The New Zealand Van Saga – Part 3

The following morning, after our night in Oamaru, we were back on the road with slightly more optimism about our journey. This was partly due to a change in the weather – the sun had decided to make an appearance – and partly because we’d already figured out where we were going to stay that evening. We planned to get the van serviced once we got to Christchurch, so when we arrived we settled into our Airbnb and headed off to yet another mechanic.

When we got there we pretty much told the mechanic to check it out it and give us a list of all the things that needed fixing in order for us to complete our mission to Auckland. Now it probably sounds like things were on the up and everything was getting better, doesn’t it? Not quite yet. Emotionally and physically, we’d seen worse. The first day of this multi-part mishap was a pretty low time for everyone involved. We were cold and tired and stuck between a rock and a hard place…and a cyclone.

However, on this sunny afternoon in Christchurch, we were feeling pretty optimistic. The van had got us this far, and we were (fairly) sure it was going to take us all the way back to Auckland. The service was really just to make sure there weren’t any glaring problems that might get in our way. After dropping the van off we walked to a nearby shopping centre to get some food and more cigarettes (we’d done a lot of stress smoking), and an hour or so later we returned, approaching the office riddled with nerves for the verdict.

Turns out, there were a lot of glaring problems; almost 1000NZ$ worth of problems to be precise. The most distressing one for me – given the fact that I’d been driving the goddamned thing for 3 days – was that the brakes both front and rear were metal on metal. There were no brake pads left whatsoever. They told us we were lucky we’d even made it as far as Christchurch from Queenstown and that there was a very real possibility the brakes could have failed on the way. I was pretty terrified, considering that just 24 hours before I’d been driving through the misty mountains in torrential rain on hairpin bends with sheer drops on either side.

Obviously, the repairs were going to cost a lot of money, so Tall needed some time to think. We sat outside on the curb and pondered for the length of approximately 7 cigarettes before she made her decision. It was time to scrap the thing. It had caused us far more trouble than we ever imagined it could in 3 days, and neither of us really wanted to look at it ever again. We walked back in, tails between our legs, and asked the receptionist if she knew of any scrap companies.

This is where I like to think our luck started to turn around – though things didn’t get any less bizarre. The manager told us he knew a guy who would buy it off us to renovate and fix – we wouldn’t get much but it’d be a lot more than the scrap cost. One call and 10 minutes later we were driving to his shop. Another 10 minutes later and it was over; goodbye van. He and Tall negotiated a little and agreed on a price, then we cleared the van of our belongings and called an Uber. And that, my friends, is how we sold our van to a random man in a back-alley in Christchurch after only owning it for 3 days.

As soon as the deal was done I was ecstatic that I wouldn’t have to drive the thing anymore, although I had grown a little attached to it, I suppose. I was sad that the trip wasn’t turning out how we had intended, but honestly, good riddance.

From there on out it truly was onwards and upwards, with a few minor exceptions. We hired a relocation rental car for next to nothing, the only condition being that we had 5 days to get it back to Auckland. It was an incredibly smooth ride after the awful van, fully air-conditioned with great speakers to boot. With some motivational soundtracks fuelling us onwards our next stop was Nelson, where we stayed in a hostel next to the beach at the end of a day filled with pine forests, mountain roads and spectacular panoramic views over the South Island scenery. We spent the following day eating the biggest mussels we’d ever seen and sunbathing (I definitely didn’t get sunstroke) before our (somewhat stomach-turning) ferry crossing to the North Island. From there it was a night in Wellington then on to Lake Taupo, staying in an Airbnb next to the lake where we swam and read our books and finally felt relaxed. The day after that we were back in Auckland, sitting happily in Tall’s garden reminiscing about our nightmare of a week. It almost felt like we’d imagined it. We did have a little difficulty explaining to her housemates why we left to retrieve a van from Queenstown and came back without one, but that was by-the-by at that point.

So there you have it; the story of how two girls struggled against all odds to get their van to Auckland (and failed). We’re no Frodo and Sam, that’s for sure. I’d like to say I wouldn’t change anything but honestly, I probably would. It was one hell of a ride, but I can’t say I got the best New Zealand adventure out of it. Next time, I’ll be on the Kiwi Experience…please and thanks.

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