WRITTEN BY KRISTA BEAUVAIS
Most people choose to hire a campervan when they travel New Zealand. Not this couple. They chose a tent! Two months later, here’s their story, including a full breakdown of costs and a link to their daily travel blog!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to see New Zealand! It’s heralded as one of the most beautiful countries on the planet and, despite seeing pictures, it’s always seemed an enigma to me. When we finally decided to throw caution to the wind, quit our jobs, and take a trip 15-month around the world, New Zealand was top of our list!
HOW BEST TO TRAVEL ABOUT NZ?
Most people buy an old beat-up campervan and then sell it at the end of their trip. But, quite frankly, we didn’t want the headache. With only two months to enjoy the country (research told us this would be sufficient), we didn’t want to be fretting for the final few weeks about whether or not we’d be able to get our money back.
So, with purchasing out of the question, we looked into rental. Their are a silly number of campervan rental companies in New Zealand and they’re all, in my opinion, frightfully expensive! Hostels were out as they’re usually cheaper for the single traveller; not the travelling couple. Besides, we’d need a private room (I’m too old for grotty bunk beds in shared rooms where belongings get stollen) and that’s definitely out of our price range!
When you’re travelling for 15 months, cost is an issue and we were trying to function on a budget of £25 each per day. As it turned out, all we had to do was put fuel in our car and our daily budget was just blown! Add to that the cost of campsites and food and you can see that we were quite naive about what the country would cost us. (More about cost at the end.)
We still like the idea of a campervan so we researched it a little more, hoping to find something that would entice us to pay that little extra. And that’s when we found the info that decided our fate. We thought that you could camp in lots of places for free if you have a campervan. That would mean paying more for the van but then less on the ground for places to camp. That is not the case! You can only do this IF – AND ONLY IF – your campervan is SELF-CONTAINED. That means you have your own sink, toilet and shower. THESE campervans are extremely pricey! And even if you do manage to afford one, you’re still not going to save anything on the ground because there are very few free camping places. The ones that do exist are often out of the way and not necessarily on your route, meaning a hassle.
That left only one alternative for us: a tent! For two months. No, we’re not crazy. Or at least we didn’t think we were. After all, we’re fond campers – but, truth be told, our camping experience thus far has been the odd week here and there camping in Europe during the summer months. Not exactly roughing it! But, by having a tent, it also meant that we could save money on fuel since we’d be able to get a smaller car that would suck less fuel than a campervan.
And that’s how it happened that we chose to tent our way around New Zealand.
The question then became: What tent to choose?
Well, Erik did all of the research (he’s great at that) and we purchased a tent that turned out to be a brilliant home for us! It’s the Etesian 4 by Wild Country and I can’t sing its praises highly enough! It’s designed for four people, but we’re sure that’s an exaggeration; it was perfect for two people who wanted lots of space to move about. We chose it for it’s space, headroom and the fact that is was light and wouldn’t eat into our airplane weight allowance too much. We were told NOT to buy our camping kit in NZ as it’s expensive and we were glad we listened to the advice!!
We called it our ‘Green Igloo’ and we would eat dinners comfortably in our foyer and then ‘retire’ to our bedroom where we would sleep with oodles of leg room in the inner vestibule. Here’s the video that shows the tent in more detail. It’s dead simple to put up and takes up a footprint of about the size of a standard four door car. After NZ it housed us for three months in Australia and, despite all sorts of weather conditions, it never once let us down! When others were fleeing their tents to sleep in their cars during downpours, we were snugly dry inside ours listening to the rain pelt on our ‘roof.’
Then it was time to select our rental car. Again, hello to expensive! We did a lot of research and got a great tip from a friend who had been there before. In the end, we chose Ace Car Rental, which is the CHEAPEST rental company in NZ! They collected us from the airport and drove us to their depot not far away. It was then that I discovered what we were getting into! The cars are old! I’m used to getting new cars when we rent so this was a shock to me. But, as time went on, we discovered that this was a good thing since we weren’t worried about people opening doors into the side of us or rocks flying up and denting the nice paint job.
In the end, we were very happy with our car and the cost of $NZ 1334 for a full two months couldn’t be beat! The only other company worth considering if you’re concerned about your budget is APEX Car Rental who also do budget rentals but their cars seemed newer. And there were a lot of their stickers on the road; more so than Ace.
There are basically two types of campsites in NZ.
1) The first is typically called a ‘Holiday Park’ and they are privately run, costing on average between $NZ 25 – $NZ 45. There are a few independent operators but the two big companies are Top 10 and Kiwi and you’ll typically find them in all of the major areas. You can buy a membership for each of these but it will mean that you’ll want to only stay in these to get your money’s worth. That would then exclude you from enjoying the second (and cheaper) option.
2) The cheaper option is to stay in the campsites run by the government. They’re called DOC Sites because they’re run by the Department of Conservation. They are typically situated in areas of great natural beauty and offer more basic facilities. $NZ 10/person will usually get you a long drop loo and a cold shower. To enjoy their free sites, you have to be in a self-contained motorhome.
Despite choosing a brilliant home and a reliable (yet economical) car, we were not quite prepared for New Zealand! Travel information is readily available when you arrive at the airport and I walked away with two armloads of it (Erik was truly embarrassed!). But none of the brochures prepared us for the weather!
You see idyllic pictures of New Zealand but, for some reason, nobody ever seems to talk about how cold it is. Or how windy! It’s two long skinny islands with nothing to separate it from Antartica. So guess what happens when the Southerly winds sweep up from there? Exactly: they sweep over NZ! It is the windiest country I have ever been to!
We were there during January and February, the height of their summer. We planned it this was specifically so we could ‘follow summer’ around the globe. So you can imagine our surprise when it got so cold in the South island at night that we were forced to wrap clothing around our heads and then invest in extra blankets (on top of the down duvet we already had) and a heater!
Speaking of which, in order to have a heater in your tent, you need to have electricity. That means paying on average an extra $NZ per night for a ‘powered site’ and buying a power cable. But not just any power cable: you need a special cable for caravans. The cheapest place to get this is Mitre10 and that’s where we bought ours for the bargain price of $NZ 108. We cringed at the price but we couldn’t even find it cheaper online second hand so we bought it. Besides, we thought it would work in Australia (where we were next headed). It doesn’t.
If you not going to visit between November and April, you will need to be prepared to keep warm! You can still do this in a tent but you will certainly need to pay for powered sites and you will certainly need a heater! That’s okay, it makes it cozy, if you lack ideas where to start shopping for such heaters, go on over the Smartly Heated store.
We also weren’t prepared for the lack of wifi! Wifi is terrible in NZ! We bought a Vodaphone SIM in the airport when we arrived and also got a Vodaphone wireless Wifi router from them that would serve up the data on the SIM to our computers. It cost $NZ 99, which would have been cheaper to buy online in advance, had we known!
Apart from buying unwanted food at McDonalds to try to get a tiny portion of their terrible signal, we used this for all of our Wifi needs. Or we would occasionally splurge on expensive coffees in cafes ($NZ 4 and up for a coffee!) to get access to their signal (some advertise free Wifi upon purchase of something). They usually offered pretty decent signal and we would do this when we wanted to upload a lot of photos instead of using our data package on the SIM.
New Zealand is the home of the flat white. It’s like a cappuccino but they do something creamier in the frothing process with the milk. They are delicious and even though they cost $NZ 4 a pop, we decided to indulge and enjoy what they’re good at. The absolute BEST cafe we found was a tip from a fellow traveller. It’s Beanz & Machines in Tirau (North Island) and we stopped there on the way to Hobbiton. The Barrista is passionate and meticulous! I recommend a stop if you’re passing through.
Everything in NZ is expensive and New Zealand turned out to be a cost shock for us! We were in South Africa before this and it cost us pretty much the same per day in New Zealand as it did in South Africa, but we got no safari, no amazing fillet, no spectacular wines, not even the comfort of a backpackers; just our tent, frugal grocery shopping and swapping our wine in the evening for gin and tonic as a 1L of gin cost about the same as one bottle of reasonable wine – and lasts 20 times as long!
- NEW ZEALAND TOTAL COST (2 months): 4,774 GBP / $NZ 8,593
- Average Conversion: 1 GBP = $NZ 1.8
- Equivalent to 81 GBP / $NZ 146 per day
971 GBP / $NZ 1,747 (except one hotel & few nights @ friend’s, we camped)
784 GBP / $NZ 1,411 (two boat cruises – Milford & Doubtful Sound – and Hobbiton ate most of this)
129 GBP / $NZ 232 (the ferry between islands)
Car Hire/ Fuel
1,489 GBP / $NZ 2681 (used Ace Rentals to get cheapest possible car hire)
1,401 GBP / $NZ 2,522 (mostly cooked ourselves)
If we had NZ to do all over again, I would probably still do it in a tent because it’s the much cheaper option. And it’s heaps of fun! But we were certainly the unusual lot as camping just isn’t the thing they do. Everyone seems to be in campervans. BUT I would buy a power cable right from the start and I would get an electric space heater right from the start.
Was I in Wodara while camping in New Zealand? Most definitely! This country is strikingly beautiful and I think everyone should get a chance to experience it at least once in their life!
ALSO SHARED BY KRISTA
- See the full list on her profile page
- Written, formatted and edited by: Krista Beauvais
- Trip Dates: January & February, 2013
- Blog of their Trip: 15 months in Flippies and Fingers
- Photos: all photos are courtesy of Krista Beauvais