The Month Long Road Trip

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32 days and 3,000 miles later, we returned our camper van! I’m sort of in disbelief that I just lived an entire month in a vehicle. I had doubted my own stamina to endure such a long time living in a van, feeling confident we would have had to get an Airbnb or at least a motel room a few times to break up the month… Nope! I have survived the month long road trip, loyal to the camper van.

New Zealand is very accommodating for travelers/campers alike, but there are some tricky rules to abide by. There are loads of “Freedom Camping” designated areas, where you may park and camp for free. However, to be able to legally park and camp there, you are supposed to be “certified self-contained” meaning your van produces no waste and you are able to camp somewhere with no facilities, no problem (i.e. your van has a holding-tank to collect sink waste and you have a toilet onboard). Our van did not have a toilet on board. Our van also did not have a holding tank- the sink water ran out from under the car. We were not certified self-contained. However, we still snuck a majority of our nights into freedom camping lots (and it seemed like tons of other non-certified vans were doing the same). There was only one night, in Wellington, that we were told to leave by hired security because we didn’t have certification stickers.

In hindsight, we might have considered renting a self-certified van instead of a non self-certified. Even though we were fine and never got ticketed, it was still nerve-wracking to camp in places you know you’re not technically allowed to be camping at. We would be nervous with every car pulling into the lot… Is it a cop? Security guard?… Our rental agency had told us they’ve had customers get $200+ tickets for not following freedom camping laws. Renting a certified van is definitely quite a bit pricier (hundreds of dollars extra for the amount of time we had rented), but at least you would get the peace of mind and flexibility of freedom camping.

In all, we had an amazing experience. The best part was the freedom! We had no reservations to stick to, so if we loved a town (Raglan) we could stay for a couple extra nights; if we didn’t enjoy a town (Akaroa) then we got back on the road. The van ran perfectly, never broke down or had any mechanical issues. We cooked delicious meals, and never ran out of propane. We had long days on the road, but had a surprisingly super comfortable bed each night.

No doubt, the best way to explore New Zealand is via camper van. The public transportation system is subpar; you could get city-to-city but not deeper in the small towns and explore whenever wherever. Accommodation ranges from ~$25 per person (for a shared room- not ideal for a couple) up to $100+ for a budget (equally subpar) motel room. Our camper van was $80 NZD ~ $55 USD per day for BOTH transportation + accommodation. Definitely the most adventurous, convenient, flexible, and accessible option to see New Zealand on a budget.

Even after five weeks total time in NZ, I feel like there’s still so much more to see. I definitely want to return for another (but maybe not quite so lengthy!!) road trip around the islands.

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Our Itinerary:

  • North Island: Pick up in Auckland, Whangamata, Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, Ohope, Rotorua, Raglan, New Plymouth, Tongariro, Wellington
  • South Island: Picton, Marlborough Sounds, Nelson, Marahau, Kaikoura, Akaroa, Oamaru, Dunedin, Catlin’s Coast, drop off in Christchurch.

We rented through the company Campa South – an awesome family-owned camper van rental company with both non-certified (cheaper options) and also self-contained vans.

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