Wind, nature’s free ride

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Our odyssey of the North Island is complete. We turned in our conspicuous and very bulky camper van on Tuesday, a day after navigating through hurricane-force winds.

Actually, that may have been one of the most exciting days we’ve had here. We spent Sunday night in Martinborough, one of the many wine areas in New Zealand. Sir did some tasting Monday morning and then we headed to Lake Ferry where we heard there were awesome fish and chips. From there we were going to Wellington.

The wind, which had buffeted the van some the night before, began picking up. Grass became horizontal and our turns on the gently winding road got wider and wider, until we found ourselves heading straight for a farmer on his 4-wheeler, waiting on the shoulder. We had completely crossed the road and as we passed him with a few feet to spare, he was laughing. Maybe he was on his way to tie down the little lambs and goats.

Recovering from that near-miss, Sir mentioned that he would be surprised if a tree hadn’t come down. Two minutes later our way was barred by a huge pine. I had to get out and guide the van through the muddy shoulder while holding back a branch. It smelled like Christmas.

As if battling the wind weren’t enough to make the ride exciting, we were going through alarming quantities of gas. We had foregone a trip to the lighthouse because we didn’t relish being blown down the unprotected cliff into the sea, and we were lowish on gas. But we had failed to calculate just how much fuel it requires to keep a wheeled box on the road while being hammered by a cross wind. We didn’t know if we’d make it into Featherston for gas

Little did we know, the most exciting bit was yet to come. We did make it to the pump, and learned from the attendant that the road into Wellington over the Rimutaki Pass had just been reopened. The winds had ‘calmed down’ to 130 kph. This is still ridiculously strong–roughly 78 mph. Yikes. But they wouldn’t open the road if it wasn’t safe, right? On the other hand, did they look at our camper van? No, didn’t think so.

Just before 3 pm we were at the bottom of the hill. Going up the pass we kept up with the firewood truck and two cars ahead, but down the other side we slowed right down to 20 kph even while the semi truck on our tail was nothing but grill in the rear view mirror. The van made movements I have never felt. A kind of vehicular hula if you will, finished off with the Twist and a touch of the Pony. The water in the gutter was flowing uphill and the anemometer we passed was spinning so quickly it looked stationary. It was an amusement park ride without the safety bar. At every turn we weren’t sure if all wheels would actually stay on the tarmac. Wild.

In Wellington, the public artwork along the sea wall was doing things for which I doubt it was designed. A tall needle-like structure on a pivot was going up and down like a train-crossing gate. It didn’t get down to the road but its reach was certainly long enough. Others were spinning so quickly it was difficult to discern what they actually were. And a cyclist. He couldn’t even stand up straight, much less ride.

That night, we stayed in a motel on the east side of the city. Reading the paper in the morning we saw that maximum wind speed was 159 kph. On Rimutaki Pass. At 3 pm.

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