Sitting in the back of a camper van rolling on a rainy day with some old Modest Mouse records playing makes the perfect setting for a quick blog about traveling in the south Island of New Zealand, Aotearoa.
First off, after spending the majority of my adult life in large cities, camper van touring is about as close to nature as people like me should get without some kind of training and permitting. Our wheels include a double berth cabin with a small kitchen and a shower-toilet (a concept our 4-year old daughter finds aptly hilarious). Outside of the fact the machine drinks diesel fuel faster than I can drink beer; we are a self-contained camping outfit.
Each day we roll out of bed and start mucking about organizing food, clothing, and a seemingly constant routine of packing and unpacking. Then we drive, stop frequently, roll into a holiday park or rough park of some description and muck about with food, bedding, beer, and bust out the various movie/compute devices for evening entertainment. OK, not exactly roughing it! The holiday parks have temporary inhabitants ranging from elderly long term campers, hard-core mountain bikers, large families, and an amazing number of Swiss and Germans on extended holiday.
There aren’t many people here. Major bonus. High season on the south island feels like low season in Europe. And secondly, there’s not a lot of industry outside of agriculture and a king’s shit load of rugged terrain, making it possible to be off the grid for days. No cell phone access if you point in the right direction. No service is so much better than bad service and I finally figured out the only way to unplug is to get off the grid.
Most notably, the Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound regions of Fjordland in the south-west part of the island are just outstanding. Possibly the last habitable part of Earth sans people (tourists not included). Swimming with dolphins in their native habitat outside Akaroa is just magical, and this is from a skeptic of sunshine-and-ponies touring. Franz Josef Glacier and the experience of hiking miles of moraine to the glacier face: unforgettable. Carrying a worn out toddler miles back to the car: challenging!
The best part is you have local culture highly attuned to the environmental issues and conservation, in a territory of great abundance. Slow travel and slow food got here about 20 years ago. The mutually non-exclusive domains of camper people and cuisine/beer/wine people seem to happily coexist and even mingle. New Zealand is a pricey place to travel, but you are participating in an economy of smaller numbers.
A notable bonus is you see few obnoxious tourists- possibly goes with the territory and the remote geography of your not-so-convenient stopover. Even Frisbee-Golfers in Queenstown don”t make me want to play Frisbee-Golf-Skeet. Maybe it’s the clean water.