Off the Grid

That’s my status now. Although it’s not really true. My wife and I are keeping our home and someone will be sitting in it for us. Yeah, we might get out somewhere without any public utilities but it won’t be for long in duration and certainly not permanent.

It’s summer time! And the living is easy. Even the phone is shut off for days in a row. We’ve been adventuring around, having just come back from camp. This week we recharge and gear up for a music festival in the mountains over the 4th of July. Immediately following, we’ll be traveling down to party with friends in a multi-day wedding near Sao Paulo, Brazil. We’ll stick around and check out the area, but keep it simple and not try and take in it all for the short time we have. And after that, it’s time to do some serious hanging out in the Colorado area.

None of this has anything to do with Agile. The URL is my name. Regardless of the blog’s title, guess what it’s about? During this time of travel, tweets and posts will be much less frequent, if at all. There’s an intention here, to refocus this as a reflection of what is going on with and around me, that I might find interesting to post. Not always my experiences. Yet current, what is true right now, for me in this moment. When I’m working, there may be more of a slant to that. There might not. We’ll see what comes up. I’m working on becoming one integrated Aaron. Let me know what you may think of this approach.

Fox Glacier for Christmas

The rain just won’t let up in Christchurch and even the locals find it unbelievable for this time of year. We chase the sun over to the west coast. Traveling over Lewis Pass and a night at Hanmer Springs, on in to Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks and down to Fox glacier we drive before the rain finally finds us. This car handles so well, it is such a pleasure to drive.

At Fox Glacier we stay at a backpacker’s on Christmas eve, and have some very nice conversations with fellow wanderers. There’s a woman who teaches at the community college in Grand Junction, a man who retired from farming in Ohio, another young woman applying for a job with CBS for the Beijing Olympics, and they are all really entertaining people.

There’s also a younger guy from Minnesota who is living in Wellington and down for the holiday. His bus up to Nelson doesn’t leave for another day and he feels stuck at Fox Glacier so I offer to take him up north to Greymouth where he feels it will be better to catch a bus that day.

Off we go and what this guy lacks in personality he compliments with sheer dumbness. He decides to just stay the night at Greymouth, which is a small town with nothing going on at all, as opposed to Fox where admittedly there is no town but who cares when you’re surrounded by mountains majesty? It would be like choosing to hang out in Detroit over Aspen. He declined my invitation to head back for Christmas in Christchurch so I leave him at a stinky hostel that he chose, and we go over Arthur’s Pass.

What a lovely area and we stop to hike to a falls. There are Lupin blooming throughout the valley. We pick up a guy who has just done a long back country trip. He’s a teacher in Auckland and very entertaining for conversation. He takes me up on my offer to mail his stove and gas bottle back since he can’t take it on the plane and mentions that he helps to maintain a hut in Tongariro so he would like for us to come up so we can do a hike with him out to it; fantastic.

Hanging out in Christchurch we do some of the cultural things like the Museum and Botanic Gardens. We need to get serious about job finding and I am fired up to go back to school. I want to study science and get a Master’s in Environmental Science. Education is cheap here, and Otago is ranked in the top 100 internationally and has a well-known program. Erica will teach and has her credentials all sorted out.

Our plans are to head south and visit the campus in Dunedin, hike Kepler outside of Te Anau and spend some time in the Queenstown and Wanaka area before we have to really concentrate on finding the place to live and settling. After all our shopping for that place to live, it has found us in regards to my education, more than likely we will be making home in Dunedin.

Christchurch Ends the Bedford Nightmare

In to Christchurch we march, hell bent to make it without something else going wrong. Erica’s uncle has a place we hope to stay at to refresh ourselves and use as a base. It’s well worth the effort because this is an incredibly nice house with all the utilities running, waiting for us; or anyone for that matter. We buy some beer and rent a stack of DVDs, going back to the house to play a couple games of pool, watch movies and drink.

After taking it back to Midas I hop online and put ads out on all the sites I can find: Gumtree, TradeMe, Craigslist and more. The dinging was a hub put back on loose, fixed free of charge. Within a couple days people are emailing me about it. A couple more days go by and someone is actually here looking at it. He crawls all around it and makes me nervous that he will see what a piece of crap it really is. We go on a long drive. He makes an offer of $8,000 and I refuse it. After all, we spent $11,500 purchasing it. I tell him I’ll go to ten and he leaves to think about it. I call him back and tell him my financial adviser has authorized nine five. He comes back at $9,250 and it’s over. The Bedford is out of our lives, and we didn’t even have to burn it!

Cash in hand we go out looking for a replacement ride. I’ve done my research on Consumer Reports (New Zealand edition) and Top Gear. I had recently heard about this show from the UK when my mother sent me this video. They are their version of Click and Clack and might even be a little funnier. We wind up with a 1997 Honda Accord wagon and only paid 7 grand for it, with all registration and other licensing included. With the dual cam VTEC in it, we could probably tow the Bedford.

Abel Tasman

The big kayak shop we start at doesn’t have any kayaks available, and so calls a smaller place. We sort out the campsites we’ll stay at and pay for the whole lot.

Wandering around town we come across a flyer for the kayak place we’ve rented from. He charged us 20 bucks more than the price we were charged. I tell him this when we meet in the morning and he promises to get it to me before we leave, and doesn’t.

After a brief introduction to the wonders of kayaking and how to keep one upright in the water, we’re off to Split Apple Rock. After that we head north, a direction we’ll follow for the next 3 days. We spend the night at Te Puketea with a load of Germans, with the mail boats constantly whizzing in and out, dropping off and picking up day hikers. Around sunset the activity stops and we’re left with breathless views and serene silence.

The rain starts that night and is relentless. The wind is strong enough to flatten our tent upon us. Once again we don’t secure all our food and a possum tries to grab a bag of our stuff. I shake him off and bring it inside. We spend the morning inside the tent waiting for the rain to abate. About half way through the day it breaks and we paddle off.

The next stop is called Mosquito Bay and despite the name is a great place. It turns out to be our favorite of all the places we stay. At high tide there is an island just off the beach. The tide differential is 12 feet so at low tide we’re surrounded by sand and a little creek wandering through the area.

There is a pair of Oystercatchers nesting, and a pair of Herons fishing in the little lagoon. Another little Bellbird doesn’t like the other birds too much and is just raising quite a racket. The napping seal just ignores us all. The only thing that detracts from this little piece of pleasure is Erica’s lip has swollen up so bad she slurs like the retard Jimmy from South Park when she talks. It must’ve been bitten by a sand fly or …something.

The next and third day Erica’s lip looks fine and we make it on to Onetahuti. It’s another big drop off for the boats, it is big and litter is scattered everywhere. We drop our stuff and go out to Tonga Island in the middle of a marine reserve and full of seals. There are babies squeaking loudly. One of them is so small he cannot walk very well and is still nursing, head wobbling as he looks out at the tourists passing by in the boats.

After much oooing and ahhhing we decide to head as far north as we’re allowed to check out Shag Harbor. This is named after a bird, not the action. It’s full of secret little coves and has tree limbs reaching over the water. Following back as far as we can we discover a little trickling stream which has cut out this exceptional place.

On the way back the sea has grown tumultuous and threatens to roll our little kayak over. We keep perpendicular to the waves as trained, cutting away from land and back towards it as we try and head south and back in to our camp spot.

It takes a long time fighting the waves and not being able to paddle direct so when we get back and have some company for the night we’re a little annoyed. This annoyance grows with each repetition of the guides’ tuneless ditty that he whistles. Over and over the same little notes are cast on the air and caught by the hair rising on my neck. I combat it by my own dull whistling to show how annoying it is but this only encourages him. I want to ask if he takes any requests, like SHUT UP but just try and ignore him, like we were in a city trying to pretend we’re the only ones walking down a street populated by the throngs.

The next day has us paddle south passing all the little places we’ve stopped on the way up, and we pull up short of the beginning in Observation Bay. It’s nice enough. We’re sharing the area with a family that is wholly ignoring their kids; who hassle the nesting birds. Flotillas of kayaks advance, it’s the weekend. One of them stops and pulls up their boats right to the nesting oystercatchers. Walking up miffed I point out that the birds are really freaking out by all this activity. I get brushed off with a ‘yep, thanks’ from their guide.

I’m more insistent than with the whistling dope and point to the sign guarding the area. I exclaim loud enough that even the family turns to hear me say that it marks a nesting area and is not to be entered. This is why the birds will not stop their chatter. To my relief this works as the guide has the people move their kayaks and the family yells at their children not to bother the birds.

After some reading and a nap on the sand we decide to paddle out to Adele Island. Not having enough of rough afternoon seas we get tossed about on our excursion that nets us only being soaked and exhaustion from paddling so hard to get back. We walk around our camp, examining the mussels at low tide and finding a plaque commemorating Durville’s exploits in the area; thus the name Observation Bay. This is in the Astrolabe Roadside where he once anchored and charted the area, naming some stuff.

The morning trip is quick, making our way through the Gannets out fishing in the morning. We take showers back at the kayak rental place and I remind the owner of the 20 bucks he owes. The owner gets us a tab at the local café as he’s lost his wallet. It’s a very nice place and we have a good lunch. Afterwards we wander across the street to a gallery to look at the wood carvings and I buy Erica a nice necklace.

Waiting for the food I call Midas and get some bad news. Driving on the broken wheel bearing made the tire grind in to the stub axel. They don’t make them anymore. There’s none in the country, He’s had to have one machined and is waiting for the price of the work. To me, it doesn’t sound cheap. It isn’t.

Our bus driver back is really funny. He’s a bitter old man with his own perspective on the history of the area. The development is ruining the place of his memories, of course. We hear a story about the ferociousness of the Maoris. After hunting the Moa to extinction there really wasn’t that great of a protein source, so they did the only natural thing and started hunting each other. Battles did not result in prisoners of war, but lunch.

Back at the shop David walks me through what he had to do. The brake part came, but when he put it on the truck it was at the wrong angle and wouldn’t allow the brake fluid to flow in to the master cylinder. They must not have marked how it was taken apart and put it back together off by about 45 degrees. He had to take it to a specialist to have it redone.

The stub axel broke from my driving it back to the shop. He called us to get advice, but of course, once again we were out of range so he made the decision to make a new one since they aren’t made and he couldn’t find any in the country. He took off the right stub axel to use as a cast and found it had the same thing happen and was a custom machine part. The bearing on that side was about to fall off so he put a lock-tight in around it.

He checked the back brakes to find a washer rattling around in there. The brake shoes were on backwards. We went to lunch while he machined the scored drum and turned the shoes around. Final damage on this work was $1,500. Adding it up at lunch I think we’ve spent around two to twenty five hundred on this puppy. That’s a lot of necklaces, other gifts, adventure trips or about a month’s budget on the road. It sure makes me feel bad about deciding to buy it. But it is only money. I mean we have our health and all that.

We take off again and make it that night to Kaikoura. This is the place I’ve dreamed about. A picture of it hung on our fridge in Denver as a constant reminder of what we were working so hard to achieve. But there is a dinging now in the left hub, sounding like David has attached a cowbell in there which rings at low speeds and over rough roads. So in the morning we push on, with one look back at the magnificent snow covered range looming over the sea.


Nelson and the Midas Touch

We take one of the windiest roads imaginable with our poor brakes into Havelock, where most of the Green Mussels come from. We check in to a nice motel room which is really an apartment and go eat some of the local delicacy at the Mussel Pot. This town really appeals to us. It doesn’t have the sheen of a tourist town, but does have access to some of the deeper sounds. There isn’t much economy and it seems like the whole town is for sale.

It just never ends with the truck. We’re always on edge, jumping up spooked and looking around at every little noise. We’re heading over a big pass and coming in to Nelson when one of these noises has us looking to each other with bewildered expressions. Zud-zud-zud-zud-zud-zud-zud-zud-zud …this is going to be bad; we can see it in each other’s faces… CA-LANG-A-DANG-DANG-A-LANG …and then it’s all quiet as my skin goes prickly and I pull over. Erica goes looking for whatever that might’ve been coming off and I peer under the hood. The fan belt is completely loose like when the alternator was loose before… no it’s still tight but wait, the bottom most pulley is… gone. So that‘s it. I take off the belt and go down the street helping Erica look for it.

We retrieve it out of the middle of the road and climb back in to the van. I squint, take a deep breath, look up and turn the key. As if these body movements will help. It’s like when we’re going down a narrow road and I hold my breath when we pass an oncoming vehicle, like it’ll make us skinnier. The van does turn over. We make it in to Nelson and are directed to the Midas shop. He tells us it’s the harmonic dampener, which takes vibrations out of the engine. It still started because the battery is charged but that will lessen since the alternator isn’t recharging it. I tell him that a new alternator was put in and he tells me that it’s a shame because this broken pulley is probably the reason why we were having the problems starting the van.

I call the guy in Picton with the news and he tells me I must have ‘ghosts in the engine’. He then puts me on the line with his man Patrick who did the repairs, who insists he checked all the pulleys and they were fine. I am also reassured that they sent the alternator to an auto electrician who stated that it was beyond repair and in need of repairing. He has thrown the old one away so I cannot have anyone else inspect it. Relating this back to David, the Midas man, gets a knowing nod. He tells me that mechanics rip off tourists because they think they’re loaded with money. This is not the first time I’ve heard that mechanics are dishonest, from whichever mechanic is currently lying to my face.

The place we find is a stand-alone apartment for 50 bucks a night. It’s so cheap because they are repairing some things that didn’t get done before high season, and are now too busy to finish them. It’s a little dusty, drafty and one of the bathrooms doesn’t work but it’s big, has its own kitchen and another bathroom that does work.

Another bike ride takes us to a little beach and among some nice shops. Nelson has an alternative feel to it, with organic shops, yoga studios, art galleries and microbreweries. We stop in one of the latter and pay enough money to buy a keg for a couple of OK tasting beers. Nelson is considered the sunniest on the south and would be a great place to live.

In the morning we decide to head out to Abel Tasman and go pick up the van. It’s making a funny noise and so I go back to Midas and David tells me not to worry about it. I tell him that I’ll head off and if anything falls off I’ll come right back. He gives me a little exasperated look and I tell him that’s sarcasm, I don’t expect anything to fall off. Nothing better fall of, but it’s happened before so there is precedent, and recent.

Moving down the road the brakes start to smell funny. Pulling over to check the transmission fluid and then let everything cool, we eat a little lunch. All the fluid levels are fine, and a visual inspection doesn’t really show anything wrong so we start off. We head a little further and not only does it sound bad, it’s really pulling to the left. We think it best to turn back. About 2 blocks from Midas there’s a large KA-WHAM; but I am determined to get it back in. David sees us come in and asks what the matter is. I ask him to take a guess and point to the left front wheel, which is at an odd angle.

He takes a quick look and states that the wheel bearing went bad, that must’ve been the noise I was telling him about earlier. Something has fallen off, and it’s the wheel. The only thing holding it on is the disc brake on that side. We leave it with him and hop a bus up to Abel Tasman, enough time has been spent waiting for this thing to be repaired and a little distance from it would be nice and so when we get to Marahau and the beginning of the track, we decide to rent a kayak for 5 days. I’ve also called Collin, who forgot all about our reconditioned part, but he will track it down and sent it on to Nelson. I’ve told David about what’s happened and he’s agreed to put that on, too.

Queen Charolette Track

Coming off the ferry the van has changed its mind and is unwilling to start. It’s also shoved against the side of the hull and so we need several people to push this heavy thing out a little so we can open the compartment where the battery is. Of course, the people in their cars are just pouring off the boat until all that is left is one old man waving at me to move my vehicle. I finally get him to come over and he radios for help to get it out.

At the last stop at the Warehouse I’ve also bought booster (jumper) cables so after we get a few more of the staff over to shove it away from the wall I hook it up to an idling truck and it starts, the staff starts to leave, it stalls, I jump out and yell at them to come back, jump it again and finally get off the ferry and checked in to a very nice hotel, perhaps the best in Picton. We deserve it.

Arrangements are made to take a mail boat up to the beginning of the Queen Charolette track and spend two nights out. We take long showers, do laundry and watch DVDs out of the hotel’s extensive collection.

The van won’t start in the morning and I can’t get the manager to give it a jump. Instead he calls the best garage in town to help, or at least so says he. The guys who come out get it running and say the choke is stuck on and that’s why it smokes.

When we go over later the engine is cleaned, and the owner starts going over some things with me. It leaks because a cooling hose to the radiator has come detached. There is silicone caulking around the rocker panel and it needs a new seal. These are made out of cork and are breathable, so the caulking is not stopping a leak, but is not really good for the engine. We leave it with him and go on our walk.

Once again, being in nature resets our attitudes into a pleasantness not encountered in the van nor when surrounded by people in bustling cities. We befriend the boat driver and he starts selling us on the area. He has to cut it short because one of the passengers has fallen gravely ill. After checking her condition and giving her a sickness bag, he turns the craft around. She collapses on the dock and it makes me think it might be much more severe than just sea sickness.

We get going late and with the first day being 27 kilometers long it’s going to be tiring. Not too bad though because we’ve decided to pay the extra ten bucks for pack transport and only have our day packs on us, with yummy food waiting for our arrival and it’s a gorgeous walk.

We do pass out early but wake up in the dark to a possum rustling through our stuff. Unfortunately, a plastic bag has been left out with a tantalizing sent for the possum nose to investigate. I chase him off and bring the bag inside our tent and go back soundly asleep.

The second day is a little shorter than the first and goes up to a ridge line. It overlooks farms and harvested forests and is not quite as nice as the first day. Our bags are at the hostel and we have to hike down the hill to get them.

We meet the mechanic out with his kids at the hostel. When he leaves the manager states he’s the best around. It’s also the second time we hear the story of how he escaped Zimbabwe and by the end, he mentions it, too.

Our bags are late arriving and we sink into the picnic benches on the front porch drinking milkshakes, talking to some fellow hikers. Two women from Sweden are so sunburned it hurts to look at them. Another hiker is a guy called Hallel from Israel, now living in Paris. He works for Johnson & Johnson and came out for a meeting, extending his trip to do most of the Great Walks while he’s down here. It looks like he’s with his girlfriend but he tells us it’s another Israelite who approached him on the boat and they decided to meet up at the end of each day to chat.

Even with the rain the third day is the best. The views are stunning from the ridge. It’s mostly native forest, with many stands of Beech trees. We talk about explorers and what their encounters might have been like with native people. At the end of it all we go to a little café with Hallel. Sitting there are the two Swedish women and it turns out they are doctors. Seems they would’ve taken better care of their skin, then. And they look so young!

We’re chatting about when the boats are due to arrive, theirs earlier than ours. So we’re relaxed when I look over and see their boat come in. The girls don’t move. We wonder aloud what the time is, and if that might be their boat. They hustle off in a hurry, cutting off any goodbyes. We wait for our boat and it’s a little late in arriving.

As soon as we get back I hustle to the auto shop to pick up the van. He tells me the battery wouldn’t stay charged so he checked the alternator. It was bad beyond the ability to rebuild, so he puts in a new one. This is also in the circuit with the choke, so it now does not smoke as a side benefit. He made the decision because it was impossible to reach us on the hike, so I pay for it and take off to pick up Erica who is waiting at the dock with our bags.

Mt. Bruce, Tauranga, Wellington and Picton

Out in the ‘Napa of New Zealand’ we stop at the Tui Brewery to try a couple of the brews. Although it doesn’t taste like old tram tickets to me, I don’t think I’ll be buying mass quantities of it, even with the clever advertising.

On the other hand, the National Wildlife Centre was worth all the time and gave me more of a buzz. They are helping to make Mt. Bruce predator free. Their captive breeding program of endangered birds has been successful not only in reintroduction within Mt. Bruce, but on some of the other small islands as well. I think when we have jobs again I’ll have to sponsor a hectare. But we get to see all sorts of birds, including the Kiwi, and it is one refreshing moment in an otherwise sad heritage of ecology on the islands and leaves me with hope that some of the devastation can be rectified.

Around here the land is cut with deep gorges. Log trucks weave past, crossing over the center line. Rattling, buzzing, whining and popping around and around we travel to Morere Hot Springs for a little soak. Situated in native bush this is an excellent little place.

The men’s room is getting showers put in so I duck into the ladies’ room to take one. Of course some women come in and Erica let’s them know there’s a man in their presence. But they don’t mind. I hurry off with a downward glance when done and hear one of them, don’t be so nervous she admonishes me.

Collected together we cross the street from the springs to have a little treat at the café. The owner is rambling something about civilization having a decision between going with the Greeks or the Arabs, and we took the wrong fork down the Arabic road. He redeems himself by bringing out a box of fuzzy little ducks, trying to hop out of their little prison, that have been abandoned by their mom. Erica holds one and pets it while hoping it doesn’t decide to let go of a poo.

It’s time again to test the camper van’s capabilities as we tumble and weave, with exhaust popping loudly, over the heart-stopping roads of the Taurara Ranges and down to Kaitoke Regional Park. This is a beautiful place and our wish to stay longer is fulfilled when the van won’t start in the morning.

After a jump from the ranger we continue on to Wellington and park in the ferry lot. We bike around the Beehive and get lost trying to find Te Papa. Erica gets a flat and gets mopey and I get mad. The van is taking a toll on our emotions and is chipping away at any sense of adventure and fun we should be having on this trip. I can’t help but feel like an idiot for buying that thing.

But we easily get the flat fixed and have some amazing Indian food before getting lost inside Te Papa. Afterwards we’re stuck in the Warehouse once again to buy oil, as the last place charged eleven bucks for one litre. I am able to buy 6 for the same price. I don’t really care if the quality is low it just needs to help to keep the thing running until we can get to Christchurch and sell it. Or blow it up. Who knows? Nobody will buy it and there’s a certain amount of glee I would feel to see it engulfed in flames from my own spark. There’s a certain amount of deviousness we might not be up for to cover our tracks in an insurance fraud. I hope we can sell it. I hope it makes it so we can sell it.

The weather matches our emotions. On the bike ride back to the ferry a gust of wind coming down a side street as I cross over picks up my front wheel and I nearly spill. Rain is soaking our clothes. In the van that night it feels like a gang of midgets who detest the color of blue, especially on a camper van, are seeking vengeance on the Bedford. I can imagine them out there with tiny clubs, banging away at every side and howling at the massive wreck while they skirt up and down the sides. The van rocks with their hammering and crawling. In the morning we’re sitting in a very large puddle of rainwater and the weather is not letting up.

The van decides to start and we clamber on board a ferry bigger than some of the buildings along the harbor. The sun deck will be closed for the entirety of the trip which is unsurprising since the spray from the bow hitting the waves is coming up to where I am peering out on the 7th deck. The three hour trip passes with land always in sight, and much better weather as we pass in to the Marlborough Sounds.

East Cape

The country is definitely different out here. Heading in to Opotiki there are kids riding bareback through town, with just a rope around the horse’s neck. We stop at a holiday park outside of Te Araroa. The sign says AA Membership discount, and we had just signed up and so enquire. The response is I don’t care if you’re a card-carry communist! I guess the discount is out.

A lot of people in trailers call this lovely little campsite home. There’s the man with full-on moko (traditional facial tattoo) with his family. The little boys ask how tall I am and are blown away by my answer of six-foot-one. They don’t know how tall they are. It takes them awhile to guess where I am from. They know I am American but just can’t seem to think of what it’s called.

Erica takes a long and lovely walk down the beach. She nearly makes the next town but with each step forward knows there is more distance to cover to get back. A dead goat lies bloated and rotting in the sand. That’s a sign to turn around. She says that she watched pelicans hunting the surf on the way back. I have stayed behind because all my glands have swollen up and I’ve lost my appetite and all my energy. I think the Bedford has actually worried me sick.

I ring up Collin and ask what he thinks it would take to make the camper run well. He would want to put a seal kit on the transmission to stop leaks, a cost of about $1000 and to stop the tapping in the engine rebuild that for about another $2500. I take it in to advisement; we check the fluids before heading out.

Another local comes by, relighting his hand-rolled cigarette and watching us top things off. He’s a mechanic and full of questions about the van, top most being why the heck we would by something like that and for which I deign not to answer. He also points out that it is smoking really badly, another new problem arising in this awful beast.

A rugged land of ups and downs has us rolling along the coast around to Tolaga Bay. This is one of those places that feel like it is up-and-coming.

We walk out to Cook’s Cove where he once anchored and through a little arch in the rock where the river has cut through to the ocean. At night we free camp by the cemetery, sandwiched between a bird sanctuary and the beach.

It is dinner at the Pickled Walnut where we read about a murder-suicide and the family of the murdered woman disgusted that the other family will perform the kappa-haka for the killer. It’s a measure of disrespect for their dead and encouragement to other violent men that this behavior will be condoned. Instead, they feel the body should be thrown in a sack, dumped in a hole to the entrance of the cemetery for all people to tread upon. This is the traditional way to treat a reviled and disgraced person.

One of those somewhat boring days besieges us as we drive in to Gisborne. I am still feeling awful and will continue to do so for about 2 weeks. We wind up checking email at a little shop as the library is actually not on line. We get to talking with the owner of the shop, a man of Asian descent who grew up in Vancouver and has lived in town for 13 years. He talks about big box stores stomping over the ‘Mayberry RFD’ feel of the country. The country feel was why he moved here. Prices for real estate are rising, but so is crime. He has been burgled 8 times. Part of it, he thinks, is because the town is small enough people know when he’s at work, part of it is he’s a business owner and must have money, and of course part of it is he looks different.

As the land becomes flatter, hotter and uninspiring we cruise in to Napier and hop on our bikes for a look around the art deco buildings. The town was rebuilt in the 30’s after a devastating earthquake hit the area with many buildings done in this style. We also go to the national aquarium and watched a diver feed the fish. Not exactly the type of place we would like to live, but fun for a day.

Collin the Mechanic

Collin the mechanic is a hook-nosed man with barely a scratch of white hair left on his freckled head and a small mouth with some gaps where teeth used to be. I ask if he’s a local and he berates me, seventh generation mate! He says the thing is leaking oil, by which he means transmission fluid, and tops it off. This is where Paul and I both learn that tranny fluid needs to be checked with the car hot. He wants to check the brakes out to see if it’s really the booster and I decide to see him the next day.

All the way back Paul keeps running over the line, well I learned something. The transmission fluid needs to be checked while it’s hot. I never knew. It’s good to know all that is wrong is that it just needs to have the fluids topped off every so often and she’ll be right.

I stay quiet, simmering at the thought that he won’t state the obvious that there is a larger problem. Why does it leak? Instead he tells me that it has occurs to him that we’ve driven more in the past two weeks than he’s driven in the past year and the old girl just doesn’t like to be stressed that bad.

He does redeem himself when we get back to the parking lot by paying for half of the break job done in Kerikeri and telling me that he’s directed Collin to bill him for any ensuing work he does on the van.

I go back in the bar and ask where a good place is to get dinner. The locals titter behind their hands and are in on something, I can tell. Chaz tells me that Marie is at home cooking up some steaks and we are to go by for dinner when we feel like heading out. We do and wind up spending the night, the Bedford leaking oil all over the front lawn where she’s asked me to park.

The next two days are spent with Collin. It turns out to be the booster and he gets one but it is for disc brakes and we have drums. He fits the thing in and it takes some pumping to build up enough pressure to have any brakes at all. The other is sent out for reconditioning. He offers to sell us a Toyota sitting in his yard, one of the few that seem to be running. We take it for a drive and escape his place for awhile.

Collin is a racist. At dinner he tells us that it is a sad fact our forefathers ran out of bullets before killing all the blacks. There would be far less problems. It comes up because we talk about the Dutch couple in Haruru Falls. They have caught the suspects and one of them is white trash like Collin but that doesn’t stop the rant. He looks stranger than the typical bush man because his house burned down, scorching over twenty percent of his body. He spent over a year in the hospital and had some major grafts attached to his face.

Collin’s sons are into racing and their dad supports them in this endeavor. The cars are little cages on a chassis and are flung around a dirt track. The idea is to bash in to the other drivers, blocking them from finishing while you try and get across the finish line before someone takes you out. At the event the last weekend they came in first. The prize for winning is a trophy. There is a little cash split among the teams which is usually spent when all the teams go out on the piss (drinking) together. A typical season costs tens of thousands of dollars to keep the thing running. There’s a sign on the front of the car which states, ‘I’m always in the shit only the depth varies’.

So we head out, pumping madly at the brakes any time stopping is needed and will let Collin know where to send the refurbished part. Our plan is to head around the East Cape area where ‘Whale Rider’ was filmed.

Kawerau Stinks and Terawera is Beautiful

We slowly get up the hill and stop in Rotorua at another mechanic shop. I can now tell where the auto shop district is in any town and drive by instinct to a garage. The man there tells me it’s the vacuum booster seal in the master that has gone bad, something that having the part reconditioned wouldn’t have corrected. What can I do? Sell the cursed thing is his grinning answer. Sell it back to those ministers is our resolution and back to Kawerau we drive. We’ve tried ringing them with no answer and it there is nobody who answers our calling at the door. Sitting out on the street and reading an older lady passes by, wondering if she knows us. Probably not, we’re just visiting. This does not stop an extended conversation which is fine; we’re merely waiting around the place. She came over in the 40’s from the UK and has been a widow for 20 years. She’s very wrinkled and full of stories which meander to her mind’s whim. As she bids us a good day someone pulls in to the driveway, giving the old Bedford a double-take. Erica goes up to greet him and by the time I get there she’s crying. It’s one of their sons checking on the place since the paper plant called him in from the farm for some maintenance work on one of the machines. Kawerau has the mixed stench of a paper plant and a sulphur pit. The locals insist you get used to it but we would rather not. I guess when he asked Erica how she was going the reply couldn’t be understood over the sobs, although he could probably gather she wasn’t going well. He tells us the folks will be back the next day, hands us some grapefruits from the garden and we decide to spend the night in the park where camping is welcomed. In the park throwing the disc and Erica smacks the ground tripping on her pants while running for the disc and starts to cry again and her bruised knee begins to swell. I put an arm around her and we limp, cry and sigh our way across the street to the corner bar. The name of the place is “The Corner Bar” and is attached to a hotel. The name of that place is “The Kawerau Hotel” clever. It’s a dark place with the T.V. too loud, about five older folks hovering about a horseshoe-shaped bar and half dozen pokies (slot machines) in the back. Every once in awhile someone will drift out from back there and count out a little change for the next drink. The proprietress and owner, Chaz, takes a liking to us and we sit there chatting through a coupe drinks. When I go to pay she won’t let us, insisting that meeting such nice folks is payment enough. This causes Erica to cry a little and Chaz fills up our glasses and starts to pry out the real story. It’s so intriguing to the regulars that even the T.V. is turned down. We’re the show now. A few more shouts (rounds of drinks) later and Scottish Dave hands Erica his mobile phone. His wife Marie is on the line and tells Erica she will be meeting us in the morning in front of the bar to take us up to the local falls. From there we will head on around Lake Tarawera and she will take the car around to the other side and meet us at the end of the day. There is no getting out of it so we decide to turn in before more drinks are offered and get some sleep before the all-day excursion. The falls come blazing out of the middle of the cliff-face. Marie takes our picture and turns back. She describes the route, making a point of telling us where the toilets are along the way. We continue on and she turns back. It’s a beautiful track, heading up the face where we can see the river slink underground. There are big trout in there, too. It heads off to the lake and on around to Humpries Bay, one of the noted toilet stops and what we believe is the end of the track. We’ve reached it at about the time Marie thought it would take us to finish and we both believed this is where she said the car park was where she would be waiting. We wander around and around and it becomes obvious there is no road, no car park, no Marie. Erica wants to head back to the other toilets we passed and where there are some signs of civilization. I want to go on to what the signs points to as a lodge about 3 hours further on. All the tracks have time estimates, there are no distance markers. It’s frustrating to think the people who put the track together know exactly how fast I walk, in any weather conditions. I win out and we walk on. It’s pretty, but is clouded by the thought that Marie is somewhere freaking out about us not arriving and that we’ll have to try and find a way back to town from out here in the middle of nothing. Nothing, that is, except beautiful natural vegetation, birds and gorgeous shorelines of the lakes we pass. At the end there is a little lodge, but not the sort of thing we’ll be spending the night at. There is also a large parking lot. At the end, to our huge relief, is Marie. We’re 3 hours later than we thought we would be. She’s reading a book. Nonplussed she asks if we would like some OJ from oranges squeezed out of her yard. It’s a gleeful trip back to the bar and a couple more drinks on Chaz as we talk about the excellent hike. I excuse myself to call up Paul on a payphone. Sharon answers and states that he’s out in town looking for me, as they passed the Bedford on their way home. I hang up and turn around to find him strolling along. He wants to take it to his mechanic so I hop in. It’s much further than I thought out to the place. Along the way Paul can feel the shifting problems and tells me about an old English car he had before that required taking the foot off the accelerator before the servo would engage to switch gears. He is so used to it that he thinks he’s been doing it with this van and never noticed that it doesn’t like to shift through the higher gears. To me, it sounds like a load of crap. When we get out there I think I better call the bar and let Erica know what’s going on. She’s been getting a hard time about me leaving with an attractive young Maori woman. Yeah, right. Those two words put together and sarcastically spouted out signify sarcasm. This time it means no worries, they all know there is no such thing as an attractive young Maori woman.