Travelling Around

"Backpacker" hitop van, West Taranaki, 2010
“Backpacker” hitop van, West Taranaki, 2010. You could stand up in it, and plug it in

Unabridged nature is surely one of the main reasons people come to New Zealand. Getting away from it all on one of the physically most isolated countries in the world. But there’s unfortunately more to this than meets the eye. I’ll leave aside the question for the moment whether all that you can see in New Zealand is nature and address how you might get to those places where nature still exists, and enjoy them at the same time.

In the four recent trips down under, I used a variety of vehicles, summarised in Table 1.

Year Company: Vehicle (class) Paid in € Paid in $ Duration $/day €/day
2009 bestcamper/Jucy: Lucinda 1343 55 61 24.4
2010* bestcamper/thl: VW Hitop 1004 55 37 18.3
2013 Wendekreisen: Econocar 1289 37 37 22.2
2015 AVR: Demio 1483 38 39 25.3
Table 1. Car and van rental comparison. *Winter rental, paid price included €330 third party insurance

Although the prices seem very comparable, they are not. For one the winter rental of 2010 was so cheap, that having a little extra insurance seemed reasonable. Secondly the rate of NZD/EUR has risen from 0.4 in 2009 to 0.55 in 2010 and around 0.65 in 2015. This means that € prices will have increased by nearly 75% in that time. Thirdly, only rental costs were recorded for all vehicles. At around 130 km of driving each and every day, the petrol costs cannot be ignored. Also, it would be fair to include other transportation costs such as taxis and buses to make the figures completely comparable.

Jucy Lucy, the van from 2009, suitcase on front passenger seat for the night
Jucy Lucy, the van from 2009, suitcase on front passenger seat for the night
It is noticeable that in the last two trips the car hire duration was shortened due to the hikes that were put into a short program. This is the first lesson to be learned: Only hire a vehicle if you are going to be using it almost every day. It’s no good landing in a place like Ohakune and expecting to want to do the Whanganui River Journey, and then the Tongariro Crossing spontaneously. For one, the car/van would be standing around for about a week doing nothing, and for two, it would be a very bad idea to drive onto the Tongariro Crossing car park and leaving the van on the car park for the day, hoping somehow to get back to it either later that day or some time the next morning. It might be empty if you did. Take the bus.

As to the vehicles themselves, I have nothing but praise for the cars: They get you from place to place with a suitcase or two packed away (the Demio in particular was very roomy). But it was the campers that gave more food for thought. The Lucinda is not much more than a big car that could be used for sleeping but had no electrical equipment. And if you slept in the back, the suitcase had to go on the front seat. The Hitop, on the other hand, could be plugged in (which kept a fridge working), and you could stand up in it (which was comfortable at least) but neither had any space for putting stuff and both had plenty of stuff that was just not needed (sinks and water tanks).

All of these vehicles had in common that I needed a place to sleep (camping ground, motel, hotel, hostel) every night, because councils almost everywhere have forbidden overnight parking. This is a question of planning: Find a motorcamp, pay the $20 (often not much more) and have your shower, use the kitchen, do your washing, meet people.

Flying Spaghetti Monster, outside Hanmer, 2013.
Flying Spaghetti Monster, outside Hanmer, 2013
Of course, there is the option of going up to the next price class and renting a self-contained vehicle, so that you could drive onto one of the very few remaining freedom camping sites and experience ultimate freedom first hand. But be warned: The price of that vehicle class is more than double what I’ve been discussing up to now, and you pay that rate everyday, whether you are on the rare freedom camping site, or somewhere more conventional. The tragedy of this is becoming clear at the Paora Rd car park, South Taranaki. Here anyone can camp in a tent, ordinary camper, or self-contained one. The limit is three vehicles, and nobody takes any notice. The result is that the natives become restless, and as a camper that is the last thing that you want. One particularly obnoxious vigilante chained the toilets shut, because he erroneously identified a deep water seep close to the beach as sewage. Great.

One thing I’ll gladly do is defend and their app, CamperMate. Use them to find out all sorts of useful information, including interesting sites that are off the beaten track, and where public toilets are. Only don’t rely on finding a free campsite through them, go somewhere and pay your $20.

Anyhow, I’ve decided for this trip to do away with a rental vehicle and see if I can do the trip by any other means, and for this purpose I have set a budget of the costs of all transport for the last trip, around $2,100 (which, considering the first camper cost close to $3,700, is already pretty stingy). Certainly the two items on the short program, the Stewart Island Southern Circuit and the Dusky Track won’t require a vehicle for 20 days. As of publication, all inland travel has been booked: Flights from AKL to IVC, IVC/Stewart Island, DND/NSN, NSN/AKL, buses from Invercargill to Te Anau and from there to Dunedin, and the transfer to and fro the Dusky Track for just under $1100, so there is still $1000 in the tin. Still to be booked/paid are the Stewart Island water taxi, transfers to the tramps/kayak tours at the top end.

So before you decide you need to cart your shit from one free camping site to the next, consider some real freedom. Might well be good for both the environment and your wallet.

References, accessed Dec 11, 2016, accessed Dec 11, 2016, accessed Dec 31, 2018