Van tales

Shortened VW After a week in Auckland, we have taken the plunge and bought ourselves some transport so that we can branch further afield. New Zealand, after all, is a big old place, and we’re keen to see a bit more of it than the (admittedly nice) rolling hills, leafy suburbs and tower blocks of Auckland.

Buying a vehicle in New Zealand is a task fraught with choices.  There are notices on hostel boards, adverts on websites, car parks with travellers selling their vehicles, auction houses and dealers. The list is pretty thorough, the choices many.

We had set ourselves a fairly ambitious budget, and knew that what we wanted was some kind of basic campervan, something like a Toyota HiAce. This is your quintessential backpackers van, it provides enough space for all your gear, room for a double bed in the back as well as some kind of cooking arrangement. We had our sights set on a long wheel base version of one of these vehicles – New Zealand is not a place known for 365 days of sunshine, and we wanted to be able to live inside our new vehicle when the weather turns inclement. The longer wheel base would mean we would have more space for sleeping and living.

Aggressive budget set, and model of vehicle in mind, we set off on a tour of the internet, the hostels, and Auckland’s car markets.

Side of vanNearly all of the vehicles we saw were owned by previous backpackers, who were just completing a trip similar to the one we are starting. This has the bonus that the vehicles are generally fully equipped for the trip ahead, as folks include it all in the sale, and the disadvantage that they are usually well used, somewhat old, and possibly liable to disintegrate into a giant pile of non-functioning parts at any moment. Service histories and warranties do not exist in this world.

We had some pretty interesting experiences whilst peering into folks cars. One van we looked around had a used condom lying on the floor for example. This wasn’t really a tremendous selling feature, although as a friend has pointed out, at least it suggested the van had a careful owner.

We went on a variety of test drives. One, in a generally fine looking yet suspiciously cheap vehicle somewhat backfired on the poor driver, who had initially told us that everything was fine mechanically, until he got stuck in a car park and needed to turn around, at which point it was revealed that reverse didn’t work and a new clutch was needed. Vera was oddly smitten with this vehicle, largely due to the fact it had a mirror ball. Normally this sort of thing would sway me, (it also had an espresso pot, a great sign), sadly common sense overrode this desire in this instance, and we left the Mitsubishi that couldn’t go backwards with it’s driver, who had, to be fair, perfected the art of driving without a reverse gear, where we had found him.

The road test of the vehicle we have actually settled on went much better, despite me temporarily forgetting that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road. Having spent my entire driving career driving on the left, other than about five trips in Germany and a trip around California many years ago, imagine my surprise (and, I expect, that of my passengers) when I was informed that I was merrily driving along on the wrong side of the road after pulling out of a junction.

Being the genius that I am, I managed to achieve this feat a few hundred metres from a parked police car. Luckily the police weren’t that bothered - clearly incapable tourists are not a new sight on the roads. Still, as far as I could tell, the vehicle was ok. Huge pieces of wood are being touched right now, as she still has to get us around the country for the next year.

Vera in the Van

We are, therefore, the happy owners of a Ford Econovan Maxi, a long wheel based van with a whole bunch of room for living out of for the next year. I learnt a great deal about vans on this adventure, for example that the Econovan is in fact the same vehicle as the Mazda E2000, just with a different sticker, the product of a Ford / Mazda collaboration. The things you learn.

Now all we have to do is get a few bits and pieces to kit her out, choose a name (that’s a big deal), and find a job somewhere to pay for it all! How hard can it be. Oh, and sorry for the photos. When I find a handy scenic spot with glorious mountains, misting clouds and verdant grass, I’ll do a proper photo shoot. In the meantime, parked on the road it is…

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