Zen and the art of Mitsubishi RVR maintenance

So begins another road trip blog. I worked out I’ve had three months holiday in the past twelve. That’s teacher’s holidays…

With the lads here, I’d booked a few days off and we planned a wee south island road trip/ski trip. I’d just finished my last night shift, which thankfully had been a quiet one. I drove the 4 hours to Wellington fueled on coffee and chocolate brownies. I flaked out in the car waiting for the ferry.

It’s not really sleep; it’s just a slightly lowered level of consciousness, or cognitive dissociation (as Forbes calls the ICU craziness that patients tend to get). When you wake up you have the slightly warm fuzz in your head from being not entirely awake but I still remember every song that’s been played since I passed out.

The ferry was dark and cold and uneventful, I woke from my slightly obtunded state as we pulled into Picton. We stayed the night in the motor camp in Picton, the third time I’ve stayed there now. Tucked up in my sleeping bag I slept as if it was the last I’d have for a while.
We took the scenic route to Christchurch, if only cause the main road was undergoing road works and was only open for 15 minutes every 2 hours. The scenic route goes down the middle of the south island, criss crossing mountain ranges, rivers and the Lewis pass.

Again, I’m likely to struggle with adjectives again here. The south island in good weather is simply stunning. If you want descriptions then just get a few photos off google. NZ has been referred to as GOD’s own country. Impeccable taste I must say.


Clear blue skies, about 4 degrees, a light dusting of snow on the peaks of the hills, driving along empty roads, lined by vineyards, turned brown by the winter. Good tunes, good coffee, shame about the company… Only kidding lads. Honestly.

The first warning was when the windscreen suddenly steamed up out of the blue. No obvious reason, just steamed up. Two, actually maybe more like 10 minutes later, I notice the temperature gauge on the dash is reading high. This has never happened before so I’m surprised to see it’s up. To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. Does it measure oil, engine or water temperature? Anyhow I knew it was bad.

We stopped at the side of the road, opened the bonnet and stared bewildered at the steaming mass of complicated metal before us. Of course none of us let on we were bewildered. We all pontificated about radiators and valves and pistons and what the problem was. Each of us with as much authority as a democratically elected Iraqi president.
Having found the radiator and the cap and scalded our hands letting out the steam, we topped up with a bottle of NZ’s finest spring water and drove off again. We were in the middle of nowhere, roughly 300 km from Christchurch.

This lasted us about an hour till the needle on the temp gauge started to rise again. Now I’m worried. We follow the same procedure and top up the radiator with about three liters, with the engine running to avoid air locking it (helpful advice from crazy old man who stopped to help us). At this point it’s entering my head that we’re putting an awful lot of water in and it has to be going somewhere. None of us vocalize this.

By now we’ve got four one liter bottles that we’re filling up from streams we pass. The good thing about NZ is that the river water is probably cleaner than the stuff out of the taps. Half the fun is tramping off though fields in search of streams for water. The water so icy cold it hurts your hands to fill the bottles.

We’re running bets on when we’re gonna need to refill the radiator again. Winner gets to pick three songs in a row off the ipod instead of the one at a time that we’ve limited ourselves to.
Best one is when it overheats 200m short of the Lewis pass in the snow, we pull over, open the bonnet and cover the engine in snow to cool it off. This is the sixth stop. We’re getting about a half hour driving at a time, as long as we don’t have to go uphill.

The first place of any size we come to is hanmer springs (pop 750) and on the road into the township we limp onto a garage forecourt. The mechanic is as I expect. Diagnoses the problem from 10 m away (‘I can tell you from here that it’s your fuel pump’) and fills us with fear about what could have happened (‘just hope you haven’t blown your head gasket’ – with the same tone as if al-qaeda had just gone nuclear). He sounds like he knows what we’re talking about. Though that’s not hard. None of us ask what a head gasket is.

Bad news is, it’ll take a few days to repair. So we’re in the middle of nowhere, neither near where we came from nor near to where we’re going. It’s 5pm and it’s below freezing. We’ve now lost our sole means of transport.

Within 60 minutes we’ve rented a new car (the guy even came and picked us up), got a motel, have the car safely at the garage, and we’re sitting in a 40 degree thermal hot spa at the springs. Spud says the key is keeping calm. I say the keys are mobile phones and credit cards.

Between us we get it right.

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June 2007

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