Day One. With Christmas put back in it’s box for another year (hurry, only 362 shopping days left!), it was time to put part two of the great adventure into action. The North Island. I washed the van, removing two months of bugs from the bonnet, filled the tank (again) and was once more motoring north away from Christchurch. My friends had decided to give New Years’ celebrations a miss this time, he was working and neither of them could see the point in celebrating the twelve months they’d just had. I couldn’t blame them, they were still waiting for the insurance company to give them the go ahead for a complete rebuild, and this last earthquake would only mean them waiting longer. I’d heard that beach parties were the thing on the North Island, so I planned on finding one of those. First off though, I had to get to Auckland.
When I bought the van, at the beginning of my trip, I was told that I’d be able to sell it easily in Auckland at the start of January. Talking to people on my travels re-enforced the idea. I had to sell it before I returned home and I can’t say that the cash wouldn’t go amiss. So, my plan was to drive to Auckland, find a place to stay for a couple of nights whilst the van sat in the Auckland branch of the Backpackers Car Market. When it sold, I’d either rent a car for a couple of weeks or buy an ultra cheap box on wheels and hope it wouldn’t break down. Or I could, ahem, catch one of the tour buses. I refuse to hitchhike unless I find myself stranded at the roadside with a broken motor and need to get to the garage, in which case I’ll make sure I’m armed with the big spanner I found in the boot. That should see off the crazy yokel in the ute (what kiwis call their pick up trucks) if life wanted to go Hollywood on me.
I drove from Christchurch straight up to Picton, the place where the ferry to the other island docks. I had missed the ferry but that wasn’t a problem, I could catch the one in the morning. That meant revisiting an earlier haunt, one where I barely managed not to be eaten alive by flying fangs. Aussie Bay. The last time I was there I had the place to myself, or rather the midges had me to themselves. This time the weather was better and the place was packed, more to go around. I still put a small hole in the ozone layer above me with the amount of chemical warfare grade DEET I sprayed all over. The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling, kids were playing. I set up my chair by the shore, having to remind myself that this was indeed the sea I was next to and not a lake. Cracking open a bottle of Scrumpy I’d bought in Picton and spent the afternoon writing the next bit of my other project (Rise Of The Atomic Empires, the adventures of Air Group Captain Sebastopol Valiant. One day available as a signed copy from me at your local bookshop, or seen on the best seller list in the papers. Well, we can all dream). When it became dark, I was invited to join one of the families camping nearby around a campfire they had set up. I would have set up one myself, but there were signs around announcing that a fire ban was in effect. I wasn’t going to complain though, they’d set it up below the tide line and there are few things like a campfire by the sea, especially one as still as this. Beer and conversation flowed easily, and nighttime fell with a star scape second only to the pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. One of the blokes vanished back to his vehicle and returned moments later with a kayak. He put on a life jacket, grabbed a beer and paddled out into the bay, using the fire as a lighthouse to get back in the pitch darkness. I asked if anyone fancied going for a swim, and soon we were out in the water where a real nighttime display of lights was in store. Just a few steps out into the warm; still sea, I noticed a blueish glow around my feet as a walked. Deeper in and I could still make out my legs and waist, then as I stared a fish shot by like a flaming blue comet. When I past my hands through the water it was like I was casting a spell or starring in a seventies pop video. The others were just as amazed, gasps and whoops of surprise filled the air. The faster you moved the more brighter it became and soon we were throwing glowing clouds of the phosphorescent sea water around. Drying off by the fire afterwards just before the tide swept it away was a perfect end to a great night.
Day Two of Operation Auckland. I awoke to hear the sparrow apologising for the stink after his first fart of the day. I had been told to be at the dock and ready to board at seven o’clock. I’d timed it the night before as a twenty minute drive, so after a quick breakfast I was off. The crossing on the ferry was as boring as watching a man stood watching someone else fishing. I took the time to try to catch up on an extra forty winks, going to bed late and then getting up really early is never the best of ideas. At the first glimpse of Wellington, three hours later, you can tell straight away you’re on the North Island. The buildings are far higher than three floors, they look modern and business like. I couldn’t waste time here though, I was on a mission and time equals money. I drove off the ferry and headed for highway one, the road north. It was an actual motorway for part of the way, too, something I hadn’t seen since England. I just wanted to get to the other end of the island, to Auckland, without stopping off at the endless beauty spots. I drove, hour after hour northwards. The scenery in the South Island changes a great deal as you drive through it, but not so much here. For the most part it looked like rolling moorland, like driving through parts of Yorkshire or Scotland. Eventually, after eight hours on the road, I rolled into Auckland. I nearly completely missed it, I was expecting a sign saying something like ‘Centre,’ but no, just many more buildings. I parked up at a petrol station and consulted my map. The closest hostel was a YMCA, it also had a car park so I headed there. I’ve seen them as I’ve been travelling around but I’ve never stopped in one, images of Indians and utility workers always popped into my head. I reversed into a space outside and headed up to the Chinese receptionist, only then noticing that I’d spilled coffee on my white teeshirt earlier in the day and had forgotten to change it. When he quoted a different price for a bed to the one on the sign outside, I gave him a look that suggested I was not amused, this added to the fact of the coffee stain, mad hair and the wild staring eyes of someone who’d been on the road all day must have made me look a right numpty. He just shrugged, and since I had no other place to go, I paid up. Then he told me I needed to pay for parking, and that I may have to move it early in the morning because I’d accidentally parked in the staff section. There wasn’t a sign saying that, I politely pointed out, withholding the urge to leap across the desk and beat him to death with his keyboard. After I’d half filled in the form, he didn’t need to know my mobile number or email address, nor that I wasn’t really from Sweden, I carried my things to the dorm he’d put me in.
In the room were four bunks, only one of which was occupied. He was just getting ready to go out for the night, and introduced himself with a handshake limper than wet toilet tissue. He then continued talking non stop about stuff I can’t remember now nor cared about then, something to do with way he was in the YMCA and his brother was in the fancy hotel over the road. Either way, he had a voice and shirt and mannerisms that didn’t stop the famous song from the Village People screaming through my head. I swore to myself that I was only here for one night, I’d find somewhere else in the morning. After showering and changing and declining the offer to go out for a drink with the hostel’s new poster boy, I went for a walk. I decided that Auckland at night was just like every other big city at night and returned to the dorm where I had the top bunk next to a window. Even though I was four floors up, I could hear everything from outside. The windows were made of the glass that they use in films to break over peoples’ heads. Elton John returned when the sun was streaming through curtains that may as well had not been there, they were so thin. I pretended to be asleep and he, for once, reminded silent.
Day Three. I left early. My objectives went like this, Breakfast, Hostel, Van. The first one was easy, I found a little street cafe and had Eggs Benedict, which I think I’m becoming addicted to. The hostel part was easy too, it was opposite the cafe and I booked myself in for three nights, praying that would be enough to sell the van. Then it started going down hill. I discovered that the Backpackers Car Market was full, and that I needed to book my van in if I wanted to be sure of a spot. The earliest they had was the following week, in the New Year. Or, if I wanted I could phone back in the morning to see if they had a spot, but there was no guarantee and the slot free next week may have been taken. I booked it in for the following week, I needed it selling and the longer I had it the more it was costing me. As I drove away, I began to sense that I could possibly have dropped a clanger. With the hostel I had booked myself in not having a car park and the ones in the city charging prices that could only be paid by having the sort of money usually lost by high street banks, it was going to cost me a gazillion times more than I had planned. I needed out of Auckland before it sucked my battered wallet dry. A campsite half an hour from the centre looked a good choice, was far cheaper and had free parking. I hurriedly got a refund from the hostel I’d booked into, losing that nights fee but freeing myself from extortionate parking expenses. A quick blast down the motorway later and I found the campsite, which was empty of other people apart from the owners. It had a pool, telly room and was in a pleasant countryside setting and half the price of the hostel in town. The owners even invited me to join them for tea, which was great. Things were looking up again, until…
Day Four. Rain, constant non stop rain. We’d got the back end of a cyclone coming through and the weather forecast said it was in for the next few days. Not wanting to go anywhere for fear of putting fuel in the van, I spent the time writing, reading and watching telly. Later on though; I remembered I needed breakfast cereal, so I jumped in the van and turned the key. The starter motor turned but the engine failed to fire. Okay, no problem, it’s a bit damp, just give it a second and try again. I did, pumping the gas pedal in the hope that would help. After several more seconds of wheezing the motor did the decent thing and started. I breathed a sigh of relief and pulled out of the campsite, up to the junction at the end of the driveway. Where it died on me again. My brain flashed through the possibilities of what the problem could be, I even rechecked the fuel gauge though I knew it had a quarter of a tank left. I did the only thing I knew, I turned the key again. Mercifully, it fired up and I carried on to the shops. It even started again in the car park when I got back after I’d bought my Coco Pops. Hopefully it had gotten over this glitch. I returned to the campsite and parked it, not wanting to touch it until it was needed.
Day Five. Still raining. When there was a break in the weather later in the day, curiosity got the better of me and I tried to start it up again. Nothing, not even after I’d pumped the pedal and let the starter motor go as long as I’d dare without it flattening the battery. Why do these things happen to me? The last car I had (a Classic Mini, hence the Mini count) decided to eat all the pistons in its engine the day before someone was coming up to buy it. This time, I’d chosen a van that had over 200,000 kilometres on the clock when I bought it and had expected it to work perfectly first time as I added a further five and a half thousand clicks to the odometer. Was I asking too much? It was a Nissan, I thought they had impeccable reliability. It couldn’t have just waited until I’d sold it could it? Nooooo…. That would be too convenient. True, the only thing I had done was check that it had some oil in it, and I had already bought some spark plugs with the intention of changing them when I had a minute… I waited until a gap in the rain and decided I had a minute. Without boring you with the details, getting at the engine was a pain in the arse requiring lifting out seats. Then getting at the spark plugs meant moving the handbrake. Then finding all the tools I had were from the exclusive ‘Nearly Fit™’ range, (slogan: ‘when cartoon Acme just isn’t crap enough!’) available only to those in dire need of a 10 mm spanner that is actually 10 mm, meant I had to hit it with a hammer. When I’d stopped going Basil Fawlty on it, I had a word with the camp owner who did have tools from a reputable company known for it’s correct measures. I gingerly pulled the first plug, like a dentist removing a rotten tooth. It was black and coated in oil, the other three were in no better condition. I changed them for the fresh, clean ones and tried again with the ignition. The roar of the engine was like a grand symphony orchestra in full swing. I pray that small problem won’t show itself again, especially if someone is looking at it with a view to buy.
Day Six. I spent New Years’ Eve with the camp owners who had invited some of their friends along too. One of them was a local farmer who had just had two of his bulls shot, so the meat was on him, tonight we’d be eating Robert. A barbecue on New Years’ Eve was a first for me, as was jumping in the pool at the stroke of midnight. I’ve decided to stay at this campsite until the van is sold, hopefully in a few days time. Operation Auckland Continues…
Sorry about no pictures, library connection is very slow again.
Mini Count :- Still 33. I sort of thought there would be more in the North Island
No Follow Me! Again the connection is terrible, sorry!