If you're keen to avoid planes and public transport for the time being, a campervan holiday could be just the thing to get your bubble out and about before the end of summer. Ashlyn Oswalt gives her top 10 tips for campervan travel.
There are few better ways to enjoy New Zealand than from the front seat of a campervan, taking in the views at your own pace. With so much country to explore and plenty of destinations without good public transportation links, van travel allows you the freedom to explore the depths of what makes Aotearoa a bucket-list destination for many.
Whether you're a seasoned campervan traveller or are hitting the road for the first time, here are a few tips to consider when planning a multi-day campervan exploration in New Zealand. Hit the open road before the end of summer, or cut out and keep these tips for future holidays to come.
Decide what you want out of the trip
Is this trip for hitting as many sights as possible or are you picking a few destinations to stay for a while? Your trip intention will dictate the length, packing list, and daily activities you choose. This is an essential decision to make so you can set expectations and keep you and your travelling companions on the same page.Advertise with NZME.
When my partner and I plan multi-day van trips, we decide on what ratio of relaxation to activity we want, and this helps us plan our trip accordingly.
Plan your rough itinerary
A rough outline of where you want to go is crucial, taking into account the intention you stated above. Plan your rough route around desired activities and any must-sees along the way. Also, consider how many hours you want to drive each day and plan for a few no-driving days.
Last year, my partner and I planned a road trip from Christchurch to Northland and almost immediately abandoned the final destination once we hit Taranaki. We realised quickly our entire holiday would be spent with long driving days, making for exhausted camp nights and little time to sightsee. While being in the van is part of the fun, it shouldn't be the only part.
Keep your itinerary flexible. The weather in New Zealand is fickle, and you'll want to chase the sun. Make a list of "must-sees" and "be cool to sees" and plan a rough route around those, allowing for things to be added and dropped off along the way.
Do consider what van works for you
Assuming you don't already have a van and are planning on renting one, you may be overwhelmed with options. Have no fear! I personally recommend something more compact than your typical caravan or trailer, as a van allows you to be more agile on the road, find better camping spots, and do what you came to do — enjoy nature!
I travel in a converted 1995 Toyota Hiace, which makes for an intimate trip, but also allows me to park normally at supermarkets and traverse tricky campsite entrances with ease. What I lose in space I make up for in accessibility.
Also decide if you're happy with a hybrid sleep/eat station, or if you prefer to not set up and tear down your bed each morning. You'll want to consider an indoor kitchen if the weather is meant to be bad, as being able to stand up in a kitchen and cook yourself a warm meal can make all the difference between loving or hating van life.
Not all campsites are created equal
My favourite thing about van travel is finding a great campsite. When I find somewhere with a good view and relaxed vibe, my partner and I will often book in a few nights to allow ourselves to fully relax. Opening a bottle of wine and making a platter from local foods, all while taking in the view is the reason I van travel.Advertise with NZME.
There are many campsite options available in New Zealand and the ones you choose depend on your comfort level with camping. DoC offers the most basic and often the most plentiful options. Some are extremely rustic — and cheap — and only offer a long drop toilet, while others have full cooking shelters, flush toilets, and are nestled into stunning spots.
If you're looking for something with more creature comforts, seek out private campsites. From electricity and dump stations to full working kitchens, kids' play areas, and showers, there are plenty of campsites that will make van camping feel downright luxurious.
If you need inspiration, go to nzherald.co.nz/bestof to find the country's 10 best campsites, as voted by Herald readers.
You don't have to rough it
Did my food platter and bottle of wine sound…not like camping? While I love a good backcountry, grunty hike, I prefer my van travel to be comfortable. When we van camp, my partner and I are adamant about our creature comforts and I swear they will help you prolong your journey and help keep your sanity. We pack our pillows and duvet from home, a French press, and all the condiments from our fridge because there's no need to rough it when you've got a van.
If you want to camp with just the basics, be my guest, but I prefer to feel at home on the road.
Don't forget to organise
Everything needs a home in a van. Even though the space is small, it's crucial to give everything its designated spot, as it'll save you time and annoyance when you're scrambling around looking for that specific thing.Advertise with NZME.
When you're hiring a campervan, you'll find most models come with surprisingly spacious storage options, allowing you to unpack on day one and keep clutter to an absolute minimum.
My van has plenty of storage, but most of it isn't easily accessible. I have to take down the bed or table to access my bigger units, which means I put things I need less in there. I've rearranged glove compartments and centre consoles for quick access to cameras, maps, hand sanitiser and snacks, and I make sure our books are always at the ready.
My partner and I have separate wooden boxes for our clothes, which we roll and then stand upright, so we can easily see what article of clothing we're grabbing. We've also set up a foolproof system for our rubbish, compost, and recycling, which has allowed us to cook a meal and clean up with ease.
Do eat as you do at home
My partner is an excellent cook and I am an excellent eater, so we have no plans of eating dehydrated meals on our trips, ever. We make similar meals to those we would at home and while this takes more time than throwing sausages on the barbecue, it means we have healthy, fresh meals and sometimes leftovers, which we put in takeaway containers.
Whenever we can, we shop at local farmers' markets to stock up on veges, eggs, and snacks. I fill up glass containers with grains at bulk stores and pack plenty of canned goods so we always have staples. Also, don't underestimate spices and seasonings. These will make your camp meal taste like a restaurant dinner.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with a platter for dinner and you can absolutely mix a cocktail in a van. Trust me, I'm a pro.Advertise with NZME.
Do plan for quiet activities
Sometimes, downtime while camping is great — you're not tempted to clean or garden! — but oftentimes this results in boredom. If you're like me and can't relax by simply sitting quietly (I'm envious of those that can), I suggest you pack some activities for your quiet times.
Simple, space-saving items like books, magazines and card games work perfectly for lazing in the sun, while inflatable SUPs, slacklines, and frisbees will keep you active. I also always bring flippers and goggles because you never know when you'll find a patch of clear water to explore.
Do factor in a bit of chore time
While van life is all about embracing minimalism, it's important to remember that your space is small. Daily clean-ups will be an essential ritual to keep you sane.
While on our North Island road trip, my partner and I hit a breaking point around day nine. Our sheets were covered in sand and stained from our dog's muddy paws, our clothes were starting to take on a sweaty stench, and rainy weather forced us to spend more nights cooking in the van than expected. We decided to splurge on a luxurious night at a private Rotorua campsite, trading in an evening of sightseeing for laundry, and had access to a private hot pool! The splurge left us feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the trip with gusto.
Do make time for the weird and wonderful
One of the biggest lessons I've learned when travelling in a van is to slow down. Detours are half the fun and there are a lot of wacky stops along the highways and hidden down dirt roads in New Zealand. Embrace those tired moments by pulling over and exploring. We've made plenty of detours for dirt roads that look interesting and usually break for icecream. If there's nothing good to stop for, pull over and make yourself a cup of coffee — you're travelling with a kitchen, after all.
If you're looking for a new way to see New Zealand this summer, or want to travel a bit slower but truly see a little more, travel in a van. You'll find time to see what makes this country a dream destination, at your own pace, and with your creature comforts in tow.Advertise with NZME.
Check traffic light settings, vaccine requirements and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz
Seven-days Britz campervan hire
Fancy hitting the open road for a campervan holiday of your own this year? Thanks to Britz, Travel readers can be in to win a campervan prize experience, including seven-day vehicle hire to the value of $2500.
To enter, go to nzherald.co.nz/win, find the Britz competition form and fill in your details, answering this question:
What has been your favourite summer holiday adventure so far this year and what made it so special?
We'll publish some of our favourite entries in an upcoming issue of Travel. Entries close at 11.59pm on Monday February 14. Terms and conditions apply.