Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged Alaska: A message from Kiwi Land

The headquarters of Unhinged recently received some unexpected correspondence from New Zealand

The headquarters of Unhinged recently received some unexpected correspondence from New Zealand referencing a column I wrote about a bungee jump I took down there back when my common sense was severely underdeveloped and my body parts didn’t crackle like overcooked popcorn.

They enjoyed it and wondered if we had any additional adventures to share about our camper van sojourn through their country.

I sent this:

We were somewhat astounded to discover that some of the drivers on the North Island were borderline psychotic when they strapped on a set of wheels. Not unlike some of our unhinged Alaskan motorists.

When we mingled with the Kiwis at cafes, campgrounds or anywhere they didn’t have their foot on a gas pedal, they were the most gracious and outgoing beings on earth. But, put a certain few behind the wheel and even grandmas sprouted temp tattoos and a lead right foot.

The speed limit on the highways was 100 kph (62.13 mph). The locals, who openly admitted to their predilection for turbo status seemed to only slow to the limit when passing on hairpin curves.

Once we adjusted to the narrow pavements and roadway rocketeers, we were able to soak up the awesome scenery. Again, not unlike Alaskan highways in the summer.

New Zealand resembles a huge deep-green golf course with a quarter of a million sheep continuously mowing the grass.

New Zealand, like Australia, has outstanding campervan parks featuring amenities that are exceptionally clean and feature hosts who are cool folks to join around a campfire.

Take the little ville of Turangi. It’s located just south of a mammoth lake called Taupo and just north of the Ruapehu volcano that was belching tons of ash and spewing out chunks of land that would have been a homesteader’s dream by the time we arrived. Of course, we decided to camp there.

We had just sat down in the community TV room to watch legal mayhem, known as rugby, and share dinner with a fascinating couple from Johannesburg, South Africa, when our table suddenly shot about a foot off the ground.

The viewing room’s furniture rearranged itself and I found myself buttering my new friend’s ear rather than a cross bun. The shocks quickly subsided but had disquieted our fellow travelers to the point that they didn’t believe our host’s postulation that it wouldn’t be a serious shaking until we started finding ceiling tiles in our soup.

We jetted outside to try and catch the fireworks, but the mountain was covered by clouds, so we packed it in and went to sleep gently rocked by continuing seismic rock and roll. I felt badly for our new buddies who were in a tree but figured they’d have a hell of a view if the clouds cleared.

The next day we had to detour 140 km around the west side of the mountain because of the deep ash on the main highway south. This was a stroke of luck because we would have missed Okakune, which is the self-professed Carrot Capital of the World. Impressed? You should have seen their multi-storied plastic carrot. If you laid the thing on its side, it would have been longer than the village was wide. Subsequently, we also passed through the ‘Asparagus and the Bum Shoe Capitals of the World’.

I couldn’t figure out why so many small towns claimed to be a veggie or consumer product capital of the world until a resident explained that not everyone in rural New Zealand realizes that they live on an island and there are inlanders who still believe they’d fall off the edge of the earth if they sailed over the horizon. He said that those living in the agrarian communities aren’t quite sure where strange-speaking tourists such as ourselves come from but write us off as social misfits from Auckland.

Once we were back on Highway One, we continued south toward the port of Wellington passing through the resplendent countryside’s, stopping at fresh fruit stands and gawking like geeks at the enormous flowering trees and resplendent parks.

The Kiwis don’t believe in litter and their roads, towns and even the thoroughfares are groomed and landscaped. They would have a coronary taking the tourist bus through L.A. The innocent visitors would think they were touring a landfill.

We finally set up camp in Porirua just outside Wellington after inadvertently taking a few side roads that professional mountain bikers would have had trouble negotiating.

After I had a few calming Big Red brews and Jane’s blood pressure returned to normal, we plotted the next phase of our adventure. A ferry ride across Cook Strait to the port city of Picton and our invasion of the South Island.

It was like cruising into a different world just as it was when we first arrived in Alaska.

Nick can be reached at if he isn’t lost in the basement’s winter storage area desperately trying to find his new fly rod and lucky muck infused waders.

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