Wherever you go in New Zealand, there’s one thing you’re guaranteed to see eventually: the campervan. Whether in the car park near a big hike, in middle of a big city, or near a landmark – campervans are a great way to see it all. They come in all sizes from minivan to giant behemoth motor homes. And New Zealand has a plethora of camping grounds ranging from free sites for anyone to paid camp grounds with high end facilities. The down side – the campervans often come with a bit of a price tag and need a minimum of 2 weeks rental time. No worries – New Zealanders (being the considerate and brilliant folks they are) have thought of everything. Many of the car rental and campervan rental sites offer relocation deals. For a reduced price, you can get a vehicle for a few days (depending on the deal offered and where you’re it’s being relocated). Camping…in a van…while driving around New Zealand? Dreamy. So we stalked the relocation pages until a relocation deal from Christchurch to Auckland came up.
Our Campervan Experience Begins
Sue (our neighbor in Christchurch) was kind enough to drive us to the Jucy rental place to pick up our campervan. She even offered to wait with us (seriously Kiwis, you’re too kind), but we insisted she head out. Good thing. 2 1/2 hours later we were on the road. Jucy made it up to us by offering us a free tank of gas, saving us $100. The wait didn’t seem so bad after that). We were off. We hadn’t seen the north-western part of the southern island yet and had heard the Abel Tasman area was beautiful.
Quick research on Rankers – the website showing tons of campsites including the cost, reviews, facilities, and whether or not they’re only for self-sustained vehicles (having a toilet on board), we found a free site that we could stay at about an hour south of Abel Tasman. There are always hikes and scenic points of interest to discover on the drives.
A quick pit stop: this walk was about five minutes from the road. It also provided a good learning opportunity. I have a bad habit of laughing at people when they fall. Concerned nervousness? Terrible sense of humor? I’m not sure why it happens, but it happens. Will can tell you all about it. This was karma rearing its head at me. At the start of the walk, I fell -cutting open my arm and hand. Don’t worry – I laughed at myself the entire time. I pride myself on falling often and at least falling well. This one wasn’t so good. The learning opportunity? Figuring out how to clean up and cover bleeding a bleeding hand and arm with no first aid supplies.
Lesson One: Have some first aid supplies handy.
We improvised. Using the campervan sink and water, I washed up and used my first aid skills to wrap my hand. We went back and finished the walk down to the falls.
Making it to the free campsite- we pulled into a field. Silver bullets, motor homes, campervans (sadly no mallards, Foltz) surrounded the field bordering a river. We parked underneath some trees right by the river – we made dinner while drinking some beer.
Lesson Two: Bug Spray
New Zealand doesn’t have a lot of bugs. This also equates to most places not having screens on their windows. You don’t need them. However – being near water changes things. Our legs were covered in bites. We picked up bug spray pretty quickly
The seats slide together and collapse to fold out into a full bed. Exhausted, we fell asleep pretty early. We woke up and made our way to Abel Tasman. We planned on a nice hike in Abel Tasman before heading to Picton and catching the ferry across to the north island. The weather didn’t agree with us. Since it was raining and dreary, we did a short hike on the outskirts of Abel Tasman – giving us a glimpse of the beachy park and how beautiful it probably looks in the sun.
Lesson Three: Fill up on Gas
Some places have a lot of gas stations in New Zealand. Other places – not so much. On the drive from Nelson to Picton, we figured there would be plenty of gas stations and we were running a little low on gas. After driving a few minutes, we realized we should head back and fill up the tank. It’s a good thing. We would have cut it close. It happened a couple of times on the campervan excursion – we’d run low and didn’t see a gas station and letting out a sigh of relief when we found one. Fill up the tank, folks.
It was weird to be on the ferry back to the north island. This time, we traveled on the Interisland Ferry instead of BlueBridge. It came with the Jucy relocation deal, so we didn’t have a choice. It kind of felt like a mall on the water. There are couches and chairs you can move around, regular seating that you would find on a train and then you can always upgrade to premier or buy a movie ticket for the movie theatre. Everything costs money though. On the bluebridge, for about $30 you can upgrade to your own room (if they have them) which has a shower and your own bathroom. It also had a little bit more laid back feel and was less expensive.
We made it in to Wellington harbor after 10. It kind of felt like we were coming home – making us realize how hard it will be to say goodbye to New Zealand and leaving us with a twinge of homesickness for Denver. Check out some funny videos the city of Wellington has posted about The Wellington Way. Things looked familiar (don’t worry, we still got lost) as we made our way to Owhiro Bay. This had been a stop on our Southern Walkway route on foot. We pretended not to care how quickly we got there by car. We were nervous about this spot as it only provides a limited number of spots and it’s the only free site for all vehicles just outside Wellington. There were only two spots left when we drove in to the site and claimed one.
After the dreary weather, the sun seemed to cooperate. We made it to New Plymouth, parked the campervan and enjoyed the sun. Belt Road Holiday Park provided one of the best showers we’ve had anywhere in New Zealand. The camp ground was a paid site, but had really nice facilities…and the views weren’t bad either.
The drive also gave us our first view of Mt. Taranaki – a volcano on the Western edge of the northern island. We also got really confused by this:
The next day, we hiked Mt. Taranaki. Reading about the hike – we opted not to summit (about a 10 hour round trip – 4 of which would straight up and down loose rock). Instead, we did about a 3 1/2 hour hike. It started raining on us at the very start of the hike. But once again, the clouds parted and the sun came out.
Kiwis are serious about hiking here.
A little tired, we drove to our last camping destination – Sea View. Another paid site, we were skeptical it would be able to beat the views and facilities of Belt Road. It might not have the facilities Belt Road had, but it didn’t need them. Our backyard was the beach – a black sand beach.
Reviews promised beautiful sunsets. It didn’t disappoint.
It was the perfect way to end the campervan experience. There really aren’t words, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking. It was the best sunset either of us has ever seen. The next day we drove to Auckland leaving us with lessons.
Lesson Four: Driving takes longer than you realize. Five days to get from Christchurch to Auckland seemed like a lot of time, but it went so fast. If you’re doing a relocation deal – be prepared to drive a lot.
Lesson Five: Always have the phone number to the car rental place, just in case.
The last few days of driving, the van wasn’t doing so well – it started shaking and sputtering, eating through gas. It got so bad, we pulled off and gave Jucy a call. We crossed our fingers we would make it in to town. And we did. We picked up a new rental car and headed back down to Taupo. We got lucky the van didn’t break down. It definitely would have thrown a wrench in our plans.
The whole van experience was amazing (minus the uncomfortable bed). It left us fantasizing how we can make our own campervan once we get back to the states.