For four weeks in Dec 2011-Jan 2012 I travelled around New Zealand in a camper van.
While I did do quite a bit of research in advance of my trip, you can never really know what is going to make or break a trip and I like to have some resources on hand during any adventure.
For this trip I trusted the 2011 Rough Guide NZ-purchased in Canada for pre trip research and lived on the dash for most of the trip and the AA Travel Atlas (yeah I know only my mom uses a travel atlas)-purchased for $25NZD on day one and used every day. Living without a data plan on my phone meant that I had to actually navigate with the atlas and this one is well designed. It also includes some cool highlights and was how I discovered things like the Top 10 Parks and Pancake Rocks.
Going into the trip I had a list of must do items and a rough idea of when I wanted to tackle the items. Most weren’t really that complicated.
I wanted to walk on a black sand beach
I wanted to bungee jump.
I wanted to see penguins in the wild
I wanted to hike
I wanted to ride my bike
I wanted to get some real New Zealand Merino wool to make a blanket
I wanted to wade in the Tasman Sea
I am not a complex or demanding traveller. I prefer to be free to discover things I enjoy (flat whites) and to walk away from the things that don’t inspire in me what they might have in others (Moreaki boulders).
I don’t like to have a tight schedule that involves being stressed or rushing to and from places so that means that I don’t travel in big groups or go on a lot of organized tours.
Things I would do again
I would love to see these at sunrise or sunset. I found them inspiring and magical in the sunshine, but I anticipate that I may discover more by visiting without a crowd of tourists on Christmas Holiday
Mountain Biking: I did highlight some of the areas that my bike and I got a bit of a work out, but honestly I would ride anywhere in the country. It is outstanding. I will post all about MTB NZ in a separate post in the near future.
Drive through Arthur’s Pass
One of the most amazing locations in the country! In the space of just a couple hours you see ocean and mountain, cross multiple weather systems and more. The scenery is spectacular…the sand flies (Canadian Black Flies) were awful though.
The museum is beautiful and you really can’t do it in just one visit. It also reminded me that access to our history and culture should be free. People should be able to take their children to these activities at no charge.
Weta Cave: Hell Ya! nuf’said
One of the coolest exports from New Zealand is the gift of technology to the world of movies. Weta is famous for participating in such epic movies as District 9 and Lord of the Rings, but it is also the largest producer of realistic looking chainmail for actors to wear in movies and a number of other assorted secrets that I just can’t tell you.
Go! It is FREE and while tiny I promise it will spark a layer of your imagination in a way not many places can.
Kawarau Gorge is a 43 M bungee jump. Not the largest around, but it was more than large enough to inspire fear in this girl.
Oh.. and do it with AJ Hacket. The invented bungee jumping as it is done today. TRUE STORY
Stay in Top 10 Holiday Parks
There is always a place in my heart for a five star hotel, but these are the best of the best when it comes to living the campervan lifestyle. There are spotless bathrooms -playing music and armed with hair dryers.
They average about $6-10NZD more per night than their competitors but are worth every penny. The landscaping is lovely, spaces are designed for giant campervans and the staff are willing to go out of their way to support your needs (can you say extension cord?)
An added perk is the fact that almost every one of them offers at least some free WIFI which is pretty few and far between in NZ.
Yellow eyed penguins are super cute and tiny. They spend the summer on the south island of New Zealand where the babies are raised until they are strong enough to go to sea and hunt for themselves. We had to wait for a few hours to see the parents come in from the ocean, but as the babies got hungry they started to pop out of their dens and I can’t tell you how adorable they are.
Glaciers and mountains make good company, but couple them with rushing waterfalls and dense ocean forest and you have a set from a movie. There is about a 2 hour drive to get into Milford Sound from the last real town (Te Anau) and I could do it everyday for the rest of my life.
Along the way you will see wildlife and hear birds chirping beside rushing streams and waterfalls. Stay the night and surround yourself with magic.
Things I wouldn’t recommend
They look cool in pictures and are really quite easy to get to, but I wouldn’t make a special trip. Unless you have some passion for alien eggs (which is what I think they look like up close), I wouldn’t go out of my way.
On a secondary note I was very saddened by the signs stating that the stream that was feeding into the ocean a few hundred metres down the beach was not safe due to pollution.
Visiting over Christmas Holiday
While taking advantage of Christmas and New Years gave me three extra vacation days I paid a premium for the trip because of the time I was in the country. On average the campervan ended up costing about $250NZD a day for a service which is worth about $150 in the off season (after Jan 15). It is also the prime season for campervan parks and they up their rates by as much as $10-20NZD a day during the season as well.
Trying to see everything in less than four weeks.
While attempting to see a large amount while in the country is definitely worth tackling, don’t try to squish everything in at once. Take time to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Watch a Kea tackle the rubber around your car window (this really happened). Enjoy a random chat with the locals at a gas station (yup talking to strangers Sorry Mom)
Have a coffee in a proper cup and enjoy it.
Start and end in Auckland
While we had a place to land as a base camp while in Auckland doing both the north and south island can be done more efficiently end to end. What I also learned along the way is the fact that most tourists that travel one way do so from Auckland to Christchurch. If you are willing to do the reverse your campervan rental rates will be lower because the rental companies need to get the vans back to Auckland anyway! You will also save on the abundantly expensive ferry which is about $600NZD round trip for two people and a campervan.