As we had to cancel our trip to Fiji due to cyclone Evans, we decided to spend the money on getting a campervan and travelling around New Zealand for a month instead.
We originally looked into a Flexipass from Intercity, a pre-pay system for your bus travel, and bought 40 hours each worth of travelling. Problem was we soon realised that we couldn’t really get to the places we wanted, when we wanted.
Unfortunately, there is no way of finding this out unless you buy the ticket, get your access codes and then look at the routes and times on the website. Having realised we wouldn’t be able to see what we wanted we requested a refund. This all went through without a problem as we hadn’t booked anything, one of the clauses for a refund.
With the money back we decided to look into a campervan instead. We had 2 choices, rent from a company and have no hassles or worries if anything goes wrong, or buy a vehicle and then sell it at the end.
This latter option is more popular than you might think, especially as insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand. The downside is you take a risk with the vehicle when you buy it and you also have to make sure you can sell it at the end of your trip. Personally I think if you have under a month it’s not worth the hassle, but if you are planning to travel for a few months then it could save you a small fortune.
You can buy a car or MPV from hostel billboards, auctions (there is one on Saturday mornings near the quay in Auckland, just ask any hostel for directions) or backpacker websites.
In terms of the rental market there are a few main companies including; Escape, Wicked, Spaceships, Lucky, Jucy, Apollo and Britz. The last 3 start getting pricey but depending on what you are after you may find them useful.
The rental price varies greatly on the time of year you are visiting and as such it pays to shop around. For size and value we opted for Escape, it seemed to offer the most, including the largest bed in the budget category – which is useful if your partner is tall!
Based on previous experiences of camping around Europe I have to say that New Zealand is a breeze. Not only are there numerous campsites dotted around the country but there are also, and what I believe to be the best option for a budget, DOC and scenic reserve campsites. Most of these are managed by an honesty box, basically a box where you place your filled in form and payment, and facilities range from just compost toilets to cold showers and even cooking facilities.
These campsites rely on visitors paying their fees, taking all rubbish away with them and respecting the local wildlife. They are usually found in some of the best places around New Zealand and prices range from NZ$6 to NZ$12 (around Auckland) per person.
Be warned that in New Zealand it is against the law to just camp anywhere. But if you are fully self-contained (with your own toilet facilities) then you can “freedom camp” which means you can stay for free at certain designated places.
If you are not self-contained, as we were, you can still camp for free at certain places. Being conscientious you could in essence park in scenic reserves with toilet facilities where it does not say that you cannot camp, however be respectful to your surroundings as we have heard numerous stories from locals about not-so-conscientious people leaving behind “personal waste”. Words cannot describe our reaction…
If you opt for a non-self-contained camper you will not be travelling with your legs crossed praying for the next toilet. I have never seen so many free public toilets in one country as I have in New Zealand. And as a general rule most i-Sites have toilets and any village larger than a dot on a map will also have facilities.
Apart from cold showers at some DOC sites certain i-Sites, mainly in larger towns, have showering facilities for a few dollars. You can also get a solar shower, provided by most rentals when you take out full insurance, which allows you take a warm to hot shower depending on the weather.
A tip for technology addicts is that almost every town with a public library seems to offer free Wi-Fi access, some are time limited but most are not.
If travelling along the coast and they are to your taste, you can happily fish for your own mussels, clams and oysters. However, local authorities urge you to only take what you will eat so as to not over fish.
The roads in New Zealand are in excellent conditions and apart from the odd gravel road you can happily drive almost anywhere with your rental. Also, due to the roads and size of the country you can easily travel the 2 islands in about a month. Having said that if you are looking for a slower pace and really want to take in everything you could happily spend 3 months on the road; just be realistic about your budget!