Snail tales

Published in NZ Herald’s  “My Generation” February edition

Weight. Most of us have too much of it. But I hadn’t realised it was a help hazard until one of my campervan tyres exploded south of Christchurch.

After swerving to a standstill, collecting a chaotic trail of rubber from the road, finding my as yet unused jack – and then finding it wouldn’t actually lift the van, I rang AA. That was when I discovered my membership involved a vehicle weight limit.

OK – important piece of information. Since starting my year-long trek around New Zealand two months ago, there’s been a few of those I somehow missed. As it turned out, tyre pressure was another. Who knew there could be so much conflicting advice on the subject?

It’s best, apparently, to refer to the manufacturers’ specs written on the drivers’ door sill. Pity they’re in Japanese. So – pick a number somewhere between 40 and 60. I evidently erred on the high side.

The good news is where it happened. On SH1, before the long, narrow Rakaia River bridge, within easy range of the nearest garage – and, best of all, with phone reception. So far, my 5000km journey from Waiheke Island has taken me to plenty of places where cellphone is reduced to little more than a snap-open paper weight – with games options.

Snail on road to Port Jackson, Coromandel

It started in the Coromandel. That’s where I first discovered the negative correlation between winding, unsealed, single-lane roads and cellphone reception. If you have one, then you probably don’t have the other.

What you do have, however, is access to some of New Zealand’s most wildly beautiful landscapes. That trade-off first became evident at Port Jackson where the access road crawls precariously around steep-sided hills above the wind-swept sea.

It’s single lane. You’re on the outside. You haven’t ever backed a van on mirrors and reversing cameras any further than 20 metres. So the last thing you expect or want to see is a large articulated stock truck coming the other way. The pull-off just ahead couldn’t have been better placed.

Oddly it didn’t put me off challenging roads – largely because I’ve discovered the rewards of navigating them are so much greater than the risks. They’ve taken me to curving sandy beaches, remote lighthouses, seal-strewn rocks, peaceful green river valleys and places like Central Otago’s Moke Lake whose still surface extends the steep-sided triangles of surrounding hills into perfect mirrored diamonds

Along the way, I’ve made several discoveries.

Being forced into life’s slow lane is no bad thing. You stop often and see more. And realistically my snail home – its 2380cc diesel gamely hauling a nearly three ton body – just ain’t built for speed. She has trouble passing farm machinery.

But, by the time we’d circumnavigated first the Coromandel and then East Cape, “Snail” and I had irrevocably bonded. Having taken to tootling along in the 50kph speed bracket, even 80kph felt like a panic attack.

There have been other, practical discoveries.

The glorious flexibility of certified self-containment is offset by the need to get up close and personal with dump stations. Having put this off as long as possible with judicious use of public loos, I finally unleashed the mental block at Picton. Like any laxative, it proved very freeing.  SO easy.

Getting to grips with the arcane world of Snail’s electronics has been a tougher task. In trying to reduce the spaghetti tangle that once connected Satlink receiver to a TV tinier than most digital photo frames, I inadvertently disconnected a few other things. Result: reassembled spaghetti that mostly serves no purpose as I had opted to ditch both receiver and the rather large satellite dish occupying much of my storage space before I set out. Who needs TV when there is nature to watch?

But I DO now know much more about Snail’s basic power generation systems. The big question it raises is: why are we not ALL carrying solar panels – on houses, car rooves, large sunhats…. It’s the casual generosity of the sun that allows me to run laptop, charge phone, even run fridge (mildly cold) without risk of draining the house battery. SO useful.

As to my help hazard. It turned out that Snail snuck under the weight limit. All this running around, I expect.

So the grand knights of AA galloped to the rescue. A week or so later, all four tyres have been replaced (none of the Japanese original sizes are available here) and pressures – it is written here so there is NO doubt – are 50psi, back and front.

So far, this has truly been a journey of discoveries.


Vicki Jayne is a journalist, photographer and grandmother currently travelling NZ in a camper van. See

About vjayne

I'm a writer / photographer usually based on Waiheke Island in New Zealand but currently traveling the country in "snail" - my mobile home and office. Along the way, I'm telling stories about the places I see or people I meet and building up a beautiful library of photos - of New Zealand's coastline and mountains, its walking tracks and wildlife. I'm happy to supply illustrated stories to New Zealand and offshore publications. My work background includes editing business and lifestyle magazines, crafting features on topics ranging from management and marketing to frogs and fashion, creating organisational narratives and promotional literature. Please visit my website for more information.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s