NZ Lifestyle Block - - In The Orchard -

Length: 300m Cre­ated: 2002 Ter­rain: hilly to damn steep

When my brother bought his block, we all just about died from breath­less­ness walk­ing up it to see the views from the high­est point. It was go­ing to take an epic drive­way to tra­verse it, es­pe­cially the last 100m. I have no idea of an­gles but I have to change my car down into the low­est gear or it doesn’t make it. Cre­at­ing it was es­sen­tially a road con­struc­tion. The steep­ness meant it re­quired mul­ti­ple, care­fully-placed drains and large con­crete cul­vert pipes to cope with the huge amounts of wa­ter which come off it, even af­ter a small amount of rain. The con­trac­tor used a 30-tonne dig­ger to cut back into the hill­side, then a big bull­dozer to care­fully shape the cam­ber. It took truck load af­ter truck load to cre­ate a good rocky base, hours of care­ful rolling to make sure it was com­pacted to the right shape, many more truck loads of a chunky stone to top it off, and yet more rolling.

It was and re­mains a work of art, with­out so much as a pot­hole af­ter 10+ years of use. That comes down to its good de­sign and good con­struc­tion, but also good main­te­nance. My brother uses a trac­tor with a grader blade to main­tain its con­tours and keep the top layer of gravel where it should be.

He makes it look easy, but it’s not. If you don’t know what you’re do­ing, you can make a huge mess of a great drive­way and de­stroy the very foun­da­tion of what is an ex­pen­sive in­vest­ment. If you have a steep drive­way it’s well worth learn­ing how to prop­erly main­tain it, or reg­u­larly hire an ex­pert to do it for you.

Length: 90m Cre­ated: 2007 Ter­rain: flat to slightly slop­ing

My drive­way runs flat for about 80m, then takes a turn up a slight slope to the house.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to not have to pour the same thou­sands into my drive­way as my brother did; the earth­works took a couple of hours and the ‘rot­ten rock’ base was a few hun­dred dol­lars. To­tal spent: $500 and a box of beer.

That turned out to be a false econ­omy. The drive­way al­most im­me­di­ately de­vel­oped pot­holes, one in par­tic­u­lar quickly be­com­ing so deep you had to drive around it. No amount of fill­ing it in worked – it would be level for a few days, then start to gouge out again, rain or not.

When I even­tu­ally did a story on drive­way con­struc­tion, I re­alised my mis­takes: no de­sign, no drainage, no shap­ing of the cam­ber, no main­te­nance. It was a mess.

To make mat­ters worse, the car park­ing area be­side the house was also far too small – it’s odd how things look huge on pa­per but aren’t in real life – and it was pretty an­noy­ing when visi­tors had to do 15-point turns to get out.

It would take seven years be­fore the drive­way fi­nally dis­in­te­grated into such a dire state that it was al­most im­pass­able and I had to make an in­vest­ment. It took two days to re­shape it, al­though ad­mit­tedly this also in­cluded cut­ting into the hill­side be­side the house and making a huge turn­ing area and park­ing space.

The new drive­way fea­tures a deep, wide drain down one side – even with a slope of only half a me­tre on the high side, wa­ter pours off here like a wa­ter­fall dur­ing nor­mal rain­fall, let alone a storm. Now, in­stead of it tum­bling over the drive­way and sit­ting on it, the wa­ter is cap­tured and drains away via proper cul­verts at the low­est point. Fun­nily enough, the low­est point was the site of the huge pot­hole. The sharp cor­ner has also been re­in­forced so you don’t fall off the side of the drive­way as you turn up it. Bonus tip: avoid sharp cor­ners in a drive­way if you can.

For­tu­nately, it doesn’t re­quire much main­te­nance, but even so, a year later I can see it’s go­ing to need some grad­ing. LES­SON 1: in­vest in the in­fra­struc­ture, and get some­one who knows what they’re do­ing. LES­SON 2: if you buy a block with a drive­way that fea­tures pot­holes, rip­pled ar­eas, and/or deep wheel div­ots, put aside some money to get the prob­lem fixed - th­ese are just symp­toms of de­sign faults.

The ba­sic rule of a good drive­way is, could a fire truck eas­ily make it up to your house? That’s a test you don’t want your drivway to fail.

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