Lately I’ve been day dreaming about a good road trip. There’s something enticing about jumping in a car with a friend or two and letting the scenery roll by at the pace you want it to. My last road trip was with Erin to her cousin’s wedding in the Okanagan. It was a great trip, and I wrote about it, but I do believe one of my most memorable road trips was to Cape Reinga in New Zealand.
I landed in Auckland, New Zealand at about 10 am local time and Erin met me at the air port. We then went to the hostel and checked my luggage into their little storage closet. I was exhausted but we couldn’t check into our room until about 3 pm. Currently, I hadn’t slept for about 24 hours, which was also somehow 3 days ago thanks to the time zones that I still cant do the math on. Despite being exhausted, we decided to burn up the hours before my afternoon nap by going for a scenic walk around the city and checking out the museum, I highly recommend both of these things. Afterward I finally got to go to bed, and it was everything I hoped it would be. The next morning I woke up early, because sleeping patterns dont travel with you I find.
Once Erin and I had some breakfast we decided that the first thing we should do on our trip is go to Cape Reinga, the northern most tip of New Zealand. We weighed the pros and cons of taking a bus vs renting a vehicle and staying in hostels vs renting a camper van. It was a quick and easy decision. I really wanted to try driving on the left side of the road, because I’m a man child, also Erin and I both enjoy camping. Camper van it is! We called the rental agency and asked if we met the age and licence requirements to rent a camper van. They said we had to be 18… Check! The driver also had to have a standard drivers licence… kinda check, maybe.. Erin and I at the time both had what is known as a GDL (graduated drivers licence) which meant that we had completed the road test, the only difference between it and the full licence is that with a GDL there’s half the demerits allowed, you can’t teach someone to drive, and there’s zero alcohol tolerance. I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable, which meant I wasn’t sure they would let us rent a camper van. This left me in a weird way, I didn’t want to ask and point it out but I also didn’t want to break the rules. I thought about it a bit and realized that I was comfortable bending the rules a bit if it was for the sake of adventure.
The following morning we walked into the rental facility, picked out the sweet van we were going to rent and filled out the paperwork. The entire time I was sweaty and nervous, it probably looked mighty suspicious. Eventually they gave us the keys and sent us on our way. We had gotten the van for just a few days, and pre-purchased the last tank of gas. Basically we didn’t have to refill it before we returned it, it ended up saving us money if we returned it with less than half a tank of gas… supposedly. I carefully climbed into the ultra compact van, first I sat sideways on the seat then spun around and carefully wedged my left leg under the steering wheel and against the dash, then rammed my right knee into the corner of the door and the dash. Over the next few days I would learn to do this at a much faster rate. This van clearly wasn’t built for a man of my height and throughout the entire trip I had this fear of getting in a slight fender bender and breaking both my legs. Luckily that never happened. After my contortionist routine, we pulled out of the garage went a block east and then headed north on the freeway.
Let me just make a side note here and talk about driving on the opposite side of the road you are used to. Most vehicles in New Zealand have a manual transmission, which is fine, I actually prefer a manual. The part that fouled me up was that I was shifting with my left hand, it just felt unnatural. They also have the wiper switch and the signal switch on opposite sides that I’m used to, every time I pulled up to an intersection I turned the windshield wipers on. You’d think that eventually it would stop startling me, but you’d be wrong. Driving on the opposite side isn’t too bad because all of the traffic is doing it so it feels a little less weird. The real problem I had was in parking lots when passing oncoming traffic my instinct is to pass on the right hand side, naturally I got some funny looks until they saw the side of the van displaying the fact that I was a tourist. Also coming out of lots onto the road, I tended to hug the right side of the entrance/exit which again led to strange looks. Lucky for me New Zealanders tend to be a friendly people with a sense of humor.
Shortly after escaping the city we crossed a bridge with a beautiful river underneath it. I decided I wanted to get a few pictures so I pulled the van over onto the shoulder and climbed out. Erin and I each grabbed some nice photos and jumped back into the van. I went to take off and the tires just spun on the wet grass I had parked on. Immediately I started to worry and wonder how the hell I was going to explain to the rental company that I got their van stuck. Luckily, as I am a pretty typical Canadian, I know a thing or two about driving on slick surfaces. I put the van into reverse and was able to get enough traction to back up a few inches. I then was able to get a bit of forward momentum to get me a few more inches forward. I eventually rocked the van back and forth and eventually off of the slippery grass. My blood pressure dropped dramatically once all the wheels were back on pavement. Erin of course thought it was all kinda funny, she doesn’t seem to worry quite as easily as I do.
Late that day we made it to Cape Reinga. We had done the drive from Auckland to the cape in one day. Normally its only a five and half hour drive, but I might have gotten lost a few times. Luckily I’m the one telling the story so I can leave stuff like that out.
I parked the van in what was maybe a camping spot, either way it was relatively level and under a nice tree so it worked for me. We then ran down to the beach just in time to see the sunset.
Once it was dark out we headed back to the camper and had some ham sandwiches. We then went and got some water. There was a lovely sign hanging saying something along the lines of “boil water before consuming”. We headed back to the camper and pulled out the little stove and pot that came with it to prepare our drinking water. For the life of me I could not find anything to light that stove with. We tore the van apart looking for matches or a lighter. Erin and I were debating what the risks were of drinking the water as is vs not having any water when two guys walked passed our camper. I walked up and started a conversation, in my usual friendly way. Turns out they were also Canadian and more important to the story, they had a lighter they were willing to lend us. We boiled a bunch of water and put it in my, then new, stainless steel water bottle and left it to cool.
The next morning we actually got to see Cape Reinga. The main attraction was a beautiful lighthouse that overlooked where the Tasman sea and the Pacific ocean mixed. It was very scenic, but also very windy.
We then hopped back into the little van for the trip home. It ended up being far more noteworthy than the ride there, which was mainly used to determine where we wanted to stop on the way back. But this story’s getting a little long, I’ll tell you the rest next week.
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I’m sure many of you are tired of me droning on and on about my obsession with old shotguns and my love of grouse hunting. What can I say, they go hand in hand so well. This week I submit, for your reading pleasure, a brief and somewhat incomplete “history” of one of the first guns in my collection.
Towards the end of my first year of university I had become a little more settled and had just a little bit of spare cash lying around. So, as any young man with extra money would do, I went to a gun show. I just figured it was about time I owned a shotgun, no sense having a licence if I’m not going to use it right? I wandered up and down several isles looking at a wide range of beautiful hunting rifles far out of my price range, and pistols that were pretty well useless to me. Then out of the corner of my eye, there it was, an old semi auto shotgun. Time had slowly turned the dark finish of the metal to a light grey and the wood on it looked like the finish had come off some time before I was born. The price was almost exactly how much money I had lying around, $200. Behind the folding table stood a tall and thin old man. The bartering began, after much back and forth the price had been renegotiated to $175, if memory serves. I filled out a lot of paperwork, at that time there was still the long gun registration. He handed me the gun, without a case, I shook his hand and I was off. Out of money and shotgun in hand I headed for the door. On my way out a lady handed me a garbage bag to put the gun in for my walk across the parking lot “we cant have people carrying guns around outside” I disagreed with her, but I figured I may as well just play along. I got to my car and had to laugh, the gun was so long and my car so small that I had to angle it from the floor behind the passenger seat to lean against the drivers side back door.
The gun I had purchased was a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun. It was labelled a Remington 11-48 a quick Google search reveals that it was made somewhere between 1949 and 1968 and is most likely the base model.
Old shotguns are typically notoriously cheap, I’m going to ramble a little off topic and try to explain why, if you’re not overly interested just skip this paragraph. Here we go. Shotguns made before about 1900 were designed to use only ammunition loaded with black powder. Black powder burns at a lower pressure, meaning that if you use modern shotgun shells the gun could, in a sense, explode or more likely crack apart, its extremely dangerous. It is now very rare and expensive to find black powder shotgun shells, most people just make their own if they want them. This causes the price of these really old shotguns to be very cheap, I bought a beautiful one in great shape a few years ago for about $100 and a $50 shotgun is not unheard of. Shotguns built after 1900 (ish) to about 1985 (ish), such as the Remington I am telling you about, were built when all shotgun shells had lead shot put in them, its dense and flexible meaning that the choke (end of the barrel) can be shrunk down to keep the BBs closer together giving the gun more hitting power. However, in recent decades, lead shot has been banned from use for waterfowl hunting and has been replaced with steel shot. Steel doesn’t have the same flex or density as lead, this means that the old style barrels, with too tight of chokes, can split if you try and use steel shot in them. These older guns are now rendered useless for hunting ducks and geese. You can still, however, buy lead shot and use it for non-migratory birds such as grouse, snipe, and pheasant as well as most target shot for skeets and clays. It is this loss of usefulness for waterfowl that causes these guns to have very little value, which is where I come in because I can still use it for two of my favorite things, skeets and grouse.
It was that following fall that my dad bought a house north of the city and introduced me to grouse hunting. It had been the first time in over ten years that my dad had hunted, but that’s another story and it his to tell, I have a hard time imagining him taking another hiatus that long. It was pure coincidence that I had a great gun for it, my new (to me) Remington. My dad, brother, and I must have gotten nearly 50 grouse that season their population had been on a up-cycle that year and you could almost call it an infestation.
Over the winter I attempted to shoot a lot of skeets with it, I hit a few but it wasn’t pretty. That spring I got a little bored and decided to refinish the wood on the old shotgun that had been so good to me for so long. I pulled it apart and began sanding. The stock had developed a bit of a crack, so I simply glued it shut. About the time I finished sanding it, a friend of mine offered to airbrush it for me for $50, if I recall correctly (a steal of deal compared to the usual price of his work). I guess he was bored too maybe. I gave him the sanded stock and told him it was a gun mostly for grouse hunting, I them remembered that he likes hot rods and loud engines, not guns and hunting. I showed him a few picture of grouse to make sure we were on the same page. I gave him my full permission to get creative. The results where phenomenal.
Needless to say I was very impressed with the final product and this gun still get a lot of attention and compliments when people see it. I reassembled the gun after it was painted and took it out for a day of shooting. I was disheartened to find that it now shot horribly. It shot way high and way to the left and there was nothing I could do about it since shotguns dont have adjustable sights. As best I could figure the paint must have built up on the areas where the stock met with the metal of the gun and changed some of the angles meaning I would have to try sanding some of the paint off. I retired it to the closet for a while with the intention of looking into it “when I get a chance” time passed and I got busy with other things and it slowly found its way into the back of a closet.
A few weeks ago my friend Nikki and I went out for a shooting day. While there I saw that old Remington out of the corner of my eye and decided that I better try shooting it again. Maybe I would cut the barrel down and put a new adjustable sight on it and use it for a bush gun. I took it outside and fired a shot at a clay and it turned to dust. I shot another clay and same thing… it was the damnedest thing, the gun was now shooting perfect. I must have had an off day, then blamed the gun and as punishment for my stupidity I went years without shooting it. Chopping the barrel off was no longer an option to me. Nikki and I shot that gun all day and it worked well the whole time, I will admit the action was a little unreliable but I blame that on it collecting dust in a closet for about 5 years.
Towards the end of the day I noticed that the paint was beginning to chip off around the crack that I had previously glued shut. I couldn’t let this continue, not after what had already happened. I took the gun home and put some paint over the cracking edges and Erin and I wrapped some leather around the crack, which luckily happened to be on the handle.
Personally I like the look of the leather wrapped handle. I am now very excited to have my old grouse gun back in action. With any luck it should get me some dinner this fall. Don’t worry, you’ll hear all about it.
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