Archive for the 'RVR' Category

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.

nz-jun-07-085.jpg

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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The only reason I feel secure

Every night I spend a while trying to identify a good place to park the car to sleep. As mentioned before I can get a bit paranoid and scared of the dark, so ensuring I find somewhere I feel secure is important.

After the cinema last night, I drove round three different beaches looking for somewhere to park. On two occasions a random car turned and made me feel so uneasy I had to drive off to somewhere else. I’m sure there was nothing in it, but I knew I’d not sleep till I felt secure.

In the end I rolled up where I’d had my earlier, unsuccessful surf. It was ideally suited, far enough from the road but not too far, had civilisation in sight but civilisation didn’t really have me in sight. Perfect – so I thought.

I awoke in a panic at 5am as a dirty great trash collector pulled up to empty the bin in the car park. The guy got out and had a quick look in the car and shook his head. I smiled and went back to sleep, security is an illusion.

From Whakatane I drove west to Tauraunga, a fairly sizeable place and apparently worth a visit. I ended up at ‘The Mount’ or Mount Manganui, kind of like a wee holiday town at the base of Mt Manganui just outside Tauranga. It’s quite a summer holiday resort place so on a Friday morning in winter it was quite quiet. Fuelled with coffee and pancakes I walked up the track to the top of the mount. Reminded me of the climb up Arthur’s Seat but warmer. It was full of young, enthusiastic looking people doing some orienteering thing and even running up the tracks. I tried not to look too out of breath and sweaty as I lent against the tree for support.

Now I was left with a choice. I hadn’t really expected to get this far on my trip, so I wasn’t sure what to do with my last day. I could’ve driven 4 hours on dirt tracks to get Waikaremoana and possibly even Mahia for more surfing. But I’ve been to those places before so I figured I should really go somewhere new.

So I turned south to Rotorua. It’s the place with the lakes and all the volcanic stuff and lots of hot springs. It’s probably the most visited place in the north island. Which is of course precisely why I hadn’t been there before. It’s described in the Lonely Planet, as a tad commercialised. The LP only ever says nice things about places, reluctant to call a spade a spade, so this couldn’t have been complimentary.

So I admit I went, not wildly optimistic about the place. In the end I got there and it was big and (comparatively, to the rest of my trip) full of people. It smelt horribly of sulphur, no matter where you went. It was cloudy and there were of course no waves and no ocean.

In the end, I stopped in the car park of a supermarket, looked at the map and drove 2 hours further south to Taupo, where I at least knew there were ducks.

Taupo is the big lake in the middle of the north island. Like a smaller version of Lough Neagh, but much prettier. The town is at the north end of the lake and the south end is Ruapehu – the giant volcano we go skiing on. It’s a nice place.

I ate KFC in the car parked on the lakeside and finished off ‘the posionwood bible’ and felt wonderfully at peace and calm in the sun streaming through the window. Or it may have just been the ducks.

In the end I sat and read for 3 hours solid, and when the reading was done I just sat till the sun went down and then I drove the two hours home to Napier in the dark. Good trip. Enough said.

Rugged coastline and empty beaches

I have another week off, with no specific plans or obligations. This to compensate for the 14 days straight I swapped into following this.

The east coast of the north island, once you get north of Gisborne, is largely a deserted rural, coastal community, populated by less than 5000 people. Nothing but rugged coastline and empty beaches. Bit like Donegal but with better weather and marginally better roads.

I’ve yet to make it north of Gisborne, each time being distracted to lake Waikaremoana or some other picturesque spot. This time I’m determined. Though day one completed and I’m still an hour south of Gisborne, so maybe it’s not going so well.

It is of course, the equivalent of late November here. Which means it gets dark at 5.30 pm but not that it’s cold. It’s still sunny and I’m still wearing shorts. I managed to leave the flat at 5.15 pm, after a hasty pack following the olive picking.

Previously on my little solo expeditions I’ve stayed in campsites or hostels, this time I’m trying something different. I’ve realised that my car would make a lovely one person camper van. The seats go completely flat and I’d have a secure, lit structure to sleep in.

I have the surf board (must give he/she a name) on the roof, the guitar, the gas stove and the bike. Some grub, and a bag of books and I’m off.

I’ve made it to Mahia, a former island, now a peninsula north of Napier (about 3 hours of winding roads). It’s apparently a legendary surf spot so I’m expecting great things.

The bit that took the time was finding the appropriate spot in the dark to park the car. My first bet was right out on the peninsula, miles from anything. And, while scenic (even in the dark) it was flippin windy and the sheer darkness (no moon at all) was a little bit scary. I still have this childish fear and paranoia when I’m camping and travelling by myself, that around every dark shadow is a gang of thugs willing to do vile murder upon me. Though the fear has perhaps kept me safe from harm on a few occasions.

But after a bit more searching I’ve now found the ideal spot. About 10 m from the road, about 5m from the beach in a wee hamlet of about 20 beach front houses. There’s the odd streetlight, but not enough to keep me awake. I’m parked about 10m from the ‘no camping/overnight stay’ sign. There’s symbols on it banning tents, caravans and campervans, but none of stupid Irishmen willing to sleep in their car, so I think I’ve found a loop hole.

Since arriving I’ve spent an hour on the beach in my shorts (and three layers and a woolly hat but shorts none the less!) staring at the southern stars and just able to see the white caps of the breakers in front of me. Glorious moment.

The next few hours I’ve spent eating bananas and crisps and writing and reading. So much writing in fact my eyes are dry and tired and I’m worried I’m running the battery in the car flat. It’s 11pm and the sun rises at 6.15 am when I’m sure the police will be waking me and painting an image of an Irishman in a car on the sign and putting a line through it.

The Big Trip – Day 16

Mostly listening to: (DJ Morsies on the ipod) the feeling, the fratellis, damien rice, jose gonzales, the magic numbers.
Sleeping on/in: a bunk bed in a ‘lodge’ in a holiday park. Has very much a halls of residence vibe. There’s even some pumping bass coming through the walls now… It’s 9.10pm, can you not see we’re trying to sleep?!?…
KMs: 3460
Coffees: two huge ones. Winner
Eating: indian (from restraunt called two fat indians)
Weather: cloudy, just started raining. Not amused.
Place name: Belfast (suburb of north christchurch)

Our volcanic paradise was a bit different this morning. Covered in cloud it just wasn’t the same. We took a rather scenic, if not undrivable, alternative route into christchurch.

Right at the beginning of the drive I noticed a new wee lamp on my indicators on the dash. Kind of like a genies lamp. Rubbing it brought forth no genie. Next option was to be low on oil.

Now i’m not particularly good on car maintenance. I have a perfectly good father for that kind of thing. And the car is a little (10000 km or so) overdue for a service and even a wash. So the oil light came as little of a surprise.

So like men we popped the bonnet and looked at what was under the hood for a while. There was a small family of possums and some dirt from 1972 and this dirty great thing known commonly as ‘the engine’. We nodded knowingly, as men do.

The problem with the car is it’s japanese. So the manual is in japenese. So when the light comes on telling you to look up pg 37 of the manual then it’s not much use.

We dipsticked the oil (i can do that much) and found that the level wasn’t where it was meant to be – between the two marks. In fact it was not even on the dipstick at all. Not good.

We went to petrol station and talked knowingly about oil to eachother in the shop, neither of us having a clue what to buy. The shopkeeper (a middle aged woman) came over and pointed us away from the screen washer we were erroneously looking at, towards the oil. And after she’d persuaded simon that buying oil for a petrol car would be better than the diesel he had in his hand, we were off.

Next problem was getting the stuff in. I found the oil cap easily enough. It was helpfully marked ‘oil’. The problem was getting it in without spilling it over the hot engine. This was where the manual really came in helpful, as rolled up it made an excellent funnel.

Done with the oil, we proceded to check a few other things. Which wasn’t so much checking as asking eachother ‘what do you think this bit does then?’ give me a human body any day. Not that I understand them any better, just that that they’re more likely to tell me!

We found a tupperware type tub, similar to the one for the windscreen washer fluid. It was marked simply coolant and in someway connected to the radiator. Using the the brain cell between us, we figured it was for cooling the radiator. Though the tub was completely empty and gave the impression it had been for some time. Car seems to work without it anyhow.

Car maintenance 101 over, we hit the road.

Spent the afternoon in christchurch, drinking coffee in the square and walking round the botanic gardens watching ducks.

Ducks have featured rather heavily in this holiday. Partly because they’re the only creatures that don’t want to run away when si tries to befriend them. I have to say that it’s rubbed off on me, and I could now quite happily spend an afternoon watching ducks in the park.

We did see a rather ‘plumpish’ couple feeding the ducks and considered that maybe they were trying to lure the ducks to capture and eat them. Dear knows what they thought we were up to – si was trying to sneak up on sleeping ducks so he could pick one up.

I imagine there’s laws against that kind of thing. Though I supose it would be a point of interest in your CV – criminal record – twice arrested for duck lifiting…

The Big Trip – Day 15

Mostly listening to: barenaked ladies (three albums in a row), muse (black holes and revelations), polyphronic spree (both in sequence as they were meant to be)
Sleeping on/in: lovely wee cabin in a volcanic crater near christchirch
KMs: 3250
Eating: mussels/lamb/crème brulè
Coffees: at least 3
Weather: stunningly sunny and warm till we decided to eat out side and then the clouds rolled in big style
Place name of the day: mount misery

Half of the east coast of the south island done in one day. Pretty good going. I was developing a pressure sore (from the position on the accelerator) on my right heel by the time we made it to akaroa.

I still love driving. Give me a full tank and a full ipod and i’m a happy man. I could drive all day beofre getting even in the slightest bit bored. Maybe I should have been a lorry driver. Though the obesity and the haemoroids would put me off.

I’ve put the poor wee RVR (the car) through a lot. Poor thing. It needs a service and some new tyres. And perhaps a clean. But then, it’s been six months so far and hasn’t been cleaned. I’m not hugely into cars in any way. I like pure functionality. Dependability. My next car will be a 1980s volvo or audi estate. Big old battered thing for all the kids and the dog I don’t have.

Akaroa is a tiny wee village in the crater of a volcano just east of christchurch. It’s not been a volcano for quite a while now. In fact I think it’s losing its touch and seems much happier the way it is. It managed to form itself a natural harbour when it blue so now there,s good fishing and dolphins swim round the crater too. Nature does weird things eh?

We’ve managed to get a lovely wee cabin in a camp site overlooking the harbur. We’ve kind of given up on the camping. Sand flies being a big reason. Plus we’d spent so little money on accomadation so far that we figured we could splash out a little near the end.

And yes i’ve said it. The end. Si and ruth leave in three days and I have to make my way back north and back to work. Normal everyday life (whatever that may be) seems a long time ago, and a long way away.

The Big Trip – Day 1

Still sleeping on the floor.
Mostly listening to: josh ritter, the ricky gervais podcast
Weather: cloudy with rain
It’s not meant to rain round here this time of year. I kind of feel bad that they’ve come all this way and it’s raining. That somehow it’s my fault. I need to stop feeling guilty for silly things.
Da rang me in the middle of the night. Initially just a phone call in the middle of the night that had nothing but static. Rang me back five mins later to tell me it was him ringing but it was nothing important. Cheers for that one. I’m now wide awake and paranoid i’m gonna be attacked or robbed or something horrible.
Spent the morning packing. Though it was hardly taxing cause we were bringing everything. Kayak, three bikes, the dishes, the cutlery, the bedding, the guitar. It’s a big car and we manahed to fill it, leaving nothing but a morsies shape hole in the back of the car.
As i locked the flat i had the brief moment of fear and anguish that i always do when leaving home for any period of time. And that was it, i’ve just called it home. And i know it’s not. And it doesn’t really feel like that, but for that moment it washome – akin to the bare empty room i left 5 months ago.
3 and a half hours of the ricky gervais podcasts and half the east coast later we made it to wellington. It was grey, not a particularly inspiring drive.
Read the paper in the car waiting for the ferry, and wishing there was a loo nearby.
There used to be a sea-cat style ship between the islands but it only ran for a few years. The cook strait is notorious for bad weather, and the cat was cancelled so often it had to close down.
So we’re stuck with old fahioned ferrys. When you can see the rust from 200m you begin to worry. Morsies commented on how few life boats there were. I exaggurate.
Standard procedure on boarding a ferry.
– walk round the whole ferry, identify comfy seats.
– identify loos and cafe
– obtain coffee
– enjoy bracing, diesel scented walk outside.
– realise the comfy seats you identified earlier are now occupied by snoring truckers.
– Sit on the plastic seats. Count yourself lucky
There was a guy sitting outside by himself with a lap top and headhones who was recording lyrics for a song of some kind. Oblivious to the laughing children he was singing in his best metallica ‘I’m entering into existence’, or some typically pseudo-metaphysical angst ridden lyric.
Coming into marlborough sounds was pretty spectacular. It was raining but still spectacular. I thought it was like arriving in inverness. The neill family were kinder. (initially had that as ‘neill family was kinder’ but changed as i was unsure of the plurality of it. If they’re married then maybe they’re one flesh so i could get away with it… Answers on a postcard to the usual address)
In a rare moment of forethought we’d booked somewhere to stay in picton (where the ferry docks). Five minutes from the boat and we were behind a dutch couple who were trying to find out if the groffen (how many effs in that again…) family were staying there that night. The recptionist was very patient.
So now i’m curled up in the top bunk of a cabin eating crisps.
Now when i say cabin, i don’t mean the log cabins of road trip 2006 fame. These ones have no pretensions. To describe it as a shed may be harsh on the sheds of the sheds. It’s large enough to swing a cat in but only if it had a short tail or you were a dog lover.
Two double bunks with pillows, a kettle and toaster, a tiny table, a guide to picton, a bizzare timer device that seems to serve no purpose and thankfully – a blow heater.
So now we’re toasty and comfy and engrossed in our fine literature. Simon in the jonny cash autobiography and ruth in ‘a short history of tractors in ukranian’
Have also been adopted into the team neill handshake, involving at no point a handshake. I’ve been banned from going into the idiosyncrasies of my brothers marriage. Which is probably a good thing cause i’d be so busy with that i’d have no time to tell you about the sights…or the rain.
Apparently tomorrow will be sunny. It’s (the great forecasting service on the interweb doofer) been saying that for three days now…

Like scrubbing yourself with an aubergine

This is all still a bit of a holiday really. It’ll be a while before the idea living here actually sinks in. I fill my time with driving round this stunning place. I’ve always liked driving but back home when it’s clodding down rain it ain’t as pretty.

Work starts on monday and i’m looking forward to it, well not the work to be honest, just the people. Now don’t misunderstand me, I love being and travelling by myself out here, probably too much, lonliness is rarely an issue. But I have (just) enough sense to know that that’s not good for me, or for anyone.

So anyway, today I took a drive to a place called ocean drive (sometimes the names are wonderfully practical, although sometimes not, as in taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu – the brow of the hillwhere tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climed and swallowed mountains, known as land eater, played his flute to his lover – i’m not making this up). Ends up in the middle of nowhere in a one lane gravel road with a stack of 60s beach houses (bachs, as kiwis call them) at the end. And a beach that bears more than a passing resemblance to white park bay, except more deserted.

So i’m doing my usual of sitting on a dune, thinking and writing and staring at the (pacific!) ocean. It’s 2am back home.

The sea does things to me. Now I don’t mean it brings me out in a nasty rash or that it calls me names and pulls my hair. I mean the scale and the sound of the thing tends to put me in my place, gives me a certain sense of perspective, the way it just keeps going and going and going for what seems like an endless distance.

I like that.

The caravan (!) i’m currently living in has become a temporary home. Simply because i’ve managed to unpack for the first time and I can make my own food (last night – a good ould steak and a tarahiki – fish – with a greek salad and a slab of ciabatta bread).

I’ve even managed to get the computer set up so I could burn a few cds for the car. Kiwis have (largely, and with no real authority or research do I say this) terrible taste in music, given what’s on the radio. Anyone who can name 3 decent kiwi bands (as he tries to think of two himself) will win a special prize The music is only partially beaten by the woeful (though actually amusing) ads and jingles.

And when unpacking I realised for the first time that I forgot to bring something. Impressive since I brought pretty much everything I have. I forgot shower gel. Now to those who are jumping to suggestions that I haven’t showered since I arived, and would have me labelled a dirty ‘soapo’, then there’s a simple explanation – i’ve been stealing everyone elses.

But in the wonderful chalet/caravan/prefab static/log cabin at Clive’s (the town is called clive, they guy who owns it is called john) motor park, there is soap provided. According to the packaging it is 100% vegetable based. I have no idea how that works. Like scrubbing yourself with an aubergine (don’t try that at home).

Yesterday it was sunny all day. Toasty. Today it’s like a good summer’s day on white park bay –  cold, windy and cloudy. Still, no rain and while you are just finishing summer mine is just about to start!


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