(Mis)Adventures in #Vanlife with Raw Paua. Part III. A Tired Old Truck and a Boatful of Holes.

by Owen James Burke

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand, living in a house truck with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD


Above: Raw Paua, cooked. Queen Charlotte Drive shows no mercy on a tired old truck and a boatful of holes.

Raw Paua and I took a tour down the east coast of the south island last week, and it began swimmingly. She steamed over two mountain passes and hugged the cliffs nicely along mile after mile of winding coast.

We made camp, and although it was nearly freezing, turning on the broiler to heat a lamb roast (as one does in the land of sheep) warmed me up enough to patter away at the keyboard until the wee hours and comfortably turn in.

The next day, we ventured back up the coast, where we surfed, made fires, and met a crazy Valencian who’s in the process cycling around the perimeter of the island nation.

A couple of days of foul weather and Raw Paua and I decided to make for home base back at the top of the South Island. That was when the smoke started.

I pulled over to the side of the road where a splendid, unridden right-hander was reeling along the beach under a soft pastel sky with nary a surfer in sight. The wave looked enticing, but this wasn’t the time. I had a crisis on my hands.


Then again, in retrospect . . . Photo: Owen James Burke.

Lifting the hood, I was met with a face full of smoke and the alarming, nauseating, intoxicating stench of boiling radiator coolant; it wasn’t exactly the afternoon buzz I was hoping to catch.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

Today’s V6 engines enable the car’s fan to run, even when the car is off. My 1972 Holden “Straight 6” does not.

I waited for the engine to cool down, pouring one of my four liters of water over it to help it along, since the fan couldn’t.

After replenishing the radiator’s water reservoir, I hopped back into the wheelhouse and turned her over again.

She was still hot, but I figured the fan would kick in, and the cool ocean breeze whooshing up under the hood would chill her out.

30 minutes later, and before I made the next bend, I was confronted with the all-too-familiar fetor.

We pulled over, and then the real steam started. It wasn’t looking good for us or our evening’s engagement.Up went the hood again. Kind as the Kiwi people have been, I was puzzled by the lack of concern for the guy standing beside the smoking truck on the side of the road. I wondered whether a blonde wig, a dress and a pushup bra might have helped my case. Fortunately–for my dignity and their consciousness–I had none of which at my disposal. Not on this trip, at least.

I grabbed a book, reclined in the cabin and read by the dim, setting sunlight, making a note-to-self to purchase an LED lamp so that I’d never use the cabin lights and risk running up my battery in the middle of nowhere, which is pretty much anywhere in New Zealand.


Photo: Owen James Burke.

It was dark by the time the radiator was ready to accept another liter of water (the previous one had boiled out the excess valve), and by now, we were down to one last liter, and it was about this time that I realized I myself hadn’t had a sip of water all day.

But Raw Paua was also growing thirsty too, yet again. We coasted down the back side of another mountain pass until we hit a flat section where we could comfortably stop for a rest.

I was starting to feel faint, but if I didn’t get cool water into the radiator first, there was no chance of getting some down my gullet anytime soon. Sacrifices were made on behalf of my desiccating renal system, and I would pay for them dearly later that night, and throughout the weekend.

Now we had to limp back to port, if there was any hope of making the cottage. Ahead lay another mountain pass to traverse, and my gage was suddenly reading less than a quarter tank full, with which my jangled mental mathematics calculated might put us at a propane (LPG) fueling station with half a dozen drops to spare, give or take.

My Friday night was not looking good.

So along we floated at about 60 kph, or 40 mph, in a 100 kph (62 mph) zone, backed by a procession of angry truckers and overbearing headlights.

Despite the honks and begrudging stares, we made it to the fuel station. I, for precious H2O, she for propane. Both systems sated, we took the last 10 miles in stride.

Before tucking Raw Paua into bed, I decided to drain her gray water tank. At the sound of her bladder emptying into the drain, something told mine it was time to do the same. Why not? We had done some considerable bonding over the weekend; surely we could endure tapping our kidneys side by side.

There was only one major difference between us in this moment of high camaraderie: she wasn’t screaming. Kidney stones.

That last liter of water might have spelled me my moment down in pain, but better me than her, I reasoned. Ah, the sacrifices we make for love.


Photo: Owen James Burke.

Lady luck did, however, swing my way at the end of the weekend when this pair of blue mokis found their way onto the tip of my spear. Blue moki is a species of trumpeter fish that fares very well on the plate, or straight out of the water, with a bit of soy and wasabi, as I am more prone to enjoy it.


And, we always make sure to scavenge a few other goodies. Above: kina, or “sea urchin,” green-lipped mussels, paua, or “abalone” (the namesake of my chariot) and red rock crab. Photo: Owen James Burke.

The Tindori, my little 12-foot aluminum skiff has had her flaws all along, but on this recent trip, the water really started coming in. It’s bad enough now to the point that I’m only able to dive for 45 minutes or so before it is absolutely imperative to bail, or swim back to shore. This weekend, we made it ashore with the whole kit. Next weekend, I can’t be so sure, but there are still fish out there, and cray, or “spiny lobster” season is about to get underway. With less than three months left on my visa, I’m not making any concessions now.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

My refrigerator may look like a science experiment, but I assure you, it’s as good as gold.

Stay tuned for more hapless calamities, an for more (Mis)Adventures in my travels with Raw Paua, read parts I & II. -OJB

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