Sunday, 9 November 2008

The End

Hurrah, we are finally in Queenstown and Gavin’s promises of magnificent spring weather, as opposed to the rain in the north, turned out to be a complete load of tosh as we battled through blizzards yesterday. Today it is still FREEZING. It is still pretty good to be here.

Despite the threat of a rough crossing across the Cook Straight last week we were very lucky and barely experienced any swell. It was lovely to drift in through Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton, on a ferry which I think in a previous life served the folk of Sicily across the Mediterranean. The evening drive along the Kaikoura coastline was spectacular with the sun setting over the snow capped mountains. We saw plenty of seals but no whales or dolphins. With the trailer even more heavily loaded than when we left Warkworth we made slow progress and did not arrive at Gavin’s sister's until quite late.

The next few days were spent catching up with friends and family whilst running various errands around Christchurch. Then, just when we all thought Gavin’s “manly” days were over he had to mend another puncture, but this time it was much more simple- it was only his mountain bike tyre.

While in Christchurch we were treated to a tour of the cardboard packaging plant where Gavin's sister Danielle works. A few of her colleagues had been following the blog, and we felt a bit like celebrities when we were introduced to people for the first time and they already knew our names.

Then it was time to cram even more boxes and gear into and onto both the car and the trailer. By now we were carrying six bicycles, plus a bike frame, two beds, plus their mattresses, two bar stools, one chair, many many tea chests, all our expedition gear and a strawberry plant. We made very slow progress up Burke Pass, but it was another stunning day and the views across Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook made it all worthwhile.

We stopped for a bit of a photo shoot but we still had a long way to go and carried on our merry way to view our section at Lake Ohau, just a 40 minute detour, and to ceremonially chop down the first tree. Gavin has been designing a house to put on the section since early on in Africa so it was exciting to be able to visualise it all a bit better.

Time to get going again, we still had the Lindis Pass to negotiate and were a number of hours from Queenstown. We were keen to arrive before dark, just in case there was a problem with the re-connection of electricity and gas etc. Finally after a journey that took nearly twice as long as normal we arrived at our little house overlooking the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

The house has been rented for a number of years and there are few alterations and repairs to be completed before we take all of our possessions out of storage, so we are still “camping” in a fashion but this time it is in a house. Gavin has to decide on his career direction from here and we are both planning for the arrival of the Little One in January. So it is all very exciting for us still.

After almost two years of having no fixed abode it was good to be home. Although it does mean the end of the Camelriders2007 and the last part of the journey was very rushed, not the final tour of New Zealand we had anticipated, but we have had a fantastic run. We have both had a lot of fun writing the blog and are really pleased that so many people enjoyed reading it. It felt very reassuring to know that you were coming along the journey with us and were interested in our antics, adventures, trials and tribulations and the friends we have made along the way. We would also like to say a massive THANK YOU to all and everyone who has shown us hospitality, given us assistance and provided logistical support along the way.

Thank you again and our door in Queenstown is always open, I am a long way from my original home now and we love having visitors.

All the best

Catkin and Gavin

P.S. You can contact me on Facebook, but not Gavin because he has never looked at it.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Southern Express

It has been a huge relief getting the Land Rover through the entry compliance inspection and on the road in New Zealand. It was almost eight weeks since the initial inspection when we took it back for the successful retest. Most of that time I spent working on the vehicle to bring it to the required standard for the certification we needed, although there were times when we wondered if we were actually going to be able to get it through. We had a lot of help though, especially from Terry of Heritage Mechanical Services, without whose expert knowledge, calm guidance and the use of his workshop the whole job would have been substantially more difficult.

After passing the retest we were issued with a warrant of fitness, and we were able to register the vehicle with new NZ number plates and pay road user charges then and there. Following this, we could legally drive the vehicle away from the testing station and home. It was great to be back driving the Camel again, and it meant we could finally get on with the rest of our trip south.

The following day we repacked the vehicle with our expedition equipment, as we had emptied it out completely after clearing the MAF bio-security inspection back in August. We had taken over a spare room in Mum and Dad’s house with all our gear, so it was good to be able to give them some space back. Catkin also took the opportunity to give our canvas seat covers a wash, as she had been itching to do this for quite a while.

Now that the vehicle was fully imported we needed the New Zealand Customs Service to complete the ‘Certificate of Location’ page of our Carnet in order for us to send our documentation back to the ADAC in Munich for the refund of our deposit. We had to go in to the main Customs house in the middle of Auckland to do this, and although it seemed like it was rather an unusual request, we managed to convince them that we were not doing anything illegal and the form was duly filled out. We have now sent the forms back to Germany and are eagerly anticipating the return of our funds.

On the way into town we stopped off at a number of trailer manufacturing companies. We have been planning to buy a trailer, and seeing as I still had quite a bit stored at my parents’ place we decided we might as well get one now and take everything with us. We narrowed it down to one that seemed well constructed and at a reasonable price and put a deposit down for collection the following Tuesday.

Now that we had freedom to roam we were quite keen to get heading south as soon as we could. We had initially planned to be in Queenstown by early October, so were basically a month behind schedule. We were now aiming to get away on the Thursday of the coming week, so spent the weekend visiting friends and relatives before our imminent departure.

Just as a little something different, we had been invited to take part in a group test of a range of small four-wheel-drive vehicles for a New Zealand 4WD magazine. This was being organised by Ashley, who is the owner of the only other original Camel Trophy Land Rover in New Zealand. We had been in contact with Ashley for a number of months before arriving in New Zealand and had seen him quite a few times since while working on the vehicle. We spent the day in rural South Auckland test driving each vehicle both on and off road, making notes about the characteristics of each and comparing each one to the others. It was a great day, and our lunch spot at the top of the hill had a fantastic view.

Ashley came up to Warkworth the following day to get a few photos of the two Camel Trophy vehicles together. This would be his last chance for a while before we departed the following day. Ashley’s vehicle was owned by Land Rover Experience before he bought it and has the panel damage to prove it. It also gave us the chance to park the two side by side and compare war stories.

Due to the length of our impending journey and the likelihood of bad weather enroute, we decided that our new trailer needed a plywood box to protect the contents, so a good portion of our last day before departure was spent constructing that.

Departure day arrived, and I still had stuff everywhere. Our tentative time of departure of 1pm came and went and we still had loads to do. Space inside the trailer seemed to be disappearing very quickly, but by 2:30pm we finally had everything packed and were ready to roll. It was raining by now, so we were glad to have everything under cover.

Queenstown, here we come. We stopped the first night at my cousin’s farm just north of Matamata, and the second night with friends near Otaki. We are now in Wellington at Andrew and Jen’s place, getting to know our new nephew, and spent yesterday sorting through some of the many boxes they have been storing for us for nearly two years. We have managed to fit even more into the trailer, but all the remaining boxes will need to be transported south once we are set up down there. We have caught up with a couple of friends in Wellington also.

We have another night here, and cross Cook Strait tomorrow, bound for Christchurch, where I know two of my sisters can’t wait to see Catkin and ‘the bump.’ Yes, for those who don’t know, Catkin’s pregnant, so even more reason to get to the end of our journey and start behaving like responsible adults.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Camel rides again

Almost eight weeks after the intial entry inspection we have at last satisfied all requirements for the Land Rover to be registered for use on the road in New Zealand. With brand new number plates we have finally taken the vehicle for its first official drive on New Zealand roads. We still can't believe it!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Still sanding

My daily trips to Auckland continue and I no longer have any fingerprints left, thanks to days and days of sanding. The repair certifier we have engaged viewed progress last week and was generally happy with how things were going, although he wanted a few additional areas cleaned off for inspection. If all goes according to plan he will come back in the next day or so for another inspection and, fingers crossed, give the go ahead to complete the repairs. After that he should just need to visit for a final inspection and complete the paperwork, but this may still take some time yet…

We are still awaiting the arrival of our Low Volume Vehicle modification plate. We have spoken to the LVV certifier several times, and he continues to assure us that the plate will arrive soon, but no sign of it yet. It was meant to take a couple of days, and that was two weeks ago.

We had hoped to be well and truly headed south by now, but here we are, still in the winterless north. We have managed to catch up with a couple of friends though, which has been great. Yesterday was the Warkworth Kowhai Festival market day, which is probably the first one I have been to since I left school (ages ago), so Catkin got to see how we celebrate spring in these parts.

Another week of hard toil starts tomorrow. Hopefully more to report by the end of the week.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Making progress, slowly

Making progress, but slowly, is how we left it at the end of our last full post nearly three weeks ago. Things slowed down even more after that, but we finally seem to have things moving in the right direction again.

At that stage we had done all that we could ourselves, and were waiting on the opinions of various people who we needed to certify certain aspects of the vehicle.

Because the Camel Trophy Land Rovers have roll cages fitted we needed to engage the services of a Low Volume Vehicle certifier. The roll cage, even though it was fitted by Land Rover Special Vehicles division when the vehicle was first constructed, is classified as a modification, and as such must be certified for use in New Zealand. The LVV certifier instructed us to fit approved padding to some parts of the cage, which we have done, so now we are awaiting the arrival of our modification plate and for it to be affixed to the vehicle.

Two small areas of corrosion and some small patches of surface rust need to be repaired, but the repairs must be carried out in accordance with the directions of a Repair Certifier. It seemed to take some time to get a repair certifier to have an initial look at the vehicle, but now that one has, we have his proposed course of action and have got cracking putting it into action. I have been backwards and forwards to Auckland every day to work on the Land Rover, and by the time we have finished it will be as good as new.

So we are making progress, but it is very slow!

In the meantime, it has stopped raining so much and the ground has started to dry out at last. Mum and Dad are still putting up with us, and we have been enjoying copious amounts of large, juicy grapefruit from the tree, as well as delicious home cooking and too much dessert.

We had originally hoped to be heading south around this time, but obviously that was too optimistic, and at this point in time it still isn’t clear just when that might be. Hopefully by the end of this week we will have a clearer picture of how things are looking with the vehicle and when it might be going back to the compliance centre for a retest.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

We're still hoping that we will be at the end of our odyssey sooner rather than later, and certainly before everyone in our families celebrate two birthdays since the date of our departure from the UK, but in the meantime we say Happy Birthday my sister Claire. Have a great day.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Ultimate Inspection

Two working days passed without hearing back from the compliance inspection centre. They had said that the inspection normally takes a day or so, so I was starting to get even more nervous. On the third day I decided to call and see how it was going. Unfortunately, the news was not good.

The inspector started reeling off a list of reasons for failure, and it was so long I had to get him to go through it again so I could write it all down. Having only discussed it over the phone and not being able to talk about each item while looking at the vehicle, we were a little unsure of the full extent of the problem. There followed a period of soul-searching, wondering whether, despite our research into importing a vehicle into New Zealand, we had underestimated the standards that vehicles were required to meet. Maybe a 14-year-old vehicle would be too difficult to bring up to the required standard, and the dreaded fall-back option of shipping back to the UK to sell was once again mentioned. That would be a last resort though, and we spent the rest of the day phoning around various places getting an idea of prices and availability for parts and work. We decided to head down to the inspection centre early the next morning to get a better grasp of exactly what would need to be done to pass the inspection. It was well worth our while, and after talking it through with the inspector we realised that a lot of the items would be relatively easy to resolve. In fact, we managed to sort out a good number there and then.

By the end of the day we had cleaned out our number plate light and replaced one of the bulbs, realigned our headlights (probably to account for the removal of the one tonne of equipment from the back of the vehicle), made a few ‘minor’ adjustments to our auxiliary lighting and sourced new front brake discs and pads. The next day I went back down to Auckland and spent the day replacing the front brake discs (as well as taking the opportunity to replace the wheel bearings on one wheel) and fit two new red reflectors to the rear of the vehicle. Fortunately when I cleaned up the disc pads, we could see that they were an approved brand and still had plenty of wear, so I’ve been able to save the new pads we bought for use in the future. The guys at the compliance inspection centre have been really helpful while we have been sorting out these matters, and I can’t thank them enough.

The Camel has now been transported to a specialist Land Rover mechanic to get his opinion on the remaining items that need to be rectified, namely exhaust emissions and two small areas of corrosion. As from this year, all used vehicles being imported into New Zealand have to undergo an exhaust emissions test on entry, and ours has failed. An emissions test is a normal part of the annual MOT in the UK, and we have never had any trouble passing that before. In fact, it is still within those limits. The New Zealand test is much more stringent though, with the limits being just over a quarter of those for the UK. Hopefully a thorough clean out and fine tune can get it through the test.

In the meantime, the Suzuki we have been running around in sprang an oil leak from the rear axle, and the need to replace the oil seal gave me a chance to replace the rumbly wheel bearing at the same time. Friday was spent on that, and now we can actually hear ourselves as we drive around in it.

So there we are. Still a bit apprehensive about the emissions test, and not sure just when it will be going back for the retest, but at least we are making progress, no matter how slowly.

We’ve been back in New Zealand for just over two and a half weeks, but it seems like an age ago since we left Brisbane. It’s great to finally be back, especially that it’s for good this time and not just for a holiday. Catching up with friends and family has been fantastic, although we’ve been trying hard not to bore them all with our “When I was in Africa…” stories.