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Keep Left and Other Horror Stories


Thursday dawned, as so many other days do, before we got up.

What, you expected something fancier? Too bad.

Actually, Dore and I got up at the crack of eight, which, by our standards, is amazing. This is actually starting to become a trend, and one I’m not entirely displeased with. We took some showers and packed everything up as quickly as we could to leave the hostel. Big things were afoot: this was the day we picked up our campervan.

We walked the short way to the town center and caught a quick, but quite tasty, breakfast at a Swiss Cafe right next door to the Escape campervan rental agency, where we were picking up our van.

I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say that should you plan to rent a campervan, it’s best to allocate a decent chunk of time to the pick-up process. There are a lot of little things to go over, and it doesn’t help if there’s only one person working the shop and several rentals going on at once. But we made steady progress through all of the paperwork, and I have to say that it did feel at least a little more relaxed than it would have in the states. The contract, for example, was only two pages long. I’ve signed longer contracts to adopt a cat!

As we went through the process, the woman who was helping us chattered away, regaling us with tales of camper crashes, dents, bangs, scratches, flat tires, broken windshields, running off of cliffs, explosions, and complete existence failures. Okay, so I made the last two up, but the others were real. Either these things were a regular occurrence, or this woman was fantastic at the insurance up-sell. Initially we declined the extra insurance option, but the stories kept coming. During a momentary lull (while the campervan lady was helping another group) Dore and I looked at each other somewhat wide-eyed, and decided that it might be a better option to pay up and not worry about the insurance. Between driving on the left side of the road, the manual transmission, and the horror stories, we decided that there was a decent chance that something would happen, and maybe an additional bit of expense wouldn’t be so bad. Viva el cuidado.

Finally done with the preparations, we headed down to the garage to collect our sweet ride. The van is a bit old, but it’ll get us around. It’s got a huge painting of a parrot (or some other bird) on the side. It’s called “Wood Pigeon” on the contract, so I suppose that must be what it is.

We brought our stuff down, piled it into the back of the van, and started her up. I was pretty nervous to start driving, and had a lot on my mind: the manual transmission, the new blind spots, driving from the wrong side of the vehicle, but most of all the need to keep left on the road at all times.

And of course the first thing out of the gate was a right turn (across oncoming traffic) onto a relatively busy street. I was relatively terrified that I would immediately crash, but somehow I managed to make it, and we were off!

Our first stop was the Pak ‘n Save grocery store, then we were off to the gas station. Fully loaded, we programmed the GPS and were off to the French village of Akaroa.

The drive was really fun, with beautiful scenery, and a really windy mountain pass climb and descent to reach the town. The village itself is nestled in a long inlet of the ocean that looks a lot like a long lake. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and the village is very quaint. Dore and I walked around for a bit, then stopped for ice cream. We were going to go for a kayak ride, but the man who rented them didn’t have any available just then. We decided to just walk along the beach with our feet in the water, which was just as well, since we still needed to drive south and the afternoon was getting on.

We grabbed some fish and chips at a restaurant with a gorgeous view over the water, then headed out of the town. The road back-tracked for a while, then we turned south on our way toward Dunedin. Our road ended at a campervan park in the town of Ashburton, some hour’s drive south. We set up the van for bed just as the light was failing, got everything in order, and went to sleep, quite happy with the day.

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