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.
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)!