Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

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Where I stayed
Featherstone DOC Campsite

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Sunday, November 20, 2011

We left Napier with a simple plan in mind. Get to Upper Hutt just north of Wellington, stay there for the night and then head into Wellington the day before the ferry to enjoy some of the sights Wellington has to offer. It looks like a nice place. Kate is always a bit worried for me that I don't enjoy the long driving days, and if I was anywhere else in the world- maybe they'd get a little tiring. Thankfully, we're in New Zealand and the driving is a pleasure, pretty much all the time. I drove for 3 hours after the Tongariro crossing and then a sleep later I was driving the 330km to Wellington. It Didn't bother me at all.

The first 150km were fine and dandy. I was feeling a little peckish and the breeze was getting up a bit and so we stopped for lunch. We had driven through Napier, the art deco town of New Zealand and briefly enjoyed its colour before continuing down the coast. Even slight detours weren't bothering me as the signs seemed to send us down a bit of a blind alley and we were sent a few km of course. As we sat for lunch I explained to Kate the difficulty of driving in the breeze. the van seems to pull a lot and the faster you drive the more the vehicle kicks over before you can right it. It was ok though, just had to take it easy.
Lunch was a bit dissapointing as Kate can't seem to get the hang of the fridge. I explained that if a salad comes out of a fridge it isn't meant to be frozen but she seems unbothered by the crunch of a frozen tomato or the slush of a newly frozen and then defrosted lettuce. It wasn't the best.
The continuation of the journey after lunch left us looking like arriving in Upper Hutt for about 5pm. Perfect.

When driving along I saw a sign for Stonehenge which caught my eye. And so thought cleverly "This would be a good photo, stonehenge but not in England - surely worth a slight detour" A few kms out of the way and it was nice to get off the main A-road and into some country. I could drive a little slower and had no traffic on my tail. Stonehenge was closed.
We drove on and I got stopped by a barrage of police who were blockading a bridge in the middle of no-where. A meter was shoved in my face and I was asked to speak my name and home town.
"Martin Pike, Hemel Hempstead, England". He showed me the meter "No Alcohol" it said. I could have told him that - I didn't need a meter. Wierd place to put a blockade though.
20 seconds later and all was explained. In the middle of nowhere, in the south east corner of the quiet northern island of New Zealand, all of the country had descended on Martinborough (good name for a borough) for a Wine festival. The streets were littered with drunk lookin New Zealanders trying to hike a lift from us and then swinging the fingers when we drove past without acknowledging them. The going was slow as people were everywhere and it appeared to be pickup time. Coaches were strewn across the road collecting punters.
Finally, we broke free. The sun was out, it was still a little breezy, if anything it had gotten a little worse but we were only about 40km from Upper Hutt and I was in good spirits singing along to the Buble.

We drove through into Fetherstone and took the left turn towards Wellington. The road headed upwards for about a mile and the wind was causing me a few problems. A sign showed 31km to Upper Hutt and so we could just sneak our way up. It wouldn't be far. We crossed a bridge further into the initial valley and a gust caught me taking the camper across just into the hard shoulder. I waited a second and let the tail pass as I wanted to compose myself. We continued up to a measly 50km/hr embarassingly gaining a tail straight away.

What happened next happened in a split second and was terrifying

A gust coming down the valley pushed me in towards the hill, the wind then swirled back off the hill and sent us the other way before a second stronger gust sent us in towards the hillside. I veered with the steering wheel and slammed the brakes just missing a lamppost and a sign and skirting the edge of a ditch.
The wind then picked up fiercely. The van was blowing around and so I reversed down the road into the lay by which was thankfully only a few metres back. I sat and took some deep breaths. Kate was a bit shaken too.

After a few minutes of waiting a 4X4 pulled up and a guy stepped out and came over to me. He explained that he had tried driving over this pass recently in a campervan with the wind and it's a nightmare. I suggested that we would try and wait it out and then go when it had eased off.
"It's forecast just to get worse mate".
Almost as he spoke, the rain started and lashed down with the wind.
I thanked him for stopping and checking on us and for his advice.

We talked briefly of going on but the decision was easy. We took a U-turn and drove down to a free DOC campsite back next to Fetherstone. The road was gravelly, the site was a little churned up but we found a flat spot.

The DOC campsite book warned "Please be aware that the site may get a little windy" - You're not bloody kidding.

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