Some things are meant to be – and when my Kiwi hairdresser in Brighton told me she was getting married on a beach back home in New Zealand and she needed a good wedding photographer I lept out of my chair, grabbed her and declared “I simply must be your wedding photographer!” OK so I wasn’t quite so crazy – I subtly asked whether she had a photographer yet… But it was the start of something great, and 6 months later I was driving through the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand in a Jucy campervan on the way to shoot an epic New Zealand destination wedding.
Since it’s a 24-hour flight from the UK I stayed a few weeks in New Zealand to make the most of it, campervanning all over both the north and south islands. Here are a few things I learned:
Jucy Campers are awesome
Jucy campers are awesome. It’s like being in a club, where you wave manically and excitedly to fellow Jucy drivers on the road. Although I once did this while on foot before realising I didn’t have the safety blanket of the Jucy camper around me and the dude just thought I was a nutcase. I ran to my camper and hopped in so he could see I wasn’t a total mental case.
Campsite passes are a waste of time
Don’t bother with the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite pass. It’s a waste of money. You can only use it for campsites that don’t require booking, and the ones that you can use it for are generally pretty dire (mostly pit loos and no showers or kitchens) and only cost $6 per person anyway. Plus the non-DOC campsites are plentiful, cheap ($30-$50 for 2 people) and have hot water showers, kitchens and a great atmosphere. We used Top 10 Holiday Parks a few times, which while tacky, were awesome. This is me on a trampoline at the Lakeview Holiday Park in Wanaka.
Hot water showers are rarely free
Keep a few dollar coins handy and practise counting to 5 minutes in your head.
Bring the right shoes
Bring flipflops to wear in the campsite showers. Ew.
Wifi is awful
Wifi is never unlimited and rarely free (if it is free you get a very limited amount of data). If you’re staying at a campsite more than one night it’s worth signing up to the IAC wifi for $5 for 1GB over 24 hours.
Public loos are amazing
Public toilets are generally incredible. They’re clean and nice and don’t smell. Even pit loos aren’t tooooo bad (except on the Tongariro Crossing). There’s even a public loo in Franz Josef that talks to you and plays music while you pee.
If you’re travelling somewhere remote in New Zealand, fill up on petrol first. This isn’t because you can’t get petrol in remote areas, but because they’ll charge you an insane amount for it.
Freedom camping is fun
Freedom camping is allowed in most places – just pull up somewhere you won’t be in the way and as long as you have a self-contained camper you’ll be fine. Enjoy! This was our view from a freedom camping spot near Franz Josef:
Bring pegs if you’re camping
If you’re driving a Jucy camper, bring pegs and hooks – there’s not a lot of storage space but loads of room to be creative. They’re also super lovely helpful folk, I’m really glad we chose Jucy.
Sometimes the tacky things are the most fun
One of the best things we did in New Zealand was swimming with wild dolphins in Kaikoura. I almost didn’t go because I imagined it would be tacky. It wasn’t. It was mindblowing.
Watch out for tourist traps
One of the worst things we did was Waitamo Glowworm Caves. Yes it was beautiful but each tour has 50 people and there are 3 tours in the caves at any one time. There are other glowworm caves in the country – check those out instead.
If you go to Rotorua be aware that you have to pay to see anything exciting. We arrived at 5pm (just before the attractions closed it turns out), because we thought the hot springs/geysers/mudpools would be public. And it’s not really worth the money to go in.Visit the lakes
The most beautiful lake we saw was Lake Pukaki on the south island. All the lakes are so blue, but this one was the most stunning, and went on forever – it was huge!
So windy. Everywhere. Bring hairbands. Many hairbands.
Visit the small towns
There’s a small town called Ross on the south island. It’s probably the coolest small town you’ll visit. This is one of the houses:
Look up at night. You can see the Milky Way on a clear night.
Be careful of Google
If you google Mirror Lakes New Zealand you’ll see incredible photos of a stunning lake. If you go to the actual Mirror Lakes in Milford Sound it is not the lake on Google images – you want Lake Matheson in Fox Glacier. Whoops.
Miss the north island
There are so many beautiful walks in the south island and we didn’t have time to do many at all. Give the south island a few weeks – I would miss the entire north island in favour of more time in the south.
If you’re going to Milford Sound…
There is only one campsite at Milford Sound, at the Lodge, and it has a permanent “all campsite spaces are full” sign on the road sign. It’s not true – but you do have to get there early-ish (we got there at 4pm) to get a spot. If it really is full, you can camp in the classy information centre car park for $20.
When you find a pretty spot, stick with it. We went to Karangahake Gorge in the north island and it was idyllic, yet we moved on in search of other such beautiful spots near Auckland/Coromandel to spend a sunny afternoon and failed miserably.Hot Water Beach
If you go to Hot Water Beach, get there early. The sand has hot water underneath and you rent a spade and dig your own hot pool. However, half the spots are too hot to touch, half are cold, and a small few are nice and warm. Those spots will be gone if you’re a minute too late! You have to go two hours before low tide to be able to find a spot.
You will kill things
Roadkill is everywhere. We killed two birds, a bunny, a possum and countless bees and butterflies.
Don’t get out the car near a river at dusk
Oh god the sandflies. Buy a nice essential oils repellent and don’t open the camper doors at sunset near water if you can help it. We had toilet breaks away from water before driving into our campsites (ones near water) and just hopped into bed from the front seats! Once they’re in your van you’re a gonner. Fly spray (for a house) and the ability to hold your breath for a full minute is a godsend.
En route to New Zealand…
If you fly Singapore Airlines you’ll stop at Singapore Changi Airport which has a secret rooftop pool at the Transit Hotel in Terminal 1. Bring your swimmers! They provide a towel.