A Travellerspoint blog

Van Life with my Van Wife

The month of Jan, it all began with a van and no plan

OK that's a lie we had some kind of plan. A plan to pick up the van on a certain date, drop it off on another, and travel in a general anti-clockwise direction around the island. We had done some research and even had an ongoing shared spreadsheet to add ideas and dates. Damn if that ain't super organisation!

Our first glamourous night in the van

Our first glamourous night in the van

We landed in Christchurch and had dinner with Catherine's old colleagues from London, also a chance for her to meet their adorable baby for the first time, which she absolutely loved. We stayed the night in a hostel and the next morning wandered around the town for a bit, struggled to find H&M (it's not where google maps or their website says it is), and then went to an indoor market, where we also met my housemate, whose local knowledge proved insightful, as she guided us to H&M, as well as a stroll down the river. I had an apple crumble tart followed by a Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Breakfast of champions if I do say so myself. If you hadn't noticed, ice cream is a recurrent theme in my travels, and indeed, my life. Another future highlight of our trip was this fancy salad dressing we bought there. $18 well spent as it made us eat salad for the next few weeks, and tasted amazing.

In the early afternoon we headed to the rental place to pick up the van. The guy behind the desk was about as useful as an inflatable dartboard. When one of the first words he said to me was "unfortunately", my heart probably fell to the floor... Turns out our booking hadn't transferred onto their new system, so he had to manually create a new one, and he decided that was our fault. Our run through of the van was similarly vague, with highlights including "this is the bed", "under there is other stuff", "there's the cooker". We weren't best impressed but we eventually got on the road after around two hours...

One of the few things we did have booked was the dolphin experience in Kaikoura, as I'd looked a few weeks earlier and found there weren't many spots left. Catherine was the brave first driver, and our van journey began.

The van had an extended roof, and it was both of our first times driving something this big. The strong winds on that first day did freak us out a bit, as it felt like we were getting blown all over the road. This meant opening the windows was a big no, which, combined with the lack of air con, meant for a hot few weeks ahead.



We made it safely to Kaikoura, credit to Catherine's sick driving skills. Broom broom. The free campsite (a car park) in the centre was full, but we made use of the toilets then found another free campsite further up the hill. There were no toilets, but it was a cute spot for our first night, right opposite a cemetery too. Made a dart to the only open shop, and had a dinner of Doritos. You may be thinking, poor planning there gals, but we weren't expecting to spend 2hr picking up the van!

We slept surprisingly well. I was awoken by a loud siren, and was instantly fearful of an impending tsunami. Cue several google searches and spying on all our campsite neighbours. Nobody else seemed to be running around in a panic, and Catherine decided she'd rather sleep through it anyway. It later turned out to be the volunteer fire brigade siren, but I am certain that I am not the only backpacker to have had this fear in NZ.

Pancake Rocks and pancakes rock

Pancake Rocks and pancakes rock

Once we were fully awake and sure there was no tsunami, we drove down to the local toilets for a wash (day 2 and we're already beginning to sound a bit hobo-ish), and then onto the dolphin place. We were told that the swell was very high that day and that there's a high chance of seasickness, so only confident swimmers should go on the boat. The overthinker in me was panicking slightly, but the frugal part of me knew I had paid for it and was going. We got changed into some thick wetsuits, complete with booties and a hood, then had to sit in a room like that, surrounded by strangers, watching a safety video.

Once we got out there though it was truly amazing. Basically we were on a boat, and those of us that were swimming would sit at the back, and they'd drive around til they spotted a group of dolphins nearby. A foghorn would go and then we'd slip into the water quietly, and wait for the dolphins to come to us. I wasn't really sure what to expect but boy did they come to us! They suggested lying face down in the water, spinning around and making noises through your snorkel to attract the dolphins. They arrived en masse and swam around us. We'd swim with them for maybe 10 minutes at a time (no touching though), and then the foghorn would go again and it's back to the boat. They'd then move to another spot before doing the same.

They would swim in circles with you, leap out of the water, splash around. It was very cool, especially as they were all in the wild and were not baited or tagged, so you knew they wanted to be there. I'm not used to anyone voluntarily hanging out with me! The photos and videos don't really do it justice, but honestly it was such a cool and special experience. We kinda felt like we peaked very early on the trip! As soon as we left the changing rooms, we found out the rest of the day's trips had been cancelled due to the rough seas, so we really did time it well.

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge

The charger we were given with the van did not work, so we tried to find a café with a plug to charge our phones. After shorting a circuit in one cafe, we sensibly headed to the public library instead, where we made use of the public computers to do some research on the Abel Tasman. We thought we'd found a great campsite, only to ring them and be asked "have you seen the weather forecast?!" Due to the incoming storms, they strongly recommended avoiding the whole area for safety reasons. We decided we'd wait a couple nights to see if it improved.

It didn't. We had a rainy couple of days in Blenheim and Nelson. We made the difficult decision to skip the Abel Tasman. While in Nelson though, we did attend the campsite quiz. Our effort was incredibly poor, but we did win an umbrella for the best team name (None of Your Quizness). We also learned of our leaky roof. That was fun. Another thing to add to the growing complaint email...

Hokitika views

Hokitika views

After a short but wet hike to the centre of New Zealand, the drive to Punakaiki was pretty horrible. The rain was disgusting and the visibility was poor. Combine that with driving in a big vehicle on windy roads and it was definitely an experience! I was getting more and more paranoid about the petrol, and if we'd have enough to get there. However Catherine was asleep and I also didn't want to wake her. The anxiety built up and the fear of breaking down won over the fear of angering the nap queen, so eventually I woke her up to ask her to look up the nearest petrol station. We were in the middle of nowhere, so there was nothing around, including phone signal...

We were running out of time to make the decision to turn off to a town or continue the country roads to our destination. Perhaps just trying to reassure me, Catherine thought we'd be fine, so I stayed on track. 2 minutes later, we see a sign saying "no fuel for next 100km" hahahaha...
At the next point I physically could (also difficult), I turned us around. The petrol gauge in the van was so unreliable. It would swing up and down as we were driving, so we never really knew how much we had. Better to be safe than sorry.

We found a great freedom campsite right by the beach in Punakaiki. The sun had made an appearance, so we made our dinner, including a lovely salad, and ate it on the beach, then drove back down the road to use the public toilets. Lol. In the morning we saw the Pancake Rocks, which were pretty cool. And the price of pancakes in the adjacent café - not so cool. Walked out of there and had a bowl of cereal on the side of the road. Then it was off to Franz Josef, via Hokitika and Hokitika Gorge, where we did another small hike, but in great weather this time. We also saw a family taking their cat for a hike in a backpack. Odd.

Franz Josef was very cool and the campsite we stayed at was really nice. It was slightly rainforest-y, but you could see the snowy mountains in the background. It was pretty busy and also quite maze-like, so I do remember creating a bit of a scene trying to get the van in the right spot. We went to a nearby pub and I spent absolutely ages trying to get the right shot for the gram with my pint glass and the mountain in the background. Being an influencer is a hard life, but someone's got to do it.

Your rich friends from school

Your rich friends from school

We had great weather while in Franz Josef, so we did some small-medium sized hikes, took some photos of the stunning scenery, did some laundry, oh yeah, and did a helicopter ride over the glacier. The views on the way up were amazing, and I think I had the best seat, as I got the front and side window. We flew over lush greenery and white, snow-capped mountains, then landed in the mountain tops for a snowball fight. It was Dad's birthday, so I made him a sign and sent a photo with the helicopter and background as a surprise. He barely even acknowledged the helicopter. Shock.

While it wasn't my first time in a helicopter, the views were markedly better than those of Surrey and Hampshire on a cold Tuesday night (yah I flew on a Chinook once cos I was an exceptional Air Cadet). Not to complain though. That was very cool too.

Stunning scenes

Stunning scenes

In the morning we queued up early for the petrol delivery (we weren't going to make the same mistake twice), and then we were on our way to Wanaka, via Haast for more petrol and lunch. We made a few scenic stops that day at some waterfalls and lakes, and even the views on the road were incredible. Surrounded by mountains, blue lakes and clear blue skies, it reminded me a lot of Italy.



Our home for the night was in Albert Town, at a campsite right on the river. While we had plans to get groceries and go paddle boarding, we ended up just sat in the river for quite a long time. The sun was out out and we were loving it. Then we sat in our camping chairs like a couple of retirees just enjoying the view (and a few drinks). Stunning.

We hung out with our campsite neighbours too. A couple of them asked if we wanted to join them at sunrise to go to Lake Wanaka. Being lovers of sleep, we said we would try but no guarantees, and not to wait up for us. Well, guess who actually got up? Us. And who didn't? Them. We drove down to the lake to join the other influencers and take a million photos of #ThatWanakaTree. It was weirdly quiet and everyone was taking themselves very seriously. And then there was us.

After coming back and having an accidentally long nap, we continued our influencer day at a lavender farm. Catherine got changed into her white dress for the occasion, while I was dressed as the Instagram boyfriend. Like I said, the life of an influencer is a tough one.

After a pancake breakfast, we said goodbye to one of our favourite campsites, and began the rainy drive through Cardrona to Arrowtown, where Catherine's above-mentioned friends Hannah and Andrew super-kindly let us stay with them for a couple of days. An actual bed, in an actual house was pretty damn lovely at this point in the trip. We also got to spend more time with super-cute baby George. Probably Catherine's highlight of the whole trip.

Arrowtown is very cute. We hit the pub, and the fudge shop, and with the help of Hannah and Andrew we re-planned the rest of our route to make better use of our time. We even used a real-life paper map.

On our day trip to Queenstown, we saw the singing dog and I queued an obscenely long time for an obscenely large ice cream.

What better way to start and end this blog post than with baby George and ice cream.

TLDR: here is the trip in Instagram reel form https://www.instagram.com/reel/CoPT6PqBzLALk2Mfxoerk06JxFy4nKAmhKY4640/?igshid=MmJiY2I4NDBkZg==

See you next time for expensive adrenaline adventures in Queenstown, and our tales of woe when the van broke down on us.

Posted by EMCAT 00:44 Archived in New Zealand

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