No one photo captures all New Zealand has to offer.
I don’t know if I can find accurate words to describe our time in New Zealand. Spectacular? Amazing? Inspiring? Awesome? Perhaps a lexicon mash-up of these words might come close, but even with that I doubt it. And what is so mind-blowing about this place? EVERYTHING! From the delicious accent to the breathtaking scenery, from the Maori customs to the RV culture, from the meat pies to the people, I am in love with this place.
I keep asking Robert if he doesn’t want to extend our time here and hunker down for several months. He gently reminds me we have a limited budget to stretch for as long as we can and New Zealand is simply too expensive even while free camping in a rented campervan.
But I’ve learned limited funds don’t mean limited fun. Here are a few ways we stretched our money while in New Zealand:
1-We eat all the free food we can find. We load up at hotel breakfasts, pocket mints and candy from office desks, accept snack offers from strangers, take from thrift store donations boxes, help ourselves at the church “free bread” table, inhale grocery store samples, munch free fruit while mom grocery shops, and redeem smoothie coupons from the car rental place. Eating out is an expensive luxury so most meals are cooked in the campervan. Sidebar — Anyone who knows me knows I hate to cook and I’m a terrible cook and nothing has changed just because we are in New Zealand 😕 Robert continues to lose weight, I bet he has dropped 15 pounds already, which could be stress related but more likely my poor camper cooking. Me … I’m coping with vacation stress in the opposite fashion and have bulked up a bit on Cadbury chocolate bars we devour in droves.
2-Lodging is super expensive here so we utilized the popular NZ “Freedom Camping” system. Freedom camping is just that – feel free to pull off the road at some predetermined site and camp … for free.”Holiday Parks” here, even in the off-season, ain’t cheap, so we sleep in parking lots, on the sides of roads, off the beaten path, and in woods. Our camping sites have been crazy – a dockside parking lot, beside some historic bridge where construction was going on all night, at a beach, by a rugby pitch, next to a frozen lake, in a field, in a park, and across from a ferry business.
I keep reminding myself beggars can’t be choosers. To add an interesting twist to free camping – it is winter here with temperatures near or below freezing some nights. Without power plugins we get a bit frosty when our battery gets low and the furnace quits blowing. I was glad Scouter Robert taught me the sleep-with-boiling-water-in-your-nalgene-water-bottle trick which kept me from freezing most nights. Free camping is FREE.
3-With no RV parks, showering has been interesting! We came off a six-day run with no proper shower and everyone lived – baby wipes are our friends! During that run, Doran swam in an iceberg lake at the base of Mt Cook, the boys “did some personal body maintenance” at a laundry mat, Rachel washed her hair in the camper van sink, and we all busted into some Wellington aquatic center acting as if we were going to the pool to work out. You gotta do what you gotta do to save a buck.
4-The day we turned in the campervan was interesting as it left us without transport. No worries, Christchurch is a beautiful place to explore on foot. The 35-minute walk to church was lovely as was the stroll around the botanical gardens which led us to a nearby fish and chips place.
Getting boots on the ground helps us more fully connect with the subtleties of daily NZ life. We are better able to see their gorgeous rainbows and starry skies, hear their melodic accents and rushing waterfalls, smell the temperate rainforest, and feel the wind and rain which pounded us while tramping in Lord of the Rings country. Walking, walking and more walking saves money, but enhances life.
5-When we do get a hotel room we all squish and rotate who gets the bed that day. Robert is paying for this adventure so thankfully he and I always get a bed. We have yet to figure out how to properly order a hotel in New Zealand. Sometimes the rooms are HUGE and one would fit a small army, others are dinky and land poor Thomas and/or Matthew on the floor! No matter the accommodations, you can bet we go for cheap and set the bar low. So far the kids have not complained, but then again they don’t know a room with a mini-bar or pool.
6-We arrived in New Zealand in the middle of their winter toting backpacks full of flip flops and shorts. Somehow I missed the part that New Zealand’s South Island has Southern Alps complete with snow-capped mountains and ski resorts. Again, no worries. We hit several “op shops” and outfitted ourselves for cheap.
I concede we resembled semi-homeless people from the late 80s, but who can beat a thick, $1 fleece jacket or muck boots for tramping around in the rain? Being a slave to fashion is overrated and out of our adventure budget.
7-Free attractions turn us on and luckily New Zealand is full of freebies. Some our favorites were visiting the fabulous Te Papa museum in Wellington,
swimming in Rotorua hot springs, tramping miles of free trails, stinking it up at geothermal pools, praying at the Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral, exploring nature centers, strolling gardens, watching seals, playing for hours on amazing play structures, stargazing and challenging each other to endless games of Rook and Bananagrams. New Zealand’s amazing scenery is worth any price of admission, but thankfully it’s all free.
I could go on and on but you get the drift. Our money is precious and I consider myself the main steward of it. It’s my job to stretch it as far as we can so we can go as long as we can.
That said …. Constant scrimping is never fun so we occasionally go hog-wild and blow a wad. Bennett and Matthew went on the famous Nevis Swing in Queenstown (the world’s biggest free fall and longest arc swing …
FYI – Queenstown is the birthplace of bungy jumping and we watched folks fling themselves off the bridge of origination but boys wanted to do the higher swing and not jump). The kids toured WETA Caves, a movie production house in Wellington famous for their work on Lord of the Rings movies. The family went on a pricey jet boat ride down some amazing gorge. Hobbiton was expensive but a highlight for us Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fans. And the Milford Sound Fjord bus tour and cruise was soooooooo worth every dime!
It’s all good – Money never lasts but memories do!