New Zealand by Campervan - Feb 2016
Back in 2012 the usual “where shall we go this year” rang around the house of the British pensioners. Why not go and see Angela and Alan said she who must be obeyed. Back in 1959 the said pair shared our old steam train (girls had separate carriages) that delivered us boys and the now hatless girls (there was a mile long tunnel en-route) to our respective grammar schools. When both our friends reached the stately age of 18 both, totally independently and without knowing each other took far away holidays to NZ, alas never ever to return. Over the intervening years we had remained as friends, corresponding maybe twice a year and again always at Christmas.
Well that was the catalyst that led to not one but two wonderful campervan holidays down under. A surprise visit to old friends was placed on the Dowell agenda. Son Matt had in 2010 rented a Pacific Horizon four berth and toured both the North and South Islands for four weeks. He could not stop raving over the country, its friendly peoples, its cleanliness and its scenery. We sought his advice and one thing was clear, get a good van, well equipped and from a reputable company. He was already an expert “campervan” man having had issues in Tasmania where a bargain price did not produce a bargain van. We took his advice and duly arranged a similar vehicle. As the boss is not another Captain Cook or Lord Nelson (she hates the sea or should I say sailing on it) it was therefore imperative that we locate a company that would allow us to collect in Auckland, drop off in Wellington then fly between islands before picking up again in Christchuch which was also to be our end destination. Pacific Horizon fitted that criteria and we were never disappointed.
We had over three weeks in paradise. All expectations were met, including a wonderful reunion with our long time friends. In the case of Alan we did not even tell we were to visit, we pitched up outside the house and were greeted by a lady who met us with “err err, you are a bit early but do come in and look around” Yes we had arrived on one of those quirky Open House Days, where the folk of NZ open their doors for a set period of time for viewers en masse to wonder around contemplating whether or not the property is what they are looking for. We declared our position of being penniless pensioners after the airfares, van hire etc and announced who we were; we were certainly not intent on buying what was their most beautiful house. With my wife’s friend and mindful of the chaos we had caused in New Plymouth we chose to set off for Waikinae but only after letting them know we were on the Island and on our way for a reunion. No, they did not flee, a great time was had by all, our van adorning their front garden.
The entire trip was a joy so much that we decided to save up and return in 2016. We started planning months if not years in advance, looked up our favoured van company and read that they had been squeezed out by the “big “ players, yes we were devastated. Pacific Horizon had shut up shop. It was a major blow, we knew them, we knew they had a first class product coupled to first class service and yet they were no more. But wait a minute!! Trawling the internet who is this Maryann Liddell? She is the daughter of the original owner and she has purchased some of the company vehicles and is continuing the name as a much smaller but intimate family orientated company. We made contact and were at once impressed with the speed of response and the co-operation we were afforded. We want a six berth, we want to pick it up in one part of North Island, drop it off in another location before repeating the procedure in the South Island. No problem, nothing appeared to be a problem as this amazing woman runs a company with its head office in Wellington, agents in Auckland, Christchurch and Picton. Write to them on a Sunday, a reply comes back on a Sunday! What a shock it was to learn later she is also a full time mum!
So all is planned, first stop Auckland collect the van and tour the more populated but none the less interesting and scenic North Island. We are met at the airport by our Pacific Horizon man Eddie, no waiting as we surface from the arrivals lounge into warm sun and blues skies there he is with the spotlessly clean 6 berth vehicle we have chosen. A six berth for two, well after 49 years of wedded bliss it is wise to have some freedom, the six berth meets that objective. In truth the four berth is well big enough and either vehicle are simple and light to drive. On board there are the usual discussions of what to unpack where, never forget that even on holiday in the midst of nowhere it is vital that no female garment should suffer the indignity of a crease or two. There is plenty of room and of course as ever we have packed for a year long trip, we will anticipate being invited to state banquets, celebrity balls and any other function one may think of. Worry not we have the equipment our excess baggage charge acts as confirmation. In truth we have learnt over the years that travelling light is the order of the day and years of experience dictate we need very little beyond clothing for the maximum of a week but forever mindful that NZ is one of those places capable of producing four seasons in a day. Next it is a quick dart into the supermarket; it seems there is one adjacent each NZ airport. Stock up with a few essentials but not forgetting a bottle or two of NZ’s finest in order that on night one you can sit down, drink and deliberate where you are to travel. Then it is the big off. It seems wide, it seems long but it is little different from the Mini you left at your departure airport. The roads are superb, pot hole free, smooth and light of traffic. This last trip we decided to concentrate on the southern half of North Island, we “did “the top half last time. Issued with both a wonderful tourist guide, linked to the GPS and radio we set course for a camping site some 8 miles south of the airport. After 34 miles heading north we realised we had entered the incorrect location in the GPS. It was a little chilly that first evening but inside the big six berth the air was certainly quite warm. A bottle of Pino came to the rescue and we set about planning a route. Experience told us that it is best not to plan too far ahead, just remain aware of the hand back dates and enjoy all that you come across on the journey. Most sites have wifi and you are issued with detailed “find a site manuals “so it is wise to just plan where to go tomorrow rather than set an itinerary in your home town before departure. This time we were old hands, there was no need to slide off to a quiet corner of the first site and practice the filling up of water, the discharging of grey water and the loo emptying. Maybe the last role is perceived as the most onerous but it is simplicity itself, the modern van loo is a work of art. After two or three attempts you can stand tall as you extract and empty your loo, proud that there are now others with far less experience hiding in distance sections of the park viewing their closets and scratching their heads in fear that others may be watching. They are, its a grand sport! Most of the larger vans allow for the bed to be made up and left in situ. The large rear bed is so simple to assemble and pack away that we have always left the rear end free in order that we could sit and watch the world from the comfort of the seats that will later form the mattress.
Our journey this trip took us back through Auckland stopping off after our northern diversion to Orewa Beach then onwards to the camp sites of Ohope Beach, Waikanee Beach, New Plymouth. We renewed our friendships with long lost friends and enjoyed more than one bottle of New Zealands best. Every camp site in New Zealand offers very high standards; all have showers, toilet blocks, laundries, children’s play areas and many much more. All are spotlessly clean as indeed is the entire country. It’s the UK and Europe of many years ago; they have what we have lost!! Price for a campervan is normally in the $30 to $40 NZ per night. All camps offer electricity and dumping facilities in the price. Fuel is cheap, roughly half the UK price for diesel. Our northern journey carried us 1800km ending when we met the Pacific team at the Wellington office. Charming, helpful and a string of other accolades would not be out of place for the Liddell family, they and their staff sure work hard at ensuring we the guests enjoy an experience to remember.
We handed in our van taking comfort from the fact that after a short flight we would find another company vehicle waiting at the airport in Christchurch. Another superb handover and we are off to Spencer’s Beach, near Christchurch and not far from the latest earthquake (this one created little damage and no injuries) The boss laid in fear that the large oak some 2-3 hundred metres from our pitch would topple on us should the earth shake, I was forced to forgo snoring as it heightened the fear factor that existed within our perfectly safe van! This journey embraced stays at Blenheim (visit the great aircraft museum) Motueka, Carters Beach, Fox Glacier, Twizel Holiday Park, Geraldine Holiday Park, Kaikoura (a must visit location) South Island is an amazing place. Isolated, abounding with sheep, scenery to die for, wonderful camp sites, empty yet well kept roads, wild life, seals, penguins, whales and more, great food and superb wine. In South Island we covered 2500km taking in parts we had not seen on our first visit. In all we had enjoyed 22 days of campervan life and Pacific Horizon saw to it that we enjoyed the experience in warmth and comfort, the beauty of New Zealand and it’s so friendly peoples did the rest. We were in common with many others that have chosen a campervan holiday so sad at leaving our trusty chariot and its endless list of equipment. It sure is a house on wheels. Try it, it will not disappoint!!