10 Days of Van Life in New Zealand

Shahan and I always knew that when we concluded our year in Australia, we wanted to end our trip with a bang. The original plan was to travel up and down the East Coast, maybe go somewhere across the country like Darwin or Perth, and then hit up New Zealand on our way out.

We were a bit too ambitious.

Turns out, Australia is a big country. Big enough to be its own continent (Go figure!). Although we had some savings, it was nowhere near enough to pay for multiple $200-$300 flights (one way) to get to each of these places, not including the flight back home to California, which would cost the most. Very quickly, our list of destinations dwindled down to two: Whitehaven Beach and New Zealand.

I was the one pushing to go up north to Whitehaven Beach at the Whitsundays. I don’t quite remember whom I learned about it from, and at the time, I couldn’t even remember the actual name of the beach. What stuck with me was the way it was described: extremely fine, white powdery sand and clear, aqua blue waters. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I typed into Google to look it up (plus Australia of course) and Whitehaven was the first thing that popped up.

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I mean c’mannnnn look at it! How could you not want to go here?! (Photo courtesy of Matt Long)

As someone who’s lived a stone’s throw away from many beaches for my entire life, I was intrigued. In my head, my perception of the beach was rough, dark blue-green water that formed relentless waves, and tan-colored sand that turned brown where the water touched it. I was mesmerized by the idea that it could be something so completely different, something you could call pristine, something that could, seemingly, belong on a completely different planet.

Then there’s Shahan, a fellow California kid who also grew up near beaches, who even went as far as to live about twenty paces from the water’s edge in a quaint little Newport Beach community for two years. He was unconvinced. A beach is a beach, and Whitehaven would be no different. To him, the idea of it was wholly underwhelming, and he was gunning for New Zealand instead.

I remember us sitting next to each other at a small table in a cavernous room at the State Library of Victoria, which we frequented about 3-4 times a week. All around us, various others (mostly University students) were quietly doing work, reading, or watching movies with earbuds in. You could hear the occasional page turning, and the soft footsteps of those wandering around looking for an empty desk to settle into.

Up ’til this point, Shahan and I were speaking in hushed voices. But now we said nothing, our eyes locked in a silent stand-off. It was only natural that our interests didn’t align yet again, and we were well aware that nothing could be said to loosen either of our footing.

Now, I know you’re looking at the title of this post with a smug grin on your face and thinking, ‘well I know how this ends.’ But in the wise words of my dear mother, “Why not both?”

Fifteen minutes of calculating air fair, accommodations, food, and whatnot later, I placed my pen down with a triumphant grin, and we decided that yes, we could do both.

I may or may not dedicate an entire blog post to Whitehaven, but for now, I will share with you the ten days that we called a camper van (named Bertha) home, and cruised around the beauty that is the South Island of New Zealand.

This is the route that we took, starting at Christchurch and making our way down and around, before coming full circle after ten days:

New Zealand Route

It’ll take too long to do a detailed explanation of each day, so I’ll just share whatever pictures I have from each day and write a brief summary based on those.

And in case you’re too lazy to read:

Day 1: Driving along the southeast coast

If you watch the first 25 seconds of the vlog (linked above), you’ll get a good idea of what our first day mainly consisted of. Basically, we picked up Bertha, went to a grocery store to stock up on food/snacks/drinks and hit the road. We had a general location where we would have liked to stay, but then we found out that most of those holiday park (RV park) offices closed around 6-7pm. It was already 6 and we were rushing to get to a holiday park at Kaka Point where the owners were kind enough to stay open until 8pm because we called ahead and asked them to.

Day 2: Nugget Point

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The weather for the first couple of days was pretty gloomy, but it still didn’t diminish our view at Nugget Point. In fact, the the gloominess was almost fitting. Like this was a scene from an Edgar Allen Poe poem or something.

Day 3: Milford Sound and Key Summit hike

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World, meet Bertha. She’s the great white beaut that we lived and drove around in during our time on the South Island. In this picture, we were on our way to Milford Sound when I told Shahan to pull over in this little parking lot because these mountains looked like a movie backdrop. Perfect for a Bertha photoshoot.

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The tunnel (read: mountain) we drove through to get to Milford Sound. It had its own light signals, and was extremely long. No holding our breath during this one.

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If you watch the vlog, you’ll see us drive by a car that was completely wrecked on the side of the road. For whatever reason, Shahan wanted to jog up to take a closer look at it, but while he was doing that I was able to get this shot of a section of the road that looked like it was completely cut off and led to nowhere.

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Milford Sound. The sun was still barely rising, but it was too cold to stay for very long so we snapped a quick picture and headed to our hike…

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Key Summit! Upon reaching the top, it felt like we were transported into a video game world with a small, Garden of Eden-esque lake and beautiful snow-covered mountain tops surrounding us 360 degrees. It was unbelievable. I wish I had a wide-angle lens at the time, but honestly I’m just grateful I got to see it with my own eyes.

Day 4: Queenstown

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Queenstown was also unreal. Can you imagine owning one of those houses and waking up to that in your backyard every day?!?!

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A view of Queenstown from the top of the gondola ride. I don’t care what anyone says, do the gondola ride. Unless you can hire a helicopter somehow. If you can’t, go on the freakin’ gondola. Also, in the bottom right corner, you can see the platform that people bungee jumped off of into the surrounding treetops.

Day 5: Wanaka

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The famous Wanaka Tree! Unfortunately we couldn’t catch it when it was submerged in the lake (the lake was dry this time of year), but it was beautiful nonetheless.

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This is what it looked like at all times of the day (photographers everywhere).

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This was also our first day trying to locate the Isthmus Peak trailhead, and we failed. But hey, we still got this sweet pic of the mountains during sunset. And look at that mooooon.

Day 6: Isthmus Peak hike

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Since we couldn’t find Isthmus Peak on the day that we planned to, we ended up staying in Wanaka an extra day. We drove the same two mile stretch of road about six times looking for the world’s most hidden trailhead, but that also meant passing this scene straight out of  Hercules multiple times (do you see Mount Olympus in the back?).

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When we eventually reached Isthmus Peak. Was it really worth it? Yes. Yes, indeed.

 

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In the same day, we were able to take a short hike on the Blue Pools Track. This is probably the clearest and bluest water I’ve ever seen. From high up on the bridge we could clearly see small fish swimming around below, and if it weren’t so darned cold, I would’ve looked for a way to get down to join them!

Day 7: Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers

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Honestly, both glaciers were a bit underwhelming, which was disappointing. They were also extremely diminished from what they once were. Climate change, man. ):

Day 8: Avalanche Peak

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Do you see the tiny yellow rod sticking up in the top right? Those were trail markers that supposedly meant a trail still existed somewhere nearby. Hard to tell though because everything was covered in snow/mud with a thousand foot drop onto jagged rocks below.

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On the way up the mountain, during one of my various rest stops, I noticed these little ones and thought to myself, ‘If they can make it up here, so can I.’

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It also should be noted that Shahan was wearing regular non-hiking, non-athletic-whatsoever shoes (pictured above), and I was wearing three year old Nikes that had practically nonexistent tread on them (pictured below). Yes, we were idiots.

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But boy was it a pretty view.

Day 9: Snowboarding at Mt. Hutt

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This is Methven. Methven is where we stayed the day we planned to go snowboarding at Mt. Hutt. This is the view of Methven from the window of the shuttle that drove us to Mt. Hutt.

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This is atop Mt. Hutt looking at the other tops of other mountains. Gosh, New Zealand.

Day  10: Auckland

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Okay, this day wasn’t technically a ‘van life’ day, but we were flying back to California from Auckland so we had a half day on the North Island.

We went to Piha Beach because it’s known for its black sand (and we all know how I am when it comes to unconventional beaches). The black sand did not disappoint us. Not only was it actually black, it was weirdly squishy.

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Despite Shahan’s face, we were very happy with the trip. I stopped him from skipping the rock in his hand to take a picture. Hence the face. (: