My van goes into Johnson Electrical at 8:30am. Bruce, of course he’s called Bruce, tells me it’ll be about an hour, they’ll call me. Waipukurau is a town, not a very big town, on State Highway 2. Were it not for my desire to get the battery checked out, I don’t think I, or anyone else, would stop here. I walk the high street, wander around a park, buy a coffee. Two hours have passed. I head back to see Bruce. To see if there’s a problem. They’ve disconnected the isolator, the battery is on charge. Another hour would be ideal they say. Out I go again, this time walking a stretch of the river, waiting, waiting. I probably sound impatient but I was glad to have someone look at it. Glad to be under the impression the problem would be resolved. I return again to pay the good man. With renewed confidence, I drove off into the afternoon sun to do some laundry. You’ll notice nobody ever talks about changing the bedding in their van. It’s a bit like when you do it in a house. You strip the bedding, put it in the wash, hang it out to dry. Only you got distracted and forgot until you went to go to bed, you hadn’t put the fresh sheets on. The main differences being you didn’t forget and it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. I wrestled the standard sized fitted sheet onto four pieces of high density foam. Content in having behaved like any good functioning adult almost all day, I settled in to my clean sheets for the night.
After about an hour’s drive I realise I’d made another mistake. Just when I think I’m getting the hang of living in a small container I go and do something stupid like leave my towel on a washing line in a campsite. Fortunately this is the kind of item cheaper to replace than go back for. And let’s be honest for a minute, it was only two days ago I locked my keys inside my own van. I haven’t really got the hang of anything. At least my mistakes are getting less stupid. They are getting less stupid, aren’t they? I managed to have a shower first so it hasn’t all gone wrong today. I’m going to Napier. There’s plenty to do in and around the major hub of Hawkes Bay. I start off at Te Mata Peak, a good 5km walk with a bit of height will do me good. Only, I arrive to find half the trails are closed for the tree harvest. From the summit you might think they harvested all the trees already. Minor complaints aside, the view is decent. Haze in the valley. High clouds. For being this close to a city, it’s a good outdoor space. I feel better for having moved, I might need to do more of this sort of thing. Next on the list, replace that towel. I head into the outskirts of Napier. The shops are busy, I’d almost forgotten about the pandemic. I stand in line for almost an hour just to buy a towel. It might have been easier to have gone back for it after all. I drive out to Clifton Road Reserve, as close to Cape Kidnappers as I can reasonably get. There’s a Gannet colony out there, or as I soon discover, there’s one out there between November and March. Not that it matters, I think, the hike out and back should be good. And I’m sure it is good, I just won’t find out. At least two major landslips mean the trail is closed. Brilliant.
I get up for sunrise again. Might as well try and make the most of being awake. Another bank of clouds on the horizon block the sunrise. The sky is a nice colour for a while. When the sun does come up there’s a small burst of pink under the cloud bank, like they’re going to explode from the inside. They don’t. The rest of the clouds, and there’s a lot of them, remain grey. There’s a late, late show of colour. Clouds glowing the pink of peach. The sun rises proper, 12 minutes late in a golden glow over the top of the clouds. Said clouds spread inland. I think about hunkering down for the day. Staying for the second night. Testing the theory, seeing if the battery will hold its charge. In the end I get bored and drive up the road towards the centre of Napier. I gamble on the iSite staff again. Maybe they are of better quality here. They make their first mistake by asking me what I want to do. I can’t do any of the things I want to do, the trails are all closed. Things rapidly improve from this point. I get a map of the city, I can walk the art deco centre and I can climb up to a view point. Beyond the city, I’m given a booklet of local walking tracks and trails (in New Zealand local is apparently anything up to two hours away). Something to keep me occupied in the coming days. I thank the man for his help, deciding to stay in the city and see what it’s all about.
Napier is the so called art deco capital of the world. Rebuilt after an earthquake in the 30s. It’s nice, I guess. It would be better if modern shops didn’t put up ugly signage and people weren’t allowed to drive in the centre. I find I’m most interested in the lack of height. Since leaving Auckland I don’t think I’ve seen more than one building I would describe as tall. Earthquakes don’t really lend themselves to tall. I walk the streets, wander through a market, hoping something takes my fancy. It doesn’t. I decide to walk up to the Bluff Hill lookout. The view over the port is almost interesting. The heavy smell of pine lingers. Horizontal forests of lumber awaing export. A shipping container is being unloaded. Napier was lost on me. A missed opportunity of sorts, not just because of the trail closures. There appears to be a spectacular cycle route visiting several of the local vineyards. I’m neither a keen cyclist, nor a wine drinker. I’m not about to take up either today. Aware my parking is nearly up, I decide to find somewhere to spend the night.
What makes a good campground? I guess it depends on how long you plan to stay and whether you intend on paying for it. Youths terrorise the freedom camping area in the middle of the night. “Wake up!” they scream amongst other obscenities, riding past the row of vans, music blaring from their phones. This is the price you pay for urban camping. You wouldn’t get this in the UK. The camping opportunities that is. The youth there would have your van up on bricks, smash the windows, torch the thing. A bit out of town scores high on the list of desirable qualities. As rain begins to fall, I decide to try somewhere else for the next night. A carpark, next to a children’s play area. Quieter it is, two other vans appear over the course of the evening. Cleaning my teeth in a public toilet I realise I’m getting used to this new way of living. My brain is no longer screaming every time I do something outside of what it considers normal. It does still feel weird though, parking up for the night next to the swings.
Rain falls persistently for 24 hours. At least 12 more are expected. I go to the shops first, an easy way to lose an hour or more in the warm and dry. It helps if you need something. I needed a hose to attach to campsite taps. Jump leads just to be safe. Later in life, when I come to look back on this time of my life I will bore people with stories of my van’s battery issues. I came out of the shops with both items on my list, and a set of warm glow string LEDs, or as they’re more commonly known; fairy lights. There are going to be days when I’m confined to the van. Through choice I admit, I don’t want to get wet if I don’t have to. I learned today that with either the back or side door open my bed gets wet. There’s not quite enough room to hang a full set of wet clothes. Rod said to me you’ve got to have light. To begin with I had light, Spartan, functional but not really light enough push LED lights. They would do. If I was only living out of the van for a month, they would do. Turns out they don’t do. I can see why in the beginning, in the dark empty void the vengeful God started with light. Fairy lights make the “bedroom” more liveable. The dark has been banished. Duct taped to the ceiling they add visual warmth, if not the physical warmth I’ve occasionally desired. It’s a start, a step towards something better. Light enough I find I can read comfortably. I find for the first time I’m awake past 9pm.