Tuesday, November 14, 2006


So I wanted to make a post about my car - and I'll upload a pic when I get round to it. It's a Mazda Familia, not too trendy, struggles up hills* and I'm not too sure he's economical either (but at circa 45p a litre that matters less here than in the UK). However, it takes me where I want to go and at NZ$ 23 a day, he's exactly what I wanted in a car: cheap. (roughly GBP 7-7.50).

However, it's fair to say we had a rocky start to our relationship. November 1st was the first day of the hire agreement, which is the day after my birthday. Naturally I had a stonking hangover, not least because the bar I persuaded people to visit was supposed to specialise in 'real ales from England'. Naturally they were nothing of the sort but were dark unpleasant heavy Porter-style beers which no-one in England actually drinks.

So I was half awake, possibly over the limit when we met, but to complicate matters it was an automatic. Which I don't think I've driven since I was in the USA 15 years ago. In particular my left foot didn't know what to do with itself, so every time we came to a junction it subconsciously pushed down on what it thought was the clutch, actually hit the brake pedal (which was really sensitive) so in effect at every junction I was slamming on the brakes, making it feel as if I had kangaroo petrol. It's a wonder no-one ploughed into the back of me.

After a couple of days we sorted that one out, but it was a bit of a farce when we first visited a petrol station. Out here they often hire teenagers to fill your tank for you (not that self-service is that complicated). Of course I couldn't work out why this guy was sidling up to me, so was 'Can I help you? Is something wrong?' while failing to open the petrol cap by forcing it with my key. And when that didn't work I went back to the driving seat to search round for the lever to pull, which was well-hidden and disguised as the symbol had worn off. Eventually I was on my way, feeling like a right twat as I often do round cars.

On the issue of driving I have to mention Opossums, as you wouldn't believe how much roadkill litter the roads round here (West Coast, South Island). They were introduced to NZ to be bred for the fur, but now most people in the countryside regard them as vermin. New Zealanders absolutely hate them, although in typical New Zealand entrepreneurial style they use the fur to make all sorts of crap to sell off to tourists. There is supposed to be a bar where you can get a free beer if you bring in an Opossum tail - but that might be an urban myth...

* I say hills, but in New Zealand I'm actually referring to ridiculously steep mountains. The farm tracks of mid-Wales have nothing on NZ's so-called highways.

Things I have learnt:
  • The two glaciers on the West Coast (Fox and Franz Joseph) are currently advancing (getting bigger). Which is pretty unusual for glaciers in the current context of global warming. They move forward a few feet every day, as there's more snow falling at the top of the mountain than can melt at the bottom - and having got caught in monsoon-type rain the other day, I can quite believe that.

  • Distance is an elastic term in NZ. If a walk is advertised at 3 hours, you can expect it to last 2 hours. If it's advertised at 6-8 hours, 5 hours will be the maximum time it will take. However, the reverse is true when driving. If the start of the trail is said to be 12kms west of a town, you'll probably find it after 20kms.


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