A (very) short excerpt from an upcoming novel of New Zealand by Dr. Lawrence Winkler: The Bolthole
When Dr. Sababa first arrived in New Zealand, some thirty years earlier, he and Jane hitched the western entrance of the Tapu, to the trailhead of the Pinnacles Walk. This was where they discovered the love for moreporks in the moonlight and glow worms in gold mines, and each other.
They watched the meteors flash across the Southern Cross at night. “Maybe some day, I’ll buy you a place with a gold mine, in the Coromandel.” She gave him a harsh glare which Kiwi’s reserve for skiting high achievers. And the fireflies danced anyway…
The 309 had become an eternal source of terror for Dr. Sababa. He and Jane drove north of Thames on SH25, on the Pacific Coastal route they had adopted as their own since they bought the Bolthole, years earlier. It was an annual ritual, landing in Auckland in the early humid dawn of each Antipodean spring, and jumping the airport express to Queens Wharf downtown. Then for the short Fuller’s ferry ride to Jane’s sister, on Waiheke Island, the old offshore refuge of “the bad, the sad, and the mad”.
Dr. Sababa quickly decompressed from his professional responsibilities, and Jane caught up with the Rellies for a couple of days, before they returned to the big city. A ten-dollar taxi ride dropped them at A2B rental cars where, for a once excellent price, they piled in an ancient Toyota RAV, vertiginous from the number of spins on its own odometer. With a stop at Caros’ Wines, they zoomed off south, and then east, to Thames. At Pak’nSave in the Golddiggers Mall, behind which you could still find kauri gum, they loaded up several months’ worth of groceries.
By early afternoon, they were swerving through the magnificent red flowering Tolkien tunnel of pre-historic pohutukawas lining the highway along the slate blue of the Hauraki Gulf. They might stop for water, or an ice cream, but never for long, anxious as they were to reach the little shack before dark. They knew every curve on the way, including when it would turn inland at Wilson Bay. The Thames Coast Road went then through the hills and swamps of Manaia. Here a two-dollar coin, dropped in an honesty box at a remote farm gate, would get them a bag of juicy tangelos.
The majestic heights of Mount Pukewhakataratara brought them to the east. Jane and Dr. Sababa would zoom down past Preece Point and the mussel farms of Coromandel harbor. Then to the SH25 turn-off over the ranges towards Kuaotunu, and the cottage.
It had been one of those perfectly crystalline summer mornings when Jane left him for a few days to take care of a family concern.
Her Uncle Bill suggested Dr. Sababa drive his son’s old copper-colored Holden HQ station wagon north, to camp in the furthest forest of the peninsula. “Take the Bronze Whaler. It‘s a great way to disappear for a few days and see the most remote part of the Coromandel.”
He eyed the massive metal machine in Uncle Bill’s driveway with suspicion.
“It’s big,” he mumbled. “It’s indestructible, mate. Runs like a buck rabbit.”
Dr. Sababa accepted the offer with gratitude and asked Uncle Bill for directions to the remoteness.
“I’d take the 309 just south of town. There are twists and turns and a few potholes, but from Whitianga, it’s 22 kilometers of winding gravel on a northwest diagonal, along the Mahakirau Stream, to Coromandel town on the east coast. Then there it’s straight up the guts to Colville and beyond.” The 309, joining Coromandel to Whitianga, was an unpaved road.
The good doctor threw his sleeping bag and tent in the back of the Bronze Whaler, and carefully navigated out of Uncle Bill’s gravel driveway. The old man waved from the deck, anxious to see him off on his adventure.
Dr. Sababa stopped at the Whitianga supermarket and filled up the back seat with two boxes of tinned food. The only eating utensil he would need was his Swiss army knife. The Whaler roared along the bucolic pastureland on the SH25 south of Whitianga until it reached the turn-off of the 309.
Gorse and scrub and native bush began to fill in his peripheral vision, but the tarmac continued smooth and deceptive for the first two kilometers before turning into dust and stones at the quarry. The Whaler blew past tree ferns and building blocks of rainbow-colored beehives, and the black squiggles on a yellow traffic notice warning of the 309 loops and bends which would form the next ten kilometers. Another sign, red and lime green spoke of local artisanal activity further down the road. 309 Honey… 3 kilometers.
Vehicles passing from the other direction raised clouds of fine dust the lasted only as long as it took to reach the next one. Dr. Sababa was experiencing his first solo flight in hostile airspace. New Zealanders consider driving as just another extreme sport. With classic All-Black élan and strategic intent, every car is an obstacle to scoring another goal, every road is a slalom course, and every give-way sign a mere suggestion. There is no blind corner too hidden, no passing interval too short, and no single lane bridge too long not to be taken at full speed and full volume. Kiwis don’t so much drive, as aim and, what he was soon to discover, the rules of engagement were the same on the motorways, as on the poorest narrowest cork-screwiest excuses for a road like the 309.
It was around one of these gritty turns that Dr. Sababa found himself on a collision course with a large white luxury vehicle, hurtling around the corner on his side of the gravel. Four young girls appeared to be chewing gum and chatting at the same time, and one of them was pushing her multitasking skills to the limit in attempting to aim his vehicle.
Dr. Sababa, with his lightning-fast analytical ability, came to three sequential conclusions in a matter of milliseconds. The first was that these young women were likely from Auckland, given the gap between their age and the cost of means of transport, obliviousness to the rest of the world, and their straw hats. The second was that, if he could just nudge the Bronze Whaler ever so slightly to the left, he might be able to demonstrate his chivalry, and avert a collision, thus saving the day and its participants. The third thing he realized, was that his chivalrous intent had been ever-so-slightly miscalculated. It resulted in an attempt by the left side of the massive metal machine to leave the rest of the encounter, slowly but irreversibly.
The Whaler began a slow crocodilian death roll, off the left edge of the 309, and over the bank of the sheer drop-off into space. It could have been a ballet if there hadn’t been so much metal in play. Not only the steel of the Whaler was in the air but, at a precise rotational angle, all the tinned food in the back seat boxes flew onto the field. They smashed into the cockpit airspace and around the befuddled expression on the twirling face of the good doctor. Fortunately for Sababa, Uncle Bill had been right about the indestructibility of the old Holden wagon. In three complete axial revolutions through the solar system and down the steep embankment, the Bronze Whaler did not break. It did, however, lose most of its height, as the roof was crushed nearly flat by the impacts with the slope before it was stopped and jammed immobile by a large old rimu tree.
Dr. Sababa was stunned by the accident but relieved that he was still alive and none of the cans had smashed his skull. His passenger side doors were impacted tight against the tree the car was leaning on, but he wasn’t terribly concerned. he was confident, the young girls from Auckland would stop and inquire after his well-being, and together they would devise a safe way to extricate him from his chivalry.
The young girls from Auckland were indeed from Auckland and had continued on the way without giving Sababa’s fate so much as a second thought. Which brought him, with his lightning fast analytical ability, to his fourth conclusion in a matter of milliseconds. Thirty feet below the sheer drop-off, he was immobilized in a massive metal machine, surrounded by an even more sheer drop-off.
Carefully, he opened his driver’s side door, feeling the Whaler shudder under him. The wagon, exactly balanced on the pillar between the passenger side front and rear doors, was not in a forgiving mood for any more mistakes. Sababa gently pushed his door straight up, waited for it to catch, and slithered onto the slope, reaching for any branches or shrubs that might provide him a handhold to survival. He struggled up the bank, digging his soles in whatever they could find, rested, and then climbed again. Twenty minutes after his tumble, Dr. Sababa emerged scratched and shaken, but safe, onto the gravel roadbed which had tried to kill him. The silence was unnerving. He began to stumble back towards the Whitianga turn-off but had not walked far, before he caught a lift with a farmer, heading into town.
“What happened to you?” The farmer asked. Dr. Sababa told him the short version, emphasizing his shock and surprise at the actions of the young girls from Auckland.
“We call them Jafas.”
“Just Another Fucking Aucklander” explained the farmer. “You’ll likely meet more before you die.”
A period of silent contemplation followed.
The farmer dropped Dr. Sababa at a garage on the edge of the township. A thin, elderly man, in blue overalls, came out from under a car. He hadn’t said a word before Sababa launched a cathartic explanation of his travails, the accident, the predicament of the Bronze Whaler, its relationship with the rest of the family, the Jafas, and other topics, some totally irrelevant. “It’s down on 309 Road,” he said finally, as an admission of defeat.
The mechanic motioned him to get in a dilapidated tow truck the same color as his overalls. He didn’t speak as they drove back down into the belly of the beast. Less than fifty curves later, Sababa pointed to the edge of the road he had taken the Whaler over. The mechanic exited his own door and went around to the business end of his vehicle. He took two large iron bars and drove them into the roadbed, a fixed distance apart, with a sledgehammer half his size. He swung himself onto the large hook and rode the winch cable over the bank. The speed at which his blue overalls disappeared over the sheer drop-off into space let Sababa gasp. The man moved like he was executing a pivot in a rugby scrum and, for as much as Sababa knew about both the man and the game, he may as well have.
He swung himself onto the large hook and rode the winch cable over the bank. The speed at which his blue overalls disappeared over the sheer drop-off into space let Sababa gasp. The man moved like he was executing a pivot in a rugby scrum and, for as much as Sababa knew about both the man and the game, he may as well have.
Minutes later, his blue overalls rematerialized back over the edge, and onto the truck bed. The mechanic commenced pulling levers and pushing switches until the cable tightened, and a mighty grumbling began beneath them, thirty feet below. Dr. Sababa trembled with the terror of the exercise, and what disastrous results he might bear witness too if this taciturn grease monkey was not up to the challenge. But his torment was unnecessary.
Slowly, leisurely, the Bronze Whaler made a steady ninety-degree turn, her bonnet now facing up toward the roadbed. A tug on another lever and she began a stealthy crawl up towards the bank, swerving like the copper shark she was. Another heave and the Holden climbed over and back onto the 309, facing back towards the direction she had come. Her roof was crushed to the waistline, her windshield and windows were blown out, but she and every food can he had purchased at the supermarket were otherwise all there. The mechanic blew on two fingers and put the key in the Whaler. The engine roared into life. Dr. Sababa’s mouth was open in awe.
“Think you can drive her into town, mate?” It was the first thing the man had said. He nodded.
“How much do I owe you?” Asked the good doctor.
“Forty bucks.” Sababa paid him before anything more could happen, and watched the mechanic drive away. Clearly, there were all kinds of Kiwis, and this man was a seraphim angel of the highest order.
He found his drive back to Whitianga embarrassing. He felt every vehicle he passed snickering at the Whaler, especially because his visibility was windy, and less than five inches high. He pulled into Uncle Bill’s driveway, half relieved and half paralyzed, to find the old man still sitting on the deck where he had left him, not even three hours earlier.
“Quick trip up the peninsula,” observed Uncle Bill.
“Less up than over.” Sababa meant.
“How’d you like the 309?” Asked Bill.
“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
“Looks like you found both today,” remarked Uncle Bill.