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Two girls, two islands, one campervan: Camping it up in New Zealand

Written by 1 May 2012 16 Comments

“Dude, where’s my bra?” I called out to Betty on more than one occasion during our two week road trip around New Zealand.

It’s not that I usually have to ask my best friend where my underwear is but when the two of you are living out of the back of a van for two weeks it becomes very easy to lose and misplace important items.

I’ll be honest. I hadn’t really expected my round the world trip to include camping. But a true Travelette, I am game for most things and prior to my arrival in New Zealand I began to daydream about Betty and I in a classic VW campervan to parading around wearing Thelma and Louise-esque double denim outfits complete with headscarfs and oversized shades.

Of course, this wasn’t to be. We had neither the budget and it was frankly far too hot for skin tight jeans in February. So it was with some adjustment that myself, self-confessed flashpacker, and my best friend began a two week adventure touring New Zealand in what was essentially a converted workman’s white van.

However, within just a short day I was hooked and convinced we’d made the right decision. Road-tripping and camping is the only way to see as much as possible of this stunning country in a limited time frame.

And boy did we cover some miles; over 1,600 in total during just twelve days of driving. We explored a large chunk of the South Island from Christchurch to Queenstown and up the beautiful west coast and then navigated through the North Island to Auckland with stops in the wine region of Martinborough, on the east coast and in the geothermal spring centre of the island. The long roads, often perilous hills and ever-changing roadside landscape and horizons made for a genuinely beautiful journey. There were more wow moments than I can list and most of them we would have missed out on had we not hit the road. And with every turn came new photo opportunities.

It also transpired quickly that most campsites in New Zealand are incredibly civilized with wireless internet, hot showers, well-equipped kitchens, TV rooms, BBQs and often hot tubs on offer. I wasn’t really camping, this was glamping.

Of course, for a more authentic experience there are many places where you can just pull over on the side of a road and responsibly spark up a campfire (unless there are signs explicitly telling you not to!) and be surrounded by nature and silence. We did this one night albeit just down the road from a pub (you can take the girls out of England…). Alongside the remote southern edge of Lake Wakatipu we pitched up and watched the sun go down sipping warm cider. I have to say despite the persistently nibbling sandflies and our outdoor bathroom experiences in the dark, it was a special night I won’t forget in a hurry.

The long roads, often perilous hills and ever-changing roadside landscape and horizons made for a genuinely beautiful journey. There were more wow moments than I can list and most of them we would have missed out on had we not hit the road with such gusto. The places we stopped where equally epic – Milford Sound, Lake Tekapo, Fox Glacier, Pancake Rocks – but sometimes it was the miles in between that made the experience what it was. It was quick and easy to forget the frustration of dropping your toothbrush in mud on your way to the toilets in the dark or sleeping on a temporary bed, which tended to collapse in the middle night.

And although I’m not quite the camping convert yet I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of living on the road and I think you’d be hard pushed to find a better country than New Zealand to accommodate two girls with a newfound thirst for the open road.

So if you’re like me and a little doubtful of your ability to camp it up for a week or two, throw caution to the wind, find a friend who doesn’t mind accidental-snuggling at night and start organizing the ultimate road trip playlist. Oh and thank you Betty for helping me find my bra on more than one occasion and for sharing the best two weeks with me…

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  • Adina | Gluten Free Travelette said:

    What an awesome road trip story! Makes me ready to go back to New Zealand – although I sort of feel like that everyday. We drove from Auckland all the way down to the south of the South Island and looped back up to Christchurch. The drive from the Tasman area to Te Anau was amazing!

  • The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) said:

    This looks like such an awesome roadtrip! I hope my husband and I can take our kids across New Zealand in a campervan one day!

  • Katherine said:

    Sounds like you had an awesome trip – sorry I didn’t see this sooner or we could have met up in Christchurch. Next time you’re hear then feel free to stop in for a hot shower and a cup of tea!!

  • Naomi said:

    Love the colour editing on these photos – it’s so atmospheric!!

    Definitely envious of your trip…roadtripping around NZ sounds like the perfect summer adventure (:

  • Frankie (author) said:

    Hi fellow travel lovers! Thanks for your kind comments.

    @Adina – It sounds like you did a similar journey to us in South Island. We stayed at Te Anau one night too and went on a big walk around the lake. Lovely!

    @Ellen – we saw lots of young (and older!!) families on the road so I believe it’s possible though I think you’re very brave because as you can see I can barely look after myself and my own belongings in a campervan. :-)

    @Katherine – Ah that would have been lovely. We sadly didn’t stop to explore Christchurch just picked the van up there. A real shame… I will just have to come back!

    @Naomi – Thank you. I had some fun with these photos and used something similar in this post (http://www.travelettes.net/get-lost%E2%80%A6-at-least-once-in-a-while/). It’s perfect for photos with lots of blues in them… And yes it’s a great way to spend your summer – or actually winter as it was for British me :-)

  • a&b said:

    That looks amazing! i’m dying to get out there and do a road-trip and you’ve inspired me to really get on planning it!

  • Frankie (author) said:

    Thanks a&b! It was the best trip and can’t recommend doing it enough. Planning it was a big part of the fun too! :-D

  • Beverley | Pack Your Passport said:

    We’ve been in NZ for just over a month now and we’re basing ourselves in Auckland for a bit to earn some much-needed money but we’re definitely going to rent a campervan and travel around in it before we leave next year! We LOVE campervanning, it’s amazing, we did it a lot in Australia :-)

    Looks like you guys had the best time!

  • Frankie (author) said:

    We did have the best time. My only regret is that it wasn’t for longer… We did a hell of a lot in two weeks but there was so much more we wanted to see. You have to do it in NZ it’s the only real way to see as much as possible and unlike Aussie you can cover a LOT of ground very quickly. Enjoy your adventures… very jealous! Frankie x

  • Fran B said:

    Wow! This sounds amazing, what a great story of your travels around NZ.

    I’m heading out there around March/April 2013 and can’t wait, you’ve inspired me to consider road-tripping it!


  • Hayley said:

    How did you arrange to find a suitable campervan to travel in?

  • Frankie (author) said:

    We went with Lucky Rentals. They were very helpful and offer one of the most affordable van rentals in NZ, however, we did have a leak in our van when it rained on our last night so maybe ask if you can double check this when you collect a van!

  • Su said:

    This sounds wonderful, I would love to take a two week road trip around NZ. It seems like the perfect way to satiate some of my wanderlust, but as you probably know, my budget would have to be very small. If you don’t mind sharing, how much did you put aside for this trip? (including airplane and gas etc.)

  • Frankie (author) said:

    Hi Su, I did this trip back in Jan/Feb 2012 so I can’t really remember the costs or budget I had. All I know is that New Zealand isn’t the cheapest country in the world (though is a little cheaper than Australia) but you can shop around to find vans for budget travellers and campsites were around 10 – 20 NZ dollars a night. Good luck!

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