We’ve rented something called a “Spaceship“—essentially a Toyota minivan that’s been converted into a bright orange campervan. Our car is now our castle. This is a new approach to car camping for us—actually sleeping in the vehicle, but it’s one that New Zealand is uniquely set up to accommodate. With the numerous “campgrounds” and holiday parks, we have access to toilets and showers, cooking facilities, and even internet for around $16-22 per person per night, pretty much everywhere.
We picked up our Spaceship on Friday morning, ominously named “Palpatine“, and planned to head towards Rotorua, a geothermal hotspot and center of M?ori culture. For the uninitiated, M?ori is the general term used to refer to the many tribes of Polynesian descent that were living in New Zealand before the Europeans arrived. The M?ori influence on culture here is omnipresent: in the place names, the art, and the ethnic makeup of a significant segment of the population.
Our first challenge was driving on the left side of the road. Neither of us had ever done that before. And one of the big selling points of the Spaceship was the guarantee of automatic transmission. We figured that driving on the left, roundabouts, and a manual transmission would have been too much to bear.
I thought the hardest part of driving on the left was going to be remembering to stay in the left lane, especially after turns. Actually that’s easy, since once we start in the correct lane, we stay in it. And at intersections, most of the time we just follow the car in front of us. Our brains quickly switched into left-lane mode.
As it turns out, the hardest part is using the turn signal! The brake and gas pedals are in the same configuration, but the wiper control is on the left side of the steering column and the turn signal is on the right (opposite from cars built for the right side of the road—at least for Japanese imports). No matter how hard I try, my muscle memory continually conspires against me, and I end up looking very foolish making a turn with the windshield wiper blades wiping furiously—in broad daylight.