As amazing as they were, our last few stops (Singapore, Bali, Sydney) were actually made with an ulterior motive: they represented the most interesting, efficient and economical way to get to the isolated corner of the globe containing New Zealand. It was a short flight from Sydney to Auckland, where we picked up our camper van and began a twenty-four day exploration of the country.
Our first van (more on that in another post), was small and simple compared to some of the monstrous RVs that you can find cruising down the road with a set of retirees behind the wheel. In fact, rather than an RV, we were really just living out of a van. A van named Max. As in Max Power. Thin and lean, but with a robust turbo diesel engine, Max left every other camper van in our dust on NZ’s winding, mountainous roads. We covered a lot of ground in our new home; Max was crucial to our New Zealand odyssey.
After seven months of traveling, we don’t ask for much and Max provided almost everything that we’ve been doing without: a car, stereo, tv, fridge, mini-kitchen, couch to lounge on, our own bedroom, and even a few drawers to unpack our backpacks. Of it all, we were most excited about the fridge. We could finally buy our own food, cook our own meals, drink our own alcohol, and eat our own frozen candy bars (all. day. long).
The setup was a testament to German design and engineering. Behind the two front seats, there was an unbelievably comfortable bed that filled the entire space. During the day, the bed folded up into a double couch facing both forwards and backwards. A table could be set up in front of the couch and there was space on the side to use the mini-kitchen. Or, if we were hanging out by a lake or at the ocean, we could simply open the double doors at the back of the van and use the opposite side of the couch for a front row seat to Mother Nature.
We were rookies to the campervan game, but it’s not hard to pick up. An all-weather extension cord keeps the electrical components charged. Turn the on-off valve to use the propane tank. Then, there are a couple of hoses to add fresh water and empty the used “grey” water. Lastly, rather than a built-in toilet, Max only had a sad little plastic port-a-potty for emergency situations. But, we were traveling according to the Little Family Motorhome Doctrine which actually consists of only one commandment: no pooping in the van. To be honest, it would feel a bit wrong and supposedly it still smells despite the extra special blue water flush. But I can’t tell you for sure, because we never broke the golden rule.
Fully equipped campgrounds all over NZ made life easier. By day, Max, Mandy, and I worked hard covering as much ground as we could. As the sun set, we began our nightly routine: find the campsite, cook dinner and wash dishes in the communal kitchen, then conclude the day with a cool walk through the crisp night air from the showers back to the van.
Those chilly minutes sandwiched in between our warm shower and perfect bed felt agonizingly long, but now form some of my most nostalgic memories. New Zealand nights were beautiful: quiet and just cold enough to bundle up under a warm blanket before the enveloping darkness, first of deep vivid blue, then blackness swallowed the camper van. I tried to lay awake and savor those moments, but weariness always ushered sleep upon us too soon.