A love affair

Many will know, and a lot more won’t that I love the idea of traveling around in a VW camper. So when I finally grew a pair and booked my holiday or as the locals call it ‘an over sea’s experience’ the idea of seeing the islands from a camper van was an opportunity not to be missed.

So came the day when I had to pick the van up and being that I was going to spend two months with it most of the time it being my only companion the nice people at the depot let me choose which van I wanted. My eyes fell on Ricky Marlin, a bright orange and yellow beast, with a giant Marlin leaping from the water. I said ‘Awesome’ like the locals. I looked around to make sure there were no others, the old crone looked cool but Ricky was at the front bathing in the Auckland sunshine raring to go where as the old crone hid in the deep depth of the depot. And so the sweet love affair began.

At first I didn’t get on with him. My left foot was constantly trying to find the non existent clutch and my left hand kept on reaching for the gear lever to change the gears. But Ricky had all of this under control and all I had to do was control the ‘gas’ and the brakes. Ricky was an automatic and theres an art to driving them, esp when you need it to be a low gear. Ricky also kept it secret on how to change radio stations, until the 3rd week which was a pain, as once out of Auckland it was the sound of static or rumble of Ricky’s stomach. But once he revealed the button to search the local stations I was singing along to Bruno Mars, Queen, Black Eyed Peas, Katie Perry and Moorehouse (NZ pop band). I quickly fell in love with ‘Classic Hits – the best of the 80s 90s and now’ the only issue was the frequency would change from area to area often having their own news and presenters but still the same top class tunes.

Sure it was cold in the evening, but Ricky had a little gap for my power adapter to connect my heater and during the day in the baking heat of Northland Ricky pumped the air conditioning on. The only downside was Ricky was a drinker, a terrible drinker. He would demand fuel every couple of days and occasional would hit the hard black stuff. But he never complained and got tired as we drove 400km in one go. Sure he slowed down on the hills and I had to will him up, then encourage him to take it easy on the other side as we basically free rolled down the snaking road to level ground.

After two months I’ve become quite attached to Ricky, Ive learnt to handle his poor steering, and got use to getting him going in the morning. I’ve learnt to run him in gently to ease him into top speed, I’ve got use to the time it takes for the condensation to go and the way the wipers work. In return he has got me from A to B and now back to A. His kept me dry, warm and entertained. We’ve had adventures on some of the toughest and highest roads in NZ and not once has he let me down.

After 8298km or 5156 miles. (Thats the equivalent to driving the length of Britain 8 times or driving two thirds of the coast line or exploring NZ)it’s time to give him up and make my own way in the world.

Goodbye Ricky. I hope your new companions treat you with respect. Beep your horn when your passing through my neighbourhood.

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They drive on the left

Right, I’m here and let’s be honest I wish I had started to blog about my adventures earlier in this wonderful place we call New Zealand. I know that you probably think otherwise but at the end of the day you have chosen to read or follow this attempt at literature so I can only conclude it must be entertaining in the smallest degree.

Anyway I’ve been in kiwi zone now for 6 weeks and while there seem to be many parallels with us Brits the kiwis seem to do other things different and in most cases they make sense. Lets start with the banks.

I set up my account in England, so when I arrived all I needed to do was activate it. I popped into the local ASB bank showed them the letter they opened a drawer and took out a card, placed it in the machine and asked me to type a pin in. After I’d typed the four digits, the card was removed and handed to me. Simple as that, no waiting for a card in the post. I asked what would happen if I lost or had it stolen how I’d get it replaced. Same procedure I was told, so no waiting for a new card in the post either. We then set up Internet banking in a similar fashion. There was no waiting for a username, then a pass code in another letter, it was just like registering for amazon or any other kind of online account. No sign of that stupid law of data protection, as was seen when the man in the vodafone shop phoned up on my behalf and quoted a shop reference number to the call centre staff before he began talking about my account.

It gets better.

Let’s turn our attention to driving. It’s on the left, and has two speed limits. 50 k.p.h for towns and built up areas or 100 k.p.h for open roads. Travelling at 100 makes it a lot easier to wrk out travel times as well. Also the roads, are simple. Everyone lives by the coast, and the state highways just run from town to town, so as long as you know north and south, and where your destination is then you can’t get lost. The downside to this is lack of road signs. Travelling from Picton to Nelson, I would have one road sign just outside Picton showing me I was heading to Nelson and it was 200 odd kilometres, and that would be it until I got to Nelson. Sure there would be a sign further on informing me I was heading to Nelson, but it wouldn’t give me a distance. They also seem to be very late in appearing. If for example I did need to turn off, the sign instructing me would do so on the junction, no warning to say Queenstown next left, or anything like that.

Another thing about their road signs is that there funny and shocking. Some of the highlights have been a sign filled with crosses, with the slogan, ‘you’ll be dead for a long time, so what’s the rush’ and another one that was DRINK DrIvE, with the DIE in drive in red. Others with coffins driving a car with a slogan ‘Tired drivers die’ and a picture of a zip to show how to merge onto a road.

The speeding limit is enforced heavily with only a tolerance of 5 over, and other road signs indicate this with the fines you could get. I saw one with a speedo that had 0 to 105 k.p.h then it went $150, 200, 250, and so on for each 5 k.p.h over. You also have no warning where the cameras are.

As many of the towns are far apart, you could be driving for 300km at a time, which takes around 4 to 5 hours. The roads may look straight on the map, but they are in Fact hilly, rising sometimes as high as 900 meters above sea level, with every twist and turn turn possible. You will see signs to tell lorries to test there brakes before a 6K down hill twisty section and every corner will have a suggested speed limit, which is in fact extremely accurate. But the roads help you as many of the bend will widen. Another neat idea is when turning right onto a main road you have a little slip road, to park yourself in, until there s space to join the flow of traffic.

The final thing to say about NZ roads are as there are not many motorways and the roads are like our country ones in the UK then you will find plenty of passing places that are signed as far back as 5km, which is just as well as tailgating and not rugby seem to be the national sport. The one major rule on the road and car parks is give way to the left, this applies on the passing places, if the car passing on the right has not managed to overtake those on the left he has to give way to them. The only thing I found really odd but it makes sense now is that the writing on the road is backwards. NZ has a lot of one road bridges, and I’ve often thought why they didn’t build them as two lanes. Whilst in the UK you would see ONE LANE BRIDGE written top to bottom, in NZ is from bottom up.

One
Lane
Bridge UK WAY

Bridge
Lane
One. NZ WAY as you read the words as you cross over them

Finally supermarkets and gas stations. People are employed to fill your car up, leaving you to go inside and wait and pay. These folk will also clean your windscreen. There does not seem to be a difference in price between the brands, even BP is the same price as the budget supermarket stations. What’s also great is at every pump they have a keypad where you can select the amount of petrol you want in dollars or litres so never again do you have to slowly squeeze the pump to get that last drop to round it up to 10.

Supermarkets are pretty much the same, except that some fruit goes by different names, it took me a good couple of minutes to find peppers on The self service. They have there versions of Tescos, Sainsburys and Spar. The big thing would be the prices for items are on the shelf above and you always have to look out for specials as food is expensive unless it broccoli as that’s like 30p, but bread is like 2.50 and cheese works out to be a rip off. Brands that were use to exist but seem to be shadowed by there NZ own. The only brand tat has prime shelf space is Cadburys and that’s expensive, in fact all chocolate is. Dairy milk is $2.50 which is £1.75 and its not that they import it, as they make it in Dunedin

Anyway hope you have enjoyed reading the differences. Ill be back soon to talk about some of my adventures.