A road trip around New Zealand is a traveler’s dream: rainforest, volcanic fields, the Southern Alps, cristal clear lakes, fiords… The list goes on and on.
However, there are some things that nobody tells you when you’re planning such a trip, that you should know.
1. Sand flies.
I learnt the hard way and ended up having 18 bites on just one foot in less than 5 minutes on Haast Beach. These feckers are absolutely everywhere and they are greedy. This is the first and biggest advice I can ever give you: get yourself a double mosquito net and sandfly-proof repellent. It’s not as glamorous to have the back of your van covered with a mosquito net, though you’ll really appreciate the views free from bites!
2. Drive times are a lot longer than planned.
Planning road trips on any of the many maps apps available is usually pretty easy right, because they are very accurate. Well, not in New Zealand! The roads in this beautiful country are different: they are very windy, hilly, with not many overtaking lanes and with dozens of caravans looking for a free campsite or a lookout… You’ll need to add an extra hour for any time given by the maps apps, at least. So make sure you allow plenty of time for your drives!
3. Camp sites are not always free.
New Zealand is the dream roadtrip, there’s no doubt! The best part of it is finding that perfect spot to park your van and watch the sunset, beer in hand. Sometimes it can get tricky, as there may be a freedom-camping ban in a whole area (like in Abel Tasman) or just no free campsites at all (tourist hotspots like Milford Sounds). The best you can do is download two apps that will become your best friend when travelling around the islands: CamperMate and Rankers. Both apps tell you all what you need: free, budget and paid campsites, water & dump stations, petrol stations, toilets & showers… Budget campsites are around $10NZD per person/night (cash only), while paid campsites can go from $20NZD to $30NZD per person/night (cards majorly accepted).
4. Timing is everything, specially when freedom-camping.
Now that you’ve got your apps, the challenge is to get the best spot in that free camping site you like. The majority of campers will be arriving at the sites from 5pm, ready to have a drink before dinner. Timing here is crucial, as if you get later than 6/7pm you’d probably be left with the worst place or just without any space at all. The best thing to do is to plan your drive and be sure to get there before 4/5pm. The feeling of getting the best spot is even better than reaching a summit!
The camper vans are heavy, the roads hilly and the distances long… The combination of these three things will make your petrol bar go low a lot more often that you would expect. The best thing to do is to make sure you have enough fuel before leaving a town with a petrol station, as they are scarce (specially in the South Island). The apps mentioned above tell you where the nearest petrol station is, though avoid the isolated ones as they will most probably be extremely expensive. Another good tip is to get discount vouchers from big groceries shops like New World or Pack’n’Save.
This is the place where you want to be doing all your shopping and pack for your roadtrip, as you will find everything you need (including vegan products!). It’s the cheapest grocery shop chain in New Zealand by far, they are located in all bigger cities and they give you discount vouchers for your fuel when shopping with them. You’d be saving a few dollars!
7. ID to buy alcohol.
There are two types of people when buying alcohol: the ones that get flattered when asked for their ID and the ones that can’t believe that they need to proof their age. I’m in the latter group, specially because my grey hairs on my beard and temples definitely tell the truth about my age. What is the best thing you can do? Take your passport with you to the grocery or liquor shop. ID cards or driving licenses can do the trick, though probably you’d be kindly asked to provide your passport (a must when shopping in Wellington!).
8. Britain version 2.0
One of the things I didn’t expect was to hear so many British accents in the furthermost place in the world. It seems like New Zealand is one of the favourite countries for British expats and retirees, you will find a lot of similarities in food and culture (obviously not taking account of the Maori culture here). Expect fish and chips shops, pubs, lots of rules and H&S regulations. Be prepared for being briefed in health and safety in every single bus journey, tour and basically everywhere you go.
9. It’s touristy.
I love Instagram and Pinterest and I am an active user, specially when looking for best places to visit when travelling around a country. The dark side of this is that you may create an idea in your head about a remote, isolated spot to find that’s not the case. It’s good to just think that most probably you’ll be seeing fellow campers around, and in some places it can feel like you’re in a theme park. Though don’t let this discourage you at all because the scenery is just stunning. What’s the worst that can happen?
10. Tours everywhere.
Well, that’s not 100% true. You can do most of the hikes for free though get ready to splash out if you need a transfer to get to the start of the hikes or when doing any activity like whale watching or bungee jumping. New Zealand is a little paradise perfect for everyone and will exceed the expectations of nature lovers and adrenaline junkies. I’d advise you to budget around $100NZD per person/activity.
I hope this guide helps you with planning your roadtrip around these stunning islands! If you have any other questions, please leave a comment below or send me a message and I’ll happily help you out!