Saturday, September 23, 2006

Camper van-tastic

We had hoped for a good sleep right through until the morning but we were scuppered by a man outside our window who was either drunk or had Tourette's syndrome. The only word I could make out in his constant diatribe was 'Fuck'. There was a lull though and we thought he'd gone. No such luck, just as we were getting to sleep, he started up again. At some point we did drift of, either because he left or just drifted into the background noise. It was stupid o'clock in the morning when we did get to sleep though. Reluctant to waste the whole day dozing and squinting at the light coming through the, frankly useless, curtains we got up around 11:00.

Christchurch seems like a nice town. The sky was blue with fluffy clouds floating around and the chill of the previous day had mostly gone. Gemma was happy because we had a jacket potato for lunch from a stall on the market. We had a pleasant day just meandering around until we realised that we really ought to try and book a camper van, since we wanted to get one for the following morning. In Fremantle we spent a good few hours using the free WiFi of our accommodation to try and work out the best camper van deal. We had strained our eyes looking at site after site and reading fine print after fine print. I tabulated some of the cheaper options until we had narrowed the field to two possibilities. Unfortunately getting to Christchurch threw a slight spanner in the works in the shape of massive amounts of leaflets from many different hire car companies that we hadn't seen on-line. After checking out some of these we started to eliminate them for one reason or another, finally settling on the two that we'd originally short-listed plus a backup third option.

Our hostel booked for one of the short-listed candidates so we asked them to get a quote for us. We booked with them and arranged to be picked up from the hostel at noon the next day. The hire cost was to be fairly expensive as we'd taken out a zero excess insurance policy. Our reasoning being that Gemma wasn't used to such a big vehicle, plus it also covered us for tyre and windscreen damage -the most likely things to occur, and not covered in the other options. Gemma was a bit nervous because the van was a) an automatic and she'd never driven one before and, b) a van and she'd never driven one before.

At the hire place after the t's were crossed and the i's dotted we got the van, and realised that it was close to brand new. We were quite overawed with how posh the van was. A Toyota Hi-ace diesel van with the usual conversion: sink and cooking area, cupboards, removable table and fit together bed. Added to this was the DVD player (we have no DVD's though), the microwave and that most essential camping item, the heated towel rail. The van has a house battery system for lights as well as 240v power at campgrounds, for the microwave and the towel rail.

We set off out of the hire place, with Gemma's foot stomping an imaginary clutch and her hand going for a non-existent gear stick. She seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly though and we were soon motoring along. In the wrong direction. I missed the sign for a turning we needed until it was too late, realised that I didn't have the correct map on my lap and so we drove kind of randomly until I was able to get us back on the right road. Because we didn't leave the hire centre until late afternoon, I thought we best try and go somewhere reasonably close to Christchurch for the night. The place I chose was Akaroa on the Banks Peninsular. The drive down to the town was stunning, the road winding through and up hills and past harbours, inlets and lakes. The weather was a little bad in places, but that only made the shafts of light illuminating hills across the valley more stuning. I had to remind Gemma that she couldn't just admire the view, especially given the windiness of the road. If she had been apprehensive about driving a large vehicle that wore away very quickly and she was totally in control.

The day was drawing on by the time we parked in the town of Akaroa. We made it a flying visit, just running into the supermarket for supplies. Up the road from the town is a camping park, one of the 'Top 10' chain, and where we'd decided to spend the night. The cost for a camping spot was on the high end at $28 a night, but we figured being somewhere easy with powered sites would be best for the first night while we got to know our way around the van. As the sun went down over the mountains and the harbour I got busy making a simple vegetable soup, the first thing I have cooked myself in a couple of months at least. Although it was simple it was tasty. We spent the rest of the night trying to figure out how everything in the van worked and drinking hot chocolate. In the world of camping early nights are the norm, something, by this point, we were looking forward to.

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