming and enter the vehicle to find no steering wheel.

New Zealand is fully metric with gasoline (petrol) sold in litres, the currency in dollars and road distance in kilometres.

Next post: Northland's West Coast

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