It’s been 5 months since I returned back to Malta after 10 months on a priceless and unforgettable #tripofalifetime.
In the run up to this long trip, I had come across numerous blogs from other travellers who prior to me, had ventured into a similar experience, many of whom were eventually not too excited to return home, getting quickly sucked back into the old daily routine. While I was aware this could well become my own reality, I did not let it scare me.
The last diary blog I had posted related to months 6 and 7, the last 2 months Martina and I spent in Melbourne, our base in Australia. Upon packing up and clearing our apartment, we shipped four large boxes stuffed with personal belongings to Europe and departed for New Zealand. From here our travels became a wanderlust as we hit the road and moved from one destination to the next over a period of 3 months.
3 months which were a further step out of the comfort zone into self discovery. While being totally free of the usual commitments, ironically I started missing a routine and the comfort of a home, a feeling which was commonly shared by Martina. Which is why I believe this sort of travelling is a very powerful tool in bringing perspective to life, becoming more appreciative of what you have and discovering who you truly are, distinguishing the good from the bad, the necessities from the extras, your strengths from your weaknesses, your true passions vs the short-lived hobbies.
However, rather than delving into the life lessons learned I intend this post to be a continuation of the diary from the trip of a lifetime, which I last updated before leaving to New Zealand. Narrating 3 whole weeks of camper van touring would take me forever so I thought I’d just give you a high level brief and let a few selected photos do the rest.
The trip of a lifetime was characterised by “first times” and New Zealand was no different. It was my first time driving a van and also a first sleeping in one; not just one night, but for 3 long weeks. When choosing our van we obviously considered our budget while giving points to having a comfortable place to sleep in, a cooker, a fridge and space for our luggage. Naturally, the larger the budget the bigger a camper van one will be able to afford. We went for a Toyota Hitop which falls in the low-to-mid range bracket.
Driving the van itself was straightforward and I quickly adjusted to manoeuvring a larger than average vehicle. The bed consisted of a large foldable squarish mattress and another 2 smaller rectangular ones sitting on top. Generally speaking they did the job. We unfolded them in the evening, the last thing before we slept, and folded them first thing in the morning to allow space for cooking and “moving around”. The bed sheets were thick and warm.
We had no toilet inside the van though New Zealand is brilliant in this respect. Clean public toilets equipped with toilet paper are everywhere to be found, regardless of how far from populated areas one is. It being autumn the days were short, with sunset occurring around 5pm. Thus, we used to wake up very early in order to enjoy as much of the day as possible.
Sleeping was not only a matter of unfolding a bed but also quite a logistic headache since one cannot simply park a camper van on the side of the road. Doing so would attract a hefty fine and enforcement is strict. On the other hand, the whole territory of New Zealand is dotted with camper van sites which can be categorised under 2 umbrellas; the first being the “fancy” kind, privately owned and relatively pricy, equipped with showers, warm water, electricity, laundry services and wifi; the second being government owned, run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) through its unmistakeable rangers. The latter type merely consist of parking terrains/grounds and a toilet or two. These sites were generally cheap, requiring patrons to pitch in a fixed donation on the way out. In sticking to our budget (while giving hygiene its due care!) we alternated between the former campsites and the DOC ones.
As we wandered along our planned itinerary, we consulted a mobile app called Campermate which maps out all the said campsites, categorising them by amenities and price, in deciding where we would stop for the night. Together with Google Maps, these 2 apps served as our compass, so to speak. The vast majority of New Zealand’s terrain is wild and uninhabited which makes phone data coverage very intermittent. I recall how we didn’t have any connection for 2, even 3 consecutive days, particularly in the South Island, so repopulating the said maps was vital as soon as we detected a network. We did get lost a few times in pitch dark while trying to find a campsite in the middle of nowhere. Pretty spooky I must say!
In terms of cost, the camper van rental for 22 nights amounted to AUD 1,500 (c.a. € 1,043) while sleeping at campsites ranged between AUD 30 and AUD 45 per night in the case of the privately owned sites and around AUD 10 to AUD 20 at the basic DOC sites, for a total average of AUD 85 (€ 60) per day between 2. This of course excludes the fuel costs which by the end of the 3 weeks accumulated to around AUD 950 (€ 660) for the itinerary in the 2 maps below. Fuel is cheaper in the North Island than in the South Island.
Discovering New Zealand extensively the way we did definitely requires a camper van as most of the time one has to drive long hours through pristine uninhabited stretches of land. Generally speaking, our camper van experience was a positive one, however, if there had to be another time it would surely be during New Zealand’s summer (December to March) to be able to capitalise on longer sunny days and warmer temperatures. Sleeping in a camper van with zero degrees outside was pretty chilly to say the least 🙂
Also, we experienced quite some rain which at times limited our options. We believe 2 weeks on the type of camper van we rented would have been the optimum time as during the last week we were actually looking forward to return the van back. Then again, one could always pay more for the added comfort of a larger van.
Now for a quick look at living healthy on the road – starting with the food aspect – which was manageable. Having a cooker and a sink with fresh water enabled us to prepare our own meals. In planning our itinerary we made sure to drive by a supermarket every few days in order to stock up on the staple ingredients.
Working out was much more complicated. When travelling in this manner one has to decide on the trade-off between time spent discovering new places against time spent working out. By the end of the three weeks we managed to work out at 3 different gyms and in the interim made ends meet by throwing in camper van workouts every couple of days, once we had reached the chosen campsite for the night.
Camper van aside, what we experienced during our time in New Zealand is something out of this world. A constant roll of epic scenery, the kind that makes your heart skip a beat. While your brain is still trying to metabolise an extraordinary landscape, you are suddenly hit by something even spectacular as soon as you drive round the next bend. New Zealand literally spoils you in this respect and there is no hesitation in saying that once you experience this country, your standard of travel expectation hits the roof, which of course, is not always a positive going forward!
We flew into Christchurch on the South Island from where we picked up our van. Three weeks later we finished our trip in Auckland, the most populated city in New Zealand, where we returned our van. The South is definitely more scenic, raw and exciting while the North, being home to the majority of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, is more rich in history and culture.
In concluding this blog, I will list down the various stops on our itinerary together with photos from the highlights of our epic trip, for the benefit of those who are looking for some inspiration or intend to visit New Zealand, one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Week 1 and 2: South Island
- Christchurch (landing and camper van pick up)
- Mount Cook National Park
- Te Anau
- Milford Sound
- Haast Pass
- Fox Glacier
- Franz Josef Glacier
- St. Arnaud
- Wharariki Beach
- Picton (ferry to Wellington in the North Island)
Week 3: North Island
- Tongariro National Park
- Coromandel Peninsula
- Auckland (camper van drop off and departure)
While I hope you have enjoyed this blog, I look forward to sharing with you the next update from the trip of a lifetime – Queensland, Australia.
To fitness with love,