I have a backlog of posts to share with more nifty photos and tales to tell, but they’ll have to wait until I’m somewhere with a library that has free wifi access. Right now I’m at a campground with no wifi, only $6 an hour broadband access through an old Dell desktop. And I’m posting with some sad news… On Thursday, just before 4 pm local time, my brave Bill slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.
Yes, Bill is dead.
It happened as I was driving back from a hike up Mt. Arthur in Kahurangi National Park, at the north tip of the South Island. The temperature gauge needle spiked. This has happened a few times before, and every time I’ve pulled over, checked the oil and radiator and found either nothing or that he was low on radiator fluid, gotten back in the car and found the needle returned to normal range. Mechanics (I had it checked out twice) told me it was probably a faulty thermometer, a common problem in Subaru Legacy wagons of that era.
Well, this time just felt different. I pulled over onto a gravel “angler access” road beside the Motueka River and as I turned off the ignition, the Check Engine and Oil lights came on. Uh-oh. I popped the hood to find the radiator bubbling over and the oil… gone. No oil in the car. I just checked it a week or so ago.
All in all, I feel lucky. Really lucky. For a number of reasons… It happened on the main road, not on the torturous mountain road I’d just come down. And within a minute or so, a barefoot French fisherman named Patrice appeared from the angler access road and asked if I was okay. He was cute, sweet and pleasantly scented, not qualities I expect to find in a barefoot French fisherman. (He’s also married, so let’s calm down, everybody). He also had his own car.
He was extremely impressed that I knew where the Jura region of France was (where he lives) and offered to drive me the 25km back to the village where I’d pitched my tent. At the campground, I still couldn’t get a signal on my mobile so the campground owners let me use their phone to call AA, the Kiwi equivalent of AAA. Because AA and AAA have a reciprocity agreement, I have a free membership with AA and so I got a free tow for Bill.
Colin, the nice British expat campground owner, drove me back to Bill and waited with me until Stu, the decent tow truck driver, arrived. Stu said it had to be a blown gasket or cracked head, something else Subaru Legacys of that era are known for, and that because of the design, fixing it required removing the entire engine and would cost $3000.
Stu towed it not back to his garage, in the opposite direction, but to the one Colin recommended, about 200 meters from the campground where I was staying. There I met Selwyn, the mechanic Colin swears by. Selwyn is a typical curmudgeonly South Island hillbilly, who, when not telling me it was my fault because I’d “buggered” the engine by not checking the oil often enough, was complaining that “slanty-eyed foreigners” were ruining his country.
“Slanty-eyed foreigners”… what is this, 1951? Good Lord.
Anyway, Selwyn’s skills with cars apparently far outweigh his skills with people. He said he couldn’t even be sure it was a gasket/cracked head issue without removing the engine, which was two days’ work and more than $1000. To actually fix either problem would be $2000-3000. Instead, he said I should just sell it for scrap and that he might get $100 for it. Unwilling to give up on Bill (he hadn’t seized, after all, and once they’d refilled the oil and radiator he was running fine) I told Selwyn there had to be another option.
He frowned deeply and said “well, there is one thing… but it’s a gamble. I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it.”
He said that in the tone people use in the movies when they’re discussing, say, the consequences of opening the Ark of the Covenant. Apparently there is stuff called Chemiweld that you can just pour in and it magically seals minor cracks. Or not. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve since researched it online and it seems people either love or hate it. But I told him “let’s do it” so he ordered some that should be in by Monday.
Though he only ordered it after forcing me to listen to another long and insane hillbilly rant about how he was worried I didn’t know what I was getting myself into because “the murder rate in New Zealand is astronomical!”
What does this have to do with my car?
“There’s some rough country to get out of here, and you’re not going to make it, the car will break down and then you’ll be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no one around and our murder rate is astronomical!”
I pointed out that if I got stuck in the middle of nowhere with no one around, there would be no one to murder me, which seemed to irritate him greatly.
“Tourists! They come here and they think they’re safe but every year three or four go missing… murdered.”
Or perhaps just on the run after beating an obnoxious, racist mechanic to death with a wrench.
I so wanted to take Selwyn on and really have at him and his views, but the last thing I needed to do was alienate the only mechanic for 50km in any direction, so I gritted my teeth and nodded along.
“What choice do I have?” I asked him a few times when he repeated the murdered tourist scenario and his professional disdain for Chemiweld. He didn’t even acknowledge my question. He didn’t offer a single option. It makes me crazy when people dismiss a plan or idea but can’t offer even a glimmer of an alternative, but still I held my tongue as best I could.
I finally got him to order the Chemiweld. It will either fix Bill enough to get him back to civilization or it won’t. If he’s patched up enough, I now plan on heading to Christchurch to sell him for whatever I can get and either fly back to Auckland, get a flight to the States right out of Christchurch or, my hope, score a cheap relocation rental car deal (so many tourists fly into Auckland, rent a car and fly out of Christchurch, unless they get murdered, that rental car companies often have deals for people willing to get the vehicles back to Auckland).
I’m hoping to rent something because there are still a few things I really, really want to do on the North Island.
If Bill cannot be saved, Colin the campground owner said he could give me a lift the 60km to Nelson where I should be able to rent something or bus my way back to Auckland or, if nothing else, get a proper coffee (Nelson is big on caffeine culture and I’ve had some delicious cuppas there). And Bill, I guess, will have to be sold for scrap. Sniff. Poor Bill.
In any case, I think it’s clear my wandering around NZ is over. Now it’s a matter of getting back to Auckland as quickly and cheaply as I can, though if it’s possible I do plan on doing the Tongariro Crossing and checking out Mt. Taranaki, two must-do’s I missed on the way down the North Island.
But as I said, I feel lucky. I feel lucky it happened on the main road, that Patrice was there and was remarkably charming, helpful and stinkless, that I got a free tow thanks to AA/AAA reciprocity, that I happened to be staying at a nice, cheap campground with no sandflies, thank God, that’s run by decent people, that I have my Lord of the Rings DVDs and books to read, that there is a slim chance that Chemiweld may revive Bill enough for one last road trip.
And also, of course, I feel lucky that I haven’t been murdered. Yet.