We’ve just come back from two weeks of camping in New Zealand, and it was a blast. But before we go into more detail about the different places we have visited, I thought I’d do a short introduction about the general things we have learned and encountered in this islands country.
So, if you are planning on spending some time among the Kiwi’s and thinking of hiring a camper-van, read on for some handy tips and tricks.
Time to visit
As with all places in the southern hemisphere, the summer months are from December to March/April. This turns out to be the best time to visit from a weather perspective.
Unfortunately, this is not a secret, and the locals have woken up to this fact. With tourism being the largest industry in this 4.7 million people country, prices during high season (the summer holidays) can be three to four times what you pay in September (spring break) or April.
So, if you don’t mind sunny to cloudy skies and a drop of rain here and there, with temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius, then I’d suggest not coming here in summer. If you’re looking for beaches – well, those you can find anywhere.
This is, of course, entirely up to you. The smallest “camper van” you can get is a converted mini-van with a double bed in the back and some storage underneath, and it goes all the way up to large, traditional campers, with anything in between. There are many different companies to chose from, so it makes sense to spend some time, doing some research.
The main difference is between “self-contained” (i.e. has a toiled on board) and “non self-contained”. This is important if you are planning on staying away from the large (and expensive), fully equipped campgrounds. I’ll do a follow-up post on campsites later.
While it is no longer possible to just park on the side of the road, there are still areas in NZ where you can just pull up for the night. These areas are clearly marked, and oftentimes require you to drive a self-contained vehicle. (Having said this, there are enough exceptions to this rule that we managed to sleep in quite a number of free or very cheap places even with our non self-contained vehicle.)
This one was a bit of a shocker. Coming from Melbourne, where a liter of fuel can be as cheap as one dollar, we were a bit taken aback by the almost European prices of more than two dollars a liter of gasoline. What was even more interesting was the fact that diesel is almost 70 cents cheaper.
So, if you are planning on driving a bit (we did almost 3000 km), getting a vehicle that runs on diesel (even if the rental is more expensive) might come in cheaper in the end. We ended up paying more for the gas than the actual rental and could have probably upgraded “for free”.
As with Australia, finding a clean public bathroom is no issue at all. Almost all facilities we came across were free and in top shape. The only thing not as readily available are the public BBQ’s.
The same goes for free parking. With very few exceptions (mostly in the big city and one or two tourist attractions) it was not an issue to find a unpaid parking.
From what we have seen, New Zealand has a few sides to it. But mainly, it’s either a slower “enjoy the magnificent landscape”, or a thrill-seeking “jump of a bridge with a rope around your ankles”.
It is also a country with a highly developed tourism industry. The upside of this is that there is plenty of information to be had on what to do readily available. There are tourist information kiosks all over the place, always ready to hand out a free map and a few coupons.
The downside of this is that (almost) everything costs money. If there is a natural spectacle to look at, and if it’s not maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC), chances are, someone has erected a gate and is asking for an entry fee. Not to mention all the boat trips, bungee jumps and horseback rides you find all over the place. And while this is OK(ish) for two, doing this with a family can get real expensive real fast.
What we ended up doing is “choosing our battles” and carefully picking what we did and did not do. So, while we might not have seen and done everything, we think that we picked out some of the highlights.
Watch this space for more posts on our trip to New Zealand.