There are some compelling reasons to choose the month of May for a road trip around New Zealand, despite the fact that winter is looming.
- All the major hire car companies drastically reduce the daily cost of renting large motor homes (RVs) from the beginning of May. The daily cost of a 7.2 metre self contained motor home reduces to around AU $30.00 per day. We have rented vans from Britz and Apollo companies over the last two years. The vehicle layout, insurance liability and excess, and other features differ slightly from company to company but the price is the same. More about this below.* These vans come equipped with a cooktop stove and microwave, sink and fridge, shower and toilet, heater, large bed, linen, DVD player, kettle, toaster and kitchen utensils.
- Travelling from Melbourne to Auckland in May is often economical as Jetstar annually cuts the return fares to around AU$ 200 pp ( walk on 10 kilo hand luggage, no extras). We hope this trend continues.
- The camping grounds are often empty, allowing you to choose the best spots overlooking glistening bays dotted with islands, yachts and distant promontories. The price is reduced slightly as off-season rates apply. The facilities are clean and empty.
- Freedom camping is alive and well in New Zealand and some ‘choice’ spots can be found overlooking inlets and bays, or along green verges. Camping for free reduces the average daily cost. The van DC batteries are designed to last 2 or so days without plugging in. We ran the lights, DVD player and the water pump and used gas for cooking in these situations.
- The weather in the North Island is perfect for travelling. The mornings are sunny and warm, around 20-22c, the afternoons can be the same but with an intermittent shower, followed by chilly evenings, making for comfortable van sleeping.
- The fitouts of the vans vary from model to model.This year we rented our vehicle from Apollo. The fitout was cumbersome, with wasted spaces and unusable features, obviously designed by someone who had never camped. Last year’s fitout ( Britz) was sensational. You could attempt to hassle the companies regarding your preferred fitout but on the whole, these companies don’t promise much. It was hard enough to get Apollo to agree to an automatic transmission.
- Despite having researched credit cards which provide insurance excess on these vehicles, some insurance slug will be necessary. Car hire companies make money from insurance products, interest transactions and add ons, such as rental of outside chairs and tables. The latter can be negotiated.
- These vans have Mercedes engines and run very economically on deisel fuel. Factor in the cost of a tax for Pay Road User Tax, around $10 per 100 kilomteres. This tax is collected by the hire company, who pay it on your behalf.
- The Britz hire company provides a ‘recycling’ corner where travellers may leave left over, non- perishable provisions after their journey. In 2013, I picked up EV olive oil, spreads, soy sauce, plastic wrap and tinfoil, coffee, salt and pepper, flour, toilet paper and more. Then on returning the vehicle, I knew that I had some lovely offerings to leave on the shelf. Sadly, Apollo doesn’t provide this service. I had to hunt around for someone in a camping ground to take my little pile of yummy, useful things. I hate waste!
- Paid camping in New Zealand is not cheap. Prices vary from NZ$32- $50.00. Prices are related to the star rating of the facilities and the location within the camp, seafront often requiring a surcharge, despite the absence of customers in May.The other odd feature of NZ camping is that hot showers are not included in the price, often requiring a 50 cent coin. These showers have a habit of running out without warning, requiring a dash OUTSIDE the cubicle to feed the coin vending machine. In the flashier camping grounds, showers are free but the overall fee ( particularly those in the TOP 10 Holiday Park chain) is excessive. These franchises are often equipped with playgrounds, silly giant chess pieces and other unnecessary geegaws. On the up side, all camping grounds come with functional indoor kitchens, BBQs and TV rooms, providing a break from cooking in cramped conditions, especially when fish is on the menu. The overall weekly cost of camping is reduced dramatically when interspersed with freedom camping. See 4 above.
More on the food and wine of New Zealand next time.