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Cause for concern: deterioration in BP Connects’ sandwich range

Having established the house was not flame-grilled spicy Cajun flavour, we struck out for South Island last Wednesday morning.

The convalescent car was loaded down with the essentials: one dog, a box of unspecified kitchen utensils, the waterblaster, two flatscreen computer monitors, three laptops, a coolbox full of pickles, the bright blue clamshell paddling pool (because you never know when your feet will get unbearably hot on a roadtrip) and the trailer stacked with Husband’s two KTM dirtbikes.

We had a non-refundable booking on the 18:25 Interislander ferry, so left The Outlaws’ house in Mount Wellington at 07:30. By our calculations, as long as we averaged 75kph – a conservative bordering on insulting estimate for Husband’s style of driving – this was PLENTY OF TIME to drive 660km and allow for snack stops, beverages, lunch, some leisurely sight-seeing, walking the dog and (of course) paddling.

The only downside was what to do with ourselves when we arrived far too early for the latest check-in of 17:30.

Another paddle, perhaps.

See? That’s the beauty of transportable paddling pools.

Now, unfortunately, what our calculations did not account for was kilometres of road works along the SH1. Another unforeseen variable: the diversion through Palmerston North during rush hour. Also Andrew’s shopping spree at Repco, and the pit-stop for a dash of spot welding on the trailer.

So, the trailer. When we first moved to Waitakere, we acquired this accoutrement to denote our status as Westies (the others were: wearing thermals under t-shirts, making fashion statements with fleece, and wiping our noses on our sleeves). We bought it on Trademe – where else? – and considered it a grand investment until we discovered the frame was riddled with rust.

At least this gave Husband an opportunity to weld with purpose as opposed to practising his MIG welder on random pieces of scrap metal lying around the place, but even after A LOT of practice, the trailer was still somewhat short of a heavy-duty industrial-standard towing apparatus.

Andrew originally intended to transport the two KTM dirt bikes AND his Honda road bike on the trailer. When he tested this arrangement, apart from the trailer being too small to physically accommodate three snorting motorbikes, the weight of the Honda alone – over 220kg, or about as heavy as a baby hippo with an unchecked appetite for water lilies– made the trailer bed sit on the axle stops.

Andrew asked MarkJ if he could leave the Honda at his place.

Just south of Auckland, Andrew decided it was the ideal time to start worrying about the trailer’s unsteady gait. Since he was already aware of this, I can only presume he was bored. The previous night, I had followed in the MR2 as Husband towed the trailer behind the Surf; I submitted a full report on the trailer’s vigorous lean to the left and tendency to weave around the road independent of the car. On occasion, it actually looked like the trailer was attempting to overtake the towing vehicle. And Husband can’t have failed to have noted the ‘BANG!’ whenever the trailer negotiated an obstacle e.g. a leaf, crisp packet, piece of gravel etc.

In other words, I’m not sure why the trailer demanded his attention more than – say – the shocking state of Repco’s customer service, or the ever diminishing range of BP Connect’s sandwiches, or cyclists victimised by lorries, or whether New Zealand is really as environmentally friendly as advertised.

Anyway, during a practical expression of fretting, Husband discovered a crack in the trailer’s suspension arm. It appeared to be getting steadily worse. We stopped to have it welded, but the gap reopened within 50km.

By now well behind schedule, we had no option but to carry on. For the rest of the trip, it seemed entirely likely that the trailer would disintegrate, most probably at 100kph.

By the time we hit Taupo, it was obvious there would be no paddling in the Interislander terminal carpark.

When we were diverted to Palmerston North, we knew we were officially Extremely Late.

“We’re not going to make it,” said Andrew cheerfully.

 “Look, we’ll be there around 17:55-”

“They won’t let us on,” asserted Andrew confidently.

“Oh, come on! It’s a full half hour before the ferry sails! D’you think I should phone Interislander-”

“For what? Tell them to hold the ferry for us? PaHA!”

“NO, YOU BERK! TO TELL THEM WE’RE ON OUR WAY AND NOT GIVE OUR SLOT TO SOMEONE ELSE!” I said, even more shrilly than the sentiment comes across in print.

“Nah, waste of time.”

Husband flogged the car into Wellington. By driving slightly above the legal limit, we arrived at the Interislander terminal at 17:52. The man at the check-in booth didn’t even reprimand us; no pithy comments as to our presence relative to check-in time. He didn’t even laconically suggest that we were ‘cutting it a bit fine’.

When I got to the ferry lounge, I just burst into tears. There was wailing (muted).

We finally arrived at the house – late – although for the last few kilometres I think we dragged the trailer rather than towed it.

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Windburn

I planned on driving until I felt tired, then pulling up beside a lake or stream, cuddling up to Jed for warmth, sleeping like an antivampire, then waking to watch the sun rise over snow-capped mountains.

Husband failed to appreciate this romantic vision. In fact, he really didn’t enter into the spirit of the road trip AT ALL. He suggested that if I slept in the car, I should camp in a populated location like a garage or Mitre 10 carpark. If I was questioned by police, I was to say I felt sleepy,  so pulled over for a nap as recommended by their copious advertisements lining SH1. He asked if I had a torch; when I answered in the affirmative, he asked if I had a 48” monkey wrench to twat all the assailants who would be queuing up to break into a 1992 Toyota Hilux Surf with duct tape over the rust spots.

Husband finally snuffed out the last vestiges of my spirit by pointing out that a guesthouse would be equipped with a shower.

He booked me into Sequoia Lodge in Picton: $27 for a bed in an empty dorm, complimentary hot water bottle, bedlinen, and lashings of hot water.

At 04:00hrs, I woke up feeling cold, and lay there for a while fretting about Jed’s temperature in the back of the car. I got up, pulled on a top and pair of jeans, and went to check on him. Jed was shivering, so I wrapped my fleece around him and put his little paws in the sleeves. I rubbed him for twenty minutes, then added another two rugs to his wool blanket and left him again. However, I was still anxious about my puppy, so I got up early.

Applying makeup at 06:00hrs is a measure of how much I love Husband. That, and how haggard I looked (after six hours of sleep, I resembled two-week-old carrion).

We were past Blenheim when the sun rose over the sea. It was so beautiful – full of golden promise, the sanctity of a new day, a suggestion of redemption – that it brought tears to my eyes. Alternatively, it might have been the knowledge that I willfully passed up another couple of hours in bed, or Jed vigorously licking my left ear, or a combination of all the above.

Pulling off SH1, Jed and I bounced down to a wide, shallow river tumbling over bleached rocks. It was balmy: the sun was warm, the sky a piercing summer blue. I stripped down to a thermal top, long sleeved t-shirt, woolly jumper, fleece and a jacket (it was a lightweight jacket). Jed splashed around a while, then settled down by the water to chew his bone. I sat on a large rock and raised my face to the sun and felt fulsomely content.

After Blenheim there was a garage drought, so even though I still had a quarter tank of diesel left, I stopped to fill up in Kaikoura.

“How much is diesel per litre?” I asked when I went to pay, still mildly stunned at having to fork out the same amount for three quarters of a tank of gas as a full tank in Auckland.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the cashier, fingering his left nipple. “Changes all the time. Goes up and down.”

“I noticed neither you nor the BP Connect up the road advertised the rate.”

“Yeah, we’re too embarrassed. The locals don’t like us much.”

“Well, I’m from out of town and I don’t like you much either. If that makes you feel any better.”

“Oh, ah, no, not really.” Although he laughed, but I wasn’t really joking.

For two days, I had subsisted on a restricted road trip diet of a) crisps b) salted peanuts c) sandwiches d) pies e) chocolate f) whole, solid forms of fruit and/or g) mints. Further down the main drag in Kaikoura, I stopped at Hislops Organic Café to treat myself to breakfast, and had a visceral response to the hash browns served with my eggs benedict. They were a genuine taste sensation. The staff at Hislops also recharged my mobile phone, brought Jed a bowl of water, and scratched his ears. In fact, the service could only have been improved had they scratched my ears, too. Highly recommended, campers.

Although vast tracts of the trip were unremarkable, there are snapshots that stand out with a shining clarity: mist over Lake Taupo; the incredible blue of the sea driving down the east coast – each wave trailing a half rainbow; Jed charming drivers out the back window; sitting by the road with the morning paper in Kaikoura with my dog by my feet. There was something liberating about not being answerable to anyone, with nothing to do but drive and think about whatever popped into your head (admittedly, not that much, usually).

Every time I let Jed out for a break, he went berserk; yet not once did he refuse to get back into the car. I was so proud of my little boy.

We arrived in Oamaru shortly before 17:00hrs. Jed was overjoyed to see Husband again and leapt around doing cartwheels and somersaults, much like myself.

ROAD TRIP STATISTICS

Total mileage
Auckland to Wellington 658km
Picton to Oamaru 583km

Total driving time
Auckland South to Wellington 8 hrs
Picton to Oamaru 7 hours

Percentage of time Jed stuck his head out the window
8

Injuries sustained
Niamh: superficial scarring on forehead from stick wound
Jed: windburn

32 PSI

On Wednesday morning, Husband rang as I finished packing the car.

“How do you feel this morning?” he asked solicitously.

“Terrific!” I said.

“Right, pay attention,” said Husband. “We’ve been discussing how to get you and Jed to Oamaru, and we think the best way is to parachute you in-”

“I’m driving.”

“You’re joking,” said Husband.

“Nope. Little road trip. <Jed: come! Sit! Good boy!> Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ferry to catch in eleven hours-”

“What?”

“The eight o’clock. We’ll be with you sometime tomorrow.”

“But what about Jed?”

“He’s looking forward to it. <Jed: hup! Hup! GOOD BOY!>”

“Have you got food for him?”

“Course. Stacks of Tux, some dog sausage, half a cow carcass.”

“Is there enough money in the account-”

“Check!”

“Have you got music for the trip?”

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN YAY! Hey – how much air should I put in the tyres?”

“Niamhie, are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Absolutely. You’re so negative. Why are you denying my natural instinct? I was BORN to drive the open road.”

“What if you break down?”

“Eh, some bloke will probably stop.”

“I think you’re mad.”

“Get counseling.”

I mean, come on: it’s not as if New Zealand is that big. Why, it’s not even a fraction of the size of Australia. Well, obviously it is a fraction, but a very, very, very, very small one.

And we were off. We left the house at 09:30hrs, but only hit South Auckland at 11:00hrs after a pit stop to fill up on diesel and air.

I always underestimate the time it takes to get from Auckland to Wellington. Well, obviously, I have limited experience having only done it once before. The AA website estimates the distance from Auckland to Wellington as 658km, or 9 hours and 25 minutes – but they probably cater for the lowest common denominator i.e. tourists trying to locate the accelerator on a campervan. However, it’s a 40-minute drive from Henderson to Auckland Central, and the Interislander specifies check-in NO LATER THAN 1 HOUR PRIOR TO DEPARTURE TIME and they really sound quite snotty about it.

It was a foul day – driving rain. Luckily, I was prepared with Deadlyjelly’s Ultimate Road Mix, a solid foundation of Foreigner, the Erics Carmen and Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Crowded House, Matchbox 20, and Dire Straits, with a dash of Mister Mister and Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

I obviously took full advantage of Bruce, since Husband has declared the house a rock-free zone. He makes the occasional exception for Bon Jovi, Van Halen and Aerosmith – really, any rock band that relies heavily on lamé and/or spandex. However, the soundtrack of our lives mainly comprises female artists that sound as if they are preparing a compilation for their own funeral.

Driving through Kaimanawa Forest Park south of Turangi, the rain retreated and mist drifted through the trees. Jed was inspired to blow raspberries out the back of the car. The Desert Road was bleak and beautiful.

Apart from a diesel stop in Waiouairouaeaou and the odd five minute break to stretch Jed’s legs, I pressed on. So you will appreciate my joy when I discovered a bar of chocolate Helen had abandoned in the center console. In that moment, I loved Helen in a romantic and entirely inappropriate way. Probably just as well she was not present.

In Hunterville, I pulled over to give my puppy a trot and he lifted his leg for the first time. I am not sure whether it was because I had been on the road too long, or I was tired, or because it was a gorgeous evening with late sun tinting the country with a sepia glow, but I got quite emotional thinking about my little dog growing up and how Husband was not there to see him balancing confidently on three legs.

Coming into Wellington, I called Husband and asked him to book me on the 20:00hrs ferry that left in 45 minutes. The Interislander had closed Internet and phone bookings, but there was plenty of space when I rolled up to the check in booth. The Hilux Surf was the only car, dwarfed on all sides by articulated lorries.

Dinner was a smoked salmon sandwich I had purchased in a BP Connect in Paraparaumu. I had prepared a description of my falsely advertised soggy sandwich featuring the faintest trace of salmon flavour. In fact, it was a superb and supremely salmonly sandwich and I am hard pressed to recall a more satisfying meal. I will also seriously consider serving up Bluebird crisps for dessert the next time we have guests.

Although I was prepared for it, in the end Husband ensured I did not spend an intensely unerotic night sharing the boot with my dog

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