It had been two months of pure hedonism. We went where we liked, did what we wanted and made the most of everything that we could. We also spent a lot more money than we initially planned. But the road trip had come to an end. We travelled through the mainland route, enjoyed a day or two in Nelson, jumped on the ferry and headed back to the north island once again.
There was so much that we learned to appreciate on that road trip. A hot shower after a long time without one can be almost euphoric. Quiet rainy days spent reading and talking and contemplating were just as wonderful as the more adrenaline fuelled ones. I even managed to relax about the planning of travel. We would often set off from our campsite not knowing where we would sleep that night or exactly what we would do. And it was great to have that flexibility and freedom. It taught me not to panic if things weren’t immaculately planned and timed to perfection. And if things didn’t go according to plan I could appreciate it for the other opportunities it might give us.
There was still a part of me that felt like we hadn’t completely done New Zealand. There is simply so much to do! There were still places we hadn’t visited and seasons that were yet to come. I longed to see the place in snow. But I was also getting itchy feet, that age old traveller problem of being in one place but wanting to explore another. So far we had done five new countries but there were many more full to the brim of potential and promise.
But what we had done in New Zealand was amazing and the way we had done it made me happy too. A massive road trip was a dream come true and to do it in such a country where the driving itself was a spectacular as the destinations was truly fantastic. Peter and I learnt even more about each other too. However there were problematic bits to it, times when I wished we hadn’t chosen to live in a car. The problem is that so many other travellers are doing the exact same thing and many are quite disrespectful with it, treating it as a right, not a privilege. And even other campers can sometimes view you with a haughty judgement just because you are non self contained and they can afford a much more luxurious camping experience. Just finding decent camping spots which are free or low cost can be problematic and then the realities of living in your car can also catch up to you. So I thought I would outline some of those challenges in all their grim and gory details.
Long drop toilets. They are a strongly scented reality of freedom camping life. And the sooner that is accepted the better. We have come across all manner of them, from pleasant and clean ones to the downright unforgivable but it’s really no big deal. My biggest issue with them actually brings us to point number two. Because long drop toilets attract heaps of…
Insects. Being a zookeeper I like insects. I appreciate them for their necessity and have tried to convert many members of audiences into liking them a little bit more. But this was back in England before I had ever met the voracious Sandfly. They gather around long drop toilets waiting for their chance and then descend, en mass onto the buttocks of the poor unwilling victim who was just answering the call of nature. But it doesn’t stop there. Sand flies and Mosquitoes really can invade your car in three seconds flat. By the time it takes you to open the boot, grab something out of the back and close it again there will be at least 50 of the little buggers all vying for your flesh. Insect repellant does NOTHING!
Space. Despite the fact that our campervan has heaps of space underneath the bed it still never seems to be enough, and even when it is, it requires an exceeding amount of tetris-like skill to be able to pack it all away again once you’ve used something.
Personal Hygiene: After a few days in your car everything becomes rather…pungent. A general lack of showering opportunities, sleeping alongside your dirty clothes and an inability to properly aerate your car due to the legions of hungry insects waiting for you to do so creates some intense scents.
Other freedom campers: These people can make or break a campsite for you. We have been surprised at how few people have actually been willing to interact with us. Many seem to be in their own clique anyway and therefore oblivious to those outside it. Some, on the other hand can be lovely and really enhance your stay. One group even invited me to join them. We had a great laugh together until the guy stood up, swayed on the spot and declared “damn it’s too windy to do lines!” At that point I left the stoned group to it. Free campsites are full of very young people and many of them are of the immature type who still have a lot to learn about life. I am aware of how hideously old and certainly old fashioned that makes me sound but it is frustratingly plain to see. For example we were actually driven out of one of the most beautiful wild campgrounds we found, surrounded by mountains and on a lake front. It was stunning but at the same time almost deafening by the incessant sound of hardcore Belgian trance pulsing obscenely loudly from a car at the bottom of the campsite. They had even been asked, very diplomatically, by our neighbour to turn it down which they did marginally only to turn it up again once she had gone. Their excuse for being so loud? It was one of the groups birthday. He had just turned 20. Often we find that people leave their rubbish behind (or their own excrement) which is leading to many being closed by the council or an outright ban on freedom camping in particular areas of New Zealand. It is a really sad state of affairs and if everyone was a little more respectful, or had learnt respect before they decided to come travelling, things might be a little different.
Internet: Without internet it can be far more difficult to plan or keep in touch with family who like to be kept updated. Important emails and banking and all the other documents of life still had to be sorted so we sometimes had to go in search of wifi. Sometimes we found it and other times we just couldn’t connect or it was so achingly slow that it wasn’t productive. When we did find it though it was a rush to get everything done in the small time frame we often had and so frantic typing and googling often ensued.
Cooking: When you have one pot and one pan in which to cook everything you run out of options fairly quickly and the array of delicious smells wafting from nearby restaurants becomes increasingly tempting. We did achieve some staple meals with what we had to cook with but they quickly got a little boring after 2 months of the same thing.
There are many other problems we encountered but mainly we loved it. The experience of driving on such brilliant roads was inspiring and sometimes we could drive for a whole day and only see one or two other cars. Following that grey ribbon of possibility as it meandered through a mountain pass or alongside the sparkling sea or into a brand new town full of potential was highlight addictive.
Now that we are back into a proper house with good food and more of a set routine we have quickly fallen back into our old ways. Constant access to wifi means Peter hasn’t picked up a book in weeks. We can shower whenever we want without having to pay for it or frantically rush it so that we aren’t holding up the queue. We have every cooking utensil imaginable at our disposal and we can sleep in an actual bed. It saddens me a little how quickly everything has reverted back but I will remember our road trip very fondly, challenges and all and hope that it won’t be the last we ever undertake in our lives.