Recently we went on a long awaited ten day trip to New Zealand’s South island. Taking three of our adult children with us.
Due to accommodation costs we decided to hire a campervan for the duration. Why not. It will be an adventure they said.
The first night we stayed in a motel close to the airport as the flights there and back are at really inconvenient times.
We arrived at the motel after midnight which was rather dated – kind of seventies vibe…cheap and cheerful let’s just say and were greeted by a really friendly cat who decided to wander in our room and after a bite to eat and a quick drink from the toilet (Ack! I gave him a bowl of water immediately) he proceeded to get quite comfortable on one of the beds. He spent the whole night with us… in my daughters bed, snuggled up with her on the electric blanket. No doubt it’s not the first time this smart cat has done so. A very nice welcome to the place.
We thought by travelling in a campervan that it would be a good way to cut down on costs as it would enable us to cook as well, instead of having to eat out every day, as NZ is expensive!
This was our home on wheels for the ten day period. By the end of the trip we were glad to see the back end of it!
Why you ask?
Why did we develop such an intense loathing for this vehicle?
For a start, it was very cramped with all five of us in there plus all our luggage. Even though it was a six berth van realistically it would have been much better had we have been travelling in summer, where we could have sat outside – we did pay extra for table and chairs but never used them because it was too damn cold to sit outside.
The interior design sucked. We may have argued about many things on this trip but we all agreed that the layout sucked.
It was like playing interior Tetris, my husband kept saying. I don’t know that game but I do know that it became INFURIATING trying to squeeze past people in that stupidly small space between the “kitchen area” and the “bathroom”.
Speaking of the bathroom, I was BANNED from using the bathroom.
So unfair! I thought, great, we have a campervan! This trip I won’t have to be crossing my legs and waiting in agony for us to find public restrooms along the way…. Won’t have to get up and go out in the freezing cold at night to pee in a stinking pit toilet somewhere…. or first thing in the morning when it’s brutally cold and I look like something dug up from the grave.
No! I had to do ALL those things! All because nobody wanted to empty the toilet cassette and everyone thought it was gross for me to even PEE in there. I mean…everybody pees! Maybe it’s just my former years as a nurse, but there are far worse things that that! I tried every which way to convince them but nope, not even a little tinkle was I allowed by my family, which made me sulk. Instead, due to lack of space, the bathroom became our luggage storage closet. We didn’t even use the shower in there, which admittedly would have been quite a feat in itself as it was very small. My husband is so tall that he would need a sunroof that opens with the shower head sticking out the top!
As a result, we stayed in several caravan parks so we could shower, and they were not cheap. Over $100 a night for the five of us.
The South island is very different to what little we saw on our previous quick trip to the North.
I wanted the kids to be blown away by the scenery the minute we got there but realistically we drove for most of the first day through pretty boring flat farmland before we began to glimpse the snow-capped mountains in the distance. A bit different from when we arrived in Wellington and began to see rolling green hills pretty much straight away.
The mountains though. How picturesque they were! I can honestly say that most of the scenery we saw was absolutely postcard perfect. The beauty was surreal at times.
Here’s just a few photos…
The most awesome part of the trip for us all was seeing snow.
We have been snow chasing for a few years now and every place we have visited where it is likely to snow we have missed it! Instead days later it has snowed where we just were! Infuriating.
I was fully expecting some bizarre phenomena to happen in New Zealand where the snow would magically part on our route leaving us once again with a snowless experience, but it didn’t! Yay!
We didn’t just see snow, but we actually got to experience it SNOWING!
This is my son and daughters first reaction to snow.
They delighted in their first snow experience though, which made me happy.
My husband took this photo on his phone of the kids and I. We look like we are doing some sort of magical ritual.
Snow is fascinating. It falls in some places and not others. Like some hills are just snow repellent or something. Weird.
It feels like ash falling from the sky (our only reference, coming from Australia where bushfires have caused ash to fall like snow)
Walking in it feels like you’re walking on granola. It makes a satisfying crunch.
It plops down from trees. Really, “plops” describes it. I’m thankful I didn’t get plopped on.
It melts quickly when it’s actually snowing on you – so I was worried for my camera.
Some snow is wet and other snow you can lie down on the ground on it and your clothes don’t get wet. Odd.
Snow is extremely slippery at times. It looks ugly and sloshy by the roadside.
Snow just transforms landscapes into absolutely magical scenes. At dusk it feels like you are viewing the world in greyscale.
Snow is so silent.
Snow is terrifying when you are driving on winding mountain roads with no guard rails.
Snow makes you cry when your fingers get chilblains. That happened to me once and it was agony. I wasn’t even touching it! Just removed one glove to take photos .
This is what someone looks like being hit by a snowball. The aftermath is not pretty.
I was told off for continuing to take photo’s in the snowball in the face aftermath.
What was I to do? I had the camera in my hands. I was just documenting!
Some of my favourite snow pics.
All five of us live together quite happily at home where we spread out and do our own thing, but being cramped so close together in a confined space day and night began to take its toll.
We all began to crave some alone time.
The kids got tired of me asking them to pose for the camera.
We made Shai cry seven times during the trip. I can’t even explain. We didn’t mean to. She just seemed PARTICULARLY sensitive. I had one argument with her because she accused me of being a camera hog, which made me mad because I was quite aware that this COULD be an issue so I was trying very hard to share nicely.
The argument happened at Wanaka, where I was really looking forward to photographing the most photographed tree in the whole of New Zealand. Why? Because I just had a bee in my bonnet about doing so!
I was surprised when we drove up found the exact spot RIGHT at sunset. I expected to have to walk to find it So I quickly got out the car but beating me to it Shai took the camera first and went trotting off to take photo’s of the water and reflections.
I was getting panicky because the light was changing and I just wanted to take the opportunity because I knew there was no WAY I’d get everyone up at the crack of dawn to go down there just so I could photograph it. I was trying to be nice for THEM….avoid the inconvenience of a freezing cold dawn trip.
I was getting quite cranky with Shai. I saw her off in the distance just sitting there seemingly just looking out at the water at the beautiful scenery, which made me REALLY mad!
What the heck was she doing now ? Just meditating while I’m standing there, camera- less, with this beautiful light that was going to disappear at any minute! So I motioned very exaggeratedly at her with my arms in a movement that said “ Come here NOW! “ (Pointing to the ground)
And then there was an awkward moment when I realised that the person I was making this angry motioning to, who was looking right at me – and then looked behind her in confusion….was not Shai at all, but some innocent person who indeed was just sitting there meditating, enjoying the beautiful scenery.
This was the photo I eventually ended up getting.
We argued over beds. See there were three double beds in the campervan.
My son, thankfully volunteered to sleep with my husband up the top – the biggest bed. I was SO glad, because I can’t sleep with him as he snores. (At home we have separate rooms)
The longest bed was at the back of the camper so Shai (being so tall) and Keira slept there…most of the time. I got the bed in the middle of the camper, which was the one that converts to a table, and driving seats during the day. It had a big open space underneath it though which seemed to store up all the cold air so it was a bit like sleeping on top of an open freezer.
Shai who needs complete darkness and silence to sleep was disturbed by Keira who needs to be watching her screen. I need to watch something too or else my mind spins in endless circles but the glare from MY tablet screen reflected in the shiny grill surface and somehow Keira could see that and this disturbed HER. The men at the top were happy enough in their snoring and farting bliss. We were glad to be well away from their man smell funkiness.
They only supplied three quilts and three thin blankets, presuming that people sleeping together would share a quilt, but my husband grabbed one, my son the other, Shai took the last one and Keira, as she feels the cold more than I do, took two blankets, which left me with one thin blanket sleeping in a van in a place that snows! I resorted to wearing three layers of clothing to bed but I was still waking up at dawn with ice blocks for feet.
I must admit. At times it was a bit like living in an igloo. Cramped and cold.
Then there was the issue of trying not to disturb people in that confined space.
Many a morning I would try to make a cup of tea as quietly as possible, then I’d crawl behind the ladder and over the seat into the cab of the van to try not to disturb people. I’d had these fantasies about getting up really early to get the nice dawn light for photos, but trying to get everyone up and ready for the day was impossible!
Other people had less regard for others who don’t do mornings well.
One time Shai got up early and proceeded to eat rice crackers and dip before anyone woke up.
Well, guess what- people woke up, because rice crackers are extremely noisy. If you really want to make people fuming mad in the morning, eat loud rice crackers.
It seemed to disturb Keira the most who spent the entire day in a foul mood shooting dagger like looks at Shai and had a REALLY hard time forgiving her for the “loud food” incident.
One night we arrived fairly late at a campground and were happy to have the place all to ourselves. There was not much there -a very quiet spot next to a lake, a bit secluded really, with nothing more than a pit toilet.
An hour or two after we arrived though, around 8 pm or so, another car pulled up and three people, a girl and two guys got out and began setting up two tents. I peeked through the curtains out at them and could see that they were sharing a bottle of alcohol. Fine, as long as the party doesn’t get wild, I thought.
Soon after I began to hear guitar playing and singing. It was about 9 pm.
I was a little annoyed. They set up camp quite close to us. A bit inconsiderate but none the less, it’s a free world. In this case – campsite.
Then I began to hear bongo drums accompanying the guitar playing. Sheesh! Why not just invite the whole band!
10 o clock and they were really getting into it, and by now I was a little bit nervous because another car arrived and although I couldn’t see properly with my peeking, I was sure they knew each other.
I really needed to pee by then, but I was nervous going out there in the dark with the party people going full swing. Luckily Shai was getting up so I took the opportunity and went with her.
We only had one small pocket torch – a huge oversight by us…Really should have packed a decent torch because we knew we would be staying in free campgrounds along the way.
Having spent hours peeking at our noisy neighbours and having all kinds of imaginary scenarios running through my head I was really edgy, so when Shai took the torch and left me standing outside her toilet cubicle in complete pitch black darkness, I freaked a little…imagining someone coming out of the dark at me, so without thinking…(really honestly, a complete brainfart moment) I decided to go into the stall next to Shai to try to just pee in the dark.
Thinking that you can find your way around a totally pitch black PIT TOILET is insane, gah, but at least the door was closed so I felt safe from any potential bogey men.
I was kind of feeling with my foot for the toilet, but as you do, in the dark, your hands are outstretched in front of you, and all of a sudden I got the shock of my life when my hands touched something I instantly recognised to be NOT something I would EVER want to be touching. It was a urinal.
Blegh! Oh! YUCK! Gross! Contamination overload! I got out of there REAL quick. Even the scary darkness was better than THAT!
Then there was the bacon frying incident.
Having some leftover bacon my husband decided to cook some potatoes one night with chopped bacon that we would just have with grated cheese for dinner. He’d already tried to cook egg and bacon for sandwiches the day before and had a traumatic time with the frying pan and oil as it kept popping and spitting – like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. In the confines of a small van this kind of thing can actually be quite violent and dangerous! Your food should not hurt you.
The thought did cross my mind that by chopping the bacon up it might cause flying projectiles around the campervan, but we were hungry!
Well, that’s exactly what DID happen…Explosive bits of bacon began popping like out of control popcorn out of the pan and hitting my husband’s glasses, spitting out across the van – one even flying into the pocket of my jacket that was draped across the back of a seat. Everyone literally had to take cover!
We had the loud food incident, and now we were having the dangerous food incident.
Somehow there was enough bacon that stayed in the pan for us to have dinner that night, but we were glad to have that ordeal over and done with. We stuck to food that would not become dangerous missiles after that.
Our biggest disappointment on the trip was driving up the west coast where it was said to be one of the worlds top ten coastal drives.
It was rather disappointing. Granted, the weather we had then was miserable but still, it seemed like we were driving on roads hedged in with thick rainforest for a lot of the time with very little coast to see and when we did see it it was misty and gloomy and terribly windy.
Here is a nice moody pic of the ocean I took – and was nearly blown away while I tried to take it!
We were also disappointed by the glaciers. The helicopter flights, which seemed the best way to see the glaciers were ludicrously expensive, and not even flying that day due to poor weather. We contemplated walking to the glacier but from doing reading it seems that you can’t really walk that close to it anyway – due to many accidents they have prevented this…. It was raining, I had the camera to think about. We opted to give it a miss.
This is what glacial water looks like. It truly is that stunning aqua blue colour. No photoshopping. It’s just the most divine colour caused by the sediments that have been transported through the rivers to the lakes.
We headed to a beach around there where there was reportedly a colony of seals. None were to be seen. The weather was probably too miserable for them too!
We did however see a Kiwi which was about the most exciting thing we’d seen that day.
The scariest moment on the trip, (besides groping the urinal in the dark) was when we’d travelled up to Arkaroa on our second last day. What a beautiful place! But oh…driving around the winding mountain tops on snowy roads really truly made me feel sick to my stomach with anxiety!
There are no guard rails, or few anyway, not that they would do much good if your vehicle skidded on the road, very high drops and very winding roads with hairpin bends. It was spectacular but in a campervan I felt very very nervous! That is definitely a place though that I’d like to visit again and explore more.
View over Arkaroa
So the highlights of the trip for us was going through the passes and seeing snow for the first time…being snowed ON… Seeing all the amazing spectacular snow capped mountains, and the cat who slept in our motel room.
The disappointments were that everything is soooo expensive. We saw a cucumber for $6 ! Queenstown was a place I couldn’t wait to get out of as it was SO busy with so many posy yuppie types of people hanging around on corners looking all cool with their snowboards – and there was nowhere to park a campervan there anyway. We weren’t going to ski, which I suppose is what most people go to the south for in winter…but there seemed to be little else on our chosen route to do except look at amazing scenery. I expected to see more quaint little towns along the way. More museums or things like that which might not cost an arm and a leg but would be interesting to visit. We did visit Puzzling world in Wanaka which was very reasonable at $20 per person and just a bit of fun.
It seems that the south is for the highly adventurous, bungee jumping and all that kind of heart attack stuff, and those that want to take long hikes and don’t mind getting wet or snowed on.
Next time I want to go back to the North and do more exploring up that way. I was quite taken by all the rolling green hills of the north which the south replaces with rugged mountains and beautiful glacial lakes.
Either way, New Zealand, so far, in all our travels, is to me the most scenic place I have ever visited – has no dangerous snakes and spiders, and I definitely want to experience more of it, but probably in the warmer months next time, and probably not in a campervan.