Monday, April 28, 2008

Life On the Open Road...

...with Daddy Mum Haley and Zoe!

We finally hit the highways and byways of enzed (NZ) this weekend to pick up stuff we'd bought on TradeMe. TradeMe is sort of like New Zealand's Craigslist and eBay combined, and it's quite popular. It's like eBay in terms of site interface an layout and like Craigslist in terms of community and populist origins. So far it's seemed to lack the Craiglist "crackhead dirtball" factor that runs like track-marked veins through the meat of the trading community there.

We bought a used refrigerator, a used kid's bed and a used dining room table and chairs and got really good deals compared to new versions of all of them. Joanne did a bunch of shopping around to get the idea of prices on buying things new and then could make educated buys on Trademe for the same or similar items---knowing well how much we were saving. That was some dinkum thinkum because we saved LOADS on these things.

My contribution to frugality without sacrificing quality was to sign up for a three month online subscription to so we could use their ratings and rankings to plumb the depths of TradeMe's online auctions and pluck out the best items we could find. Consumer has been a huge help in distinguishing between all these crazy brands that we don't recognize. We bought a Fischer and Paykel fridge. Who? Yeah, exactly.

After our auctions closed and our sellers were contacted, we built a list of addresses and mapped them to find out where we needed to go for pickup. They were all listed as "Wellington area."

And technically, they were. Though at probably the farthest corners of the Wellington Area that you can possibly be. This meant it was time for a...

..wait for it..


We rented a well-intentioned though somewhat world-worn van from Handy Rentals ( for a reasonable price and set out from their lot on Thorndon Quay in Wellington CBD to Paraparaumu, a seaside town up north. We'd been chomping at the bit to see more of the country and finally got our chances in the shape of a cross country milk-run to collect furnishings and so-called "white-ware" (large appliances are called "white-ware" here.)

Road trips mean cars, and cars mean driving and driving means Americans retraining their lizard-brains to work the controls in a car with the steering wheel on the "wrong" side of the cabin to navigate along the street on the "wrong" side of the road. I'd been wary of this whole experience since we got here to Wellington as I pictured myself veering out of control into oncoming traffic at every opportunity and securing my family a matching set of sucking chest wounds and massive head injuries inside a bird's nest of twisted automotive steel.

After we'd signed the rental papers with the very friendly and helpful guys at Handy, we got in the van and discovered it was a manual transmission. No worries, mate, I can drive a stick. Wait, the stick is on the LEFT. With the gear shift to the left of me, the turn signal to the right of me, Joanne riding shotgun on the left and charged with staying to the LEFT of oncoming traffic, I pulled tentatively out into Thorndon Quay traffic at around 12:30am.

We finally returned the van at about 6pm, after what resulted in a roughly five hour butt-clench for me. I think I pulled a muscle back there.

Fortunately for everyone inside and outside the van, it was perfectly fine. I was so terrified of my driving instincts putting my family in mortal danger that I was extremely circumspect about everything I did on the road. I was very mentally present the whole time, and well aware that if I were to drift in and out of reverie on the road as I normally do during flat, straight highway driving that I might come-to in the wrong lane headed straight for a bus full of nuns.


Ill be the round about
The words will make you out n out
--Jon Anderson and Steve Howe of Yes
The biggest challenges seemed to revolve around (hah!) the roundabouts that I believe are a nod to traditional British civil engineering. These seem to be where urban planners let as many as six individual roads all converge on the same spot and then sort of shrug and hope for the best. In practice, they're a rotating Circus of Death where cars move in a clockwise circle in and out of the lanes and the laws of physics and indeed the concepts of time and space cease to exist in any meaningful form.

You see a sign before you get to the roundabout that shows you the roads it services. The road sign has a big circle with lines running out of it at random directions. It looks a bit like The Artist Formerly Known As Prince's symbol but with extra legs at various points and lots of names tacked on here or there. You get about 5 seconds to squint at this before you're at the roundabout proper and you receive your only instruction. It's in the form of two signs that say simply "GIVE WAY!" (I've added the exclamation point here because the signmakers seem to have omitted it.)

The idea is that if no one is coming to the right, you can pull in. Then, depending on whether you're going to exit the roundabout you can either stay in the lane into which you've pulled or jockey to the right to allow others to enter. When you see your street coming around on your right, you pull to the left and signal to turn left out of the roundabout.

Sounds easy, right? Factor in that once you've entered the circle, you've left the realm of squares where streets make right angles with each other and the way you were previously headed is "forward" and entered the realm of circles where right angles relax and all roads lead away like spokes on a wagon wheel and the way you were previously headed is now completely lost in the mists of time and space.

All of my great Emergency-Mystery-Moments on the road were roundabout related.

The Little Van that Could

I mentioned that our van was well-intentioned yet world-worn. I believe it is a 1998 Toyota Hiace---a 5-speed manual transmission utility van with lots of cargo space, a fold up rear bench seat for our passengers and over 160,000 kms on it. Putting it into second or third gear was always done with a sense of opportunism and a fallback plan. Sometimes the trick was to put a lot of muscle behind it and sometimes the trick was to use a gentler more encouraging tack. When it'd finally engage, the clutch would let out a soft little squeal almost like sighing at finally giving in to the idea of changing gears in the first place.

The shocks were really soft too. Joanne even called out that fact and suggested that the soft shocks actually helped her with the car sickness that is always a concern of mine when driving her around. I think she gets most sick from rapidly changing lateral force more than anything, and the floaty shocks seemed to lessen that.

One of the standout moments for me was trundling through a roundabout out of gear and clipping the left curb while frantically searching back and forth between second and third gear before finally settling into a third with a little squeal just as we turned out of the circle. Afterwards Joanne and I just busted out laughing. It was pretty comical, though at the expense of the tired yet stalwart Toyota Hiace.

Mission Accomplished

Ultimately we hit our points of pickup and took the fridge, the bunk bed and the table over to our new rental house in Ngaio and left it all in the garage in prep for move-in date.

It was a fun trip on many fronts. We got to see more of the country, we got a tour of Wellington area highways and byways, we met some very nice and interesting people, we got out of the city for a few hours and most importantly we secured some key pieces of houseware.

The trip over to Upper Hutt from Paekakariki on highway 58 deserves a blog entry of its own, so I'll leave discussion for that time.

Next time we road trip, we'll make sure we have whatever the Kiwis like to take on road trips with us. Back in the states it used to be Funyuns and Welch's Strawberry Soda. I wonder what counts as "road trip food" here.


Cathy said...

Yikes, Steve. Better you than me! Sounds hairy. I declined to drive when I was in Sydney in 2002 but appreciate your first effort. I hope that your back (and butt) recover soon. Sounds like the true adventure. Please take pix of the place as you can. When is the move-in date? Today? I am anxious for another Skype-along with the girls -- seemed to have missed the weekend opportunity (darn dateline). Love to read these stories. And, look forward to them in rapt anticipation every time.
Kiss and hug everyone. Love you all,

Patois said...

Riveting read. I was clenching right along with you, especially when I put myself in the driver's seat, which I'll have to do in Merry Ole England this summer. Perhaps I'll leave the kids home for the first several forays.

leslie said...

HILARIOUS!! and it's all true! Just remember 'the rule of right' and watch out for those intersections where the guy coming at you and turning 'his' right (your left)has the right of way!!
We rented from those same guys when we got here...and used it for similar purposes.
Just wait till you drive the Rimatakas!! Make sure Joanne is sitting behind the driver on that trip.
Can't wait to catch-up with you all again!