There is truly no better way to see all that New Zealand has to offer than by traveling around in your very own home-on-wheels. The freedom and authenticity of the whole experience can't be matched. As with any big trip, there are always some tips and tricks that you just wish you had known or thought about beforehand. This list will give you 6 tips I learned from our 50-day road trip through the North and South Island.
New Zealand was the first country in the world to dedicate a government department entirely to tourism, and the effort shows. There is an information center in every single major town or city, overflowing with brochures and leaflets detailing all of the exciting activities to do in that particular area. The country is a nature-lover’s paradise, with 1/3 of the land being protected national parks, nine Great Walk tracks to experience, and countless smaller walking tracks to enjoy. Renting your own campervan is by far the best way to tackle both the North and South Islands; living the van life gives you the opportunity to move at your own pace, take detours wherever you so please, and stop to take that epic landscape shot along the side of the road (and there will be a lot of those). Having completed a 50-day road trip around all of New Zealand, here are my top tips for exploring this beautiful country in a campervan:
1.Be a Respectful Traveler.
This should go without saying, but it’s extremely important to note. Being able to freedom camp in New Zealand is a privilege. Many of the freedom camping locations have clean, well-maintained bathroom facilities at absolutely no cost to travelers, and some of them offer the most incredible views you could ever ask for (for example, camping alongside Lake Pukaki in the South Island). Some locals feel understandably disgruntled about having backpackers come to their town due to negative experiences in the past; it is up to us to change this by leaving everywhere a little better than we found it.
2.Download a camping app for your phone.
I recommend downloading Campermate and its offline maps so you can use it freely when you don’t have internet connection or cell phone service. Campermate shows you nearby points for wifi, dump stations, information sites, things to do, and most importantly, both paid and free campgrounds, depending on your budget. Travelers can leave tips and comments, as well as add additional points of interest to the maps. Some of my favorite stops along our trip were due to a tip on Campermate, like this huge cup of real fruit ice cream from Fridgie’s, en route from Wellington to Napier.
3.Always Allow For Extra Time.
This tip carries two different meanings. First, allow for extra driving time; always add at least an extra half hour to whatever your GPS is predicting. The roads in New Zealand can be a bit crazy; they twist and turn endlessly, they suddenly become narrow at parts, they turn into gravel roads out of nowhere, and they love to become one-lane bridges at a moment’s notice. For safety’s sake and for the sake of soaking up the whole experience, take your time, and take all the necessary breaks you need; if you see a shop selling pies on the side of the road, you might as well stop and grab one and stretch your legs for a bit. Second, allow for extra time in your overall itinerary. You can’t predict the weather in New Zealand, and since rainy days will occur, you may need an extra day or two in a certain location to see and do everything you would like to. That being said, if you are on a tight schedule, just be prepared to tackle some outdoor activities with your rain gear on.
4.Travel Light; Stop At Thrift Shops.
The weather around New Zealand varies greatly, particularly depending on the time of year. The weather in Milford Sound in the South Island was around 2°C (36°F) when I was there in May; by the time I was up in the Bay of Islands on the North Island, the weather was around 16°C (61°F) in June. You can find Salvation Army stores or various hospice shops all over New Zealand; make your packing a little bit easier, and swing by these second hand stores to get your cold weather gear. You can use the extra layers when you’re in colder climates, then re-donate them and spread the love as you head back up north.
5.Keep An Eye Out For The Best Petrol Deals.
To avoid paying top dollar, always try to go a bit further away from the main strip. If you stop for groceries at any New World supermarket, you will get a receipt with a discount voucher that can be used at any participating Mobil gas station, giving you 6 cents off every liter purchased. Extra pro tip – you can take any supermarket discount voucher (Pak’n’Save, Countdown, New World, or Super Value) to a Challenge gas station, and they will honor it, occasionally even giving you more of a discount.
6.Libraries Are Your Best Friend.
'Particularly on long road trips, you occasionally need a day to do some planning and research, or just some time to communicate with family and friends, but you don’t want to be the person lingering for too long in a café. When this dilemma strikes, the library is there for you. Especially in towns that have a lot of travelers passing through, the libraries often have dedicated space for charging up electronics and using wifi. The Te Anau Library, for instance, has a separate room solely for this purpose. Just ask the librarians where would be the best place for you to sit, and they will always politely direct you.
All in all, these tips will help you maximize your time while you're on one of the world’s best road trips through one of the world’s most incredible countries – the home of bungee jumping, the home of more sheep than humans, and the home of endless adventures to be had. Be safe, and happy travels!
by Emily Shea