A New Zealand Adventure Tale: The Campervan

In 2004 Nathan Waddell and I left the snowy confines of Edmonton and went traveling.  We went to Malaysia and Singapore and then landed in New Zealand.  There are a lot of stories I could tell you from that epic trip but today I’m only concerned with one.  The first story of our campervan.  It begins in an Auckland car rental...

Our home in Auckland had been a wonderful hostel in the heart of the city.  While there we’d met Rae, a bubbly English lass who wanted to travel the North Island and since we were also traveling the North Island we decided to do so together.  We further decided to rent a campervan so we could be independent and sleep wherever the road took us.  It was a glorious free-wheeling (if crowded) plan.  Naturally that meant finding a car rental agency that would rent a campervan to three foreigners, two of whom had no experience driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.  But Nathan was confident that he could master both the camper and the left hand driving so we forged ahead with the bold plan.

We found an agency run by very laid-back dudes which seemed lucky at the time but would later prove to be mostly par for the course in New Zealand.  (Much later, in Twizel on the South Island, Nathan would remark to a tour driver that everyone seemed very laid back and the driver would respond with “Mate, if we were any more laid back we’d be horizontal”.  But we didn’t know that then.)  They gladly set us up with an affordable little campervan that had a dining area that converted to a bed, a tiny kitchen, a tinier bathroom (with shower), a storage cupboard for our packs, and even a skylight.  Later, this would be significant.  

We all slid into the front seat and practically vibrated with glee when Nathan started the engine.  Adventure on the open Kiwi road was ours for the taking!  Nothing could stop us!  We WOULD pass, thank you Gandalf, so step aside!  But first - provisions.  As luck would have it the car rental was directly across the street from a New World.  Not the New World - Columbus already discovered that - but one of what would prove to be a chain of large grocery stores.  Nathan drove our home on wheels across the street to the New World where we spied the entrance to the underground parking which, we decided, would be easiest for facilitating the packing in of all our supplies.

Merrily we headed down the ramp into the underground where Nathan slowed considerably as we forged ahead looking for both the elevator (or ‘lift’) entrance and a large parking space.  The campervan lurched slightly which I mentally attributed to speed bumps.  As our eyes scanned for available spaces, a very loud screeching sound began to press on our ears.  It sounded metallic, like metal grinding against metal or perhaps against concrete, and it was accompanied by wrenching sounds and pings.  We chuckled.  “Some poor sucker just scratched his car for sure,” one of us said.  It was hilarious, of course, because those things always are when they are merely theoretical.  Suddenly the campervan interrupted our merriment by lurching in a very large way before  shuddering to a stop.  

“I can’t move,” was along the lines of what Nathan said.  I stupidly, briefly wondered if his seatbelt was too tight or unexplained paralysis had taken hold.  But he meant the campervan.  We were stuck.  He couldn’t move the campervan.  Panicked, we piled out of the front seat to see what was amiss.  What greeted us can best be described as carnage.

The skylight, so very recently touted as a desirable feature and the object of pointed instructions in the manual (“Do not drive with skylight open as it can fly off in high winds”), had become snagged on one of the parkade’s overhead banks of fluorescent lights and sheered off the roof at unnatural angles.  The light fixture itself was torn half out of the concrete ceiling and was twisted around the skylight.  

“Oh god, oh my god,” Rae said, pointing.  We reluctantly moved our eyes in the direction of her finger.  Behind the campervan lay a swath of destruction.  The tidy row of overhead fixtures that lit the way through the parkade were all bent and some dangled at haphazard angles.  Shards of metal and, in some cases, glass littered the concrete directly behind us.  Nathan hopped up on the bumper and when he hopped down his face was distinctly white.  

“The roof is scratched,” he said.  I took a look.  Grand understatement of the year, that was.  The roof had parallel black gouges running the length of it and the skylight looked like scrap metal.

“What do we do?”  I panicked.

“We have to get out of here!”  I will not say which one of us decided that retreat was the solution but I will acknowledge that we all agreed.  

We piled back into the campervan but the problem of being stuck wasn’t resolved just by knowing how we had become stuck.  Nathan tried forward to no avail.  So he tried reversing.  A horrendous squealing and metallic grinding sound immediately pierced the air.  Back wasn’t happening either.  We looked around.  Just ahead we could see the other exit to the parkade, blissfully a straight shot from our location.  The skylight had to go.  The campervan was scaled and the skylight wrenched free from the overhead fixture and shoved through the now-gaping skylight hole.  We looked at each other.  Nathan gunned it.  With much ado and pinging and scraping and screeching we blasted up the exit ramp.  Just before we bounced free into sunlight, I looked back.  Like Hansel and Gretel we had left a clear trail of crumbs in our wake.  Unlike the fairy tale ours was a sordid tale of unknowing and wanton destruction sans witch to take the blame.  On the surface Nathan pulled out onto the road and we headed through Auckland in complete silence.  Well, almost complete.  We could hear wind whistling through the open hole in the back roof.

Finally Nathan spoke.

“Well I think we should name the campervan Wedge,” he said.


... New Zealand Adventure Tales will return...

- Corinne Simpson