By 7am we’re up and travel south a few hours to check on the Bedford we found on TradeMe (since sold) and have dreamed about since before leaving the States. We breakfast at the Prancing Pig in some small town, having bad coffee and good bacon. Erica turns the headline of the paper to me. ‘Winds Pummel Auckland’. Turns out that record winds sustaining over 150 kph (100 mph) were causing a lot of trouble and even killed a man when a tree toppled and crushed him.
Continuing on with the directions I printed out from the Wises street map site has us turning at every intersection we encounter. This is the best online map in the country as all the important ones from the States haven’t infiltrated these parts with their flawless directions. These are flawed. The default is most direct route, which keeps us cutting across the motorway but not on it.
It’s actually a very nice drive, wandering through the farmland and north of Lake Rotorua. In the middle of the excursion I pull over and switch with Erica. She gets her first taste of right-hand driving. Sitting on the left the phantom braking is just hurting my leg with the straining. I flinch from how close we come to the side of the road. Now I know why Erica was so alert and grippy while I drove.
Things settle down and we talk about the remoteness of the land, how nobody in Auckland had ever heard of a Bedford, and to start dreaming of our travels once we have our new car. I take that back. One guy had heard of the car, an older phone repair guy who was fairly encouraging about it, pointing out that if it’s an old ambulance it was regularly serviced.
The estimated three hour drive takes us around five hours, but the directions do take us right to the doorstep. We’re greeted by two little Jack Russels and one larger woman. She has salt-and-pepper hair cut to chin length, a few bracelets and appears to be in her mid-sixties. She shows us around her roses and then invites us inside. Her husband Paul is currently out in the Bedford, getting the carb adjusted. He had the van fully serviced the day before but feels there’s a little flat sot when accelerating.
He’s had a stroke three years ago. She had a baby when she was sixteen and gave it up. They met again last year when the daughter decided to find her. She shows us around her house, at all the pictures she’s drawn. There is a fair amount of Psalms and other inspirational messages decorating the walls and furniture tops.
In the midst of this Paul comes in. He’s a stout fellow with close-cropped white hair, a beard and glasses. He constantly laughs vigorously with the abandonment of a little boy.
We continue to talk about their lives and drink tea, while Paul pets a cat with one ear missing down to its head, gone from cancer.
If Sharon hadn’t mentioned the stroke, we wouldn’t have known. They are both ministers with the Assembly of God, which explains all the religious artifacts.
It’s getting late and so Sharon offers us lunch. We sit down to prayers and sandwiches of canned corned beef and sweet mustard. It’s now time to hop in the van and take it for a drive. Paul backs it out of the driveway as I am a little nervous about driving it off.
After some time we switch, and Paul asks me if I like the way it handles. I mention that the brakes seem soft and he points out that it is carrying a full tank of fresh water and that the grey water hasn’t been dumped for some time.
Other than that, it seems to drive fine. It has a new Warrant of Fitness which is an inspection needed every six months for any car on the road and is a lot more thorough than an emissions test back home.
The van itself is a modified ambulance, made by a company out of England. It has a Holden 3.3 liter flat six, automatic transmission and no power steering. The radio doesn’t work and one of the roof vents was sealed shut from leaking. Somewhere along the line the inside was handsomely done up by a boat builder. It does have a flush toilet, sink and stove. There is tons of storage but it is small enough not to make us too nervous on the small roads in this country.
We get back to the house and Paul leaves us alone to talk about it for a while. It’s so nice on the inside. It’s been sitting around since the stroke three years ago and before that, sitting in a woman’s yard since her husband died and left her depressed. If we take this, we’re done looking and can get out of the hotel and rental car. Let’s buy it!
The town of Kewerau is so small that we have to drive to Whakatane to do the banking. I make it to our bank with about two minutes to spare and get the check for $11,500 to Paul and we go for a coffee.
Paul talks about the stroke and all the speech and physical therapy. Relearning how to walk, talk and write. He still can’t walk and talk, because both acts require too much concentration to perform. We then drive to the gas station and dump the waste. Paul buys a fill-up and we’re on our way.
Erica follows me in the rental and we stop in Te Puke, a small fishing village on the coast with some rugged looking folks shuffling about in their gumboots, for dinner. We find a fish shop and order the $10 special. Four fish, two sausages and chips. Erica gets an L&P to drink. They’re tag line is, “World Famous in New Zealand”. Yes, but not heard of outside the country.
After dinner we slowly grind over a big pass with grand views of the valley below. Darkness makes its way over to us as we get to the bottom and it’s now my turn to fill the tank. It takes $100 to fill and I start to feel slightly ill. We’re maybe half-way back to Auckland.
We had left Whakatane around 5 pm and snake in to the airport to drop off the rental car around 11:30, exhausted. Fill the van again and start looking for the rental company and cannot find it. We ask the cops walking around the international terminal, and they invite Erica in to the ‘Authorised Personnel ONLY!’ area to draw a map; so much for drum-tight security.
After the car gets dropped we find our way back to the hotel and hunt for parking. The Asians are whooping it up at the nightclub next to the hotel. There is a couple in a car and I ask if they will be moving soon. They answer in the positive, and don’t move apparently studying for a final in the car. We wait for 10 minutes or more and watch them before moving on