Occasional postings about Maz and Si's big adventures

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Marian Learns to Ski

Earlier this year, Simon and I secured work on the skifields in Queenstown.  With the minimum wage came a free season pass and lessons - a perfect opportunity to become a world class skier.  My aim was SMART: Specific - learn to ski well enough to take it back country; Measured - I had a Spike the Kiwi Ski School report card to gauge my progress; Achievable - Why Aye, Man; Realistic - maybe not so much; Timed - yes 12 - 14 weeks if the snow ever arrives!

Here's how I went from ATGANI to ATGASNI (All the gear and no idea to all the gear and still no idea) in a matter of mere weeks.

Level 0: I have never thought about skiing before.
En route to Queenstown, Simon and I stop in Christchurch to visit our good friends, Sven and Suesanne, and amass our secondhand ski equipment.
Simon tries to persuade me to purchase a brown leather Rossignol helmet.  It has black lace on the side panels, metal studs on the chin straps and fake fur ear pads.  Suesanne looks horrified.  I express my concern that RWC fans will mistake this helmet for an S&M rugby ball and will try to engage my head in some sort of kinky ruck whenever I appear on the slopes.  This could seriously hinder my ski ambitions, not to mention make me look like a tit!  Several hours later, I'm fully kitted out with skis, boots, poles, (tasteful) helmet and goggles.  Si and I practice skiing around Sven and Suesanne's living room.  Then we all wear our ski helmets to watch Masterchef.  It looks like an Evel Knievel convention.

Level 1: I have never skied before.
This is it: my first lesson.  I hit the bunny slopes with a motley crew of Aussies and a couple of Brits.  They are mostly kitted out in bright colours and massive Oakley goggles.  I'm the only one wearing a helmet!  We slide around the snow on one ski then two, before practicing our snowploughs and mastering easy turns.  Simon, our ski instructor, tells us to just turn uphill if we start to go too fast or get into trouble.  Easy stuff this.  I'm pleased that I chose to ski and not snowboard - I'd still be stuck on my arse at this stage.

Level 2: I can stop in a wedge and make basic wedge turns.
I persuade Si to take me up the novice ski lift and onto the green run.  Dismount the lift without mishap (legend), then whimper in horror as the slope drops steeply away before me. I'm a BOOTLE (see Maz's Winter Sports Glossary below) and rapidly develop into a SPOOC.  The run gets narrower and there's nowhere to turn - I rocket down to the base-building with someone else's snowboard attached to my heel.  Simon cringes in embarrassment.  Hmm - need to refer back to Spike's Snow Responsibility Code: thou shalt stay in control at all times!

Level 3a: I can make linked wedge turns with comfortable speed.
I try to join a level 2 lesson, but am persuaded to join level 3a because of numbers.  We arrive at the green run, and I'm relieved that it doesn't look so bad this time.  The lesson, in fact, goes really well.  I'm not the one who constantly falls over and crashes into the line of learners.  We finish at 4pm and I race to the bottom to catch the last lift back up.  Good fun this skiing lark!

Level 3b: I can match my skis to parallel from the middle of my turns.  I can ski with confidence on all green and some blue trails.
I rope Si in to escort me onto the bottom section of the blue run.  This area of the ski field is known by Ski Patrol as Manuka Gorge - a notorious black spot on the road to Dunedin.  Crashes and casualties are common here.  I dismount the ski lift (legend) then whimper in horror as the slope drops steeply away before me.  I'm never going to make it to the bottom alive.  I tack gingerly from one side of the run to the other, too petrified to point my skis downhill.  Simon waits patiently at the end then answers a radio call in relief and hurries off to First Aid.  It's 2pm, so I join in a 3b lesson.

Level 4: I ski blue trails with confidence and ski parallel very early in and throughout the turn.
I ask the instructor whether I should repeat level 3b, but she smiles encouragingly and tells me that I'm ready for level 4!  I join the group and head to the lift which will take us to the top of the mountain.  I couldn't cajole Simon to take me on a dummy run so tell the instructor that I've never been on this trail before.  There's a first time for everything, he laughs.  Perhaps this isn't the time.  The weather has closed in and the lift chair is rocking wildly from side to side.  When we get off the lift, I don't whimper in horror, I've no idea whether the slope drops away steeply - I don't know where it is. It's snowing so heavily I can't even see my skis!

Mike the instructor gathers us together and suggests that we get down as quickly as possible.  He and the rest of the group bomb off into the blizzard. I attempt to follow but instantly drop off the edge of the piste and disappear head first into a powder drift.  No time to faff, I kick my skis back on, spit the snow out of my mouth, shake it off my jacket and hurry to catch up with the waiting group.  On the way, I dimly make out crouched figures miserably huddled in their hoodies.  I'm so scared.  At one point I stop to hyperventilate, but then realise I'm at the top of Manuka Gorge.  Yeay, I can do this bit!!  With relief, I join the rest of the group.  They look a bit cold and bored, while I have the appearance of a crazed yeti: I'm covered in snow, my hair is sticking out in frozen spikes from under my helmet, I have big goggly eyes and there's snot streaming from my nose.  The lifts have shut and the lesson is abandoned.  Riding my adrenaline high, I go off to tell Simon about my amazing survival.

After this experience I realise that most people probably practice a bit in between lessons. So I spend the next few days consolidating my linked parallel turns (whatever they are), and attacking the blue runs.  In the queues I smirk at the TOTS and on the chair-lifts I try and make space for all the TROTSKIs.  I'm concerned that my skis need re-sharpening and that's why I can't edge properly, but then I fall over and my ski slices through the bottom of my trousers.  Hmm, I guess they're OK then!

With snow goddess, Suesanne at Coronet Peak

Sven and Suesanne come to visit, and we have an awesome time exploring the local skifields.  At Coronet Peak, we head to Rocky Gully, an area serviced by a small T-bar.  You hold onto a cable and it tows you up the hill.  It's important to keep your skis parallel especially as there's two people to a T-bar.  Suesanne insists on riding up with me and Sven struggles to contain his schadenfreude.  We manage to catch the bar and wedge it under our backsides, then, with a jerk, we're off.  As I begin to wonder what happens when we get to the top, Suesanne starts shrieking.  I look down and realise with dismay that she has one ski crossed over the other.  She tumbles, fails to let go of the bar, and I fall with her.  We're spread-eagled on the snow and I'm trying to stop myself and one of Suesanne's skis from slipping down the slope with my pole.  The lifty hasn't noticed and the lift continues to run.  There isn't time to get out of the way, and there's soon two or three pissed off people piled on top of us.  I manage to get to the side with my gear and one of Suesanne's skis.  She's on the other side of the lift run with her remaining ski.  She attempts to swim across to me, her arms and legs are moving everywhere but she's floundering. The next people coming up on the lift are staring in horror at this squawking Palestinian making snow angels right in their path.  She gets across in the nick of time,  but then realises that she's left a ski behind.  I start pulling myself together, while Suesanne commando rolls between t-bars trying to collect all her equipment.

Level 5: I make strong parallel turns on all steep blue trails with confidence and speed control and use a pole plant.
Things improve dramatically when I realise that the edge of the piste is not (in most cases) a sudden precipice leading to imminent death.  I gain confidence and feel ready for another lesson.  Michel, my instructor, is a tanned, glamourous Swiss who's been skiing for 40 years - probably since birth!  He attempts to teach me to ski "like a laydee . . . to dance down ze slope, light, heavee, light, heavee . . ."  It doesn't work.  I fall on my face, accelerate past Michel's feet and punch my cheekbone with the handle of my ski pole.  I rise, looking less like a laydee and more like Mike Tyson.

Off, by myself, I attempt to learn to pole plant - to flick the point of my pole into snow and use it for balance and position as I swish from side to side.  Unfortunately, I keep skiing into my pole (how is this possible?!) and ending up in the now familiar position of sliding headfirst down the mountain.  I think my helmet has saved quite a few braincells this season.  I abandon all aspirations of incorporating pole plants into my skiing and revert to using the poles in defence against SPOOCs and BOOTLEs.

Homeward Bound, The Remarkables

Level 6: I make dynamic carving turns on black trails: I ski with control off-piste and in easy bumps.
One of the lifts runs above a mogul field, an area of once-soft snow sculpted into round hard bumps by hundreds of skiers.  I assess it from the lift, it looks like enormous bubblewrap and difficult to ski, but I'm ready!  I get there to find a large pack of skiers has assembled at the head of the field.  I wont let this deter me.  One by one, they ski down through the moguls.  Each one does it with ease, whipping their skis in a tight zigzag between the bumps.  They regroup at the bottom, so I wait for the last skier to finish before I start.  I expect them to head off to their next challenge, but they don't.  They stay and watch as I struggle to control my legs.  Sometimes they go either side of a bump, or one goes over a bump as the other slides through the dip.  I'm often just on one leg as each mogul flicks me up in the air and into the next bump or ditch.  I'm all over the place and I look like an hyperactive child on an over-inflated bouncy castle - I bounce and skid down the slope, waving my arms and legs wildly and Iisting badly as I desperately try and retain my balance.  I reach the group in one piece and they just stare at me in stunned silence, I shrug my shoulders and ski off with as much dignity as I can muster!

I don't think I ever truly reached Level 6.  But I did get it together enough for Si and I to head back country.  We tackled sheet ice, deep powder, steep narrow gullies and spring slush.  When I next go skiing, however, I'll probably have forgotten everything and I'll be back on the green runs with my skis in a firm wedge.  But as my ski instructor mate, Martin told me, I just need to remember that "speed is my friend".  Which means that next time you're on the slopes and you see a BOOTLE SPOOC hurtle past, it'll probably be me!

Heading back to Remarkables after Skiing in the Wye Valley

Maz's Winter Sports Glossary
(developed from close observation of ski resort patrons)

BOOTLE - Blatantly Out Of Their LEague
Anyone on a run graded above their ability.  They may think it's within their ability, but their stance and/or trajectory will disprove this.

SPOOC - SnowPlough Out Of Control
Learner skier, unable to turn and therefore straight-lining full speed down the slope.  Kids are often SPOOCs, but seem to enjoy it.

TOTS - Too Old To Snowboard
Middle aged man dressed in trendy baggy SB pants, lurid jacket hiding his beer belly and florescent beanie on his grey, middle-management, head.  Snowboarders out there, know that once you've passed thirty you should start acting your age and take up skiing (that goes for skateboarders and dirt-jumpers too)!

You never see that many really overweight skiers, but there's plenty of fat snow-boarders - further proof that it isn't a 'proper' sport!

FOMO - Fear of Missing Out
Are you in the right place at the right time?  Is someone else in a better place having a better time?  FOMO is what propels you out of bed and up the hill in all weather conditions!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A day in the life of a Ski Patrol Doctor

The Office

It's 7am Sunday morning and I'm sat on the "fishy bus" on the way to Coronet Peak.  Forty minutes ago I dragged myself out from under several layers of duvets and blankets in our freezing cold Queenstown home. I could see my breath as I drank the first of the day's mugs of coffee. I still can't quite remember how I decided to apply for this job.  It seemed like a good idea in the heat of a Hawkes Bay summer. I couldn't even ski before I got here...

I stumble into the first aid room and look out through the window.  The clouds are clearing and the sun is begining to peek out.  Sweet.

Jess, the Ski Patrol Nurse, isn't here yet.  She went out first yesterday so that means I get to ski first today.  Skiing is why we're all here and so takes priority over all else.  Except over the patients, sorry, customers, of course. As long as either the doc or the nurse is in first aid then the other is free to ski.  I have to see virtually all the patients that come in the door, but usually the nurse can hold the fort with analgesia as I make my way back down the hill.

The best thing about skiing whilst "working" is that you don't have to queue.  Straight to the front and on to the lift whilst the masses scowl at you.  For this reason our uniforms are bright and the radio prominent and turned up loud.   It's a good talking point whilst riding the lifts with locals or tourists. I do my bit promoting the use of wrist guards and helmets with tales of serious injuries.

Most of the time I see the patients after they are brought to first aid by the patrollers.  The patrollers can really ski, and arrive pulling the "blood bath" with the patient wrapped in a tarp inside. Occasionally  I get to go out to the scene of the accident, sometimes on the back of a skidoo, or if I'm on the hill and above the injury I go directly there.  There always plenty of "walk-in patients" who have found their own way to the first aid room.  Sometimes they have pretty impressive injuries - completely munted wrists, or dislocations, even spinal injuries.

The snow is soft and fresh off piste and I feel indestructable as I cut some turns on the fresh snow.  Awesome. Back on the lift for another run.  This run I go a little faster and the off piste I had as fresh tracks has already been ridden by more people leaving me with fewer options for "freshies".  I run into a buried tussock as I go under the lift line.... double eject.... both skis are are off and I've face planted in the snow.  My poles are to the sides and my skis 40 metres back up the hill. Damn.  I hope no one saw that.  I'm thankful that the part of my uniform that says doctor is in small lettering on the front of my jacket, not emblazened on the back in huge writing.  I pick myself up, check that my radio is still working and somewhat more tentatively make my way back for another run. All good. A couple of runs later and I'm back at First Aid to tag Jess who is sitting with her boots on ready to go.  A quick handover of where the snow is best and she is out of the door. 

The patients always comment about "the office". The office is pretty sweet:

View from Coronet Peak First Aid Room towards The Remarkables.
I take off my boots, make a cup of coffee and fire up the computer. The door slams and boots can be heard behind me.  The first customer of the day is holding his arm and not looking happy.  Snowboard boots give it away.  I've learnt the patterns pretty quickly:  Snowboarders without wrist gaurds break their wrists, especially when it's icey and they are learning. Skiers tear ligaments in their knees, especially when the snow is soft, or when the ski binding doesn't release. Everybody breaks collarbones or sprains their AC joints.  The unlucky dislocate their shoulder or considerably worse.  The worst of the injuries we fly off in a helicopter - the unconscious or the truly munted, for example femoral fractures. Our main clinical activities are triage for helicopter or ambulance, triage for x-ray, and analgesia.  I've become a lot more familiar with injecting local anaesthetic into fractures and I've learnt the joys of nitrous (gas and air). Now I can even put a sling on a patient - previously a mysterious skill kept closely guarded by the nurses.

The day is going well.  It's mid afternoon, I've had a couple of hours of awesome skiing and it looks like I might be able to get another hour in before the end of the day.  I'm on the lift and I hear over the radio that there is a skier out wide and off piste with a shoulder injury.  As I get off the lift one of the patrollers is at the lift station and points me in the right direction.  I find the chap with JB, lifelong patroller from the States, already packaging the patient for the blood bath.  His shoulder is clearly out.  Its going to be an epic tow-out for JB as we are far away from the main runs, the snow is rotten, and the patient is in too much pain to be walking anywhere.  I put his shoulder back in.  No need for lots of analgesia when they are so freshly injured. Its all good now as he's in a sling and without screaming pain in his shoulder he can now walk out to a good place to be loaded in the sled.
"Working" during a night ski session.


The patrollers are an ecletic mix, but mostly ski guides, mountaineers, heli-ski guides and endless winter types.  All are good fun and red hot skiers.  Tonight is one of the infamous "Patrol Parties", with the theme being the circus.  Its a great opportunity to cut loose with patrol and catch up with the rest of the medical team.

Lion-tamer and the bloke who gets shot out of a cannon.

Ryan and Simon

Tomorrow I get to do it all again....  although I may not be ready to ski at 9am.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Joneses' Guide to Travel Essentials

Inside our Subaru.  Luckily for me I've got short legs!
Now we know how complicated it is to pack for a trip - especially when different climates and activities are involved.

When we arrived in New Zealand after our big climbing trip, we were fortunate enough to find a rented flat with a cupboard large enough for all our gear.  As The Joneses' activity portfolio diversified, more and more gear was accommodated in this Tardis-like store-room.  This presented us with a challenge when it came to relocating to Queenstown (where we planned to diversify further into snowsports).

As we unloaded the contents of the cupboard into our car (and onto the back of a lorry), we packed only the bare minimum of kit required.  To help you prepare for your next adventure, we've compiled this list of Joneses' Travel Essentials:

10 x Technical jackets
9 x Pairs of 5.10 shoes
8 x Helmets (4 biking helmets, 2 climbing helmets, and 2 skiing helmets)
7 x Bags of belongings
6 x Boxes from the back of a lorry (climbing hardware mainly)
5 x Bicycles, 5 x Climbing ropes
4 x Wetsuits, 4 x sleeping bags
3 x Pairs of ski boots, 3 x pairs of flippers
2 x Pairs of skis, 2 x "fat boy" deck chairs, 2 x beach umbrellas
1 x Surfboard, 1 x boogie board, 1 x large designer lamp-shade

Here is Marian modeling our crammed car in Kaikoura.  Yes, the suspension is supposed to be that low.

Even the Marcoses would have difficulty keeping up with the Joneses "shoe mountain".  A recent stock take has revealed that the Joneses own a staggering 41 pairs of footwear just in New Zealand!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Diary of a Crap Waitress

Day 0: The Job Hunt
Three months until we move to Queenstown. Need to save some money for skis and ski-pass. Hmm – need a job.

Two hours later: have a job at local restaurant.

Day 1: Trial Shift
Unpaid, but need to impress to secure the job. Think back 10 years to when I was a waitress par excellence. I’ll show these people how to wait on tables! Take two glasses of sauv blanc to ladies lunching on table 50. Carry wine on tray held high, arrive at table, serve one glass elegantly to first lady, sweep other glass off the tray and onto the table where it smashes and soaks second lady. Apologise profusely, relocate ladies to dry table, fetch more wine, cloth to blot wine out of expensive leather jacket, and brush to sweep up evidence.
Manager doesn’t see a thing, I’m on the rota as of next week.

Day 2: Swept Off My Feet
Feet in agony. Spend all of week’s prospective wages on comfier shoes.
Discover that Sketchers don’t work in the wet. Slide across mopped bar floor and onto my arse. Feet and backside now both in agony.

Learn to avoid taking out cappuccinos. Their beautiful heads of frothy milk are held together by the power of surface tension alone. By the time I get them to the table, most of the milk is in the saucer.

Day 3: A Smashing Time
Loading coffee cups onto drawers behind bar. Discover that if you don’t support the drawer, it becomes front-heavy and tips onto floor. Seven broken coffee cups.

Kiwis don’t tip. I thought this was great when I was buying dinner, now I’m serving it I’m not so sure. At least I haven’t been asked to pay for breakages!

Day 4: Just Desserts
End of evening, realise I still have a tab on my note pad. Forgot to add Baked Alaska to customer’s bill. They’ve paid and left. Hide tab in trouser pocket.

The phone rings. It’s the customer. They’ve realised that they’ve eaten an unpaid-for pudding. Want to come in to settle account. Have to ‘fess up to duty manager. Receive further training on processing orders. Bloody honest Kiwis!

Broken glass count: 1

Day 5: Stacked Odds
Number of plates that can be stacked on one arm: five.
Number of knives dropped in the process: two.

Day 6: CSI Havelock
Reduce number of stacked plates to four, plus five ramekins (why serve sauce in ramekins?). Ramekin slides off plate and creates dramatic splatter pattern of tomato sauce across customer’s shoes and five square feet of restaurant floor. Duty Manager investigates crime scene.

Day 7: Smell the Coffee
Barista training. Highly complex process. “NZ serves best coffee in the world, far superior to burnt, bitter crap served in Europe”. I create cups of burnt, bitter European crap. All artistic talent fails me when trying to create pretty patterns in the milk foam. My coffee looks like it’s been tagged by a graffiti writer with Parkinson’s. Limited to producing coffee for kitchen staff only.

Broken glass count: 2

Day 8: Iechyd Da
Am in charge of a table of geriatric ladies on a coach tour up from Wellington. Try to avoid tripping over the walking sticks. Lady number 19 asks me in a lilting accent if she can have the lamb. We bond over our Welsh origins. She asks me if I watch that “Stacy and Gavin”. “I wont lie to you” I say, “I love it, I do!” Hugs and kisses at the end of the evening, I bid her “Nos da” and she tells me I’ve made her night. Still no tips in the tip jar!

Day 9: The Wedding
Wedding ceremony in restaurant garden, followed by champagne on the decking. At last, a high class event! Open first champagne bottle with a flourish. Open second champagne bottle with a pop. Cork rockets through hand, ricochets off the porch roof and hits one of the bridal party on the head. Offer the injured party a glass of bubbly. At least it wasn’t the bride!

Broken glass count: 3

Day 10: Invisible Service
Restaurant is hosting a public consultation re: new visitor centre. Staff to serve drinks and canapés throughout. Discover that the mayor of Hastings is here. She had offered me a job managing the local arts authority, I turned it down. Can’t let her see me brought so low. Spend the evening in hiding. Mayor leaves looking hungry. I eat the left over canapés – tasty as!

Day 11: Collision Course
Clearing plates from table on the decking. Small child runs out, making a beeline for the play area, runs straight into me, stacked plates at child’s head height. I struggle to retain the tottering pile, while the tot staggers around, mildly concussed. It wasn’t my fault!!

Day 12: Daily Grind
Load tray with salt and pepper grinders ready to re-set tables. One mill begins to wobble and they all tumble like ten pins. Loud crashing noises as they hit the wooden floor and roll off in all directions. Crawl around under tables and people’s feet to collect. Regroup the grinders and set off with salvaged dignity, only to drop them all again. I really need to replace this tray with a trolley!

Broken glass count: 4

So two weeks in post. Seven more to go. Will I last?!?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Dr Curly's Guide to Your First Triathlon

All triathletes need to start somewhere - and it might as well be here. Dr Curly, triathlete of literally hours' experience, has produced a comprehensive guide for the "successful" completion of your first triathlon.  No prior experience required.  Here are some of the highlights:

Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
Or so they say. I recommend a maximum of two weeks' advance notice that you are going to do your first triathlon.  If your mate, (Sven), has done an Ironman and your boss is a triathlete, this will add to the perceived pressure and you won't be able to resist. Two weeks is more than enough to cram in some training and learn almost all there is to know about participation in this new activity.

Being able to swim is a bonus.  Being able to swim 750 metres in open water, preferably without drowning or stopping is a double bonus.  I suggest that you check you can do this at least a few days before your race.

As you stand in the water on race day and look around, everyone else will be wearing full wetsuits and swimming caps while you will be wearing a borrowed, vintage, ripped (oops), armless suit and no cap, ignore it - more smug satisfaction for you when you get out of the water... even if it is a few minutes after everyone else.  At least you didn't stop.  Or drown.

As you "transition" or, as I like to say, "change", from one discipline to the next, you can save valuable seconds.  Speed, agility and preparation are key.  "Tri-suits" ( full suits for all disciplines worn under the wetsuit), are cheating.  As are stretchy laces or quick-access cycle shoes. Really you should have to put on a shirt and shorts.  Try not to have safety pinned your race number through both the back and front of your shirt at the same time. (This rookie error was brought to you by Sven).

Gears, carbon fibre and anything aerodynamic are cheating. Dr Curly recommends a single speed bike every time. You'll probably be the only one on a single speed, but your colour co-ordination will be improved and another smug point will be yours.  More spectators will notice you too as you remove your bike from the now nearly empty rack in the transition zone.  Add a smug point for each competitor you pass not on a single speed as you ride. Bonus smug points if they are wearing a pointy helmet!

Preparing your bike is paramount.  Try to do this the night before the race, after a couple of beers.  Add new peddles, new shoes and mess with the seat height.  This ensures a "challenging" 20km on the bike for race day.

Punctures are to be avoided.  This is especially true when your puncture repair kit doesn't actually include the right spanner to take off your wheel as you don't have quick release skewers. 

For most, a run of 5km sounds like no big deal.  This is essentially true. On your first triathlon you will discover that running 5km after the swim and the cycle actually feels a little hard.   If you've prepared your bike the night before with the cleats too far forward and the seat too high, your calves should at this point already be jelly, and the run will be a painfully satisfying experience.

Silver lining
With all the errors on your first event the second can only see an improvement...  Or at least next time I'll beat that fat chap.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Trials and Tribulations of Nursing an Ancient Camper in its Death Throes

It seems fitting that the first proper post from our new life in New Zealand is about our campervan.  This one asset dominates our thoughts and finances more than any other possession.  It has provided as many tears and amusements as the two other topics that currently preoccupy our minds – job hunting and future plans!

Time-pressured shopping rarely produces satisfactory results.  When arriving in a new country in which you plan to settle, I recommend that you do not land in a city 400km from your destination with a large amount of gear and just three days to get there.

Having grown attached to campervan living in the States it was difficult to imagine life without a vehicle in which you could sleep, cook and play cards in comfort.  New Zealand has a wealth of ancient campervans on offer, many older than their owners, so we thought we’d splash out and go for something spacious (we couldn’t splash out as far as something spacious, modern and reliable).

We ended up with Homy, a 20 year old Nissan diesel van with huge dents and a nasty cough.  The two European previous owners ended up with a lot more money than they deserved and are probably still living comfortably off their profits as they continue their world tour.

Luxury living!

Homy made it to Hawke’s Bay, and to be fair, the first few incidents were our fault.  While house-hunting, we went to see a “cottage in the countryside”.  It was nasty, so we attempted a speedy getaway to avoid explaining to the approaching farmer exactly why we didn’t want the mouldy shack.  Unfortunately, in our haste to get away, Simon reversed one of the back wheels over a drainage ditch, leaving us stranded, and the van teetering.  We had to sit there sheepishly awaiting the arrival of the farmer.  Without a single smirk, he kindly offered to help us out and set off slowly back to fetch his tractor.  I stood there laughing and taking pictures while Simon stared at his shoes.

Unfortunately, I was laughing so much, I missed my chance to photo the van in the ditch and took this picture of the ground instead!

A few days later, we headed down to the port to have a tasty fish supper (Simon had groper and I had snapper).  It was a bit windy, so we ate in the back of the van.  We then jumped out, and Simon locked the door - leaving the keys inside!  One Kiwi turned up with a screw-driver but he couldn't help, so I headed back into the chip shop to ask for a yellow pages.  A lady noticed our problem and called in the fishermen.  Three came out, one with a length of wire.  While Simon was on the phone to the AA, he pulled up the seal around the window, and fished around inside for the lock lever as his mates timed him and jeered him for being so slow.  In a few minutes we were back inside, and before we could thank them properly, the dodgy coves had vanished back to their boats.

The next incident occurred outside the hospital.  I was waiting for Simon to finish work and had the radio on.  I was there for a while.  When he finally escaped, I turned the ignition key and nothing happened.  Damn - must have run the battery down.  Si went and sought help, returning with two security guards and a jump lead set on a trolley (no, it hadn't come direct from theatre).

We lifted up the seats to get to the engine - no battery.  The guards knew a bit more about the anatomy of 1980s Nissan vans than we did, and eventually located the battery under the fixed chest-of-drawers set in the back!  While I attempted access, one guard (who had previously been a diesel mechanic) tried the keys one more time - hey presto, we were up and running.  Something to do with the solarnoid connection?!?  Anyway - they scooted back to the hospital and we resolved to sell the van before something else happened!

We weren’t so lucky.  After a tow home and a trip to the garage on New Year’s Eve we had a repaired van (which now included power steering) and set off for Whakapapa to meet our friends for a walk around Tongariro’s Northern Circuit.  When we returned to the van a few days later, it wouldn’t start.  Several people came to our aid as we pushed it out of the car park and down the hill in an attempt at jump starting.  Numerous attempts in various gears failed and we sat down to wait for the AA.  The rural mechanic who arrived was old school: no computer diagnosis here – just an adjustable spanner.  He got it going and explained which part of the van to hit to knock the starter motor into place.

Our mechanic inspecting the battery.

On our way home we pulled over to view a Toyota that was for sale.  It wasn’t suitable so we returned to our van and groaned in dismay as the damn thing failed to start again.  Enthusiastically, we set to with a monkey wrench to bash the starter motor into submission.  Our feeble attempts failed and as Si began to summon the AA, help materialised in the form of a large, hairy Kiwi wearing old shorts, a dirty vest and lots of tattoos.  He jovially fetched his van and a length of rope and taught us the finer points of jump starting a diesel.  He refused our offered beers and simply advised us to drive all the way home without stopping.

We were now only 15km from home and determined to make it, however, our earlier attempts at jump starting in Whakapapa must have damaged one of the rear tyres because it exploded loudly, leaving us with no option but to pull over and, resignedly, switch off the ignition.  This being New Zealand, help was swiftly at hand and we soon had the tyre changed and pushed Homy down the road until it had enough speed to splutter into life.

Do you think we can fix it?

Since these early incidents, we’ve replaced the starter motor, had another puncture, experienced the power-steering falling apart and, most recently, watched the electrics slowly scramble.


One silver lining in this experience is that the van including a free fishing rod. This proved useful in the recovery of my hat from the waters of Gisborne marina!

I think we bought Homy at the end of its life, as we’ve had the van on life-support ever since.  Unfortunately, we’ve not yet met anyone in a hurry to buy this rusting wreck.  It would make someone a nice static caravan.  Like others in New Zealand, I think we’ll wait for the arrival of rugby world cup fans to boost our economy (that’s if Homy will last that long)!