Good Karma and Cold Feet

7 days in and I feel like I am in a whole different space time. I am in awe of the good nature of the people around me. I feel like I’ve known my host, Craig, since forever. Fireside chats and social commentary just roll on until nightfall, which is around 9:15pm and unconscionably late by my internal clock. 9pm feels like 7pm which feels like only 30 minutes past 5:30.

I also had the good fortune of meeting a lovely French couple who offered to show me their self-built van, even though they had already sold it to another buyer. This was the first time I reached out to someone as an interested buyer and to be frank, I am just dreading the van purchasing experience. I’ve done my research and I have a good sense of what I want but I feel stonewalled at the prospect of choosing my priority and combination of desired features, scheduling test drives and pre-purchase inspections, negotiating a price point and organizing for a large scale international currency exchange and bank to bank transfer.

So I told Florent, the van builder, that I would be interested to hear about his van building experience and we set up to meet at a coffee shop in Mt. Albert. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking travel and van building. They offered me valuable me travel tips and showed me the exquisite detail with which their van was constructed. I’ve been studying all the facets of van building and as much as I can force my brain to accept about mechanics and electrical systems but this was the hands on tour through wonderland.

He showed me how to:

  • Check the engine and the hoses under the passenger seat of the Toyota Hiace (NZ’s most prized campervan make and model)
  • Evaluate the oil, coolant and transmission fluids
  • Understand the difference and the pros and cons of the cambelt versus the chain
  • Connect the car battery to the isolator and the isolator to the second battery which connects to the converter which has to be pure sine wave unless you are ok committing your electronics to a slow but sure death.
  • Ground the isolator and the second battery to the van by scratching off the van paint
  • The colors and sizes of the connecting wires and how to add in a fuse to protect the very expensive sine wave converter from a power surge
  • The fact that a deep cycle battery is preferable to a second car battery because it is meant for long slow exhaustion of power and can be recharged to 100% from 0 as opposed to the car battery which is cheaper but meant for quick bursts and cannot be diminished in full without permanent dents in its capacity. Also if you want a fridge, you’ll need a deep cycle battery.
  • Which ‘chop shops’ to seek out to get used tools, hand-me-down camping gear, free wood, and discounted cutouts of carpets.
  • Insulate the roof, floor and windows with glass wool and glue felt carpet onto exposed bits of metal to prevent condensation when it gets cold.
  • Spot lemons in a test drive and what to expect in terms of fuel efficiency for diesel vs petrol vs. automatic and manual gearboxes.

They took time to show me each nook and cranny of their creation. We talked about doing blogs and recording our trips. They will be continuing their travels in Asia and probably wont have time to document their story so let this be the little ode to their van, Pizza.

So with a new found sense of confidence, I started reaching out to sellers. It was another round of popped cherries. These vans that I am testing are about 3X the size of the biggest car I had ever driven and I did it in manual, driving backwards in New Zealand. That was the fun part. Overall the experience has been time consuming, gut wrenching, and most of all nerve racking. My hopes would build up for one van and then it would be sold after a day of waiting and flaky text messages. Prices range from $5,000 to $14000 and are typically between 15 and 30 years old. Mileages for the vans are hardly ever under 125K and tend to hover in the range of 215,000 miles on the odometer. Needless to say, sinking a year worth of savings into one of these monsters is a massive mental undertaking. But February is slipping away and I haven’t left Auckland yet. I feel pressure, inertia, loneliness and a debilitating sense of indecision.

In other news, I have also been stymied by bad weather. February should be the warmest and driest month but Auckland has just been hit with rainstorm after rainstorm. This past weekend I was scheduled to do a big group road trip down to Tongariro Crossing (a 12 mile world famous hike also known as Mordor in Lord of the Rings) but with the dubious weather forecast many of us decided not to climb the volcano in the midst of the rainstorm. And for this next weekend, a cyclone (hurricane) is on track to be the first hurricane that Auckland experiences head on. Thanks climate change.

So by Sunday, I made nonrefundable reservations to get my butt down to South Island. And as soon as that was all sorted, I took a chance on visiting a van 3 hours outside of Auckland only to find that it wasn’t going to be the right fit. So more time and money out the window. All of these false starts have been difficult to weather.

One a more positive note, my partner, my mom and Craig have been shiny silver linings in the whole ordeal. Denis has been talking me through the hardest parts. My mom has been instrumental in getting those pesky bank transactions under control. Craig has been patient and inviting as he continues to host me while I change plans over and over. Even people I don’t really know have saved my day. While I was packing for that ill fated trip, I realized that I left my hiking boots at the hostel. It was a week later and I thought “Holy F*a-moly, I can’t believe you lost those and didn’t even notice! They were a gift and you loved them and they are going to cost a fortune to replace!” I called without any hopes and by some miracle they still had them!

I am ending on a note of Thank Yous. Thank you to all the people who have carried me through this week. Thank you to all the people who have encouraged me on this blog business. Thank you to all the people who thought to wish me happy birthday. Without it, my cold feet would be feeling frostbitten.



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Open Letters

Open Letters


Slow Traveler, Tree Hugger, Flawed, Productivity Enthusiast, telling my story