As you have no doubt noticed, I did not attend your party. Here’s why.
Through bad luck and administrative cock-up I had the opportunity of spending rather more time than I had planned to at the head of the Dome Valley, cooling my heels in the parking lot of the border station. “Cooling” is precisely the right word, as it happens; Not a cloud in the sky and a strong wind from the south meant that it was a cold damn night. My one consolation is that the asshole of a guard who decided that I was trying to make an illegal crossing was having a miserable time of it as well.
Before you start in with “Why didn’t you take the train?”; It’s badly-timed, it’s expensive without a economic contribution sign-off from an Auckland-based employer, and I like to be able to go places when I’m in Auckland without having to take half a dozen busses to get there. Besides, apart from the obvious risks of a border crossing, most of which are really night-time hazards, it’s a nice drive.
The admin cock-up concerned the expiry of my visa. As an employee of a whole-nation group, I qualify for a free passage visa, usable for both business and personal purposes. It’s the one good thing about having been resident outside of Auckland when President Banks, affectionately known in these parts as “That Latte-Swilling Jafa”, closed the borders and cut Northland off.
Anyway, the visa requires monthly updating, which requires a sign-off from the boss, but he had the flu, and his designated replacement forgot, and because the whole thing is electronic I didn’t find out until 6:30pm, when I got to the Dome Valley Station and presented my ID.
Which was rejected.
I did offer to go back home and forget about crossing this weekend, but that only made the guard suspicious that I’d tried something illegal and was trying to escape, so he ordered me to stay put. The fact that I’ve crossed at Dome Valley at least once a month for the last fifteen fucking years had no effect on him; Presumably it was a cunning ruse designed to lull him into a false sense of security.
There isn’t a lot to do in that carpark except look at the view (it got dark), read the historical interpretation panels (I drew the damn things up, and could tell you their contents from memory), and watch the trees.
So I watched the trees.
They really are quite fascinating.
Further down the valley, to the north, there are some substantial selective logging operations going on, most of them private, but one or two managed by DOC, mostly because they happened to be on Crown or Conservation land. Further north they specifically locate individual trees for removal, but down this far the mix of GM Native and GM Pine is skewed more in the favour of the pines, so heli-loggers tend to just mark the ‘Native’ trees and take out everything else, in the hopes of giving the ‘Natives’ some room to expand into.
I’m sure that the idea of higher-efficiency plants was a good one, and the positive impact on agriculture in marginal areas is undeniable, but what little maniac decided that we need pines running at twice the photosynthetic efficiency? The problems with wilding pines seeding by wind-drift were bad enough before, but when they’re growing at twice the normal rate it’s almost impossible to get rid of the damn things, because the window of opportunity to rip them out before they mature is just so small. If it weren’t for the unsung heroes who spliced the same thing into various native flora there’d be nothing but pine plantations from here to the Cape.
In the managed areas there isn’t a problem, more of a continual annoyance, but where the management stops, particularly along the border, there is such a tangled thicket of foliage that the fence is pretty clearly a redundant item. The fast-growing pines displaced & poisoned the original foliage, and couldn’t be killed off by anything short of logging or a forest fire thanks to poison resistance, then the modified natives came along and filled the gaps, being blissfully immune to the toxins the pines were pumping out thanks the very same modifications. So what you have now is this tangle of vegetation that can’t block out each others light, because the plants need so little to maintain basic function, growing as hard as it can in as many directions as it can.
It’d be a really spectacular tourist destination if it weren’t for the hillbillies.
They check the trains for contraband pretty thoroughly. Likewise any aircraft or boats.
It used to be that the road borders were soft touches, but that was in the early days of the partition, before the fences went up and the guards got guns. Now they’re only soft by comparison to any other option, with the possible exception of a blacked-out unpowered blimp.
The Dome Valley border post has tyre spikes that would stop a tank, but the road cuts through 20km of constantly-logged forest, with all the vehicle movement that goes along with it, so it’s a good approach route. If you are ever stupid enough to be driving that road at night, and you see someone waiting by the side of the road, keep driving. If they try to flag you down, keep driving. If they stand in the middle of the road, speed up and keep driving. If they are shooting at you, you guessed it, put your faith in armoured glass and keep driving.
If your vehicle isn’t fitted with armoured glass, what the hell are you doing there in the first place?
The reason I mention this is that at about 11pm, as I was standing in the parking lot with a cup of the worst coffee in the known universe in my hand (While we are on that subject; Auckland got Ponsonby & Parnell, yet the coffee at their border post still tastes like something died in it. Why?), I caught the distinctive sound of an engine being thrashed to within an inch of its life approaching rapidly from the south. Brainless the Guard, as he shall henceforth be known, heard it too, and to his credit he managed to figure out that south means Auckland, thus the vehicle might just be a taxpayer in trouble and not some sort of daring reverse smuggler.
Granted, he’d already popped up the crash barriers and fired off a couple of ranging bursts before this idea occurred to him, but I wouldn’t want to rob the man of his credit.
The vehicle turned out to be a rental campervan of some sort. It probably started life as a serviceable machine, but it was on its last wheels as it slid around the bend and into view. From the look of things both back tires had been torn to shreds, the electric hubs were all smoking, and the back & side windows were opaque from buckshot hits.
I have no idea how her driver had managed to keep the ungainly thing upright around some of those corners at the speeds he was doing, but manage he did. He even had the good sense to slam the brakes on just before he hit the barrier, so all that BtG and I had to do was puncture the airbag (Why do those things never deflate like they’re supposed to?) and drag him and his wife to the relative shelter of the guard shack.
I say relative for a reason.
About a half-minute after we got inside, the shooting started again; Frustrated car-jackers mourning the loss of a big score, drug runners bitterly resenting that a suspicion-free vehicle had been lost, parcel movers annoyed that they would have to walk all the way up the hill after all, stealth-merchants pissed off that the quiet of the night had been shattered and the guards were alert, all taking out their troubles by ploughing shot after shot into that poor vehicle.
Eventually the fuel tank went up, and I could hear the cheers and hoots from the forest around us, followed by a frenetic series of shots as competing crews tried to thin out the competition. After a while they got tired of that and switched to shooting out every light and breakable window in the guard post, while the four of us clustered under the table with the lights off, wonder if they would ever run out of ammunition.
It turns out that the motorists had passed through the southern checkpoint at 6-ish, and had been told by the staff there that if they didn’t get to Dome Valley before 8pm, they wouldn’t be allowed to proceed into Northland until the morning. There was no mention made of why, so after they took too much time having a picnic dinner in an overgrown rest area by a stream (You can see where this one is going, can’t you folks?), they decided to have a couple of glasses of wine and stay there for the night, since they “already had their exit visas and everything, and the border would have been closed when we got there.”
Naturally, someone saw their vehicle, decided it would make a great parcel runner/income earner at their local chop shop/place to butcher a couple of tourists who were too close to their drop-off point, and tried to break in. Through the back window. With a crowbar.
The tourists took off, the hillbillies gave chase, there was some shooting, and the result you know.
The shooting stopped at about 2am when a blacked-out blimp arrived, despatched when the border post didn’t respond to a routine ‘Are You OK’ signal due to the radio aerial having been shot away. It’s amazing how swiftly the little bastards vanish when a previously unseen vehicle shreds the guy next to you because it homed in on the sound of him shooting.
The thing I’ve always found to be creepy about those things is the way they don’t expend any effort. A black cloud floats along, a gentle strand of silver fairy dust stretches out to the ground, and someone just got turned into mulch. No noise, no lights, no hillbilly.
When morning came, my car was, of course, fucked. Holes everywhere, right through the shell and into the armourgel beneath. This, boys and girls, is why I drive “that ancient pile of crap”; Because it holds a lot of armour and I don’t have to give a shit about how it looks. Granted, once all the windows are scarred opaque, the wheels & hubs are shredded, and you can’t open the doors because the locks are shot up, it looks more like a liability, but that’s why insurance companies exist.
Tow-truck arrived around mid-day, and the tourists took the opportunity to get the hell out of the border post & caught a lift back with me and the remains of the car. BtG’s replacement, who actually had a clue, decided that my fifteen year previous record of passages probably meant that I was right, and that this was just an admin screw-up, so I was free to go home.
So there you have it; One ruined weekend, one very ruined car, a couple of tourists who will never forget their visit to our beautiful country and independent city-state, and most importantly, the reason why I missed your party.
Sorry about that,