Zed lives! He might be younger than his brother Oz – the trusty 1977 Corona that got me round Australia – but it's obvious from that jaw line and the obstinately old-fashioned looks that he's still a Toyota Corona. He's also quite a lot bigger, being a 1984 station wagon, and with the white paint and dodgy stereo he's certainly got a different character to the little monster that made it round the emptiest continent in the world, but as far as spacious accommodation goes, Zed's got it just right.
With a foam mattress in the back, enough water to feed the strangely thirsty radiator, and a road map, I'm ready to tackle the Land of the Long White Cloud from tip to tail. With insurance, AA membership and all the other little security devices secured, I've got until the end of March in New Zealand, not long enough to see everything, but long enough to put a serious dent in the map.
My workmates have been towers of strength, helping me out with advice galore. Buying a car is one of the most traumatic events I can imagine, but after a couple of false starts, and a rashly placed deposit on a wreck that I (thankfully) didn't end up buying, I finally discovered Zed and liberated him from one of the most down-trodden, miserable suburbs on the planet; without my friend Anne-Marie's down-to-earth advice, I'd have probably lost my marbles in the search for my wheels.
It's also opened my eyes, travelling around and exploring Auckland in the search for cars. Auckland might be beautiful when it comes to Mt Eden (where I've been staying), Epsom (where I've been working), Parnell (the trendy area) and the beautiful harbour; but when Auckland is grim, it's very grim. Every city has its downside, and with the current wave of Maori and Islander1 trouble, gang warfare is a way of life in quite a few areas, crime is high, and the murder rate is surprisingly large for such a small population.
But not only have I sorted out my wheels, and therefore my house for the next few months, I've also got my tramping gear sorted out ('tramping' being the New Zealand term for long-distance walking). I've bought a very light, compact tent that I can shove in my backpack and take on tramps without breaking my back, I'm slowly breaking in my new tramping boots (and ripping my ankles to pieces in the process, as per usual), and I've got my bedding sorted out for the back of Zed. All this is making my feet itch worse than a plaster cast, and it'll be a fun day indeed when I finally set off to explore.
I don't have a plan; it's not like Australia, where there's one road round the outside, one down the middle, and that's your lot. The South Island is easier to circumnavigate – it's long and thin, so it's up one side and down the other, with the odd foray into the mountainous middle to brave the passes – but the North Island is inconveniently round, with both the coasts and the middle worth a visit. Nothing's too far away, though, so I don't think it'll be too difficult to visit most parts of the country, but I've been putting off the detailed planning until I'm actually on the road. Perhaps that's the best idea, seeing as my plans for Australia changed by the day; plans are made to be broken, after all.
1 'Islanders' are people from the Polynesian islands like Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and so on.