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Published: November 18th 2011
The flight to New Zealand wasn’t great, but then I don’t like flying because they design aeroplanes for people with no legs. We arrived in Auckland, New Zealand at about 4am and didn’t get through customs until about 5:30am. The flight crossed the international date line so 7th November 2011 will never have existed for us. Time travel! We hadn’t made plans for once we arrived in New Zealand other than to get a shuttle bus into the city centre and find a place to stay, but we ended up tagging along with a couple of Irish girls we had met in Bolivia (and again in Peru) who happened to have got the same flight as us and had booked a hostel. So away we went.
The bus into the city centre and to our hostel door cost us about $14NZ each (£7). The hostel was closed when we got there at about 6:15am and didn’t open until 7am. Fortunately there was a 24 hour Denny’s just down the street, which is where we stayed until about 8am using their free WiFi and unlimited coffee refills. We finally arrived at the Silver Fern Hostel, where we stayed
while we searched for our campervan, each night in a double room, shared bathroom costing $75NZ (£37.50), a lot dearer then we were used to.
So the hunt was on for our van and we started the first day we arrived. We went and took a look around the Backpackers Car Market but unfortunately everything there was about $1500 too expensive. It kind of gave us an idea of what to expect though. We spent a lot of time walking around Auckland getting our bearings as well. We were both shattered though from the flight and had an early night.
The following couple of days were spent browsing Gumtree, visiting the Backpackers Car Market and collecting any adverts for vans we could find in other hostels around Auckland. We actually viewed a van in this time, a 1989 Toyota Hiace going for $5500NZ (our budget was 4000-5000). While the van all seemed good, the interior was a little lacking and it was LPG, which I figured may be a bit hard to shift come selling time so we never bothered following this one up. We then found a 1981 Toyota Hiace with a high roof and a very
good interior. We rang the chap selling it who turned out to own a garage and sold many camper vans so we took the train there for a viewing.
The UK could learn a lot from the trains in Auckland. The station felt a lot like the future (however that feels) or a computer game. More importantly the train fares were reasonable and the trains ran like clockwork for the time we used them. Unfortunately because I’m a bit of an idiot and we missed our stop by about four stations on our way to view the van (this error proved fatal) so then had to get the train back to where we were meant to, where the chap selling picked us up from the station and took us to his garage.
He had a lot of vans, many of which were not yet campervans and still had all their seats in the back. He told us that all the vans we saw would have a bed put in the back for the price agreed. As soon as we arrived we saw another couple checking the van out we had come for and before you know it they
were taking it for a test drive. As soon as they got back they put their deposit down and that was that. Tina wasn’t happy. The thing about this van was that the interior was excellent, it had everything you would need to live in and every other van there had practically nothing, barring a bed... or so we thought.
We were disappointed but we had a good look around as this was the first place we had found with a lot of vans in our price range. At this point we were thinking about buying a van for about $4000 and spending $1000 on everything we needed to live in it. We had come across a 1996 Nissan Urvan which was totally empty. We took this van for a test drive but I didn’t like it. It was totally gutless and the clutch was slipping like you would never believe. It was missing a wing mirror and a lot of other bits didn’t work. After bringing all this up with the chap selling he did say he would put a new clutch in it and sort all the other bits out for $4500, but we felt it was
still a little steep for us. We had seen another van, a 1990 Nissan Urvan with a fantastic interior but had been sitting for 6 months, was being taken over by spiders and looked a little tired. It was also going for $5500 a little too much again.
Considering our options I made a phone call to a company who modify the insides of vans to a good standard. For anything more than a bed it would cost $1000-2000, and for what we wanted probably nearer the $2000 mark. An empty van was no longer an option unless we could get one for about $2500-$3000 and at this price there seemed to be nothing.
We learnt at this point that not just vans, but all vehicles in New Zealand are going up in price. Like the UK, NZ imports a lot of ex-Japanese market cars, only more. New legislation has come into force here regarding emissions meaning cars made before 2002 no longer comply and cannot be imported from Japan. Guess where a lot of the old vans come from. We heard this story a few times from people in the trade, and it wasn’t helping our search.
So, it seemed we had only one contender. The 1990 Nissan Spidervan we had seen. We took another trip to the garage to take it for a test drive. When we got there it was exactly where it was before. The battery was flat as you can imagine but it started first time once it was jumped, not a bad sign and sounded quite healthy. We took it for a test drive and it drove well. It felt good considering it had done 150,000 miles and impressed us enough to put a deposit down. What sealed the deal was the fact this van has about $2000 worth of gear inside. We decided that if it drove well we would take it. The chap agreed to service it, give it a new battery and new WOF (MOT). We wouldn’t be able to collect it for 3 days though.
We were now staying in a hotel which was actually cheaper than the hostel we were in as it was a ‘compact’ double room en-suite for $69 a night, all the tea and coffee we could drink and free jelly beans every time you visited reception.
Now the two days
we had in Auckland to ourselves were excellent. I like Auckland a lot, it seemed to have everything. I liked the oriental influence, there is Sushi bar on every corner, and a games cafe on every other corner. I could live here quite easily. Although Tina couldn’t. The games cafes are PC only and she is a WASD n00b. We visited the aquarium (£15) which had a free shuttle bus from the centre that was shaped like a shark. They had a tank full of water that was as cold as the water in the South Pole that you put your arm into and try to keep it there for 30 seconds, they would never have this at home! We both managed to hold it for the 30 seconds but only just. I can now totally understand why Jack died at the end of Titanic. There was a little train ride through the penguin enclosure which was fun. It was a fun day out but was it worth £30, i'm not so sure.
We were missing our normal clothes so treated ourselves to a pair of jeans, a new pair of shoes for me, and a new top for
Tina. With our new clothes on we then went to the Skytower for a meal. Now the Skytower has a revolving restaurant at the top just like the tower in Seattle which I always wanted to go to, and always made Tina aware when they show it on Greys Anatomy, so this was the next best thing. It would have been anyway if the restaurant wasn’t booked up! We still went, only to the non-revolving buffet restaurant above it. I did see the revolving restaurant on the way up and I have say I was disappointed. It only does one full revolution an hour. I was expecting everyone to be stuck to the walls. Anyway, the buffet restaurant was unbelievable, but then it was $70 (£35) each. Everything was amazing but I have to say the desserts were the best, which we both agreed on. We were slightly embarrassed heading back to our table with ALL the desserts we could fit on the plate and twice the size our main courses. Not to forget, the views were spectacular, but not as a spectacular as the desserts. We then went to the casino where I immediately won about $240 with a
$5 bet so that was dinner paid for and the majority of the days spending.
The following day we were to collect the van at 1pm. After we had picked it up we went to a laundrette to get the curtains and bedding it came with washed, and then to a petrol station to vacuum and clean the inside, which took us about 2 hours. You would have thought the previous owners had died. Everything had been left. Even all the food in the cool box, including their eggs. Remember the van had been sat for 6 months by the way. A lot of stuff went in the bin.
After the van was clean we headed north to a campsite but realised it would be very late by the time we got there, so opted to spend the night in a motorway services. Although not ideal our first night was a success.
We did a shopping and stocked up on all the essentials too. I binned the cool box rather than clean the rotting disaster that it was so we had to wait to buy a new one before we could get things like milk and butter.
We did this the following day before arriving at the free DOC campsite.
The first campsite was very quiet and there were only 3 other vans there. We made Carbonara that evening out the back of the van with our two stove LPG cooker before packing up and going to bed.
The next day we headed north again to the 90 Mile Beach. We arrived after a few hours on the road. This was Tina’s first day of driving the van for any length of time, which she did well for a while. I say for a while because when we got to the 90 Mile Beach she thought it would be a good idea to take a turn down a narrow track made of sand in our 2 wheel drive van. My cries of ‘go back’ each time we came to a concrete stretch were ignored and eventually Tina didn’t carry enough speed over a sand crest so we lost momentum and stopped, not going anyway anytime soon. The van wouldn’t move and just kept digging in deeper and deeper. We were only about a meter away from grass as well, where we would have been fine.
The van came with its own shovel which was more than handy but no amount of digging was helping us. We tried using the tarpaulin the van came with, which also failed and we were out of ideas. Eventually we dug up grass in strips like turf and dug it under the wheel. This gave us enough traction to rock the van back and forth and eventually once a rhythm was going rocked it out the sand. I could have killed Tina, she did almost kill me in return for the abuse I gave her. I drove back and used speed as the answer, which worked fine until I then got stuck in sand in the car park. I suddenly wasn’t feeling as smug. Fortunately there were two wooden planks which had been left and we were out the sand again easily this time.
After a ‘fantastic’ day out we arrived at our next free DOC campsite to settle in for the day. We had made up again at this point you will be happy to hear. I later told Tina how she should listen to me as I am an expert at driving on sand. I watched Ray
Mears do it on the telly once.
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