Our Camper Van Adventure Part 1
After spending the first five days of the South Island exploring wine country, Abel Tasman National Park and Nelson it was finally time to pick our camper for our nine-day adventure through the southern part of the South Island.
Exploring New Zealand via camper is a very popular pastime for both Kiwis (New Zealanders) and tourists alike. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation runs over 120 different campsites consisting of both the North and South Island; many are located in beautiful isolated nooks and crannies, most of the sites have toilets and some running water. These campsites all run between $6 and $15 NZD a person and most are based on an “honesty box” format where you fill out a slip and place your payment in a box onsite. The money goes towards maintaining that particular campsite and based on the condition of most campsites we stayed at (quite good) people seem to be doing their part and contributing towards the upkeep of these well-maintained sites. There are also hundreds more of “holiday parks” which are campsites run by a company or family where you can hook up your camper to power for the evening, share kitchen and BBQ facilities and get a hot shower.
Jeremy and I have been car camping with tents, but neither of us have ever rented an RV. After much research and speaking with other travelers we determined that renting a camper was a must-do for at least part of our New Zealand adventure. We didn’t realize until we actually got to New Zealand though just how popular camper and RV travel was and how many different companies rented these vehicles out. We ended up going with a more budget-friendly option called Cruzy Campers. A small husband and wife run camper business, Cruzy was one of the only budget options we found that had pretty good reviews, although many stating that your vehicle would likely be well-worn. We also wanted to be sure we picked a self-contained vehicle so we could go freedom camping if necessary. Freedom camping is only possible if your camper has a chemical toilet as well as a water tank and spigot to act as a shower.
We decided to fly from Nelson to Christchurch in order to avoid a five hour plus drive as we knew that we’d have a lot of road time once we picked up the camper. Our contact met us at the Christchurch airport and drove us to the grocery store to give us a rundown and answer any questions we had. Instead of describing our camper I thought I’d give you a visual tour with this video! Meet Wilson!
Once we’d sorted everything out, Jeremy mentally prepared himself to drive a stick-shift for the first time since high school and from there we hit the open road for a small mountain village halfway between Christchurch and the west coast called, Arthur's Pass. As we left Christchurch we discovered the day was quite windy, and it was a bit of a white knuckled drive up through the southern alps. The wind was pushing us all over our lane and there were definitely times I thought we’d just be blown straight off the shoulder. I tried my best to let Jeremy do the driving while I gripped my legs trying not to give myself a bruise and keep my backseat driving to a minimum.
On our way we passed several beautiful stopping points and campgrounds I’d seen on my New Zealand DOC app as places to freedom camp overnight.
Once arriving in Arthur’s Pass we did a short hike up to a waterfall called The Devils Punchbowl. Although we might have complained about the rain that plagued us for some of our time on the North Island we were rewarded by the robust waterfalls that are sprinkled across the South Island. Our friend in Auckland told us that we’d be pulling over quite a bit to take a look at all the waterfalls along the way.
After our short hike we decided to make our way back to a campground we passed about 10K out of town called Klondyke Corner. A medium sized campsite near the junction of the Bealey and Waimakariri rivers, we found that both tent and RV/campers found this to be a popular spot nestled in the mountains with beautiful views. I also was pleased that I got to tell my Dad that I was officially living in a van down by the river.
This was also our first encounter with sandflies, nasty little critters the size of gnats but with a bite like a mosquito. Since we hadn’t hooked up the fridge quite yet we enjoyed a meal of cheese and crackers and canned raviolis. It was no foodie feast, but the views sure made up for the cuisine.
The next morning, we moseyed our way into the little village of Arthur’s Pass for a hot breakfast and hit the road for glacier country!