Vans, tans and plans

Milford Sound, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

The hedgehog truck has finally reached the East coast on our last full day in the South Island. We’ve just spent a couple of hours being taught how to swim by friendly seals. Although since a fur seal spends 90{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} of it’s life sunbathing, fighting and shagging, there was also much comedy bobbing about in buoyant wetsuits waiting for them to go seaborne.

And because I am sure you really aren’t interested in what we did on our holidays, I am instead going to talk about the hierarchy of camper vans. But before that, it is worth explaining that Carol and I are just about mountain’d out. As we crested yet another spectacular mountain pass sheltering fathoms of perfectly formed azure lakes, glances were exchanged and a quiet nod confirmed that’d just about do, thanks.

On the way back to ChristchurchWanaka lake

Because when the superlative barrel is well and truly scraped and a million electrons slaved to capture the picture perfect*, a certain blase replaces the ground state of awe and wide mouthed pointing. When we’re stuck in traffic on a shitty late winter’s day back in the UK, we;ll laugh about that. Probably.

Anyway, Vans. On the South Island, every third vehicle is a truck** which- as they perambulate wildly at almost no speed – must really piss off the locals. About three companies corner a hugely profitable market with the rest forced to scrap it out with beaten up cheap vans or niche offerings.

The Love BusFalls

I must admit to a spot of motor-home envy during the trip, a worthwhile discourse to be properly covered in a later post. Our happy bus is a big diesel Merc with the standard slabby body kit bolted on. The engine is well into its’ third century of kilometres and the interior design is only a couple of woodchip walls away from the whole seventies experience.

But it has soul and it’s as grunty as buggery, dispatching the shiny competition with a contemptuous growl of the big beasty up front. That’s the engine I’m talking about – although after snacking away on a Yorkie bar – whilst removing the kids drying knickers from the steering wheel – I have begun to feel like a proper trucker. And if I keep scoffing ice cream and quaffing the rather fine Macs Gold, I’ll soon look like one as well.

Love the truck as we do, if one were striving for honesty, it would be fair to say that some road and engine noise does intrude into the cabin. This makes the stereo largely redundant unless you’re seeking an ear bleeding experience, and conversations over 3000 RPM are generally best carried out in sign language.

And -“ as I found on a mission drive to make a campsite closing time – it does not respond that well to spirited driving. Oh it’s fast enough alright, although at much over 110kph, the pitch and yaw becomes a bit disturbing. Which brings me onto the whole rather perturbing subject of cornering. You can keep all your nonsense about mechanical and aerodynamic grip because this has the same aero efficiency as a shot duck.

It also has most of the weight low down and a great big sodding sail up top. Now remember, the many windy mountain passes are generally accessorised with 1000ft drops protected by a six inch fence and some passing sheep. And corners that cheekily swap camber half way round. But after some invigorating nay absorbing experience in the first couple of days, we’ve learnt the approved staying upright technique.

First, don’t bother with the brakes as it seems Mercedes didn’t either. An early conversation when Carol took the wheel went something like “About the brakes /  Yes?  / I’d have liked some”. Just lift off and let the wind bleed about 10kph every twenty metres, line up on as far to the left as you dare, take a DEEP breath and pitch it in on a bit of throttle.

And don’t panic as the whole edifice seems about ready to tip over. Two reasons for this; firstly everything falls out of the cupboards so stabilising the roll and secondly you’re pretty well committed at this point. Other stuff you shouldn’t consider during any mid corner quiet times are, lifting off the throttle or attempting an apex kissing correction. Both will surely end in disaster – I generally kiss the lucky horse shoe we’ve installed instead and think happy thoughts.

The ride does suffer from a bit of choppiness under braking and on some of the more – beautifully named -“ road slumps. But that”s ok, if you really need to stop, slam on the anchors and cupboards, luggage, fridge and children plunge down the central aisle so concentrating all the weight to the braking wheels. You’ve got to hand it to the Germans, that’s bloody genius.

And well yes the steering doesn’t really feel connected to any axle, one of the doors doesn’t shut properly, the entire electrical system is frankly terrifying and the less said about the chemical toilet the better.

But 1500k and nine days in, we absolutely love it. You can’t really rush and when boredom does set in, find a lovely view, stop and make a cup of tea. And every day, there is the anticipation of another adventure while chewing on a home made bacon sandwich. And an ice cream – well I am on holiday.

West Coast WavesKaikoura Beach

We head off to the North Island tomorrow and while we will be sad to see the back of the South Island, there are many new places to explore.

* Oh for a 15mm prime lens. Although I doubt it would capture the scale of the landscape or make the pictures any more exciting. But I want one anyway.

** Spotters badge for the knowing wink to a nineties hit there from a Scottish rock band.

3 thoughts on “Vans, tans and plans

  1. Andy

    Just a thought: If the house sales goes through, and the purchase doesn’t at least you can fall back on your recent experience and hire a camper van (or are they called RVs in NZ?). I haven’t seen one with a bike rack big enough for your collection though! That might be a spanner in the works, fly in the ointment, blah blah blah.

    Seriously – hope you’re having fun!

  2. Doug

    Alex – call me re keys pick up tomorrow…. get me at home on xx-xxx-xxx, or mobille xxx-xxx-xxx. Cheers, Doug

  3. Alex

    Cheers Doug.. Call you later at home. I’ve deleted your details otherwise the spam bot will get them!

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