Sunday, 23 April 2017

Why have we got a large concrete pad outside the garage?

The concrete pad is in preparation for when we bring back a motorhome from the UK after the northern summer on the boat. If I am to retire (I say 'if' advisedly, as I am notorious for changing my mind about this event - in 2001, 2007, 2009, ...) then we would like to be replicating our peripatetic boating lifestyle in NZ. However NZ doesn't have canals and the rivers are not connected and they move too fast and are not suitable for liveaboard launches and I don't like being on the sea where launches do fit, and boats need to be launched, unlaunched (what is the word for that?) towed, etc.

But a motorhome, on the other hand, is like a narrowboat but wider and faster! 

We have decided we wanted to explore NZ more than we ever have: A few months ago, David came down to Hokitika for a weekend and we went out exploring from there just a little bit. One place we went to was Lake Mahinapua, about 10km south of Hokitika. There is a Dept of Conservation camp there, and we fell in love with the place. We got chatting to a couple who were there in their motorhome and listening to them talking about their travels, how they fit that in with their work lives, just made us think how much of NZ we are missing out on. Over the years when we have travelled in NZ it has always been with a destination and a timeline for getting to and from - that kind of travel doesn't allow for the kind of pootling about and exploring the highways and byways (well, more the villages and paths) like we do on the boat.

So instead of doing more exploring that day, we went back to the motel and started researching motorhomes. I was happy to get a secondhand one, but David was keen to look at new ones first and then look at secondhand - in terms of eventual outlay, that was a very crap idea, because once we'd looked at new, secondhand didn't look anywhere near as attractive. So new it had to be. GGGRRR!!!

Over the next few weeks we looked on line at several that were available in NZ (or would be at the end of this coming winter) but almost all of them had really small stoves. I'm a bit of a cook, and while I am really happy with the stove on Waka Huia which Jaq Biggs describes as a Barbie camp oven, I cannot be doing with anything smaller, i.e. slightly deeper than standard grill - the salesmen all told me you can cook a chicken in it, but I reckon it would have to be spatchcocked and not with its wings or legs sticking out ...

We visited a couple of dealers in Auckland and the guys (always guys) explained that a bigger oven wasn't required because you use a BBQ  but BBQing isn't our standard way of cooking even at home, and I noted the juxtaposition of the small oven and large fridge - I suggested that clearly beer is more important than food ... You will not be surprised, dear reader, to learn that this was greeted with affirming nods and laughter!

We did find one brand in NZ that had a decent sized stove plus a good sized fridge and 16" wheels (to deal with humps and hollows in the off road approaches to freedom camping sites) but the cost was more than we wanted to pay.

So we started looking at sites in the UK and found that a) the purchase price is less than in NZ; b) we get the VAT back if we bring it in to NZ when we have owned it for less than 90 days; c) we do pay GST on the total of the purchase price less the VAT, the import duty, the freight and the insurance; and d) all up it will still cost about 20 - 25% less than the cost of buying it in NZ.

So when we went to the UK in October, my cousin and his wife took us to a motorhome sales place (Michael Jordans in Gomshall) a few miles from their home. We had Tim, Olek and Karol with us too, so the boys were hunting for the styles we liked - fixed bed, no luton, big stove, 16" wheels. At that time, all the ones we looked at were secondhand. We also checked out caravans to see if they would be an option, but towing one didn't seem like a good idea to me - I cannot reverse a trailer to save myself and, even though you can buy little remote control reverse thingies, I wasn't convinced a caravan would suit as we get older - lifting/manoeuvering to get the caravan off the towball didn't seem the thing for aging short people ... Yes, I know they have wind up thingies too to lift them, but no.

The salespeople were really busy that day, so David and I went back another day just before we headed home to NZ and looked at the new ones. We found the Swift Bolero 624FB and decided it was just the ticket. Decision made, and deposit paid when we returned to NZ.

When the GBP dropped on the announcement of the Brexit referendum result, we moved some NZ$ over to our UK account so the price would remain stable regardless of currency fluctuations.

So having made that decision, we had to make sure we had a suitable place to store the motorhome when it arrives. We got Derek to bring Doris the Glampervan over to ours to try out the space beside the garage - could she be reversed in? could she fit easily without being too close to the eaves or the maple? could the entry door be opened and allow movement around it? All important things. Especially important was that the fabulous cabbage tree on our drive would not be an obstacle and would stay safe from Luke's chainsaw ...

Thus the concrete pad was conceived. It would have been easier and much cheaper to just place several large pavers for the wheels, but that would have required me to reverse or drive on to them accurately every time. So a concrete pad it was. 

Silly me, but I thought we could just get concrete laid and job done. But no, it needed to be drained, and it couldn't go into the storm water drain - believe me, we (Luke) tried. But our stormwater drain pipe slopes very slightly up to the road outlet - that's fine when the water head is at the guttering on the roof, but not when it's at ground level. When the weather bomb hit while David and I were away in Reefton for the weekend, and the stormwater flowed back from the road as well as down from the roof, the water cascaded from our place over to Jillian's - fortunately she was home, and the rain stopped ...

So using the stormwater was no longer an option. Back to the drawing board! That meant digging down to where the water would drain away naturally, i.e. find river gravels as a soaking agent. Easy peasy? Not!

Luke, the digger boy, is happy!

Excavation of the drain hole starts

That's all clay in there - water won't soak away. I started to think we were digging to Spain!

1 metre, 2 metres - and Luke couldn't dig any deeper with the bucket on the excavator. So off to a hire place in Porirua he goes to get an augur and an extension. Meanwhile, Hamish the plumber goes to get a long 200mm diameter pipe to be inserted in the hole that Luke will be drilling. Hamish then drills holes in the side of said pipe to let water come into it from the ground it'll be in.

Luke comes back with the augur and they fit it and start drilling. Down, down to the reach of the augur. River gravels yet? No.
OK, fit the extension - b*gger, the bolt is too fat. But wait, Luke finds a coachbolt in his van and they use that - it's not the right size but is strong enough to hold even though there's play in it.

Down and down again. Test with the hose, is water draining away? Not well enough (so to speak). So down further.

That's about as far as the augur will go without the extension on

An augur full - still no gravel

Eventually we get there! That pipe is about 1.25m long, so the old river bed is well below ground level!

In the end, at a depth of 3.5m, Luke hits lots of gravel and the hole is finally deep enough. Hamish lowers the pipe in using rope and Luke uses the digger bucket to tap it in as far as possible. Then in go the two 600mm wide concrete cylinders, one on top of the other, lowered in on ropes suspended from the excavator bucket. Then around them, gravel to hold them in place and form a base for the concrete surrounds and the seat for the grill.  
Hamish in the hole compacting the gravel

The second concrete pipe ready to go in - has to be tied and secured on the excavator bucket to be lowered in safely and carefully.
 Hamish and Luke did a sterling job and the drain looks looks like it has always been there.

The next step was the concrete pad the following day. That was done so efficiently and well - the end result is wonderful. See what I mean?

The concrete truck arrives

Luke in his Red Bands and Rafe unloading for the pour.

Luke barrowing and Ben spreading

This bit was far quicker than I thought it would be - these guys have it down to a fine art.

Rafe spreading and doing the edges, Ben smoothing

All smooth

For a couple of hours afterwards, Ben had to smooth the surface to bring the water up to make it dry off faster. Amazing what you learn when people are doing work for you! I never knew that water rose to the surface of wet concrete from being smoothed over!

All done - complete with grooves cut by Luke the next day before it hardened off, to cope with any heat or pressure expansion

As I was writing this yesterday, Rob was out sorting out the garden by the trellis, so now the motorhome's new parking space is complete.

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