The last week of our electric travels were something of a roller coaster ride in more ways than we had anticipated.
We enjoyed our few days in Franz Josef, especially a beach and bush walk at Okarito out on the coast from Franz. The pictures display the wilderness better than words can describe it. About the only comment is that it is often the things that we do not have great expectations of that surprise us.
We headed to Haast with the grand plan being; that if the weather was favourable, Cliff would ride over the Haast Pass which straddles the main divide in NZ, on his folding bike, a total of 82km. While it is the lowest alpine pass over the Southern Alps, any pass is a challenge for a folding bike and especially Cliff, regardless of whether or not the bike has a small battery powered motor.
After overnight rain, the day dawned clear but cold. It was going to be a perfect day for riding so there were no excuses. The plan was that I would leave at around 8am and Ruth would follow a couple of hours later and, if need be, collect me or scrape me off state highway 6.
The cold was a good excuse to bike without using the battery and the first 51km were mostly traversed without cheating. Ruth passed me at the 38km mark. I met up with her and we agreed to meet for lunch at the 51km mark just before the Gates of Haast bridge and where the pass really starts. After lunch, Ruth was going to head on to our overnight accommodation, 31km further along the road, including the over the pass. If I had not turned up within about four hours she was to come back and find me.
You start climbing immediately after crossing the bridge and all too quickly I was on my first 20% gradient. So, that is how steep a 20% gradient is! I had the bike in the lowest gear with the motor engaged and both my motor and the bike motor were protesting. I struck an embarrassing moment when I came up behind one of the Tour Aotearoa riders on his grown up bike and had to pass him on my ‘shetland pony’. I threw out an explainer as I passed, “I am cheating”, just so that he did not feel too bad about being passed by a geriatric on a folding bike on a remote mountain pass.
A few moments later the bike stopped. Well the motor gave up and my tiring legs could not generate any forward movement on their own. I dismounted, the electronic odometer was flashing ‘error23’. I had no idea what ‘error23’ was but suspected it probably meant ‘motor abuse’ or ‘motor burn out’. I calculated that I had about 29km to ride and about 6km to get to the top of the pass. If I walked and pushed the bike up, I should be able to ride it, sans motor, for the remainder of the ride which, in theory, should be mostly downhill. After a few hundred metres I again tried turning the power off and on (ctrl/alt/delete for an electric bike), the error had promisingly stopped displaying so I gingerly twisted the throttle and the wheel magically spun. Phew, a happy ending.
During our travels down the West Coast we had been monitoring the worsening Covid 19 situation. While cases in NZ were just appearing, we were concerned at the likely speed with which these would increase and, the likely response from authorities as they did.
Ruth’s daughter, Anna, was due to fly into Queenstown in 3 days time to join us for a week. We had to make a decision as to whether or not this was a good idea. We collectively agreed that it was not. We would head home as soon as we had recalibrated our travels by cancelling our accommodation for the next 20 days, rebooking our ferry crossing (if we could) and working out the most EV friendly route.
When we purchased the EV we were not intending to try and drive 1,800km as quickly as we could. Our travels around the South Island were always going to be challenging as a large unbroken section from Motueka to Dunedin only had one faster charger that we could use. We were reliant on slow overnight charges at our accommodation to get us through this. At Hawea, we were still slightly out of range t get us to one of those faster chargers so an overnight stop was necessary. At mid-day on Thursday we headed to Kurow, a few hours drive where we could get a slow overnight charge at the local motor camp. Friday dawned bleak with very cold temperatures, not conditions conducive to extracting the longest range from your battery. At 4:30pm after tow longer charges and one short one, we rolled into Kaikoura 445km from our starting point. In the cold conditions we were losing around 40-60km of range.
Another early and cold start on Saturday and then a couple of hours drive through to Picton to catch the 2:15pm ferry across Cook Strait. We had time for a full charge in Blenhiem which would mean that we could get away from Wellington early on Sunday morning. We were intending to take two days to drive to Auckland as there are few Zoe-friendly fast charging options through the centre of the North Island.
On Sunday morning we again had a change of heart, we felt that we needed to get to Auckland that day. We stopped for an early morning charge in Palmerston North. The weather was again cold and Zoe was delivering the worst range we have ever experienced. To make matters worse, it is pretty much all up-hill to Ohakune but, even with the poorer performance, we were confident that we would scrape in. We were expecting our scheduled accommodation in Ohakune to have a faster charger, when I plugged the car in it was clear after a few minutes that his was not the case. Unfortunately, during our travels we have found that the providers of EV chargers have not idea what the have purchased and installed. It was not the slowest charge you can get but too slow to give us a full battery within an hour. As we had paid for the accommodation so we decided to chill out and again recalibrate our plans. I worked out that we should have just enough charge after three hours to get us to the nearest faster charger in Taupo. After that, one more charge would get us to Auckland, hopefully before 10pm.
From Ohakune to National Park is again a steady climb. In theory, with a 60% charge we should have been able to reach Taupo with about 40km of range still left in the battery. The trick was to hold our nerve over that initial 30-40km. Sure enough, as we chewed through the battery up to National Park the on-board computer was flashing red telling us that we had insufficient charge to reach our destination. I was sure that once we got past National Park the downhill run would solve our problems as the car recharged. It did and we rolled into Taupo with a 60km buffer, better than anticipated. The rest of the trip went according to plan but with the battery exhausted as we rolled into Auckland, 790km later, I knew that the slow overnight charge would not be enough to reach Kerikeri the next morning.
I rolled in Whangarei and headed for our normal charging spot, the Warehouse. The chargers were turned off and when I turned them on they still did show any signs of life. I drove to the two other public chargers that were Zoe friendly but these were both occupied by ‘all-day Leaf tossers’ (it had been on there for over 2 hours when I finally left) who leave their cars on the chargers, plugged in and fully charged just so that they can get free parking – some times they don’t even bother to plug them in. It is a problem that we always encounter in Whangarei and is why we can never reley on these particular chargers being available. They are probably quick to complain about iternal combustion engined cars sitting on a EV charger but don’t see a problem when they hog it.
Ruth was now travelling in another car as we had collected Anna in Auckland. Our car was full of gear so Ruth drove Anna’s car with her gear. She was coming up to ‘work from home’ in Kerikeri during the expected lockdown. We were now even more convinced that there would be a lockdown even though it had still not been announced. Ruth met me where I was stranded; I had the car on a dribble feed but I was going to be there all day to get enough charge to get me to Kerikeri. I took their car back to the Warehouse chargers while Ruth dobbed the Leaf into the council. The Warehouse chargers were working, there must have been a delay between me turning them on an the power flowing. I charged ok and rolled into Kerikeri at the exact same time that the Prime Minister announced the four week lockdown.
While we were weary, our enforced battery charging breaks meant that at no time were we driving fatigued. It meant slower but safer travel, just a bit nail biting for a few km.