Zenfolio | Seth Ashworth | First Weeks in NZ-bad car buying experiences, good road trips and kayaking (of course)

First Weeks in NZ-bad car buying experiences, good road trips and kayaking (of course)

March 02, 2016  •  Leave a Comment


I arrived in New Zealand’s North Island hub city of Auckland early on a Thursday morning at the start of February.  It felt like the journey here took forever, in actual flight time plus connections I was on the go for 28hrs and 10 minutes.  However once you add in the hour and a half ride to the airport in Quito you are edging pretty close to thirty hours.  Then add the time difference and getting to NZ was a journey that took two full days.  


The purpose of my trip to New Zealand is a working holiday.  My friend, Canadian, Tyler Fox had offered me some work teaching kayaking to school groups through a business which he runs together with a kiwi kayaker, who also works in Canada, Lou Urwin.  I was stoked at the opportunity and eager to paddle in NZ, it is somewhere I have seen on videos since I started kayaking.  To make the most of my time here I planned on buying a van that I could live out of, this would allow me to travel more without tying me down to any one place.  It also meant I could save money by not having to rent a room anywhere.  Lou and Tyler recommended I take a peep through trade.co.nz to look for a suitable vehicle, trade me is a similar to kijiji in Canada, or gumtree in the UK, a website where you can buy and sell things.  I did this around a week before I travelled and found a number of vehicles listed from the same supplier, a used car dealer specialising in camper van conversions and the like.  I phoned the guy (a gentleman named Rick) and organised for me to go check out his selection on the day I arrived.  On the phone Rick seemed pretty reasonable, I explained I was travelling with a kayak and he said it was no trouble and could collect me at the airport for a small fee which I agreed to pay, as travelling with a kayak is a pain even at the best of times and after such a long journey it was totally worth paying for.  The guy also told me he didn’t have the ability to pay by visa so I should bring cash.  At the time this seemed like more of an inconvenience than anything else but looking back that probably should have set off some red flags.  With just a few days before I flew I withdrew what cash I could, but due to the restrictive limits imposed by the bank it wasn’t all I had available to me and set aside to purchase a vehicle.  



After being picked up at the airport and arriving at the ‘dealership’ which was more like a parking space behind another industrial building I looked through the range of Camper’s available.  I took a careful look through a few I liked the look of, carefully checking their mileage, engine condition, when their Warrant of Fitness expired (similar to the UK’s M.O.T, in NZ these are required every 6 months. so the more recently these have been done, then better) etc as best I could.  I’m not a mechanic but I feel like I have a reasonable handle on what to look for.  After finding a van I liked I took it for a test drive.  It seemed to run fine, although it was an older vehicle with reasonably high kilometres on the clock, most vehicles I had researched online around my budget were in a similar situation, plus the warrant didn’t expire until June meaning the WOF had likely been done December or January without issue.  I compared prices online of other vehicles around a similar age and found the prices of this place to be about par for the course if a couple of hundred dollars higher.  I reasoned this simply reflected the extra cost of buying through a dealer instead of through a private sale.    The van I had selected was a 1994 Ford Econovan Maxi, already set up as a camper with a bed, gas burner even a kitchen sink with water tap which actually worked.  The cost of the van was $2980 NZD.  I had about $2000NZD on hand with the ability to get more over the next few days (I had saved up around $3500NZD over the course of the summer with this purpose in mind.)  I explained my situation to Rick and suggested I pay what I had now and transfer the rest through a secure bank transfer, or paypal.  Rick said this would not do and offered an alternate solution, I buy a lower cost car to tide me over until I had the funds.  He agreed he would buy back  the car when I came back minus twenty dollars a day, so long as I kept it in good working order.  Since this was cheaper than hiring a car and it would mean I could go kayaking I was keen, and after doing the ownership paperwork and organising some third party Insurance (which oddly is not mandatory in NZ, but I couldn’t afford to be without it) I drove my way south to Okere falls to paddle the fabled Kaituna River.  I was stoked to paddle that day (Thursday) and more stoked to be able to access the balance of the money I needed by Saturday.  When rick found out I was going to be back so soon he tried to charge me a higher fee which I promptly refused, since we had an agreement. The next day (Friday), after making a quick run to the supermarket I noticed some steam coming from my engine.  I looked under the bonnet to find a split in the radiator hose.  Not the end of the world, I repaired it with some duck tape and then next morning set of for the two hour drive back to Auckland.  What I should have done was change the part in the first instance but these things are always clearer in hindsight. I was expecting the drive there and back to last most of the day, but to be back in Okere Falls by that evening, in time to paddle.  Anyway the problem got worse, the car was overheating a lot.  Once I eventually reached the town of Hamilton which is the half way point I had managed to source a replacement part that I needed and was able to quickly do the replacement myself.  However the simple act of waiting at the side of the road for the car to stop being overheated and re-filling the radiator coolant level pretty much every thirty minutes meant my journey had taken much longer than expected and I was now too late to collect and register my van.  No big deal, I slept in the car in Auckland and collected and registered my new van and was excited to get back to Okere falls for some paddling.  During the process I asked Rick to pay for the replacement hose for the radiator which had set me back $50, he said I had agreed to keep the car in good working order, which I had, but, in my opinion, good working order means not letting a car run out of fuel and keep oil levels good etc not replacing parts.  I decided to cut my losses, the sooner I could be shot of this guy the better.   I made it less than a few minutes in my new van before things started going awry.  The speedometer stopped working on the motorway.  I phoned rick and told him I was displeased with the instant failure and was on my way back.  He said ok and called his mechanic to come take a look at it.  When the mechanic arrived he took a few minutes to determine the cable which runs from the dashboard to the wheels had snapped and to tell me hew would not be able to replace it until Tuesday as Monday was a public holiday.   Frustrated, sweaty and tired after a terrible nights sleep I decided I wanted to leave and wanted nothing more to do with Rick or his car dealership.   I would deal with this problem down the road.  



160km into my 200km journey my van wouldn't change gear whilst climbing a hill.  It actually wouldn’t go into gear at all, luckily for me I was already close to the side of the highway and managed to roll somewhat off the road.  At this point I had no idea what to do.  Tired, frustrated, hungry and so close to my destination, yet still so far.  Luckily organising a mobile phone sim card in NZ is easy and was something I did immediately upon arrival, so I started calling my friends in Okere Falls to see who could help me out.  Within an hour thanks to Kim and Tyler my non function vehicle was being towed back to a mechanic, who Kim had used previously, in Rotorua (the nearest town with a mechanic).  A few days later my van was up and running again with what had turned out to have been broken clutch valve.  The speedometer was also fixed.  In the interim time I had checked out my consumer rights, delighted to find I had some, and got Rick to agree to pay for the repair.  Initially he did’t want to do this, he wanted me to pay for it to be towed back to auckland so that his mechanic could do the repair for ‘free’.  There was some back and forth but eventually he conceded to reimburse me the cost of the mechanics, a mere $212.75.  The law was on my side and the process of going to the “Motor Vehicles Tribunal” is very simple and something I would have been prepared to do on principal alone.  I have since been paid. 


Since getting my van back I have been enjoying my days paddling and hanging out, on the Kaituna river, travelling to paddle the Wairoa river.  during my second week I decided to go do some tourist stuff around the North Island’s less well trodden tourist track of the East Cape.  I had originally planned to make it all the way to the South Island as I had just two weeks before starting work for Tyler and Lou, however with almost half of my free time eaten up waiting for my van to be usable that plan was a no go.  I’ll have to come back to New Zealand for the South Island.  


I have been having a great time checking out the world’s most eastern building, a light house high atop a windswept, desolate hill.  Cooks Cove where Captain Cook first came ashore to New Zealand after discovering Australia.  And some wick coastal regions.   Often waking early to catch a wicked sunrise or climbing high atop another coastal cliff to reach a better viewpoint and all the while taking a few pictures that I was really happy with.  




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The further though my road trip I got the more and more my van felt like it was slowly loosing power.  Since I had been driving a long time I hoped, maybe I was imagining things.  However my feelings were confirmed when I frequently found myself climbing hills in second and even first gear being overtaking by logging trucks and all sorts.  By the time I reached Gisborne I decided I should probably go see a mechanics as my van was practically dangerous when travelling uphill.  A half day stopover in Gisborne turned into an overnight stay whilst waiting for a new part (air intake hose) which turned out not to arrive until the afternoon, and actually also turned out not to be the cause of the loss of power either, although probably good that it got replaced since it was broken.  After trying that the mechanic fiddled with the timing belt and that did seem to have a positive impact although there is still something wrong with it, I just am not able to figure out what exactly.   


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After the Gisborne episode my van was running OK again, enough to drive around without being too worried, at least it starts every time and has been somewhat useful, but I am planning to sell it sooner rather than later.   


next update soon, hopefully although now work has started really who knows.  


Until next time.




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