Words by John Borthwick
Campervanning in Aotearoa means slowing down and exploring – island style.“Don’t drive off with your power lead still hooked up,” someone yells as we leave the campervan hire lot. Exit Auckland. Hullo learning curve.
A campervan is … a house with a handbrake? A carapace with a carburettor? Some of these rolling homes come with the works: a full galley, air-conditioning, TV, toilet and shower, while others are much more basic. The level of luxury is up to you and your budget.
Like most foreigners, I soon learn my first, simple lesson in cruising rural Aotearoa: slow down. Proceed like a Kiwi, motor like a moa, and not a trans-Tasmaniac just off the plane.
‘Start anywhere, and then meander’ might be the most useful navigation hint. Within a day our detailed itinerary hits the bin, and from the languid Coromandel Peninsula onwards we ramble, semi-randomly, seeking out well-appointed caravan parks before dusk.
Exploring becomes our travelling template, from Rotorua’s thermal mud pools (seething like killer porridge) and Waitomo’s transcendentally beautiful glow-worm caves, to the lush wine route between Masterton and Martinborough. Each one could keep you enthralled for days, but there’s an inter-island ferry waiting at Wellington.
Allow at least a week for each island. The South Island’s inland route from Christchurch to Queenstown is one of the world’s great drives, a transport of delight through an all-day alley of marzipan alps and turquoise lakes. Later, a steamboat trip across Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu is a welcome break from driving. Further south lie glaciers, fjords, tramping and much, much more.
Driving to extremes
Cape Reinga at the tip of the North Island is the dramatic meeting point of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. To reach it you drive beside – not on – Ninety Mile Beach, a graveyard of optimistic vehicles. Tip: beach driving or bush-bashing will void your insurance.
Way down south
Gothic Dunedin in the South Island’s far south has beautiful Victorian-Edwardian architecture complemented by the wild grandeur of its Otago Peninsula, home of the royal albatross. Dunedin’s Baldwin Street, ‘the World’s Steepest Street’, tilts and tempts at 38 degrees – don’t even think about it.
Bring a valid driver’s licence; drivers must be over 18. One-way hire is common but check for any drop-off fee. Don’t be overly ambitious in the distances you plan to cover – driving all day, every day kills the fun. Camping grounds can be crowded in peak season so research to find small, quieter ones. And remember: the later you arrive in the afternoon, the less desirable your parking spot may be.
AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME:
SYD-AKL: 3 hrs 10 mins
MEL-AKL: 3 hrs 30 mins BNE-AKL: 3 hrs 20 mins
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
New Zealand is a year-round destination, with distinct seasonal (and temperature) differences between the far southern and northern regions. For peak-season travel, book your vehicle and some camping grounds in advance.