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A Spin in the Solar Fern25.01.2008

Tags: New Zealand       Comments: 0

The Solar Taxi flits across New Zealand’s solitary South Island. To Louis Palmer’s surprise, Hummer and muscle-car owners are the biggest fans of his environmentally friendly vehicle. In Christchurch the Solar Fern is waiting for the Solar Taxi.

Only about a quarter of New Zealand’s population lives on the South Island and towns are few and far between so I have to organize the Solar Taxi’s battery charging accordingly. But I don’t mind deserted roads. I ease comfortably over the hills and along the wild Canterbury coast. An exceptionally severe drought has taken hold of the island.


Suddenly I see a sign - "Caution seals!". At first I think it’s a joke but later my host Bob explains: "Seals like lying on the warm asphalt, especially in winter and they’re as black as night. It’s really dangerous!"

Bob and Karen have created a piece of Paradise on a hill near Kaikoura. For six months they traveled through Europe garnering inspiration, then they built a house combining elements of Spanish, Greek and Kenyan styles. My room has a view of the sea. Bob collects vintage cars so he parks his favorite, a bright red Ford Thunderbird, next to the Solar Taxi. He folds his arms and laughs: "The old meets the future!"

A Tattooed Hippy was my Guide

From Kaikoura I drive to Christchurch, where the Solar Taxi is to be loaded onto the next ship. First of all though, I get lost in the streets, which all look identical. A hippy in a red American car pulls up next to me. The guy is tattooed from head to foot and smiles whimsically through a gap in his teeth. "Hey man, where do you want to go?" Then he leads me there. I don’t have to watch his car to follow him, it’s enough to just follow the cloud of exhaust fumes and the engine noise.

He waves goodbye for a long while after I arrive at my address but there is no sign of John and Diana, who invited us to stay in their hotel. They’re out looking for us but they finally appear in New Zealand’s only Hummer. The car, which is almost as big as a tank, is just what every car-hater in Europe loves to hate, but they’re very likeable and want to help us as much as possible. I’m amazed that in New Zealand we especially get help from people who love huge cars!

Louis in the Solar Fern

On my last evening in New Zealand I give a presentation at the University. Rob Glassey and his team are also there with their racing solar vehicle. The Solar Fern was built in less than a year for the World Solar Challenge race across Australia. Ulrich Bergler is also there, showing a local transport company bus that is the only commercially-available bus in the world to get its energy from a gas turbine, put power from electric motors onto the streets, and do it reliably for over ten years.

I take the Solar Fern for a drive and find out that it uses at least five times less energy than the Solar Taxi! And it’s still not allowed on the road?

Everyone has heard about the Solar Taxi’s trip across New Zealand. Even though our vehicle’s already on its way to Australia, we’re going to visit some people who have invited us to stay and enjoy New Zealand’s nature, starting with a visit to a penguin colony at 5 am tomorrow morning.


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