The bus broke down about two hours into our first trip. It was like the plot of a B-grade roadtrip movie…
‘Two free spirits buy an enormous aqua coloured house bus on a whim, and a few short weeks later eight people, most of whom barely know each other, are on a mission to reach the northernmost tip of New Zealand’
Cape Reinga, our destination, is the point where the Pacific Ocean violently meets the Tasman Sea and, according to Maori legend, also the sacred place that every soul travels to before ascending to heaven. Driving there to end the year is a very romantic idea. But after just an hour on the road, we heard a loud clang and pulled into a ditch.
Nine hours on the side of the road, and two false starts later, we had no choice but to admit defeat for the day. A friendly local cop ferried us two at a time to the best pick-up point, and we all had no choice but to try our hand at hitchhiking. It took a fair while, but eventually a dotty elderly couple picked Frankie and I up. They’d driven all the way from the Hawkes Bay without stopping, and were in need of new conversation.
In Whangarei, we purchased spaghetti and sausages from a petrol station, then waited a few hours outside the bus mechanics for the towtruck to deliver our aqua-coloured accommodation. Rose worked a miracle with the petrol station spaghetti and we all gorged ourselves.
|The next morning, in the bus mechanics.|
Over the next seven days we broke down five more times as we gradually worked our way north. And every time, we got the chance to experience a tiny part of the world we’d otherwise have skipped past without blinking.
In hindsight, our planned stops in Matapouri Bay, the Bay of Islands and Coopers Beach are no more memorable than the small stretches of grass we ended up stranded on for hours at a time. We quickly learned to keep water and essentials well stocked on board, and breaking down never felt like too much of an inconvenience. We’d pass the time playing card games and telling stories.
We made it to Cape Reinga out of sheer determination. When we finally arrived, we walked as far out towards the cliff as we could, then sat in silence observing the last sunset of the year, over one of the most ruggedly beautiful places in the world.
That night our bus wasn’t the only vehicle in the parking lot. We soon met a young mother from twelve hours south who’d had an emotional breakdown that morning, hopped in the car and kept driving until she couldn’t drive any further. We welcomed Toni onto our bus and shared our food and wine with her.
Once she had told us her dramatic story, her mood lifted. Soon after midnight she was teaching us all Cook Island dancing inside the bus. The wooden floorboards made satisfying makeshift tribal drums as we stamped our feet in unison.
There was a strange feeling I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time; calm, yet urgent. It was a reminder of how travel differs from tourism. My approach to travel, now more than ever, is carpé diem.
A breakdown can be a wonderful experience, if you’re open to it.