Life in a Campervan

Three weeks have passed on the open road in New Zealand. We drive by small towns, sheep farms, mountains, rivers and lakes. Sitting in the van, I tend to forget the outrageous painting on the outside, but as the sheep stare at us while we pass, I can't help but wonder what they think of Howl's Castle.

We had the choice of a few vans when we arrived at the Escape Rental shop in Christchurch. Looking for the van in the best shape and the model that would give us the best gas mileage, we both stood in front of the one with the old woman and her dog painted on the side. "That's Howl's Castle," said the rental agent. "It's a rendering of the Japanese anime movie, do you know it?"

We didn't know it, but having just arrived from Japan, it felt like it was our fate.

Our first look at Howl's Castle.

Our first look at Howl's Castle.

Three weeks later and Howl's Castle is home.

Our van is by far one of the smaller, more basic versions on the road and in holiday parks. It has a table that comes apart with slats that lock together to make the bed. A sink and small shelving unit take up the back where we keep our dishes and food. Storage units under the bed keep everything else - a makeshift wine cellar, storage for our bags and a hamper full of dirty clothes.

Since we are traveling in the beginning of the New Zealand winter, we try to stay at powered sites so that we can warm up the van with the small heater. With two duvets and the heater, it stays warm most nights. Everyone who asks us about our van is always curious to whether we have heat or not. I guess we look a little destitute compared to their colossal motor homes.

Camper Van Highs

Total Flexibility We have complete flexibility over our itinerary with the van. There is no relying on bus, train or plane schedules and we can check the weather a day or two in advance to alter our plans if our next destination looks undesirable. Traveling in the winter, we don't need to book accommodations in advance so we often roll into town, check out one or two of the holiday parks and decide which we like best.

No More Packing One of our least favorite things of long term travel is packing and re-packing our bags every couple of days. Being in the camper, we have been able to semi-unpack and find nooks and crannies for certain items that we use most often. Spreading out a bit and not having to zip up a bag everyday is a small luxury. Although, we still tend to lose things pretty often, but we at least know they are somewhere in the van.

We Know Which One is Ours There are parks we have stayed at with 4 or 5 of the same van so I imagine a late night bathroom break could become interesting if you forget where yours is parked. We have the benefit of never losing our van or forgetting which one it is!

Frequent Star Gazing Speaking of bathroom breaks, the stars in New Zealand are beyond spectacular. Each night, millions light up the sky. A side benefit of having to leave our camper "home" to go the bathroom at night is that we get to see the stars at times when the sky is darkest. Times like 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. seem to be the best bathroom breaks.

It's Cozy Surrounded by pillows and blankets, the van is super cozy as we read before going to sleep or as we hang out in the morning drinking coffee. It's like being in our own comfy cave.

Camper Van Lows

It's Cozy A worker at a holiday park took one look at our van and said, "that's not taking a holiday, that's getting cozy" and I don't think he meant cozy in a good way. Our little van doesn't have a standing section nor a section other than the bed once it is down for the night. It also only has one side door so if you don't sleep next to it, getting out to go the bathroom requires work.

Petrol The cost of the van itself is reasonable, in fact, it's actually really cheap. Where we get crushed is on the cost of petrol in New Zealand. Each fill up tops out over $100 and every hill we climb I cringe at the extra fuel we're using (at 35 kph because the van can't really handle hills).

In general, it has been a great way to see the country and I don't regret traveling this way one bit. Most of the holiday parks we have stayed at have had great kitchen and lounge facilities so we aren't confined to the van except for sleeping. In a few parks, we have been the only guests so have had the run of the place.

Still interested? Take a look at how we live.

One of our better sites - our own shower and bathroom next door!

One of our better sites - our own shower and bathroom next door!

Cooking in a holiday park kitchen (where we do most of our cooking).

Cooking in a holiday park kitchen (where we do most of our cooking).

Cooking out of the van (a less regular occurrence).

Cooking out of the van (a less regular occurrence).

The "lounge" that turns into the bed when the wood slats go in the open spot and the cushions get spread out. I said it was cozy!

The "lounge" that turns into the bed when the wood slats go in the open spot and the cushions get spread out. I said it was cozy!

The next page includes a few New Zealand holiday park highlights for those who may be making a similar trip.

New Zealand Holiday Parks Worth the Money

For anyone traveling by camper in New Zealand, researching holiday parks become exhausting after the first few. Here is a running list of our favorite parks. Traveling in the winter has big perks - there are winter specials at a number of parks and we even came across a few 3 for 2 night deals.

South Island Holiday ParksWaipara Sleepers, Waipara - great value, clean facilities, fully stocked kitchen and fresh bread and eggs in the morning! Perfect spot after a day of wine tasting in the Waipara region.

Leith Valley Touring Park, Dunedin - a little on the expensive side, but really clean, nice facilities and close to town. From what we've heard from other travelers, this is the place to pick in Dunedin.

Whistling Frog McLean Falls Holiday Park, The Catlins - what a great little find in the middle of the Catlins. Beautiful grounds, a great restaurant and great views.

Central City Camping Park, Invercargill - If you have to stay in Invercargill, this spot is walking distance to town, clean and the hosts are super friendly. Limited free wifi as well.

Creeksyde Top 10, Queenstown - A funky little holiday park hideaway walking distance to town. Nice kitchen and lounge areas, really clean facilities and a great location.

Aspiring Campervan Park, Wanaka - free hot tubs, free wifi and beautiful views make this place worth the extra cash.

Hanmer Springs Forest Camp, Hanmer Springs - while most vans will stay at one of the small holiday parks in town, the real gem is 2.7 kilometers outside of town (seriously, take our word for it - we visited every campground in town). Great value for non-powered sites, really clean facilities and a great overall environment with hiking at your door step. Definitely favored by families.

The Barn Backpackers, Abel Tasman - best location around! A short walk to the park entrance and really nice mountain views from the park. Kitchen facilities are decent and everything is clean. Great outside common areas on a nice day.

Picton Campervan Park, Picton - only a short drive to the ferry terminals, this small park has clean and nice facilities. A perfect spot for an evening before leaving on the morning ferry.

North Island Holiday Parks

Kapiti Holiday Resort, Kapiti Coast - 4 minute walk to a beautiful beach and your own private bathroom shower at your site - genius!