October 10, 2012

The Art Of Camper-Vanning

Campervans, recreational vehicles, motor homes…whatever you want to call them, they always seem to be the butt of jokes in America. They’re a surefire plot line in a family sitcom or the last thing you want to be stuck behind on a mountain pass. We never fancied ourselves as motor home kind of people, but maybe now we could envision a far-off future with kids fighting in the back seat while we tour national parks and Steve threatens to turn the car around.

We loved our girl, Vanna White. We loved her so much that I actually cried when we had to hand her in. We know that it wasn't about the van itself, but about the good times we had while with her.

Our entire RTW adventure has been liberating, but camper-vanning through New Zealand was the most free we’ve felt over the last 9 months. No researching hostels, no reservations, no obligations. 100% flexibility.

Our first few hours with Vanna were like being on a blind date with a future spouse. You’re going to be stuck with this person and you have to learn all of the nooks and crannies.

Everything was pint-sized, so it was like we were living out of a doll house. Speaking of playing house, camper-vanning has forced us to do some things we haven’t done in a very long time…like grocery shopping, cooking, doing dishes, and generally just cleaning up after ourselves. 

There are funny quirks to camper-vanning…like when you forget to put the safety pin back into the refrigerator door, and all of your groceries go spilling out when you make a sharp turn.

We’ve also honed all sorts of life skills like how to drain a waste water tank. 

There is a whole camper-vanning culture in New Zealand that can be analyzed and debated by anyone who has lived it. If you know, you know! We have learned the ropes and laugh when we think back to our early-days newbie mistakes. Here are some of the funny idiosyncrasies and lessons that we can pass on. There are essentially three ways to camper-van…

Freedom Camping (FREE!) – just you, your campervan, and nature. This is the goal of every campervan you pass on the road. Wherever you can find a (legal) spot to pull over is fair game, and the race is on to find the most remote and picturesque location. 

In the shoulder season if you find a killer spot like this and another camper pulls up alongside of you after 6:00pm, it’s not cool. Completely acceptable, but not cool. In the high season I can’t even imagine the scene.

Freedom camping used to be the complete norm in New Zealand until a few years ago when local governments started restricting it. 

Some places (like Queenstown and the South Island’s West Coast) are harsher than others, but in general, the new laws are a complete work in progress. The rule makers don’t even understand the rules. We asked several times and consistently got unconfident-sounding answers.

Essentially here is what we learned after 5 weeks: this little 3-inch x 3-inch sticker on the back of a campervan is the most meaningless golden ticket in New Zealand.

Somehow our campervan company managed to get a self-contained license for our little Vanna. We have no idea how. If we ever got questioned, we technically had a portable toilet – which we never ever intended on using. It was stuffed somewhere in the trunk abyss and never saw the light of day.

No sticker? No freedom camping. Sticker? Find a legal spot and you’re living the good life.

DOC (Department of Conservation) Campsites ($5-10 per person per night) – before we arrived, we assumed we would stay in these almost every night. We only ended up staying three nights, and those were out of complete necessity. These sites basically offer zero amenities over freedom camping, except the assurance that you’re not on unauthorized land breaking the law.

Holiday Parks ($15-20 per person per night) – kind of like hotels but for campervans. You pull up, pay, and plug in. We hated these places and only stayed at them every three or four nights when we needed a shower. Why would we want to pay a hostel rate when we have our campervan? No thank you! We hated the idea of essentially paying for a parking spot.

After awhile, we just started taking coin-operated showers wherever we could find them…like a fishermen’s wharf, the locker room of an aquatic center, and the parking lot of a used car salesman (no kidding).

4 days was the longest we ever went without showers, but I guess 2 swims in heated rivers made it remotely okay? Nevermind that one of the rivers was called Kerosene Creek.

Vanna is quite spacious…we can completely stand up in her without ducking. We have a queen-sized bed. We also have solar panels, a DVD player, pseudo-stainless steel appliances and a pseudo-suede couch. Classy, Vanna! 

We thought we had the best kept campervan secret around. It was fun to pass other campers in parking lots, peer into their windows, and smirk at their inferior living conditions. Vanna was state-of-the-art, just small enough to get us into tight corners, and just legal enough with our self-contained jackpot status.

In the summer, a campervan like Vanna would cost about $150 per day. Because we were in New Zealand during the shoulder season, we were able to get her for $42 per day. If we had done the backwards tourist route by picking the van up in Christchurch and returning it in Auckland, we could have gotten her for $21 a day!!! That’s insanely cheap! If we had come during the summer high season, we flat-out could not have afforded it. Moral of the story...choose wisely.

There is such a happiness that comes with living in a 13.5 foot x 6.5 foot space. No luxuries…just the land and your loved one.

We suggest everyone gives it a try. Buckle up, because camper-vanning is the new vacationing.

No comments:

Post a Comment