This is the back story about how we drove the Mazda Bongo 2/3 of the way round the South Island of New Zealand on a flat tyre. From Murchison, down the West Coast, through the Southern Alps, Otago, Catlins and the South Coast, then up the East Coast to Dunedin.
We live in central North Island New Zealand, and brought the Bongo with us from the UK over four years ago. Between Xmas and New Year we set off on a trip to the South Island, via the Wellington Ferry. I had the Bongo serviced at the local Mazda place before we went. There was some wear on the sides of two wheels identified on a previous service, so I’d had the wheel alignment & balance checked previously, and during the service they swapped the front and back wheels, so the best tyres were at the front. They reckoned the tyres were still good for over 2,000K, and we planned to get some new tyres fitted in Christchurch if necessary. All the tyres are 215/65 type as per the tag inside the door; I’m not sure we ever had the alternative 195/70 tyres on the front as listed in the handbook. The tyres were fitted about three years ago.
On a Road Trip
Off we set, down to Wellington, over the water, and on to Richmond for a couple of nights. Post disembarkation, we stopped off at Havelock, but it was too early for coffee as nowhere was open, so I did a post-disembarkation coffee by the marina. Then we drove on to Pelorus Bridge, where I had a nap in the back of the Bongo while Georgina took Gemma exploring.
This was the passenger view from the Bongo, as we innocently set out from Richmond to Westport, our Hula dancer from Hawaii merrily dancing along to the sound of Queen playing through the stereo from the Advent MSI Wind clone we bought for the trip here in 2008, now running Linux XFCE.
When we got to Murchison, I noticed the handling was a bit odd, so pulled into a garage, and it looked like one of the tyres was a bit flat. I put it down to the valve-extender I’d had to fit (we lost one of the hubcaps on a trip to Auckland a couple of weeks previously, and opted to replace the lot, but the position made access to the valves tricky). We carried on towards Westport, then up the coast a bit and checked the tyre (I’ve always carried a pump or compressor & stuff since my Morris Traveller days as a teenager), which needed a bit of air, but not much. When we went to leave the grotty tavern we had managed to find to stay, the tyre was completely deflated.
Westport: Tasman Tyres I.
This was during the Xmas-New Year holiday here, where everything shuts down till January 5th. I was unwell, so our priority was to find a motel to get me to, so we could sort the tyre out and I could rest up a bit. I pumped the tyre, and we drove to a motel in Westport. The tyre was still OK, and thinking it was the valve extension, I took that off, and it seemed to be holding up till we went to bed. This was Friday 2nd, and I’d rung TasmanTyres, to see if they were open at all that afternoon or Saturday morning to have a look at the tyre. They said they weren’t open till Monday. The next morning, the tyre was still OK, needed a top-up, but not flat. So, we visited the emergency medical centre to get something for my sickness, and headed on for Greymouth. Tyre was OK.
Greymouth: Tasman Tyres II.
Next morning, tyre had gone completely flat again over night. So, Georgina rang Tasman Tyres in Greyport this time, who came out on a premium call-out charge ($95). The guy spent half an hour not finding a puncture or any problem with valve. I suggested that if he had them, I was happy to replace with new a pair of tyres rather than mess about, if necessary. He was not set up for that, and seemed really pissed about being called out during the holiday; he had his two kids with him. He eventually found a puncture just where the wall meets the tread. he said he’s not supposed to fix that, but would if we want, just to get us to somewhere we could get it fixed properly, given that would be safe than using the space saver. We explained that we were driving down the west coast, past the glaciers, then through the Haast Pass and on to Wanaka, then Gore, Dunedin & Christchurch. Would the repair get us back on the road to find somewhere after Wanaka to get tyres? He said it should be OK for that, so we went ahead with the repair. Cost $85 on top of the call out. That is $180, more than the cost of a new tyre, FYI.
We drove to Hokitika, which is not far, and then a few km beyond, when the handling went off again. The tyre was deflated again, but not flat. So, we drove back to Hokitika, and called up Tasman Tyres again, and asked what he was going to do – he didn’t show any interest whatsoever.
This time, we rang the AA, who explained that they could come out and fit the spacesaver, or take us to the nearest garage for repair on Monday – our schedule didn’t seem to feature in the service they could offer. While I was on hold waiting for them to come back to me, somebody from a local garage turned up, so I hung up the call so I could speak to him. He had been sent by the AA, and during the conversation, he informed us that the AA had just told him that we had cancelled the call while we were speaking to him spoke. I said we had done no such thing, and so we figured what they meant was that the AA had cancelled the call on our behalf.
He assured us he would help anyway, and helped us fit the spacesaver, and led us to the rural garage a few km away. He took the tyre apart, and discovered that the puncture repair had fallen off inside the tube. We said about replacing two tyres if necessary, but they had neither the 215/65-15 nor 195/70-15, the closest being 205/65-15 (of which there were only two), so he called his boss out. His boss would not let him fit the 205/65-15, as they all needed to be the same ratio (being 4×4), and the only thing he could suggest to get us back on the road was to do a proper puncture repair, and fit an inner tube to ensure everything was sealed tight & secure from inside.
Georgina’s picture of the view from the back of the garage – how cool to work somewhere with a view like that, eh?
We explained our route, and our schedule. He reckoned that this should get us through to Christchurch at least, if not all the way home, where getting some replacements after the holiday should not be such a problem. He also made sure that the repaired wheel was moved to the back wheel, the better back wheel moved to the front wheel, as a precaution; the front takes more wear ans is mor critical, especially on the rougher southern roads. We went for that, and he was very reasonable, and said he would sort out the callout with the AA after the weekend. I paid $120, the amount he suggested when he left us with the assistant; happy to pay that, because the guys at Kaniere Motirs near Hokitika were real stars. They were what I would call proper Kiwi’s; no messing about, plenty of common sense, and keen to help out to get you sorted as quickly as possible and on your way as safely as possible. Without any bullshit.
That was that really for most of the trip through to the South and on up East Coast. We kept an eye on the tyre, and it held up. Georgina got back onto Tasman Tyres first thing Monday morning, before they had a chance to process the payment, and the boss there agreed not to charge us anything, but without being able to apologise because he wasn’t aware of what had happened.
So, we continued down the west coast, past Fox Glacier, where we stopped at the service station so that once more the tyres could be ritually checked (as they were on every conceivable opportunity):
through the Haast Pass, visiting places like Roaring Billy Falls,
into and around the Alps, on to Gore, where the Bongo once more proved invaluable for a wayside snack for me and Gemma.
From there we drove into the Catlins, visited the South Coast, then headed up towards Dunedin on our way home.
The Wrong Turn…
Everything was fine, until 30 minutes out of Dunedin. Then the driving went off again, and so I stopped, and the tyre was going flat again. The compressor didn’t seem to want to play with the inner tube either, it could not register the pressure, and if I set the pressure, it would start to pump, then stop; start stop, start, stop, no increase in pressure on the hand guage. So, we went looking for a gas station with a tyre pump, opting to turn off the road at the first sign for gas – to find a dairy with petrol, but no air compressor. In the time we were there, while on the phone to the AA, the tyre deflated completely.
The best way I can describe the little town by the sea we found ourselves was like something off the “Wrong Turn” movies. It just felt creepy. The store woman seemed amused that we had turned off at the sign for petrol, expecting an air pump. People walked up to and past the Bongo for a look, without comment. So unusual in NZ to have a flat anywhere without somebody chipping in advice or even offering a helping hand. It felt like a very unfriendly place. When George went to the corner store we were parked up by, which also served as some kind of diner, looking for a toilet, she was told they didn’t have one, and given directions to a public toilet way down the road. That had a gang of kids hanging around (who also decided to come and check out our van at some point). So, by the time the AA did turn up, we just wanted to get away from what has to be one of the creepiest little places in the whole of New Zealand either of us has ever visited…
Before we ended up on the menu.
The AA did respond much more positively this time, and an real AA van turned up after about an hour 15 minutes. The guy was pleasant, and completely “got” the problem we had experienced, why we had such a difficulty getting the tyre fixed properly, and that while unusual, what happened at Holitika with the inner tube had been the most sensible thing to do in the circumstances.
We explained the route, and he said that he could not let us go on to Christchurch either on the tyre pumped up or on the spacesaver, and rang round a couple of places on our route; he could only find somewhere with the tyres we needed back in Dunedin. Once more, the pathetic little spacesaver was fitted, and he followed us back to Challenge Tyres, where it turned out they had two new 215/65-15 tyres, and reassured that we would do the right thing and not try to get back to Hamilton on a repaired flat, plus my assuring him that because of the one remaining (& now increasingly) worn rear tyre we would replace the rear two when we got home, he left us with them. The new tyres became the front tyres, replacing the punctured tyre and the tyre the other side that started on the rear, now looking pretty worn on the edge, which was returned to the back. By the time we finished, only one tyre still had a cable tyre – the good (but itself worn) tyre at the rear LHS, meaning three of the four tyres had either been changed or moved around during the course of our journey.
We left Dunedin late for our stop that night, with two shiny new tyres on the front, and with that we were able to get to Christchurch, and stopped just before Kaikoura at Goose Bay, relaxed with two shiny two tyres:
On to Blenheim, onto the Ferry, and across the water to Wellington, Whanaka, te Kuiti and home.
When we got home, as soon as practical, I set about hunting down a possible replacement for the space saver. So far, although I have found a near match, slightly offset from the others closer to the drive shaft, I have not found a precise match. But, I have had the rear tyres replaced with a sturdy pair of commercial grade tyres, at some expense, and have retained the good worn tyre for that day when I do find the elusive Mazda Bongo genuine spare tyre.
When I did the calculations, I found that we had done about 4,500 km, 1200 of which was getting to the Ferry and back. So getting round the island was about 3,300 km.