West Coast roads have a lot of ups, downs, sharp bends and long gaps between any human habitation. That’s the attraction But it’s the last place you want to hear ominous clunking noises coming from just underneath the cab of your camper van.
Three sharp bends and a couple of loud clunks later, the road is finally wide enough to pull over. I get out, peer underneath for obvious damage. There’s nothing hanging loose and grabbing various important-looking bits and shaking them doesn’t reveal anything on its way to terminal looseness.
But what do I know?
Back in the late 1970s when girls could do anything and women were trying to be wimmin, I thought gaining greater knowledge about internal combustion engines and their associated moving parts would be a “good thing”. That I was a solo mother with little visible means of support and a cantankerous Bedford van to keep on the road may have had something to do with this.
The wisdom I’d like to share now is: never attempt to become a mechanic by practicing on a Bedford van.
Accessing its vital internal bits requires some kind of freaky anatomy. Just opening the engine cover was a mission. Many grazed knuckles later, I wasn’t much the wiser about engines but my vocabulary had gone seriously downmarket.
The whole notion that “girls can…” went AWOL about then. Why embrace self sufficiency when there are experts around to do the dirty work?
After a few days on the West Coast, I’m ready to revert.
This is DIY land. It has to be. And for the same reason that all New Zealand once had to be. Specialist expertise is in short supply. People are in short supply. Place names are often little more than way points on the map. They don’t necessarily relate to population.
Communications are .. well, largely silent. Mountains loom. Trees overhang. You realise that the Telco’s’ optimistic coverage claims refer to percentages of population not of landscape. So – it’s good in Auckland, but absent in Haast.
When I needed to use my cell phone in the Catlins, I was told I might get reception near a certain tree in a distant village. Easy to spot, apparently, by the tradesfolk and socially disconnected youngsters hanging out under it.
It all seemed too complicated.
There’s nobody to be seen hanging out anywhere on this bit of socially disconnected highway.
OK. This is what hazard lights are for. I proceed slowly. Two more loud clunks, then silence. It seems like a long way to the next town and while Charleston is rich in natural beauty, it doesn’t have much else. No shop, no garage.
What it does have is a pounamu (greenstone) gallery. Nobody is in it. I start admiring pounamu. There’s a lot of it. Chunks of rock. Plus jewellery. It’s beautiful.
Then the chap who makes it emerges. Turns out he’s a third generation pounamu collector and knows more about the stuff than you could probably find out anywhere. He also looks like a mechanic. That’s because he’s been replacing his truck’s shock absorber. Sadly the part is faulty so he’s spent all day getting covered in oil for nothing.
Right now, he’s on the internet, trying to get information from the supplier. My nearest option for a garage is in Westport – but, if I don’t mind hanging around for a bit, he’ll be happy to check out the camper.
So, we go for a test drive, swerving through the carpark of the town’s hotel – closed and for sale. Complete silence on the clunking front.
He crawls underneath and in a much more informed check than mine discovers that the muffler bracket has come loose. He puts in a bolt. I buy pounamu. All is good.
It’s all part of the West Coast magic.