New Zealand By Van (And Feet)

By now, I have a pretty good grasp on living out of different rigs. Before I moved into my VW Vanagon to explore the west coast’s climbing and skiing, I would rent Subaru Outbacks on work trips so that I could sleep in the back on weekends and see more of what Alaska’s coastlines and interior had to offer. Over the years, the small spaces have become home, but that’s not the only reason we chose to rent a van in New Zealand.

When Steph, Greg, and I started planning our reunion trip to New Zealand, the obvious choice was to get a van. While the public transportation around the country is quite good, it’s hard to beat being on your own schedule, being able to transition to a new location based on weather, and getting to access to some of the more ‘off the beaten path’ hikes and campsites.

New Zealand offers some of the best ‘freedom camping’ of any country I have traveled, and the camps can range from a little gravel lot next to a lake and some mountains to a developed site with wifi and showers, it’s a choose your adventure type of place! There are more van rental companies than you can shake a stick at, so do your research and decide what features make sense for you. Personally, being able to cook inside the rig and being self contained made the top of our lists.

Van costs vary wildly based on the types of amenities you’re searching for, and depending on your length of travel you may even consider buying one used from a fellow traveler on their way out of the country. There’s a fairly direct correlation between how much you spend and the condition of the vehicle, so be prepared! Almost no company is going to send you out in a vehicle that isn’t road worthy, but most vans aren’t in the same category as a 5 star hotel. There are quirks and quips that you’ll have to find your way though, but that’s part of the adventure!

The best part of the van lifestyle in NZ is having all your gear at your fingertips, whether you’re adventuring in town or on the trails. That said, in van life and normal life, less is more. The more stuff you have, the more you’re shuffling gear, the more you are likely to misplace, and the more t-shirt options you have to decide will look best in the instagram post you’re going to get that day.

There’s a few things that you’ll want to remember during any van travels, New Zealand bound or otherwise.

1. Do Your Research
Do your due diligence, just because you can sleep in your van doesn’t mean you can sleep anywhere. There are rules about what types of vans can stay where. Freedom Camping is a great resource and links to two apps that can help you plan your trip.

2. Think Like A Local!
Stay on the right (correct) side of the road. which is the left side. New Zealand roads offer plenty of challenging situations, use caution, understand the local customs and laws.

3. Stay Organized (it makes a HUGE difference)!
As much as you try to keep things organized, eventually things explode all over the van and you’ll need a reset. Sweep the floor often. If something smells funny, it’s probably your garbage or the grey water tank. Dispose of those both responsibly.

4. Don’t forget About The Elements…
Even though you have a roof over your head and bed, you’re basically living outside. Poor weather is more fun in a van than in a tent, but if you’re anything like me, it’s more fun to be outside!

5. Be Respectful!
Be conscious of your fellow van-mates. You’re in a small space, be extra friendly.

6. Have fun!

Written and photographed by William Woodward!
Follow along his adventures at @wheretowillie