Wednesday, 19 May 2010

NZ Holiday - Day 2 - The Case of the Missing Hire Car.

Early start: 5am.

We suck at holidays.

Took another shuttle bus to the train station. No, not the romanticised Steam Loco that would puff its way through the mountains. Just a couple of dirty old diesels hooked up to some really old carriages. The carriages weren’t ‘romantic’ old either, well used might be more accurate.

The trip had been advertised as a magical scenic experience so the lack panoramic windows seemed odd. Also our seats had been double-booked, but we got to them first. (I think I could have taken the big guy who was insisting we were in their seats.)

The trip across Arthur’s Pass was pretty good scenery-wise. Not magical, but interesting. Especially if you like breathing diesel exhaust in the world’s longest, steepest tunnel or some shit. Couldn’t see a damn thing so I failed to grasp the magicalness of this part of the experience.

Jules and Nita almost had their faces scraped off while taking photos in the open viewing-carriage (Generator car) when the train slammed into the tunnel at 80 kph without warning. This was probably my first good belly laugh when Jules told me.

Got to Greymouth which isn’t the diseased hole it sounds like.

Finally we were to achieve the freedom of a hire vehicle. Reliance on other people schedules would be a thing of bad memory. Boy, was I happy. They gave us a Holden Cruze. Boy, was I unhappy. It was only because our bags were so well tenderised by the baggage handlers that we managed to fit them all into the boot as an amorphous blob.

We dubiously got in and found the interior lacking in certain comforts – like breathing and moving more than a few centimetres. I drove down the street and gave it full throttle to gauge the all important - ‘discomfort of interior and ride versus exhilarating engine power’ ratio. It failed miserably.

I looked at Jules as the asthmatic groaning of the high-revving engine and lack of greenery whipping past in a blur did all the talking for me. Jules insisted she asked for, and paid for, a larger car, which was enough to get me into whoop-arse mode. I pulled a wallowing U-turn and went back to the agent. Eric and Nita unfolded themselves from the rear seat and went looking for a crowbar or a stick to prise the luggage back out of the boot.

My unhappiness became the agent’s unhappiness when, under my clever questioning of “how the hell are 4 adults s’posed to fit in that pile of crap”, they inadvertently let slip that they’d given our larger, pre-booked and pre-paid for, car away. I borrowed a Customs Clerk’s stony gaze and folded my arms most impressively. Talking is over-rated. The scurrying between the multitudes of (two) other rental company desks dredged up a just returned XR6. My ‘Gimme-a-Holden’ mantra stuttered and fell quite when I looked into their car-park.

Our Shitbox Cruze and a dirty red Ford just dropped off.

Damn that XR6 was fast. I was prepared to thrash it merely as punishment for being given a Ford, but it was surprisingly roomy, powerful and quite comfortable. And all our crap fit into the boot. Nita looked like she was about to enquire how fast this car would go, so I found 3rd gear’s rev limiter and let some bitumen disappear behind us to make up the lost time.

I have to add here that NZ roads are exceptionally good. Yes, good. Flat, wide and smooth as silk for the most part. In a country that gets about 5-6 metres of rain a year this is no small thing.

With the stressful stuff behind us I started enjoying myself. Finding the limits of the car’s suspension and tyre grip on tight winding mountain roads, and huge empty straights just made for law-breaking was a great deal of fun; for me anyway. In my defence I never went over 170kph. Not once. (Several hundred feet straight down and no barriers brings about a certain sense of responsibility.)

Go to Day 3.

Go back to Day 1
- The Airport/Customs/Flight/Airport/Customs Horror.

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