I was watching TV3 Evening News and they showed the new Northern Gateway Toll Road, which opened yesterday with a traffic jam. It's going to be $2 each way and I thought "I'll never see it" for several reasons:
- I'm opposed to tolling for public roads. We pay enough "toll' in fuel and other transport related taxes already.
- There is a longer alternative route, Highway 16, which takes me closer to home.
- Why pay a toll to go down a boring, if pretty, motorway and miss a brilliant drive?
Then they said "It's toll free until midnight" so I had to go, might be the first and last time I ever see it!
We headed north via the Riverhead - Coatesville Road. I've travelled it many times as a passenger, cyclist and driver and know it so well I could call it - rally pace note style - without references but tonight there was something new. On a sharp'ish, near hairpin, bend as you approach Coatesville there was a solar powered sign that would probably light up and say "Slow Down" if you were going, what "they" consider, too fast. How do I know that?
From there it was north to Silverdale where we joined the Northern Gateway "Toll Free for today Toll Road". It's impressive as passes through enormous cuttings and over long viaducts where you drive beside the tops of large Kauri trees. The traffic heading north was light so could glimpse the vistas without endangering life & limb. The view down the valley to Waiwera was lovely but you don't really get a sense of being on a bridge due to the width, 4 lanes + median, and barriers. I went under this viaduct last year, while it was still in construction, and it looks far more impressive from the valley below than it does from the road. The supposed highlight is twin tunnels (separate North/South) through Johnstones Hill but they are quite short and broad. I think Homer Tunnel, on the road to Milford Sound, is far more thrilling. They were marked to make the two approaching lanes merge into one. I wonder if this is it temporary as seems odd to "throttle" a new road like this?
The new section is only about 6km long but cuts out 11km of windy narrow coastal highway on the Orewa - Waiwera road, yellow in the Google Earth image below. It's still a free alternative and has it's own great views and, I assume, far less traffic than before!
Once off the new section we made a short excursion to Puhoi, it's cute village but understandably rather quiet on a Monday evening, even a holiday one. Then it was onwards to Matakana. Got some Fush un Chups (Nu Zild for Fish and Chips). They'd been busy and "only had Gurnard" but there is nothing wrong with "fresh today Gurnard" in a nice crisp batter and real chips (not French bloody fries which I hate).
I don't remember it's name, can't find it on Google, but (updated thanks Lance!) "C", the takeaway shop next to "Stubbs Butchers & Deli" at Matakana does great grub. I was pleased since I drove 107km to try it!
From there we headed further North to Wellsford and then home down the West Coast on Highway 16. This is one of my favourite driving roads if there is no traffic as there are only a few safe passing areas. Even on the last evening of a long holiday weekend there was no traffic thanks to the new toll road! From Wellsford to Helensville used to be about 60km of great driving with a 10km horror gravel stretch in the middle. It's been upgraded over the years and is now sealed all the way and realigned enough, but not too much, to make the corners flow. The only thing I did notice is Transit have gone mad with large reflective yellow warning signs and arrows to the extent that they are almost a hazard thanks the to the glare from high beam headlights!
Lets just say the Bravo got a bit of a workout, or overheating test**, and was fun on such a rewarding road. You don't have to go that fast to have fun, just maintaining the speed limit on the windy parts is fun enough.
I liked the Northern Gateway Toll Road, but I love the Highway 16 alternative so I won't be using it! One day when the oil runs out I'll remember driving 214km for Fish n Chips, with pleasure!
* I had a photographer in the passenger seat, but she was hampered by having no screen to see what was being shot. I dropped my faithful little Ixus 430 and smashed the screen earlier that day It's taken over 5,000 images and has been a great little camera. Time to get another even though it's still photographing fine.
** More on the Bravo HGT, I think stands for Heat Gives Trouble, in a future post but suffice to say it behaved perfectly again...