New Zealand by camper van

By Martha Wiseman
This item appears on page 53 of the December 2012 issue.

When my husband and I headed Down Under a few years ago, we thought that the month we would spend in New Zealand would be an appetizer before the main event, Australia. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

We arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, on Jan. 23, 2009. We had rented a camper van in advance. The company (which no longer rents vehicles) delivered it to our hotel. A month later, they would pick it up from our hotel and we would fly on to Sydney. We gave ourselves a few days to get over jet lag before starting out, but our entire New Zealand trip would be by RV.

We toured both the North Island and South Island, marveling at the spectacular scenery. The views changed dramatically every hour that we drove. The varieties of climate zones, flora and fauna varied as greatly as they do in the US but in a much smaller space. No wonder the creators of the “Lord of the Rings” films found all the fantastic scenery they required there.

The glaciers and alpine areas in the south were amazing, and the tropical north with its fields full of all manners of exotic fruits and vegetables was a taste treat. And there were all those vineyards and wine-tasting opportunities! In the Rotorua area, we toured typical Maori villages and enjoyed a hangi, somewhat like a Hawaiian luau.

The locals were friendly and helpful. If we paused on a street corner with a map, an offer to show us where to go was almost guaranteed. Every town had an information center, and we would leave loaded down with brochures listing things to see and do.

We started our trip on the South Island and turned in the camper van on the North Island. There’s a convenient ferry between the two islands. If you are more whimsical than we are, often you can get an RV on one island for a very minimal fee without a reservation and drive it to the other island, where the rental company will rent it out to someone else. Companies often have trouble having their inventory in the right spots, however.

For the company’s largest model of RV — with manual transmission and, of course, left-hand drive — we paid about $200 per day, including insurance; linens and towels; dishes, pots and pans; a portable table, and lawn chairs.

Renting RVs and camping is very common in New Zealand.

Romeoville, IL