A Kiwi road trip through old Zeeland

What it's like for a Kiwi going for a drive through old Zeeland.
Photo credit: Newshub.

After the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race in The Hague, Newshub cameraman Simon Morrow and I had several hours to kill before our flight back to London.

We could either drive to Schiphol Airport and wait there, or we could go on a bit of a tiki tour around the Netherlands.

After a quick google, we discovered The Hague neighbours a province called Zeeland - the very same Zeeland Abel Tasman was referring to when he discovered Aotearoa in 1642, and gave it the name 'Nova Zeelandia'.

The province is sandwiched between Rotterdam and Belgium, and wasn't too far away from Schiphol to pose a risk to us missing our KLM CityFlyer flight (aviation geeks: it was an Embraer E170).

Zeeland consists of three peninsulas and dozens of islands over a 2.9km2 area (of which half is water - both seawater and freshwater).

It is home to around 380,000 people - not many more than the population of Christchurch. 

What it's like for a Kiwi going for a drive through old Zeeland.
Simon at the helm of our Hertz pocket rocket Photo credit: Newshub.

So off we went in our left-hand-drive Toyota Yaris hybrid in search of Zeeland, to see if it had any resemblance to our glorious homeland.

After 30 minutes on a very confusing motorway system - for reference, 'Uit' means 'Exit' - we came across a sign that greeted us: "Welkom in Zeeland" with a map of the province.

The map, though, was upside down - either in a bid to confuse intrepid explorers like us, or make a political statement similar to what some Southlanders do when they hang the New Zealand map upside down to claim they're on top.

Anyway, after analysing the subtleties of the welcome sign, we had our first sighting of a landmark that came to define our experience of the Zeeland region: huge dikes. 

A drive through old Zeeland - where New Zealand gets its name.
The view of the Oosterscheldekering Barrier from our Toyota Yaris on highway N57 Photo credit: Newshub.

Coming around the corner into Zeeland, the view was incredible as the huge Delta Works project stretched out in front of us.

It's a series of engineering marvels constructed to prevent Zeeland from flooding in king tides or when the seas get rough.

The project was launched after the 1952 North Sea floods, which killed 1836 people across the Netherlands, mostly in Zeeland province.

Around 20 percent of the Netherlands land is below sea level, and another 50 percent is only 1m above sea level.

In Zeeland, almost all of the land is naturally below sea level, with large parts reclaimed over time.

What it's like for a Kiwi going for a drive through old Zeeland.
One of three surge barriers at Oosterscheldekering Photo credit: Newshub.

As you can see from the photos above, Zeeland is covered in wind turbines. They are everywhere.

Unlike New Zealand, however, they are right on the shore and at sea level. Here, they seem to be seen as things of beauty, rather than an eyesore like some Kiwis seem to perceive them (*cough* Project Hayes *cough*).

Another area Zeeland is far more advanced in than its new Pacific counterpart is its cycling infrastructure. Every single road - including the motorways - have special bike roads running parallel.

What it's like for a Kiwi going for a drive through old Zeeland.
It is very rare to snap a photo of the cycle lanes without people using them. If you can see the cycle lane, it's the sealed strip on the right that looks like a road. Photo credit: Newshub.

And people use them. Locals, tourists, motorised scooters, people going to work, or getting some exercise.

Warning - if you wander onto a cycleway on foot, you'll nearly get run over a few times, because the cyclists come out of nowhere and are silent. I blasphemed quite a bit during my time in Zeeland. 

What it's like for a Kiwi going for a drive through old Zeeland.
Driving under a Zeeland shipping canal aqueduct Photo credit: Newshub.

If the dams, surge barriers, bridges and cycleways aren't enough to satisfy your infrastructural appetite, then the canals and waterways might just do it.

On our way out of the Zeeland province, we drove underneath the Voorhaven shipping canal at Schore - which was pretty much just a tunnel under a massive man-made waterway.

We also drove over a twin parallel canals at Volckerdorp. It is incredible infrastructure.

And then we left the province as quickly as we arrived. All up, we spent around two hours there.

The area's similarities with New Zealand include big, long, beautiful sandy white beaches and the vast areas of agriculture and horticulture.

There are too many differences to list - but the main ones include a complete lack of hills, no forests, no sheep and the people are nowhere near as friendly (this may have been a language barrier thing, and we were only judging based on interactions at two different service stations).

Verdict: New Zealand is way better than old Zeeland. But it's worth a drive or cycle or boat around if you've got a spare day in this part of the world.

Lloyd Burr is Newshub's Europe Correspondent.