Saturday, 19 November 2011

Part 1: Blow-out

Setting out on this journey, I knew some things would come to test our strength of character. But I hadn’t counted on these trials coming so soon.

If we’ve learnt one thing quicker than anything else, it’s that New Zealand is not a cheap place to visit. After the initial purchase of the van and all its necessary tranklements, we soon realised that we could do with a job sooner rather than later. Many jobs suitable for backpackers are posted on an invaluable website, and within moments I’d found my ideal job: Travel Writer and Researcher. While the position wasn’t paid, it instead promised a roof and bed, laundry and some comfortable living. Based in Napier, a city at the far south-eastern corner of the North Island, the accommodation was to be provided in the form of a converted old prison on the seafront – a quirky chance to call a jail cell ‘home’, and could give us the chance to explore the vineyards and coastline of Hawkes Bay, so I drafted a quick cover email and applied immediately. Within moments, I had a reply, “When can you start?”.

So, remember the van I told you about in my last post? Our ‘awesome’ van? Well, it turned out that its awesomeness was little more than a façade. Little over an hour after I had posted my previous blog entry, our mobile home came to a steaming halt on the side of the motorway as we hoped to leave the Auckland region for pastures new. So much for paying that extra cash for our peace of mind. Immediately, we called the guy we bought it from, as we had certainly not put the vehicle through its paces in the few days we’d had her. Thankfully, it had turned out we’d bought from a good dealer; that extra cash wasn’t completely lost. He apologetically arranged for a tow back to his garage, and we soon found ourselves amongst the warehouses, cheap motels and car dealerships of on the edge Manukau.

At first, Dave’s prognosis seemed fairly optimistic. “Oh, it’s probably a couple of valves that have just seen better days. It should be ready for ya by tomorrow”. He lent us his Volvo estate as courtesy car, and we turned back to Matt and Fiona’s with our tails between our legs. With Dave’s optimism fresh in our minds, we headed back to Manukau late the following afternoon, but the 24 hours had seen Dave’s chirpy diagnosis become rather more solemn. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but ya van is… dying” he said, trying to hold back tears. “I’m sorry for ya loss”. And with that, he collapsed into hysterical weeping.

Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, but it was decidedly worse than a seized valve. It turned out that it could be a blocked radiator, or failing that, the head gasket had blown-out. I’m not a mechanical man, but I know that either of those aren’t good and generally mean a much lighter wallet on the horizon, potentially even a write-off. But Dave assured us that he would cover the cost of any work done, seemingly ashamed that he’d sold a faulty vehicle. Trundling away in the Volvo, we resigned ourselves to the tiny two-man tent I’d brought with us as an emergency back-up, and we found the nearest campsite.

After a couple of days and no update on the van’s condition, we realised that this gave us the opportunity to explore areas that we would have otherwise passed by. Initially, we headed out west again, visiting a windy Waikato beach. The shoreline shared the same black sand found on Piha and Muriwai, but the wind tore the surf to shreds and the cloud cover made sunbathing or swimming unappealing so we didn’t linger. The drive over, however, took us to our first Lord of the Rings film location. The karst limestone scenery nestled behind the seafront cliffs provided the backdrop of the Weathertop set, but identifying the actual rocky prominence of the set amongst the white crags and rocky crenulations seemed impossible. With our morale dampened and the likelihood that we weren’t going to get the van back in the next few days, we decided to take our chances and head out to the east coast for a change.

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