The New Zealand Van Saga – Part 2

Part one of this lengthy misadventure left off with Tall and I sitting outside a New World supermarket, despairing at the state of our lives. I’d like to be able to say that our awful afternoon turned into a better evening but unfortunately our stresses were far from over. 

After deciding that we needed to do something lest we be stuck in the van behind the car rental office all night in a forming cyclone we found a tow truck company who could take the van to a mechanic. It took another hour or so, but a truck finally showed up and rigged up the van to be taken away.  It’s difficult to properly convey our sense of hopelessness at the whole situation, not even knowing if we’d be able to get the van working at all, but it’s safe to say that we weren’t loving life in the slightest.

Whilst waiting for the tow truck we managed to formulate something resembling a plan. As much as I hated the idea our only real option was to get the van working and hold out for the Couchsurfing guy. Failing that we’d have to drive to a campsite and pitch up there for the night, regardless of the fact that it was still torrentially raining and starting to get dark. However, everything rested on getting the pile-of-junk van to work. In all honesty, I was hoping it was already too far gone because based on what I’d seen of it so far I really didn’t want to drive almost 1000 miles in a van that could give up on us at any moment. 

We got to the mechanic and it turned out they were about to close, but when we explained our situation they took pity on us and said they’d try and get it started. The mechanic found the battery almost immediately; as it turned out it was behind the driver’s seat…because like the engine, that’s totally the first place you’d look, right? They jumped the van but before I’d even managed to fully pull away it died again. I was seriously praying for it not to work. I know that sounds weird, but I really just wanted to be rid of it for good and rent something reliable to road trip in like I had originally planned.

Having spent so much money on it already, Tall opted to have them put in a new battery so we could actually get somewhere (which, in hindsight, was probably the right decision at the time considering how stuck we were). We still hadn’t heard back from the couchsurfer, so the mechanic recommended a campsite and drew us a map so we could find it since it was quite a way out of Queenstown. One good thing that came out of this whole disaster of a situation was a renewed belief in the kindness of strangers; it’s always nice to know that people will help you out when you need it most. Though maybe that’s partly due to the overwhelming friendliness of Kiwis. 

Half an hour, 200NZ$ and four or five stress cigarettes later, we had a moving, working, (mostly) functional van. Emotionally drained but with so far still to go, we took our first drive — back to the supermarket, we had come from to buy new bedding. If we were going to have to sleep in the van we sure as hell weren’t using with the mouldy duvet and pillows that had been sitting in it for 3 months. While we were stocking up, our couchsurfer got back to us – he could have us stay for the night! He gave us his address, but not before warning us that he had two other girls staying as well, so we’d all be bunking up for the evening. It didn’t sound ideal, but somewhere warm and indoors and not a van was all we wanted at that moment, so we said yes and set off to find his house.

It turned out he was the manager of a hostel and we were staying in his private studio apartment just up the hill. He welcomed us in with a hot meal and more importantly, beer, which we desperately needed after the day we’d had. We sat and talked for a few hours with him and the other two girls, who were German, exchanging travel stories and filling them on the far-fetched turn of events that had led to us being there that evening. When it came time to sleep we realised that we’d be sharing two single mattresses on the floor with the other two girls. It was going to be a seriously cosy night. We were lulled to sleep by our host’s impressive guitar playing but despite this, and how exhausted I was, I had one of the worst nights sleep of my life. Unsurprisingly, sharing two mattresses between four people doesn’t make for a good night’s rest.

Tall disappeared in the early hours and I found her smoking outside around 7am when I finally decided I couldn’t bear to lie in my slice of the bed anymore. We made a plan: get the hell outta dodge and get back to Auckland as quickly as we could. The weather was miserable a far cry from the tropical warmth of the North Island we’d been basking in just a day earlier and we just wanted to get home. We thanked our host and rushed off, ready to bid Queenstown adieu and head towards a little town on the coast called Oamaru, where we’d secured another couchsurf for the night.

Once I got used to it, driving the van wasn’t so bad. In the same way that drinking slightly off milk isn’t so bad. It won’t kill you, but it isn’t particularly pleasant. The scenery was pretty amazing though. Even shrouded in ominous grey clouds the mountains were nothing short of majestic. We started to see this road-trip as our own personal mission: like Frodo and Sam, we had to battle our way through the Misty Mountains to return the ring to Mordor. Except in this situation, the van was the ring and Auckland was Mordor. I think we probably had it easier than they did, but only just. 

The Misty Mountains

The drive was okay, apart from the weather and the occasionally flooded road we encountered along the way. When we drove through the huge puddles the water splashed up into our under-the-seat engine, giving the whole van a very strange and slightly disconcerting smell. Finally, though, we arrived. It was a weird little town but our host was lovely and had the most incredible dog, which was pretty much the highlight of our time on the road so far. With the first day of driving out of the way and the knowledge that we had somehow made it through the previous day’s disasters, we both started to relax a little. We had a nice evening and a better nights sleep, but all the unknowns of the coming week were still weighing on both our minds. With Auckland as our shining beacon, we held out hope that the rest of the journey would be plain-sailing and everything would get better from there on out. Our motto of the trip emerged – onwards and upwards! Unfortunately, we had to fall down a little more before we could get back up again.

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