The Camper Van Experience

From Sydney, Australia, we flew to Christchurch, New Zealand, where we picked up our home for the next two weeks–a Wilderness camper van.  Although it did smell a little bit like wet dog, the camper van was pretty nice and had everything we could hope for–a double bed, a kitchen complete with a sink, refrigerator, and four burner range, and a full (yet compact) bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower.  Best of all, because the camper van was fully self-contained (meaning it had mechanisms to store all of our waste until we could empty the tanks at a dump station), we were able to “freedom camp,” so we could pull off the road anywhere we liked and park ourselves for the night.  Since New Zealand’s South Island has almost no people–just lots of cows and sheep–in a setting like one giant national park, it was really great to just find a beautiful spot and set up camp for the night.  Our first night we camped close to where this picture was taken.

New Zealand is truly a stunning country.  Each day we would say, “There’s no way it can be better than yesterday,” but day after day we encountered beautiful springtime landscapes and spectacular views.  On our second day, while en route to Mount Cook, John pulled off the road so we could take some pictures of one of the beautiful views along the way.

I took on the role of documenting life in the camper van while John handled the hardcore duties, like emptying all of our waste (yuck).  First he’d dump the gray water and then the toilet cassette.  He’d rinse out the cassette and refill it with some kind of blue liquid that helped to break down the waste.  Then he’d refill the water tank with fresh, potable water.  And finally he’d celebrate when it was all done.

      Afterwards, the first thing he’d do each time he climbed back into the driver’s seat was thoroughly scrub his hands with an antibacterial wipe.  John was a real trooper.  In addition to the waste-emptying, he also handled all of our driving, since (a) I don’t know how to drive a manual shift (much less in a huge van), (b) I’ve never driven on the left side of the road, and (c) I’m a nervous driver.  In the passenger seat, I’d keep John entertained by attempting to navigate (the GPS was much better at it), pointing out the Lord of the Rings filming sites we’d just happen to be passing (they’re everywhere!), and reading articles to him from the NY Times.  I’ll admit it–I would generally also take a nap each afternoon.

Here’s John demonstrating how we’d sleep in the camper van (plus actually sleeping):


It sounds a little funny to say it, since by the time we got to New Zealand we’d been traveling together for five months, but one of the things we enjoyed most about our two weeks in the camper van was all of the quality time that we had together.  Up until that point, we’d had internet access almost everywhere we were, and failing that we’d have TV, or other people around.  In New Zealand, we were truly off the grid, and just with each other.  Most of the time we couldn’t even listen to the radio because New Zealand’s South Island isn’t populated enough to have radio everywhere.  (We did make it through one round of the Bruno Mars CD that someone before us left in the camper van’s CD player.  Once was more than enough.)  Spending hours together in the van and on various hikes and other outings, we enjoyed just being together and talking.  We realized that it reminded us of the very earliest stages of our relationship, when I was still living in New York, and we’d spend hours and hours on the phone together each night.  I think we were both surprised and happy that after traveling together for so long, we still had so much to say to each other.  Those two weeks were really special.

Many people have asked us what our favorite place was that we visited, and where we’d most like to go back.  To both of those questions, we always answer New Zealand.  It really is the most beautiful place that either of us has ever been.

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