Yes, I guess it's due to the earthquake quite recently. It's no big deal, but if you're driving and are solely relying on your GPS, you may be in a little trouble. At least that was what I experienced. The GPS was loaned from the car rental company. A paper map may probably help a bit.
I do not know if their brain damage starts when they sit behind the wheel the first time, or if they are born as idiots. And I do not know if the problem is so huge in NZ, and especially here in Christchurch, because you can get your driver's license already at the age of 15.
What I do know is that the name boy racers they are given by the police and the media is far too nice for those young men and women who terrorize complete neighbourhoods with their nightly races and car burn-outs, and not only while they are boys. Their dangerous driving goes on when they are adults. You will hear them drive up and down hills at high speed in low gears, or around corners with spinning wheels, and they think this sounds cool, as in fact it sounds like a grandmother not finding the correct gear.
Although the carparks at the Summit Road have been altered to keep the idiots from doing burnouts in those spots, this has not stopped them. They still race on the Summit Road at night, burn out cars and make them roll down the hills. In the gullies below the Gondola car wrecks can be spotted on a regular base.
The hoons also terrorize neighbourhoods in the outskirts of the city on the weekends. And they seem to love Bealey Avenue for night races. The police are trying to tighten up the game but there is still a lot to do, as the laws in NZ are ridiculous in this respect. (Now, after a serious incident - see further down - the National Government has announced tougher laws, and the police are more consequent in applying the existing laws. They are controlling cars with noisy exhausts and arrest people who have not paid their fines.)
Update 7 March 2009
In the meantime the situation has deteriorated. The boyracer scene has been infiltrated by real hooligans. Some weeks ago someone fired three shots at a lone police officer at a large gathering of the car hoons. Later he had to drive from a car racing straight towards him. The mayor who has been trying to address the problem has been targeted and insulted. The Southern Cross Hospital on Bealey Avenue move their patients to rooms not facing Bealey Ave on Friday afternoon. Moteliers on this street do not dare to speak out openly because if they do, the hoons throw stones at their windows. If they speak anonymously only, the hoons "only" urinate and smash bottles on their lawns. This is their way of peaceful behaviour. Visitors leave the motels on the weekends as the hoons drive around the Four Avenues around the city centre in their noisy cars until the early morning hours, yelling, yahooing, throwing bottles out of the windows. Animals at Orana Park have been scared by those people firing fireworks. Chch Airport is on high alert because the guys (and girls!) do the same there along the fences although the grass is bone-dry.
But the best joke in the whole mayhem was the CEO of Christchurch's and Canterbury's tourist office: When she heard about a German TV programme that had aired a brilliant - and still far too harmless - report about the city's "boyracers", she said the report "misrepresented" the situation. Locals said they did not know that their tourist office was run by an ostrich LOL
Avoid the Four Avenues on Friday and Saturday night. The streets are Bealey, Deans, Moorhouse and Fitzgerald Avenues. They are long and wide roads perfect for racing. The young people say they do this idiotic circling because it is too expensive to hang out in pubs and nightclubs. With NZ$ 20 worth of petrol they can drive around the city centre the whole night. Normally the drivers stays sober and the passengers in the cars drink and throw the empty bottles out of the windows. So take care if you have to cross or walk along one of the avenues.
Never accept a race with an idiot beside you at the traffic lights. Either ignore them or if you feel threatened or watch dangerous driving, note the number plate and call the police.
Of course, do not book accommodation along those avenues for Friday and Saturday nights, or you will not sleep. On other nights there is no problem. Some motels and hotels on Bealey Avenue, for example, are even extremely nice and beautiful.
In Christchurch, as all of New Zealand, people drive on the left side of the road. If you are used to driving on the right side or if you do not feel comfortable driving in a forgien country, I would recommend taking public transportation. Or perhaps rent a bicycle? It's not uncommon for people to cycle or walk to their destination within the city.
In some of the intersections in the inner city "Jaywalking" is allowed. In case you are at a loss as to what this means in NZ...it just means that if you are driving watch the pedestrians as they are allowed to walk in any direction across the road as long as the green walking sign is showing. Straight across or diagonally across from corner to corner.
Montreal Street and Madras Street are ONEWAY north traffic
Barbadoes Street and Durham Street are ONEWAY south traffic
Lichfield Street and Salisbury Street are ONEWAY east traffic
St Asaph Street and Kilmore Street are ONEWAY west traffic
Car Drivers are nutts in Christchurch, and really don't like tourists, so make sure you don't pull out infront of a local, or drive slowly.
They say that the New Zealand Drivers are some of the worst in the world. I would have to agree, so keep your eyes open for them! It's not that we are really bad, but we like it fast, and we tend not to be as patient as some.