We will spend the next 21 days driving in a caravan, from Auckland, New Zealand in the far north to Christchurch on the South Island. We had read renting a motor home is the best way to see this beautiful country, with a photograph waiting around every turn. Our reality was a bit different.
Meet our Caravan, Home for Next Three Weeks
Why would this be a good idea? I’m driving the largest vehicle I’ve ever driven, seated on the right and driving on the left side of the road with endless roundabouts. Had we given our manual shifting, five speed bucket of bolts a name, it would not have been a pleasant name. We have no back-up camera and no cigarette lighter plug for my New Zealand updated GPS. I’m very doubtful I learned all there is to know about the refrigerator, propane tanks, gray water, black water maintenance, drinking water-spout and battery charging. But I did my best to listen during my four-minute intro to RV class conducted in the rain. It would rain almost solidly for the next three weeks. We later learned we were in the middle of their cyclone season. Who knew?
Compared to other caravans we saw in the crowded RV parks, ours was the oldest of the bunch. The Clampets were touring New Zealand. I’ve never heard or seen such heavy rains. Our windshield wipers could not keep up with the driving rain. We were unaware of any cyclone season at this point. Clearly, everything is mighty green and it can’t get that way without rain, I thought. The cyclone season continued for us into Australia, where we endured 14 inches of rain in a single day.
Caravan Parks of New Zealand
We had reservations already booked in caravan parks for all 21 nights. Caravan parks are a huge industry in New Zealand. The narrow roads of New Zealand are full of gray-haired retirees weaving about. There are caravan apps for your iPhone and generally numerous camping options within each town. Sometimes the parks were full and our early reservations were necessary. At other times, our lone van stuck out like a beacon on a wet green landscape. The parks varied from lush thick grass to gravel or mud with streams running every direction as we jumped over them like a gazelle on our way to the shared restrooms. A big umbrella purchased our first day was our best investment.
I will no longer look longingly at a 45 foot motor home back in the States. Plumbing is the big drawback here. Waiting in line to use a communal shower or restroom grows old quickly.
A Hive of Activity in the Communal Kitchens
Most caravan travelers seemed to use their trip through New Zealand as an excuse to cook up a storm. Pots and skillets were filled with such varieties of great smelling food. This went on for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our typical method was to eat a large meal at a restaurant once a day and then have snacks in the evening.
Wai-O-Tapu, Yellowstone-like Geothermal Pools
This lake is similar to the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. Large hot clouds of strong sulfur fog would engulf the tourists and fog the lenses of the photographers. There are numerous other such geothermal pools in the area, so you need to make sure you are going to the one you want… This was our third try finding this colorful pool.
Roadside Scenes along the North Island Highways
The first time you see a large herd of deer the crazed photographer really thinks he has found something unique. But of course you are in New Zealand where there is seldom any spot to pull off the narrow road, and never at the very moment you see something you wish to photograph. Over the next hundred kilometers, numerous other such herds are found. So this is where New Zealand venison comes from. Yes, it was very good. This skittish herd was all bucks, others were only does.
Many acres of vineyards in New Zealand. Sometimes the entire vineyard was covered in white gauze fabric as protection from hungry birds. Others just had gauze covering the grapes themselves.
The Roadside Memorial or Descanso
Growing up in New Mexico I thought the roadside cross, a descanso, marking the place of a loved one’s death, was unique to the Southwest. It is not. We have seen these in most countries we visit, even Romania. Hindsight being 20-20, it would have been interesting to gather a collection of these personal tributes along the highway. One country, tired of the elaborate and ever bigger constructs, had standardized them to one government designed and issued cross.
Why was this particular New Zealand descanso chosen to photograph? Simply because there was a place to pull over nearby. It also depicts New Zealand well with the green rolling hills and sheep in the background. Plus, another rainstorm is heading our way…
Chickens Run Free
Under the heading of roadside scenes I chose to post this portrait of a chicken. It seems every island we have ever visited, from Key West to Funchal, Portugal has chickens running wild. These chickens were at a wide spot in the road where I missed a turn. I was also excited the rain had subsided, so I laid flat on the ground and snapped this photo with my 400mm lens.
A traveler blog about seeing New Zealand by caravan said to stop just before Taupo at the Huka Falls lookout. We missed that turnoff so we just exited at some random rest stop down the road and found this beautiful, uncrowded waterfall. That is what makes New Zealand so special. Lots of beautiful sites if you take some time and explore, when the rain stops.
Next week we visit the more picturesque South Island of New Zealand.
Photographer Notes Regarding a Caravan or RV
Don’t do it. Just don’t do it. Renting a caravan is counter-productive to good photography. With the rented caravan a beautiful scene had to jump up in front of me and allow ample time for me to find parking and gather my gear. The caravan represented all downside and zero upside regarding capturing good photographs.
1) Should you wish to rise before sunrise, everything needs to get packed, unhooked and put away securely for the trip.
2) Your non-photographer spouse, who does not like to get up early, must also go along for the ride.
3) The caravan is often too large for many side roads you may wish to access.
4) Parking at popular sites is limited.
5) Roadside parking is much more limited.
6) Your camera gear is not on the seat next to you or in the back seat (there isn’t one). It is way in the back…
“Don’t do it . . .” ! These photos are so great, I can’t imagine what they would’ve been like if you had been able to get the shots that you couldn’t get from the caravan! Safe travels!
Thank you for looking at them. The South Island is even more picturesque.
14 hours of driving a similar sized RV to the one posted, from PA to IL and 14 hours in reverse 1 week later, rained the whole ride in, snowed the whole ride home, strong winds both ways, showering while seated on the toilet, unloading grey and dark water, doggy & human stops every few hours… I know why there are so many descansos seen in so many places. If you don’t die from driving the darn thing, you want to commit suicide.
Glad you are both safe and moved on to Singapore.
Lou, I remember your travel tales which you told well. If you have one dog and get two more, that makes three dogs. What a wild time you had. At least we had no dogs and no snow. A yacht would be about the same, shower wise, so lets save a bundle and not get either a huge motor home or a yacht. Thank you for continuing to read and comment.
Ahhh, the unexpected joys of travel! The folks who don’t do it think all is rosy every day …. Thanks for the reality check! Your photos are lovely, as usual, and the narrative rings true- been there, done that (or something similar). It will all seem better in the re-telling. Continue to enjoy your adventures and we are looking forward to continuing to experience them vicariously through your blog!
I think you may be more traveled than we are so I know you are aware of the so called ‘joys of travel.’ We are looking forward to the “better in the re-telling” part.
I found that a problem pulling a trailer as well. I guess what was the other option? Looks like you still got some great shots!! Enjoy the ride!!!!
At least with a trailer you can at time leave you ‘home’ and drive around. Our option was to just rent a car and stay in motels. Everything has some advantages and disadvantages. I hope your travels with the trailer go smoothly as possible.
You make me laugh!!! I adore the waterfall photo and I appreciate learning what to do and not do in the trip I will never make!!
Beautiful photographs! If life is about learning as you go along, my thought is you learned more then you bargained for. It does seem that often the funniest stories, years down the road, come from memories of our “learning experiences”. Love reading about your travels and seeing the richly colored landscapes of your journey. Thank you for sharing.
You phrased it well. Everything will be better recalling it down the road. It was a great experience and certainly glad we did it. I was VERY happy to have turned the RV in with no accidents. Thank you for reading and responding.
Sorry to hear you both endured soooooo much rain, however you did capture a beautiful waterfall picture with all that rain!
I just shared your thoughts with Doug about how living in this van for a month has you reconsidering buying a big RV. This is Doug’s thought exactly too, he does not want to deal with all the maintenance that’s required, we will be sticking with hotels and cabins! Looking forward to upcoming Thailand photos! ?????
…and he did not even have to fly halfway around the world and rent an RV to come to our same conclusion. He is smart beyond his years.
I was turned off travelling NZ by Caravan/RV when I saw the photos of friends who took most of their photos from the vehicle. We live only a short hop away and really need to pop over and have a look…thanks for the photos, Harold 🙂
You are correct in your observations. All of our photos were taken from the caravan or well traveled park path. It is also difficult for the driver to really view the scenery while driving. Good luck in your travels. Spend proportionately more time in the south island.
Wonderful photos, and most excellent and entertaining write up, Harold! I also very much enjoy the lyrical references. 🙂
While I very much enjoy keeping up with your travels through your publishings, we’re missing out on some great conversations on the market. I look forward to your return to Idaho. We have some serious lunch backlog on our hands.
Harold, one way to look at it is as a scouting trip for possible return. That way there isn’t much pressure to get “the” shot. We’ve circumnavigated the South Island in a caravan and we understand your frustration with limited pull offs, narrow roads and sensory overload. We also found out the hard way that racing off to get a photo can result in loose electronics flying off shelves and crashing onto hard surfaces and NZ is an expensive place to try to get repairs.
Great photos…would riding through on a motorcycle have presented fewer challenges re roadside photo oops?
We saw motorcyclists driving in the rain and I never envied them. A motorcycle would likely just present a new set of challenges.
The best situation would be to have a non-photographer driver who would drop you and your camera gear off, head down the road, turn around and pick you up. Or wait and wait till you are ready.
So beautiful, but when is the cyclone season exactly?
It is not an exact science but the season officially began on November 1, 2017 and will end on April 30, 2018; however, a tropical cyclone could form at any time between July 1, 2017 and June 30. We were there in peak tourist season which seems to coincide with the cyclone season. I can tell you New Zealand can be very beautiful in their off season as well.
We were very lucky to have only light rain on occasion. Without a car it was better to reserve accommodations within a reasonable walking distance from the bus stops. Friends emailed us, asking if we were OK in the cyclone, and we didn’t Know what they were talking about.
Wow, having no Car would certainly add an additional wrinkle to the travel plans. Good luck on your journey.
Harold, We were just in New Zealand, January 29 – February 25. We traveled via Intercity Bus. (35 hour passes for just over $200 each). The buses are very clean and modern, taking us to all the places we wanted to go. The bus driver narrates as we go along, and stops at interesting sites. We went from Auckland to Rotorua, Taupo, Napier, and Wellington on the North Island. Our tickets then included our ferry trip to the South Island where we continued on to Picton, Nelson, Greymouth, Franz Josef and Queenstown. We stayed a few days at each town staying at GuestToGuest homes or hostels. When we chose guided activities, the operators would pick us up at our accommodation.
When traveling like you describe, I think you meet more people and have a better overall travel experience. At the opposite end of the spectrum, traveling first class you meet no locals and mostly other well to do tourists. By the time you are my age you will have many MANY wonderful experiences. Keep notes or a diary. Good luck to you in your travels.
By writing that we stayed at hostels I may have given the impression that we were young backpackers. We are in our 70’s, and this was my 4th trip to NZ. My previous visits were 2 group tours (one of which I helped organize), and one car trip with friends. This trip by public bus was at least as good as a tour although required a lot of planning.
Nice photos. I cannot imagine having a large vehicle on those narrow roads.
Mile after mile or kilometer after kilometer there was an 8 inch strip of soil showing, worn by vehicle tires. Each lane really is at least 12 inches too narrow.
Wow. We were there in a rental car for a month in 2015. We had no idea that there even is a cyclone season, and we went during it, it sounds like, and arrived on the heels of one cyclone in late Feb. That was the last we saw of much rain. Weather is all luck on these trips! Thanks for reporting on the caravan. I’ve been curious about them ever since traveling there.
A chicken … well it is a bird 🙂 They were free range were they free to be caught and eaten? Here in the US the netting in the vineyards is used for thermal, wind and sun protection along protection from birds. Also can aid in ice wine grape delay of harvest and then can be used to aid in the mechanical harvest of ice wine grapes. Ooops just and old ag guy getting carried away 🙂