Backpacking New Zealand done right is to Step 1: Arrive in Auckland and stay in a slammed hostel on Queen Street. Check. Step 2: Mad dash and throw bows to buy a campervan before all of the other backpackers snag them before you. It took us seven nights and six days in Auckland to check this puppy off our to do list. Pull up your sleeves boys... it’s on!
As the story goes, we quickly realized New Zealand is best seen by way of the retrofitted campervan that you live in for the time you travel here and then sell to the next backpacker arriving in Auckland. This is the lifecycle of the NZed campervan. However, these aren’t the notorious macdaddy, white RV's that you see lined up one after another after another cruising through the National Parks of the American West. Oh, no. Instead, these campervans are usually soccermom minivans that are transformed by the backpacker. The rear seats are stripped out and replaced by 2x4's that are nailed together to create a platform that holds a sheet of OSB and a foam mattress. Voilà! There you have it! A backpacker’s dream of transportation and accommodation wrapped in one! Given our fresh year visas in NZed, we set out to find our new home. Who knew we would be so eager to buy our first minivan before we have car seats? We definitely didn’t expect this. Oh well, this should be easy, right? What fools we were! Let the craziness begin.
We spent a total of six full days (I mean full , jam packed, exhausting, please let my feet fall off days) searching for a van. These days were of Adam waking up at 6 am hopping onto our hotel’s one GB limit internet emailing every campervan advertisement out there. After the one GB limit was out, our days were filled with running from Queen Street's McDonald’s to Starbucks to Wendy’s to the library to the second Starbucks and back through the rotation again every hour to get a free hour of internet at each spot. After two days running to and from internet sources every hour waiting for campervan replies and attempting to communicate by email, we realized we had to get a phone to just have a simple conversation with people. The vans were going like hotcakes and we couldn’t wait for email conversations. We talked to two German travelers that expressed the same frustration. You had to show up to the prospect with cash in hand and ready to buy. Bam!
All in all we looked at fourteen vehicles. Everyone thought we were crazy for looking at that many. But, we (Adam) wanted the best deal out there. The best part of van shopping was meeting all these travelers from all over the world that had blazed a trail for us and were selling their campers as they headed on to other countries. Folks from Korea, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Britain, Basque Country, Dutch, Czecks, and so many others all sharing their awesome adventures and the best spots of NZed we needed to go ourselves. Their recommendations were better than any in Lonely Planet!
Getting back to the camper race, here comes the adventure. The first vehicle we test drove was a manual. The pressure was on and Adam’s palms were sweaty. His first time driving a stick in a very long time and the first time driving on the left side of the road. Stressful! Just for good measure, I had white knuckles clutching the door handle bar and the side of the passenger seat. A few times I had to yell out, “On the left! On the left!” as Adam veared to the right side of the road. Thankfully, we were cruising in a 15 mph neighborhood zone. It was a close one, but we survived. Whew!
After five full days of urban hiking that consisted of walking miles and miles around Auckland looking at campervans from morning til dark, we had narrowed down our options to the top four. We had the crème of the crop, she’s our perfect girl white minivan that we drooled over. Second, we had the it’s really nice but the bloke is weird camper. Third, we had the tattoo parlor’s van turned to campervan. Lastly, there was Burley Bernie. We thought our Auckland days and urban hikes were over as Adam prematurely gave a gentleman’s handshake with an Irish lad to make a deal for our crème of the crop, she’s our perfect girl camper. But, we quickly realized mid handshake there was a misunderstanding. Oh, geez! The price was higher than what we thought it was advertised for (we had seen too many advertisements and were mixing them up at this point) and she wouldn’t be available for us to set out into the sun for another two weeks. Two weeks?!? We couldn’t stay in Auckland another two weeks! Low and behold, we had seen fourteen camper vans, went through hundreds of questions and note taking on each one and forgot one of the most important questions. “When is it available?” Ugh! Learning experience.
We were heartbroken. She was the one! But, in the end we had to move on to our next choice. Well, the van was still it’s nice but the bloke is weird. We couldn’t do it. Something just wasn’t right. So, onto the next one. Burned again. The tattoo parlor’s van wasn’t available for another five days. Five days?!? We want to get out of Auckland already! Last option... Our boy Burley Bernie. He truly was the one! Finally! His name derives from the British backpackers that sold him to us. We couldn’t quite tell if they were calling him Burley or Bernie. So, now he’s our good ol’ bloke Burley Bernie. Ay!
Yes, Dad. Of course, before buying Bernie, we had a mechanic check him out. Our boy needed a new strut and a new battery. Check and check. And now we are learning his secrets. The sliding door sticks, the glove compartment won't close and his gas mileage isn’t the best, but Bernie hasn’t failed us. We just gotta give him some TLC, that’s all.
And, we were off into the sunset, the windows down, the music up loud with the wind in our hair again. We finally hit the road with our new ride! It was glorious for the first hour until... wait, are those red and blue lights behind us? Oh, no! You have to be kidding me! Cop car! We got pulled over within the very first hour of being on the road! No way! Come to find out, we didn't stop at a pedestrian crossing that we didn't see. We just so happened to get pulled over by the nicest officer we have ever met and he proceeded to give us the ropes of NZed driving laws and escorted us to the nearest auto shop for our new battery. What service!
Our adventures continued as we hit one week of full on tree limb breaking wind and torrential down pours in the Coromandel Peninsula. Are you serious? We can finally get out and explore and it won’t. stop. raining. We spent the week soaked. Finally, Adam figured out a way to get all of our food and cookware out without getting out of the van. Nice!
But hey, when travelling this long, we have learned to always be thankful for whatever situation we are in. Thankfulness always brings light to how great we truly have it. When we stopped complaining and thought about it, our entire week of urban hiking around the city looking for vans was in clear weather with no rain. So thankful for that! In the week after we got our van, we had shelter from the rain. Now, that is a whole new perspective. We truly believe God blesses us continuously on this journey of nuventures. We just have to change our perspectives, seek thanksgiving and have our eyes peeled to see all the blessings.