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First Day Of Driving A Campervan In New Zealand Goes … Not So Well

I should have listened but I didn’t.

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand- “It’s three meters tall so make sure you don’t try to park in any parking garages,” the lady working for the company that we rented the campervan from warned me before leaving.

But parking it in an underground parking garage was the first thing I did.

We decided to spend our first night of campervan travels in a hostel in order to make some final preparations. However, we didn’t arrive until evening and didn’t end end up having much time to prepare. It was basically a logistical flop and a waste of money. The only benefit was that I got to take a look at Auckland, whose name is just one slightly missed keystroke away from being Suckland — a label that many wouldn’t necessarily argue with.

When we arrived after driving in from where we picked the campervan up near the airport, we quickly discovered that Auckland is a city on a hill with narrow streets and nowhere to park … that wasn’t in a garage. Add to this the fact that it was dark out, that this was the first time that I’ve ever driven a campervan, and that I was driving on the left hand side of the road (I’m an American, we drive on the right), and my apprehension level was more than slightly elevated.

Our hostel had parking available, but it was, yes, in an underground garage.

I figured I would go in and talk to the guys at the desk about it.

“My vehicle is three meters tall, are you sure it’s going to fit?” I asked repeatedly.

They were sure.

And they were somewhat correct.

We made it in with less than an inch to spare between the raised roof of the van and the ceiling.

One of the guys from reception came down and helped guide us in. While doing so we noticed that he made adjustments to the roll down steel gate of the parking garage with a long cardboard tube.

Fair enough.

We did our thing in Auckland.

Our problems didn’t come until the following morning.

Now, this button-triggered roll up/down parking garage gate didn’t exactly function as it should. It was old and rickety to begin with, and it often didn’t rise up all the way, with half of it hanging limp in the passageway. This was what the hostel guy the night before was fixing with the cardboard tube.

So when we made to leave we figured that we would also do the same thing. It didn’t seem like it would be a problem. I drove the van out of the garage as my wife and another guest at the hostel pushed the gate up a little with the cardboard tubes to allow me enough room to clear it. No problem. I momentarily parked the van in a loading zone across the street.

However, in pushing up the gate my wife and the other guy had also pushed the gate out of its track.

The hostel workers on the morning shift noticed this and came storming out to deal with the situation.

“If you don’t come in and take care of this now we’re going to bill your card a lot of money,” one of the workers seriously said.

I returned.

“It’s all broken,” the manager said. “Do you know how much these things cost? They are really expensive here. You’re going to have to pay for a new one.”

This sounded absurd.

I closely inspected what had happened, and tried to explain that there wasn’t any damage, that the gate was just knocked out of the track. I pointed it all out to the manager and then offered to fix it, which would have merely entailed standing on a chair and setting the gate back in the track.

The hostel didn’t want to hear any of it, stating that they couldn’t allow me to fix it because if I got hurt they would go to jail.

“In New Zealand you go to jail for this,” the manager said.

“You’re going to have to buy a new one. These are very expensive in New Zealand.”

This seemed to be the equivalent of smudging someone’s car with a thumb print and them trying to make you buy them a new one.

The hostel workers kept talking about billing my card for the damages. It seemed surreally absurd.

“Why would you bill my card when I can just fix it for free right now?”

Nope. They wanted a new gate.

I became a little irritated and asserted that I had the full permission of the hostel staff to park there and how I highly doubted that my 5′ 3″ wife could do any significant damage to a heavy steel gate with a cardboard tube.

For a moment, I began showing some anger, but then withdrew. It wasn’t worth it, first of all, and it wouldn’t make the situation any better anyway. So I pulled back, smiled, tried to be friendly, to sympathize, to connect in the mutual mission of getting the thing fixed and getting out of there.

That worked better.

We agreed that we were both at fault — us for pushing up the gate with the cardboard tube and them for letting me park in there in the first place — and that we would work it out.

I was fairly confident that if they just called someone who repairs these gates that he/she could fix it in a matter of moments for a small labor charge. If they did that and sent me a reasonable bill, I would pay it — no problem. We shook hands, smiled, and I left.


Filed under: New Zealand, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

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