Quick Tips for Travelling New Zealand's South Island in a Van
Here’s what you need to know before you go:
Firstly, download the ‘Campermate’ Application for your smartphone. It has literally everything from places to stay, things to do, toilets, petrol stations etc. It’s got you covered. It also works without reception, so it is basically a navigation system too as it shows your position on the map at all times.
You don’t really need a Navigation System, as the South Island is very easy to drive around. Most Roads are one lane. Which also means you either do a lot of overtaking large motor-homes or drive incredibly slowly everywhere.
Be careful driving, tourists that are used to driving on the other side of the road are everywhere and there are far too many tragic accidents, I had cars come onto the wrong side and I personally know people who’ve passed away from this.
Auxiliary Cord for some tunes, you’ll be driving a lot and the radio in New Zealand is horrendous for signal and there is few stations too.
Keep in mind it’s hard to dry and clothes if you’re on the road all the time. So, pack some clothes that will dry quickly. If you’re not too soft, you’ll be swimming in freezing water for the daily wash. Some Eco-friendly soap and a quick dry towel are essential.
Don’t bring suitcases; use hiking packs for obvious reasons.
Bring two pairs of shoes you can walk in. Shoes with a waterproof outer are awesome, but when they get wet inside they are hard to dry. So, some thongs/ jandals are essential.
Being a photographer, I have a solar powered battery set up from Goal Zero to charge everything. You can buy something small to keep your phone charged no matter where you are. Disconnection from social media and the zombie phone life is the plan but you’ll want to research places along the way. So, a phone is definitely useful.
Buy an NZ sim card; it’s only 30 dollars for a couple gigs of data.
Book ahead if you want to do anything that is popular for example the ‘Great Walks‘ like the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Track all require bookings for huts and campsites. However, there are many amazing walks that are far less popular that don’t require bookings.
New Zealand has strict Freedom Camping Laws having a ‘self-contained’ vehicle allows you to stay in particular areas for free. If I didn’t have a van on the road trip I wouldn’t have been able to do half the stuff I wanted to do. I photographed stars at Three AM; I tried to catch every sunrise and sunset. I wanted to fit in as much a possible. There’s never enough time for a New Zealand trip. I could drive late at night, park, sleep and wake up early go again. There’s no point paying for accommodation if you are barely staying the night. That said, I didn’t hire a van for the North Island, as it was cheaper stay in cabins and camp in a tent than it was to rent a van.
Read up on Didymo here, it’s a type of Algae commonly spread by hikers, it chokes streams and creeks affecting ecosystems. Don’t ignore shoe-cleaning stations when signposted.
Be prepared for Sand-flies/ Midges, they can be horrendous. They are mostly along the West Coast and in Fiordland. Milford Sound was the worst for them. Cover up everywhere, or enjoy! Don’t scratch the bites either.
Allow extra time/days for bad weather. It’s very likely the weather will alter your plans. Don’t be afraid to get wet though, beats sitting around!
Please don’t poop everywhere; tourists are causing dramas with this issue particularly in the Mt Cook Region. Bury it minimum 15cm below the surface if the soil is fertile, if the environment is a fragile e.g. alpine tarns then take it with you.