The brilliant thing about New Zealand is that around Christmas, everything shuts down. The majority of offices close for around two weeks, meaning I had a hugely long holiday and nothing to do.
Enter standbycars.com. I’ve been on their database since Australia but the timing had never been right. They’re a company that hooks you up with campervans that need “relocating”. In New Zealand, most people pick up vans in Auckland and drive them down south. But someone needs to drive them back up again!
For a grand total of $25 I was able to rent a campervan for four days and drive it back to Auckland from Christchurch.
And I can honestly say, without exaggeration, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
The Road Trip
On January 1st I flew down to Christchurch to spend a few days being a tourist. I figured there must be a few things open since the quake. Not so much. But my roommate Alana hooked me up with a friend who let me crash at his place and was the best tour guide a girl could ask for.
We went to the zoo, the botanical gardens, watched bestmovieofalltime Anchorman, toured the abandoned CBD and, like a true tourist, experienced not one, not two, but THREE earthquakes. It was pretty terrifying to wake up at 1am to your entire world shaking, but we were safe on our side of town and (please don’t hate me), there was a little bit of a rush from experiencing such absolute power of nature.
I imagine Christchurch was quite a beautiful city before the earthquakes. Tons of greenery and old buildings and English activities like punting, all which make my heart flutter.
So seeing central Christchurch in ruins was an eye-opener. I’ve been to ghost towns before in Middle America, but to see what was such a vibrant city only a year ago completely shut down, boarded up and with weeds growing through the roads was very apocalyptic. Very end of days.
After two days in Chch I was chauffeured to the campervan pick up location to start my next big adventure. I had four days to get the van (who I christened “Jill”) to Auckland. It’s around 1200km and sixteen hours of driving.
After asking every Kiwi I know where to go and what to do, I settled on hiking in Hanmer Springs, whale watching in Kaikoura, being cultural in Nelson, catching the ferry in Picton, eating good food in Wellington and walking the lake in Taupo.
It was the driving I enjoyed most. New Zealand’s terrain is so incredibly diverse and I saw everything from fields of lavender to snow-capped mountains to vineyards to volcanic landscapes. I kept pulling the car over every hundred miles just to stare in awe. At one point I actually started laughing to myself because I couldn’t fully believe how beautiful it was.
It went from this….
I have never in my life felt so lucky. I mean, not only did I get to see all this beauty, but I get to live here. And I made myself a promise that from now on I need to make more of an effort to explore outside Auckland. This country is incredible. How exactly did it take me 13 months to realize this?
Me, Myself & I
In those four days I was entirely alone, talking only to waiters and the people behind the desk at holiday parks. I did start talking to myself around day three but that’s another thing I learned during those four days: I am awesome company.
I’ve always loved being alone. I need Marian Time every day and I travel solo more frequently than with company. But never have I been SO alone. No couchsurfing, no hostels, no tourist attractions. Just me, the road and the Dixie Chicks on repeat.
And I loved it. More than I’ve loved anything. I loved that I could see a beautiful river on the side of the road, park the car and dive in. I loved that I was originally going to head to Napier but changed course at a fork in the road to instead drive through Tongariro National Park. I loved that when Jill had car issues I handled it. And when before I’d never understood how a campervan actually worked, I was suddenly plugging in to power sites and emptying water tanks in style.
Basically, call your friendly local campervan company and see if they need anything relocated. Or just come to New Zealand. Or spend tomorrow entirely alone. Whatever works for you. But I gotta say, this trip? Totally did it for me.