A scary trip home

A scary trip home

Another old series which I did not post at the time because of other commitments (I had almost 10,000 photos of gymnasts to process!).   I was returning from the Gymsports Nationals in October 2013, booked on the 1 pm ferry from Wellington to Picton.  We lined up and waited, only to be told that our crossing was cancelled due to high winds and rough seas in Cook Strait.  We had to come back for the 6 pm ferry instead, with no guarantees that it would go either.  But the Aratere did show up, it had made it across.


The weather was not good, a strong gale force nor-wester with occasional rain showers.


The wind was screaming down a valley to our west, as we wait to drive on, lifting a lot of water.  This was the view across the harbour:


My car was three rows back from the waters edge.  The nearest row was for campervans and motor homes.  This shot shows that row before it filled up for the earlier 1 pm sailing:


We watched in awe as a particularly strong gust hit, lifting the right-hand wheels of one of the motor homes half a metre or more off the ground!  It came close to being blown over into the sea.  Pity I missed the shot, but at least I did keep my camera dry.

The crossing was rough once we left the shelter of the harbour.  One of the passengers taped his GoPro to the front viewing window of the observation lounge.  I looked for a while on Youtube to see if he posted the video, it would have been fantastic.  You know those sequences where the bow hits a wave, then everyone goes white for a while until the spray clears?  Not this time.  We did get the white spray, but then the scene turned green, for a long, long time.  It wasn’t possible to stand up without hanging on to a rail.  Quite fun really.  The arrival in Picton was an anticlimax, after a fairly quiet trip in the sheltered Marlborough Sounds.  I wasn’t to know that the excitement was just beginning.

Disembarkation went smoothly, but once out in the open it was clear that this was a nasty night for driving.  Heavy rain, extremely strong winds and a lot of water and debris on the road.  I made it as far as Spring Creek, travelling around 70 kph or so, then took the back road to Nelson (Rapuara Rd).  I hadn’t gone very far when I saw a truck approaching. Suddenly a wind gust forced it right over the centre line onto my side of the road.  It was a full logging truck and trailer. Luckily there was a flat area of grass to my left.  The electronic stability system in my car was bleeping away at me for all its worth.  I swore at it: I knew I was off the bloody road, idiot!  I managed to get control and get back on the road, then stopped for a while to get back some composure.

No more killer trucks, but the next little adventure happened at the Pelorus Bridge.  On exiting the one lane bridge, the car felt very strange indeed.  I was only travelling around 20 kph, it’s a sharp RH turn off the bridge, but the car was wallowing as if I had a puncture. There’s nowhere safe to stop for a few hundred metres so I drove very slowly, whiggling the steering wheel to check how the car responded.  It was all over the place, slipping and sliding, quite hard to keep on the road.  Eventually I came to a gravel storage lay-by where I could stop.

The tyres all looked and sounded fine.  But when I felt their surface, it was greasy, they were coated with oil!  Just then another car pulled up, the driver jumped out and checked his tyres too.  A little further on there was a straight, where I tried to scuff the oil off by accelerating and braking sharply.  That would have worked in my trusty old BMW 325, but didn’t do much for a RAV4.  So I drove on at 30 -40 kph, slowing down for corners.  At the top of the Whangamoa hills I stopped again to check the tyres before the really windy section.  Two tankers pulled up behind me to do the same.

I eventually got home after a trip lasting almost 4 hours (normally 1.5 hrs).  I was concerned about that oil hazard at Pelorus, so rang the Nelson police station.  It was about 2 am. After quite a while the phone was answered by some young, sleepy officer (I’m guessing there).  He listened politely, then explained in a very patronising fashion that roads often get slippery when heavy rain follows a long dry spell.  I’d given my name and phone number, or I may have been less polite.  I explained that I’d been driving for a 100,000 km or so longer than him, I did know the difference between oil and water, and apologised for waking him.  I’m sure he did nothing in response to my call, but the next night was probably out booking someone for travelling 3 kph over the speed limit.





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