Dublin: Driving in a Twilight Zone

He  was expecting a warm Irish welcome and not a trip to the Twilight Zone

By Conal Healy

(aka Mick In The Middle)

THE traffic lights had changed to red.

Thank God. Desperately I tried to find the demister button. The heavily fogged windscreen needed to be cleared.

Nothing looked familiar on the dashboard. Bloody hire car! Swearing , I flicked the switch for the wipers.

Again, I swore!

Somebody had switched the indicators for the wipers.

Another button was quickly jabbed, this time the wiper came on.

The back window wiper, that is.

Heavy rain was now hammering on the roof of the car, drowning out the DJ gibberish from one of the local radio stations.

I was at one of the busiest traffic junctions in Dublin, Ireland, about to hit a highway, and I needed to see where I was going.

Frantically I looked across the unfamiliar controls while keeping one eye on the road ahead.

I knew that one false move could switch this tin-can on wheels from four-wheel drive to two-wheel drive … or it would clear the screen.

From the back of my jet-lagged mind, vital information was fighting its way forward to my sub-conscious (“Wiper on the left . . . indicators on the right . . . it’s reversed, you nong* ”, yelled my frustrated inner child).

The rain had now turned to sleet.

Big lumps of grey-white were now hitting the windscreen.

“And the weather forecast for Dublin is for rain, maybe snow later. A top of four degrees,” burbled the radio station.

“And now time for the surf report . . .” It was at this point, my mind snapped.

A 28-hour flight from Australia had left me exhausted, constipated, jetlagged and now my ears were hearing the local surf report. I muttered in disbelief, then stared at the radio — who in their right mind would go surfing when snow is forecast? Jeez it is April. Early spring, late winter … if you were a pessimist.

“… Lahinch should be up to two-metres…. Strandhill has a few swells…” an ex-pat Californian with a mid-Atlantic accent was doing his best to talk up the surf.

“There should be a few small point breaks down the Wicklow coast…”

If I thought things couldn’t get weirder, I was wrong.

There was an urgent knock at the window of the car. I span away from the radio to be confronted by an imploring face.

Surrounded by of four lanes of traffic, in the middle of a snowstorm, a one-legged, sodden-to-the-bone Polish woman was trying to sell me a copy of the latest Big Issue magazine.

She was hammering on the window with one of her crutches.

“You buy? Five Euros?” in a heavy Eastern European accent was erupting in one ear. “…and Bundoran might have the odd point break,” said the American into the other ear.

Am I really in Ireland, my mind asked? What is this madness!

With just enough Euros for the highway tolls, I had to decline buying copy of the charity magazine.

And to calm my brain, I jabbed at the radio, turning it off.

Keep an eye out for Irish ambulances.

IT was just that moment the traffic lights turned green. Thank God.

Still struggling to make sense of this mind-numbing scene, my foot hit the accelerator, the car lurched forward and I aimed it into what I hoped was the correct lane for the Dublin orbital ring road.

Big lumps of grey-white cotton drops were hitting the windscreen as the snow turned back to sleet. With a badly misted-over, sleet-splattered screen the car merged successfully onto the multi-laned 120km/h highway.

Being a four-wheel drive, the hire car didn’t respond well to my desire to keep up with the traffic flow.

It might have only been a few weeks old, but the Irish Terios lacked the grunt of my regular Australian car, a six-cyclinder four litre Ford Falcon.

In the swirling snowstorm behind me, other drivers were ignoring the speed limit and were busily flying past, flashing their lights, honking their horns while shaking angry fists in my direction.

By a stroke of luck a roadside construction site loomed into view.

There were many “Slow Down” warning, 60kms signs. I braked to slow down, relieved at the chance to study the various dials and buttons.

Okay, there’s the heater… Ahhhh there’s the demister …check road ahead…. clock… knob for side mirrors…check road ahead. I looked in my back mirror and realised slowing down was  a mistake, a big mistake.

I was now being tailgated by three cars, behind those were other drivers eager to switch lanes.

To my side, an expensive streams of Audis, Beamers and Mercs sailed past, seemingly oblivious to the speed restrictions.

With roadworks on both sides of the highway I was obeying the limit …and was the slowest car in six lanes of traffic. Welcome to friendly Ireland.


OVER the past 30 years Ireland has experienced an economic boom and depression.

Hundreds of thousands of workers from across Europe and around the world  descended on the small island nation to make money, to party hard and to drive on almost-Third World roads. When the money ran out, so did a lot of the foreign workers.

Tourists have been warned that “many Irish roads are below international standards, many Irish motorists are unlicensed, and the police have no way of removing uninsured foreign drivers from the roads, on the weekend many country roads belong to boy racers”.

Be sure to watch out for cyclists, pedestrians and the occasional garbage truck while in Dublin.

It is not unusual to see vans perform illegal U-turns in the traffic light intersections (halting eight lines of traffic).

Or for a learner driver to do a leisurely three-point turn on one of the city’s main arterial routes at rush hour (causing a two-kilometre tailback) just to get a car park spot in front of the local conveniences store.

A standard day out in Dublin usually involves at least four breaches of the Australian rules of the road. You might regard yourself as a good driver in Australia but when you’re in Ireland, do as the Irish do.

A tourist coach and truck get close in Ireland.

The rules you are most likely to breach are: Parking on the wrong side of the road, mounting the kerb, illegal (and repeated) use of the car horn, queuing across intersections. In Ireland people seem to park wherever they can.

In places like Dublin, Cork and Galway motorists run the risk of having their car “clamped” — where your vehicle is immobilised by a large metal contraption wrapped around your front wheel.

Be aware that in the best traditions of the informer, locals can get a “spotters fee” if they see a car illegally parked and report it to a clamping company.

The declamping fee varies –but a good average is around $150. Driving in Dublin is a nightmare. The CBD is a maze of one-way streets. Car-parking is expensive ($3 for 30 minutes). Traffic lights seem to be positioned every 50 metres.

On some streets you share the road with windscreen washers, beggars, bike riders, motorcyclists, other car users, double-decker buses and Dublin’s light train system, the LUAS.

Dublin has a system of light railway called The LUAS. It can make driving in the Dublin CBD a nightmare.

ONE of the best things about Dublin — as the old joke goes—is the network of highways that lead away from the capital.

Off the motorway many local roads are not well marked.

Therefore, it is helpful to know the name of the next town or village on your route. Directional road signs are usually a single post with a number of arrows pointing in different directions. In some instances it is difficult to determine which way the arrows are pointing.

Some signs are broken and the arrows are pointing in the wrong direction. And to add to the adventure, some are in the Irish language.

In some part of the West of Ireland the signs are wholly in Gaelic.



You have to understand Gaelic to drive in Ireland. (Watch out for the sheep too.)

Don’t be afraid to stop and ask for directions. The locals are usually very helpful and more than willing to offer assistance.

Ireland is largely a rural country and rural traffic is the norm.

Expect slow and gigantic pieces of farm machinery around every corner, especially in Roscommon (but that is just my personal experience).

Also be prepared for wildlife and pets suddenly crossing the road. Cows and especially sheep don’t mind using the public road as a resting place.

Even in Dublin collisions with horses are not unknown.

There is network of highways radiating out from Dublin. Top speeds can be 120km/h.

MY relationship with the Terios 4WD hire car lasted 10 days, adding 1200kms to its clock.

On the highways it was a nightmare, it had to be coaxed up to the legal speed limit of 120km/p.

Around the city it was perfect – it mounted the kerb admirably, it was nippy in one-way streets, high enough to see errant cyclists, and the rugged wheels tackled the city’s potholes with ease.

The car’s heater meant the heavy winter coat was occasionally discarded — but not the gloves and the scarf. And the off-road features? The car climbed over high mountain passes, flew past misty peat bogs, stopped sharply for a flock of sheep, chugged happily along behind rural tractors and only once left the tarmac.

As the Terios was being dropped back, on one bright spring morning — but with snow on the Dublin Mountains — the boom gate remote control failed at the entrance to the Dublin airport car park.

Rather than double-back through the airport’s torturous one-way traffic system, the Terios mounted a small nature strip and effortlessly drove around the boom gate and into a nearby car park space.

Who said you shouldn’t take a 4WD into the city . . . mind you, it was just a pity a surfboard couldn’t fit into the back of that Terios.

The Terios parked on a country road in County Dublin. Roads edged by tall stonewalls are common in the East of Ireland.




Clamping in Dublin: Why and what to do


Driving in Ireland?


Spring (March – May)

In spring it becomes gradually warmer with average temperatures between 8- 12 °C.

Summer (June – August)

The average temperature during the summer is between 16-20 °C. Apart from short refreshing showers, this is Ireland’s driest season.

Autumn (September – November)

In autumn, the temperature ranges between 14-18 °C.

Winter (December – February)

The average temperature during the winter ranges between 4-6 °C.

Daylight in Ireland

Winter: In Ireland, on the shortest day (December 21), the sun rises at about 8:40 a.m. and sets at about 4:10 p.m. providing approximately seven-and-a-half hours of daylight.

Summer: On June 21, on the longest day, the sun rises at about 5am and sets at about 10pm.providing approximately 17 hours of daylight.

Are you planning to visit Ireland soon?

Check www.met.ie for the latest weather forecast for the next 5-10 days around Ireland.

* Nong – in Australian slang, nong is used as a pretty mild and/or endearing insult. A bit of a twit, or idiot.  (Source: Urban Dictionary)


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NZ: Battling a winter blizzard … in a campervan


By Conal Healy

(AKA Mick In The Middle)

TAKING a campervan around the South Island of New Zealand in winter is not for the faint hearted. This was the thought that struck me as our campervan hit another patch of icy-snow, started sliding off the road and stopped – luckily – before we went over the cliff.

A bright but chilly afternoon turned nasty as we headed over the Arthur Pass after collecting our vehicle at Christchurch.

Rain turned to snow and eventually a blizzard as we hit the top of the pass, the heating on, wrapped in our winter clothes, rugged up with the van’s doonahs (duvets).

Now this is cold, I thought as we started our mountain descent down what can only be described as a glorified goat track. The windscreen wipers, even on high speed, had difficulty clearing the snow as the blizzard turned horizontal.

We drove slowly avoiding the waterfalls which poured onto the road. At the same time we had to keep a watch for ice patches which threatened to slide us over the cliff to the valley floor hundreds of metres below us.

The road was being upgraded so most of the guard rails had been removed.

To add to the holiday’s excitement we had to share the pass with heavy earth moving equipment which would loom out of the snow storm like technicolour dinosaurs.

It was a great relief when the snow turned to heavy rain again as we reached the valley floor.

As night fell – at 4pm – we realised we were over the worst part of the journey, on what had been our first day on the road.

With the first overnight stop of Hokatika still an hour away, we drove through a scenery which was losing the battle against the annual 2.5metres of rainfall.

Grey, bedraggled sheep, sheltered from the storm behind granite boulders or bushes of yellow flowering gorse. Tiny two-roomed humpies  (small homestead) lay hidden, surrounded by sparse windswept trees.

The barely two-lane road, regularly narrowed as we approached a bridge which usually doubled for both rail and road traffic.

Another of our nightmares was for the campervan to be trapped on one of these bridges and not see the train looming out of the mist … until it was too late.

That first night, Hokitika could have been anywhere, all we saw were the town’s neon signs shining bright out of the storm. We were happy and relieved to reach the guide’s suggested campervan park, make dinner and warm ourselves at the open fire of a nice West Coast pub.

With the wind gently rocking the van and the rain washing the mud from the outside we fell asleep.

THE next morning the local radio station told us that the Arthur Pass had been closed by our blizzard, that cars were trapped and the pass wouldn’t be re-open for three days. We had been the last people over the pass.

Outside the rain had cleared, the snow-capped Southern Alps shone pink in the early morning sunlight.

The plan was to go down the West Coast, stopping off to see the glaciers in the Franz Joseph National Park,  head for Queenstown and turn north and finish back at Christchurch.

The circuit would be three days of driving but with plenty of rest between each long haul.

As the six-berth campervan handled like a brick and the road conditions meant we rarely got over 50km/ph the driving duties were shared among the four of us. One person would drive, the other front seat passenger would ride shotgun (scouting for icy patches, scenery and sign posts) while the other two would sit in the back looking after the two children.

Backseat passengers also had to tidy the cutlery and clothes from the floor of the van after the drawers and cupboard emptied after we took a sharp turn.

Even when everything was secure there was still the almost constant rattle from within the van.

The millions of potholes we seem to have bumped over in the course of two week ensured we appreciated the regular stops to admire the beautiful – and silent – scenery.

Mirror flat azure lakes reflected the greens of a rainforest, the browns of heather covered mountains, the white peaks and the cold blue cloudless sky.

Hard sandy beaches, edged with giant boulders, lashed by huge Tasman Sea waves.

Wide, stony grey riverbeds, empty expect for a central channel of swift glacier blue torrents. A twisted ribbon of a road scratched into the narrow stretch of land between the cold grey sea and the sharp, angular mountains which rose like a wall.

Deep steep ravines occasionally littered with the axles of smashed vehicles warned us that it was best not to travel that stretch of the road when it rained or at night.

FOR two days we waited at the town of Haas for the mountain pass to Queenstown to open. Snow eventually turned to slush and then rain before we felt brave enough to load up the van and set off.

Hidden – by rain clouds – from the watchful gaze of Mt Disappointment, the van slugged its way up to the Hass Pass passing Misery Creek.

“A very appropriate name,” muttered someone as we were enveloped by mist.

Even though we followed the tyre tracks cut in the slush by the previous vehicles, we could made out where others had skidded and ended up in the ditch. With the rain now turning to snow we debated whether to keep driving or risk being stranded after spending 30 minutes attempting to put on the van’s snowchains.

Our lack of confidence about the snow chains decided we drive on – slowly through the snow storm.

As we reached the top of the pass the weather cleared to a fine winter’s afternoon and the road ahead to Queenstown seemed clear.


IT wasn’t until we turned a corner and were confronted by a road crew that our hopes were dented.

An earthquake the previous week had closed the only route through.

“We’ll open a single lane for 20 minutes, in two hours time. After that the road is closed til tomorrow,’ said the foreman to the queue of 10 vehicles stopped at the barricade.

The kettle was just coming to the boil and the soup simmering when the foreman changed his mind and we all had to leave “Now” or stay the night.

Whoever was in the back strapped in the kids, held onto the hot lunch and tried not to be throw around too much.

Upfront, it needed one set of eyes to spot the debris on what was now a goat track. Meanwhile the driver made sure the van didn’t get too close to the edge of the ravine which plunged down to Lake Wanaka.

Twenty terrifying minutes – and five kilometres – later we hit tarmac again, we pulled over at the first safe spot and settled down the two scared children. It took a long lunch before the four adults recovered.

It wasn’t until we were packing up that I looked over the edge of the ravine and saw the undercarriage of another campervan which lay rusting on the edge of the lake shore. I slowly walked back to the van and kept my mouth shut until we hit winter ski resort of Queenstown.


Like most of the places we stayed at on the South Island, the Creeksyde Campervan Park, offered excellent facilities.

A well furbished kitchen/dining room/heated TV lounge offered a welcome a break from the cramped van.

The lounge also gave us a chance to gleefully swap horror stories with other campers over a couple of beers: “Our toilet backed up, flooding the van…we ended up in a ditch…the heater broke down and we nearly froze…my wife couldn’t stand the campervan’s constant mess so we flew her home to Sydney…our gas water heating system doesn’t work…”

Nearly everybody agreed that taking a campervan around mid-winter New Zealand was something of an adventure.

Which is fine, if you want an adventure, a family planning a relaxing break shouldn’t consider it.

CAMPERVANS can be cramped, the on-board facilities are best described as adequate.

How many families would relish the prospect of spending two weeks in the space smaller than a large bathroom. (We regarded ourselves as lucky that six of us didn’t have one argument in the two weeks we were holidaying in the van.)

A campervan allows you a certain amount of freedom as to where you travel, however an NZ tourist body suggested it was safer to use the van parks.

“Several isolated van have been attacked an robbed,” we were warned.

As already mentioned, most parks have good facilities, but these are geared mainly towards summer campers when it might be bracing to have a shower in an open-shower block.

In winter it’s a different matter, especially if you are used to showering on a daily basis.

The South Island is beautiful, the scenery fantastic and the people friendly – next time we’ll go in summer, hire a mini-van and stay in motels.


February is the hottest month in Hokitika (on the west coast of NZ’s south island) with an average temperature of 61°F (16°C) and the coldest is July at 46°F (8°C) with the most daily sunshine hours at 8 in August.

During the winter, Queenstown has snow-capped mountains and crisp, clear days, while during the summer, the days are warm and can reach a temperature of 26°C. There is not much difference between seasonal rainfall in Queenstown, but March tends to be the wettest month with an average of 80mm.

Simple rules for safe winter traveling in NZ

  • Allow extra time
  • Ensure your vehicle is safe for winter driving
  • Drive to the road and weather conditions
  • Slow down and be prepared for unexpected hazards
  • Allow greater following distance between you and the vehicle ahead
  • Make sure your cell phone is well charged, check car charger also
  • Have blankets, snacks, bottles of water ready in case of emergency or a breakdown.
  • (Source: https://www.nzta.govt.nz/media-releases/winter-journeys-be-safe-plan-ahead/)


Things to do in Queenstown:


Things to do in Hokikitta:


Where on earth?


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