While it might seem that New Zealanders aren’t the most imaginative bunch when it comes to naming roads, we’re not as dull as some.

While ‘Christchurch Southern Motorway’ and ‘Auckland Northern Motorway’ don’t exactly exude glamour or romance, we’re doing better than some other countries.

The centre of Mannheim in southwest Germany has no street names at all – just letters – which is enough to send any sat nav into self-destruct mode. Further south, Croatian Government agencies have come under criticism after a survey revealed a mere five per cent of its streets are named after women.

Here in New Zealand, it’s the councils’ job to name local streets and roads, while the New Zealand Transport Agency takes care of state highways.

From the first progressive road-building schemes of the 1840s, New Zealand’s 54,000-odd street names tended to fall into four distinct categories. According to the Auckland Council website: ‘… streets were commonly named after historic events or celebrations, early administrators and notable people, activities that were conducted there, tree species or natural landmarks that were in the area.’

Our three most popular street names are George Street, Queen Street and Beach Road.

Today, there’s a preference for reverting, reintroducing and renaming streets through the Māori language, to our history and heritage and our flora and fauna. For every Alamein Road, there’s a Tūī Street or a Ponga Place.

Franz Josef Highway and Taupō Bay Road do precisely what they say on the tin; no traveller is going to get confused about where they’re heading in those parts.

Over in Stratford, things get a little surreal. Who was the Shakespeare-loving urban planner who decided to give the town Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet Streets when the town was first established in 1877?

If aliens from outer space ever visit us, they’ll head straight to Albany on Auckland’s North Shore to explore Constellation, Orbit and Apollo Drives. Named by a sci-fi- loving nerd? Or do its subterranean labyrinths house New Zealand’s very own Area 51?

Thankfully there’s no eponymous Crescent, Lane or Avenue for the hill at Taumatawhakatangihangakōauauotamateapōkaiwhenuakitānatahu in Central Hawke’s Bay – our longest place name. What is bizarre is that it’s flanked by Wimbledon Road – an affluent suburb in southwest London which just happens to host the world’s most
famous tennis tournament.

Magic, mystery and Māori influence enliven our road journeys every day – even if we don’t realise it sometimes. And it is something to be grateful for. Spare a thought for the citizens of Porters Lake in Nova Scotia, Canada. Their councillors must have been running very late one Christmas Eve to hastily push through ‘This Street’, ‘That Street’ and ‘The Other Street’.

New Zealand’s towns and cities are continually renewing and reinventing themselves as new properties need to be accessible and connected. And we’re not going to run out of street names anytime soon.

Reported by Ben Cook for our AA Directions Spring 2020 issue

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