Our adventure leaving New Zealand

I wrote this blog about a week ago, but in the busy whirlwind surrounding our arrival into Australia, I was only able to post it just now.

On an expedition around the world, not to mention a driving expedition, there are bound to be problems that pop up from time to time. We still do not have the Toyotas yet, although they are scheduled to arrive in Australia on April 7th which i guess is good news… at least we know when we might be able to expect them. In the meantime, we rented a Mazda station wagon to act as our chariot while we were in New Zealand. The story behind the Mazda is quite interesting because when we first tried to book the vehicle, the company did not have any available, however, at the last minute they were able to find a wagon for us. It just so happens that the people who rented it before were actually con artists traveling around the country defrauding stores out of merchandise and ended up stealing the car to use as their base of operations. The police found the car the day before we rented it and aside from a few new dents in the doors, the car seemed to be in good working order.


A few times throughout the two weeks we had the car, some of the indicator lights on the dashboard would pop on every now and then. First it was the battery light, then the airbag light, then the ABS light. We didn’t pay much attention to it as it went off after a few minutes and none of them really came back on all that frequently. Well, there is this certain law that many attribute to a man named Murphy that always seems to come into play at the most inopportune times. It was our last day in New Zealand and we were making the 400km drive from Queenstown back to Christchurch to catch our flight to Australia the next day. Whilst enjoying some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, the car started to lurch as I drove over over a pass near Mt. Cook. We didn’t seem to think much of it, but the lurch turned into the speedometer failing, the radio going out and the car not responding to the application of the gas pedal. I pulled over, turned the car off and the problem seemed to have resolved itself.  We proceeded down the road, but about 5 minutes later, it was obvious that there were some serious electrical or related issues going on with the car.

We limped into the small town of Omarama just in time for the car to completely die. After a quick diagnosis by the local mechanic (who’s name also happened to be Steve – probably why he was able to discern the problem so quickly) he informed us that the alternator was completely shot and that it would be about 3 days turnaround on the repair. Given that we had an international flight in less than 24 hours, we called the rental car company to see what could be done to solve the problem. After some heated conversation (with a guy from the company who also happened to be Steve – enter the Twilight Zone) and some frustration, the rental company decided that they wanted us to try and make it as close to Christchurch as possible. The solution: put a new battery in the car and run entirely off of the battery. The car company was convinced that we could make it the 300 km to Christchurch but Steve the mechanic was convinced that we would only make it a couple of hours which would still put us a ways out. To make matters worse, it was raining out and about to get dark and running the wipers and the headlights in addition to driving would exponentially reduce the battery’s life. The solution presented by the rental car company: turn the lights off when there are no other cars around!

After Steve (the mechanic) put a new battery in the car and convinced that we would only make it to Timaru before the battery died and have to go about finding another replacement,we pulled out. At the last minute, Steve the mechanic received a call from Steve at the rental company and they decided to give us another spare battery just in case. It also happens that we have a mechanical genius of our own on the crew and his name is Brian Chap. Brian informed us that if we put Rainex on the windscreen, we would probably not have to use the wipers.  With two new batteries in hand and Rainex on the window we headed on our way. Exactly 1 hour and 55 minutes later the battery was dead (score 1 for mechanic Steve) and we were still about 185km from Christchurch. Brian quickly changed the replacement and we were off. By that time it was getting dark and we drove as long as we could without the lights. Once the headlights were needed we disconnected the right headlight in order to conserve more battery power… another idea from Brian. With the second battery, the Rainex (which really worked) and the half headlight/driving in the dark technique, we made it to Christchurch. From this moment on, Brian is called "El Capitan" and we have the first of, without a doubt many, interesting car stories under our belt.