When I pictured our time in New Zealand, I always saw us in a big ole truck or a dusty campervan. You know what I mean: something soulful and beaten, that had seen some miles and could handle a rough road.

When we landed in Auckland we had two days to buy a car. We had six grand, seven suitcases, four people, and a need for a third row.

I scoured the huge used car lot for my soulful ride. One that we could use to blast tunes, climb mountains, park beside our tent in the remote corners of the country. Joel followed me around discussing fuel economy and practical details. Some of you may recognize this familiar dynamic in our relationship. Ah, marriage.

Impractical choice, girls.impractical

After hours of searching, and getting trapped in the backseat of an old station wagon, I had to concede defeat.

We were actually trapped. Damn you, child locks!trappedinacar

Unfortunately, folks, big ole trucks guzzle expensive New Zealand gas. And campervans are so filled up with equipment and stories from past adventures, they they can’t hold seven suitcases and two rambunctious children. So, what we got was a 2005 Toyota Wish.


She’s silver and lived the first 12 years of her life in Japan, like many of the used cars here. (To be clear, it is not her Japanese origin that I object to, although this does prove to be a challenge later on. I loved the big old clunky Isuzu Pajeros that lined the lot). But the Wish is good on gas, and the trunk fits all of our suitcases when the third row is folded down.

She is so practical. And so boring.

I don’t really like her face. She is that kind of car that looks too aerodynamic, all smooth lines and rounded edges. Despite being 12 years old, her interior is so clean that she feels like she was driven by a ghost, or some Dexter-like serial killer. She has a navigation/stereo system that is entirely in Japanese and loaded with a strange mix of Fleetwood Mac, French jazz, and Christian rock (live concert). This wouldn’t actually be so bad, except that the songs play in no discernible order, and after every third song a person comes on and says some things in Japanese, then ends with the words: Music Stylist! in a very loud, cheesy radio DJ voice. I’m sure that in 2005 it was the hottest piece of car stereo tech going, but we have very little idea how to control the system, despite much earnest button pushing. My one year of introductory Japanese at university is not helping.

The navigational map shows the car in Japan, so that’s interesting. There is a helpful little puppy (our car’s icon, I guess?) that sits on the screen, waiting to scamper around Japan, which of course, is a lovely island country, but the wrong island country, and thus, entirely unhelpful.

The cigarette lighter doesn’t work, which means we can’t charge our phones, or smoke expensive imported cigars on the road. The Toyota Wish didn’t come with a manual, and apparently it doesn’t exist anywhere online. Well, maybe it does, but we don’t know how to download it because the website is in Japanese. Needless to say, our relationship did not begin well.

But. Lyla has smushed some peanut butter chocolate into the backseat.

And. The car has carried us safely along the windiest, skinniest mountain road we have ever driven. As usual, during the scary part we were too scared to take any photos.

The Wish was also there when our booking fell through and we had to stay in the motel owner’s trailer for the night.


In the wee hours of the morning she helped us board the Interislander ferry in Picton…


Ferry Time Lapse

…and she waited patiently for us until we drove off onto the South Island. She took this sign in stride.

southern roads

She is waiting faithfully for us every morning when we leave our slightly dingy temporary apartment to find ourselves a New Zealand home.

The French jazz album is actually awesome, when it plays, and we found some good used CDs in the charity shop that our Wish will play when she’s feeling kind.

I am coming around.

A wise man once told me that when things don’t work out, just smile and sing Little Birdie. The song says: “Got a short time to stay here, and a long time to be gone”. So who cares about a car with soul? We’ve got it in spades already.

Meet our car, Little Birdie. She’s our practical Wish.


P.S. Joel is, of course, trying to fix the cigarette lighter. If you know anyone who has the time and skill to read a car manual in Japanese, let us know.




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