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Flying into Queenstown, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We did some research of course, but the natural marvels we encountered far exceeded our imagination and set NZ apart from all other destinations we’ve visited. Part of the credit certainly goes to the country’s Department of Conservation, which strictly manages and maintains its pristine national parks – which interestingly enough covers almost 50% of the entire South Island (check out this incredibly “green” map). What this means for any avid / aspiring photographers out there is a wealth of breathtaking landscape photography opportunities. I certainly racked up quite a shutter count during my trip..

In my opinion, the beauty of New Zealand is really two-fold – and lies in its designated viewpoints/landmarks and also in its conventional natural landscapes. A quick perusal through TripAdvisor will quickly produce a list of the main attractions that should make it into your itinerary, but you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t plan enough leeway to experience everything else in its periphery. Some of my best memories from our trip were outside of the landmarks, and were in the journey itself as we traversed across NZ’s eclectic landscapes and climates.

Speaking of climates, NZ has some of the most fickle weather you will ever encounter. There are 4 seasons of course, with Summer starting from December to February, and winter from May to September; but with an average of 15 days of rain throughout the year, it’s difficult to predict what you’ll face. However, NZ has a way of giving you a unique experience regardless of the weather, so my advice would be to brave the challenge and embrace the unpredictability!

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New Zealand’s South Island is so much more than just Queenstown. But if you’re reading this with plans to head there for your holiday, you already know this. Now the all-important decision is – to visit all of the instagram-drool-worthy scenic spots, do you take the campervan / motorhome route, or simply choose a central base and take day trips? In this post, I’ll try and explain my thought process on why I chose the campervan route, but also what you need to consider / know. *Food for Thought – If you don’t have a driver’s license, and/or don’t feel like driving on your holiday, you may need to go with a tour provider who can take you around. I would recommend choosing Queenstown as your home base, and book either a private or small-group tour provider who offers bad weather contingencies*

Reason #1 – Complete Weather Flexibility
There’s no denying that South Island has a lot of “must-see” sights and “must-do” activities, but it’s damn near impossible to get to these without getting behind the wheel (for hours at a time). Which leads me to my Reason #1 – Complete Flexibility.

You can be the luckiest person in the world, but if you’re spending more than a couple days in South Island, YOU WILL ENCOUNTER BAD WEATHER. I’m no meteorologist, but there’s something about the far distance from the equator and close proximity to Antarctica that completely wrecks the day-to-day weather predictability in South Island.

So let’s say you fly into Queenstown and want to head to Milford Sound for the day. This is a 5-6 hour drive depending on driving speed, traffic conditions, and whether you stop along the way. But know that Milford Sound is considered to be one of the wettest parts of the world and can rain at any given moment. If it’s not too terrible, you could still take the cruise, but if it’s really pouring, the cruise operator could suspend or cancel the cruise. What does that mean for you? A 5-6 hour drive back. Similarly, let’s say you want to drive to Franz Josef for a helicopter glacier hike. That’s a 4-5 hour drive from Queenstown. You should also know that Franz Josef has fog attacks quite often, which force all operators to shut down and cancel all flights. This may sounds like an extreme rarity, but trust me when I say that it is not (we literally experienced the latter).

BUT – if you have a campervan, you can easily find a campsite nearby, pick up food to cook in the van, take it easy and try your luck the next day. There’s no worry about paying ludicrous prices for a hotel last minute, or tiring yourself out from driving on top of a wasted day. You can salvage the disappointment and own your holiday. Can’t do that in a rented Toyota Camry.

Reason #2 – Unique Holiday Experience
My family never owned an RV, and aside from one painful trip from LA to Vancouver (painful for my parents dealing with two angst-ridden teens in the car), we rarely went on long road trips. So when we found out that roaming around in a campervan was a “thing” in New Zealand, we were immediately mesmerized.

New Zealand has ridiculously photogenic viewpoints. However, they are quite scattered across its land mass with often time consuming drives required (as mentioned previously). This means there are certain areas that tour groups just won’t visit, and even with a private car, unless you plan to roam aimlessly for a proper hotel in the middle of nowhere, you would be hard pressed taking that hour drive to “the spot” with 10,000 likes. And now imagine you rid yourself of these limitations, and free yourself from the yoke of needing to mold yourself into someone else’s schedule. That’s the holiday experience you can have with a campervan as it enables you to be creative, stop along the road when something catches your eye, or just park along a stunning lake and let the world pass by as you cook a burger in your van. Whether it’s with your significant other, a small group of good friends, or even an adventurous family (bold enough to withstand a long road trip together), the memories you can create are endless.

I can guarantee you that destinations which would allow you to have such an experience are few and far between. And New Zealand’s South Island is amazingly well equipped with the infrastructure to help you make the campervan plunge with ease. Which brings me to my last point.

Reason #3 – Low Barrier to Camping
If you’re like us, the immediate red flags that go up as you contemplate this unorthodox method of vacationing would be the following:

  1. Where the hell do I sleep every night? To answer this first question, I would point you to one free app – Rankers Camping NZ (iOS / Android). This is a government sponsored, frequently updated app that is basically your bible and lifesaver while on the road. Notice that although I linked the web version, I specifically say “app” because you should download the compatible app to your device, and then download the offline map and campsite directory of the entire South Island. While on the road, you will run into stretches where there is no phone reception or WiFi. Your GPS will work, however, and along with this app, you can find all the holiday parks and campsites your heart can desire, wherever your journey may take you. Do keep in mind you can’t just park and sleep anywhere, it does need to at least be a designated “freedom campsite”
  2. How do I shower? Assuming you got yourself a self-contained campervan (yes, you definitely should), you would be able to stay at Freedom Camps for free, but with no electricity hook-ups or other facilities, or a range of Holiday Parks. The latter will range in terms of price (NZ$25 – 50 nightly per couple) and quality of facilities (shower and toilet, full kitchen, laundry, etc.). In our trip, we mostly stayed at Holiday Parks as we had a lot of gadgets to recharge and wanted to use the electricity for things like the hairdryer, and ended up showering at the facilities or just in our van. I won’t lie, some facilities were quite “rustic” and we happily opted to shower in our van, but some holiday parks had amazing, spotless showers that were much appreciated.
  3. Am I going to look like a crazy person driving around in a motorhome? Not at all! We not only encountered hundreds of campervans on the road during our trip, but almost everywhere we went, there were lots of fellow campervannites(?) enjoying the unique travel experience and embracing their vacation freedom. What’s more, you’ll notice in supermarkets and gas stations that a lot of products and services on offer are very much catered to the campervan population, and we never felt like we were unwanted or had to modify our campervan life to fit the requirements of any location.

Now of course, not everything is peachy, and there are some things to consider if you’re braving the campervan life for your upcoming holiday:

  • Driving an oversized vehicle – Assuming you are getting a decent size campervan (even for just two people), you’re looking at a 6-7 meter long vehicle. Driving a campervan is not too different from a normal car, but you do need to be aware of your speed limitations, wide turning radius, and general required clearance.
  • Filling up on essentials and dumping the waste – A self-contained campervan basically means you have a bathroom on board (and in our case a full shower and a sink too), so you’ll need to fill up on fresh water (available in many campsites or gas stations). But that also means you have waste and “grey water” that will fill up over time. It’s actually not as terrible as you think, but there will come a time when you need to pull up to a dump station and empty out the waste.
  • Hidden camera speeding tickets – Don’t let the wide expanse of the South Island highways fool you, there are hidden cameras capturing your speed along the way. We learned this the hard way when we received a letter several days after concluding our trip that we were clocked speeding in the mountains somewhere. Tickets suck, whether or not you’re driving around in a sweet campervan.

Choosing your Campervan
Now if all of that has convinced you and you are ready to look at some campervan options, I can point you to where we booked our campervan – Maui Motorhome. Now when you start Googling, you’ll find that there are several major brands available for rent – Maui, Britz, Mighty, Jucy, and Wilderness. The first three names (Maui, Britz, and Mighty) are all owned by one company, THL. The difference between the three are Maui is the high-end line with the newest fleet, Britz then operates those vehicles when they get older, and Mighty is a mix of budget and peer-to-peer rental fleet. Jucy is a budget fleet (with bright purple/green colors) with varying degrees of campervans (some are just tricked out minivans with no showers and make-shift kitchens). Wilderness is a smaller outfit, but offers some attractive, luxury campervan options.

We opted to go with Maui, in their 2+1 Berth Ultima Plus. In our view it had everything we could want, with a bit of luxury and the peace of mind that the vehicles were newer and thus with (hopefully) less problems. I encourage you to book directly with the provider in the link above, as booking with 3rd party agents may not get you exactly what you expect when you get to the rental agency for pick-up. But the company does offer price match, so you can check out sites like Camper Champ which helps you compare prices and grab screenshots of any lower prices you find on the same model.

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Milford Sound is consistently rated as one of top attractions to visit in NZ’s South Island. But it’s also quite polarizing, as the day trip from Queenstown is quite an undertaking, and the area is widely considered to be one of the rainiest places on earth (average of 182 days of rain in a year – yes, better than Vegas odds that it’ll rain when you visit!). Despite these stacked odds, Milford Sounds still attracts nearly a million visitors to its remote location every year. Bad weather aside, here are some pro tips to heed when you’re visiting Milford Sound.

Rent a car and stay overnight at Te Anau. Though several tour operators in Queenstown will offer day trips to Milford Sound, this usually means waking up around 4 or 5 in the morning, and sitting in a car / bus for 4-5 hours. To make matters worse, you have a 50/50 chance of encountering rain, with no real option to “try another day.” You also can’t stop whenever you want, and you’ll be on someone else’s schedule. There is a better way. Step 1 is to rent a car, even just for a couple days (assuming you aren’t already in a sweet campervan). A quick search on Google maps will reveal a small lakeside town along the Queenstown-Milford route called Te Anau just ~1.5 hours away from Milford Sound. This means being able to enjoy an extremely charming town, have breakfast at a reasonable hour, and avoid spending an entire workday’s worth of hours in transit. With a private car as well, you can stop by breathtaking landscapes such as Eglinton Valley and Homer Tunnel.

Book a cruise on a smaller boat. I can’t stress this enough as it really made the experience so much better. Milford Sound has a number of cruise operators offering a range of experiences at varying price points. And although companies like Real Journeys, JUCY, and Go Orange offer attractive price points at $30-40/person, understand that you’ll be on board a giant ship with hundreds of other people. This limits how close the boats can get to the iconic waterfalls and also results in a terrible picture-taking experience, as hordes of tourists will climb over one another to get the “best view” at select points throughout the cruise. I highly recommend you pay up a bit more ($50-60/person) and go with Mitre Peak or Cruise Milford – which operate ships with less than 50-people on board on average. These ships are much smaller too, so can visit places in the Sound that the larger boats cannot.

Pack a telephoto lens. This is obviously applicable only to those avid photographers out there looking to capture their experience. While most of the cruise can be photographed using wide-angle lenses (like I used), or other standard lenses, there are certain sightings during the cruise that necessitates a telephoto lens. First, there are seals hanging out on boulders at the water’s edge, but due to regulations the boats cannot get too close. It would’ve been awesome to capture these sleeping creatures in greater detail. Another instance is for photographing the waterfalls. Now, if you heeded my second advice and booked a cruise with a smaller ship, you’ll certainly get VERY close to the waterfalls to experience it in all its glory, but this also means your lens will quickly accumulate water drops that prevent you from taking a clear photo. With a telephoto lens, you can easily snap photos of these falls as the ship pulls away.

Setting aside these pro-tips, Milford Sound really is worth the visit. The brilliantly clear water, hulking cliff sides, and the crisp mists from the towering waterfalls all help to create an unforgettable experience. Although we got lucky with the weather, I’ve heard that Milford Sound is unique in that the rain and cloud will create a mystic ambiance that undoubtedly create a unique experience on its own.

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This may sound strange, but if you’re visiting New Zealand’s South Island, you should take a drive along the Arthur’s Pass (Highway 73). Connecting the west coast from Kumara Junction to Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass is both functional as it is an iconic wealth of attractions. Though you can literally spend several days exploring all that the passage has to offer, here are 3 must-stop points you can prioritize if you’re simply passing through.

Otira Viaduct Lookout
About ~80km from the west coast, you will arrive at Otira, and come upon a viaduct that hovers above a gorge and cuts across two mountain ranges – Mount Rolleston and Mount Temple. The brilliant Kiwis must’ve realized that the structure and surrounding area is absolutely stunning, and decided to build a perfect lookout point where you can take in the scenery. Though a quick attraction, it’s certainly worth a stop even just to stretch out your legs.

Devil’s Punchbowl
There’s nothing more refreshing after a long drive than the cool touch of waterfall mist on your face. The Devil’s Punchbowl is located just a few kilometers down from Otira Viaduct, and there’s a large carpark to accommodate the at-times large influx of inquisitive hikers.

After a brisk 30-minute hike (FYI there are several sets of paved staircases to climb), you’ll arrive at a wooden landing and be greeted by a babbling creek that leads up to the falls. Unfortunately you can’t get too close to the fall (lest you risk getting hurt), but you can still enjoy the view and cool down from your short hike. This area also provides access to the lengthier Arthur’s Pass Walking Track, which can range from 1-4 hours round trip depending on how ambitious you’re feeling, so you can certainly pair this with a longer, more challenging hike as well.

Castle Hill
This isn’t usually the case, but I saved the best for last. Castle Hill is a curious patch of land smack dab in the middle of Arthur’s Pass, comprised of rows of flowery hills laden with uniquely shaped boulders.

The hills are surrounded by seemingly endless waves of pristine grassy meadows, with just specks of livestock scattered about the fields. After a short, but relatively steep hike, you will find yourself standing on a hill amidst strange looking boulders, overlooking the valley below.

It really was one of our favorite “random stops” during our entire trip, as it felt like a giant playground and given we didn’t have much of an agenda really, it felt liberating to just roam and take in the genuine New Zealand experience.

Honorable Mention

  • Jacksons Retreat – this deserves a mention as it was hands down our favorite holiday park stay during our entire trip. The owners were extremely friendly and helpful, and the facilities (bathroom, showers, kitchen) were the cleanest and most modern we’ve encountered, which was much appreciated. It also had a short hike to a mini waterfall and a glow worm trek in the evening, which were nice bonuses to enjoy during the stay.
  • Avalanche Peak – to be upfront, we did not have time (or the ambition) to complete this hike, but this is a highly challenging hike located near Devil’s Punchbowl. The estimated hike duration by the New Zealand DOC is 6-8 hours, and from speaking with other travelers during our trip, the hike has averaged on the upper end of that range. Despite the seemingly grueling hike, everyone who has completed it said it was well worth it for the experience and amazing views garnered once at the peak.
  • Lupin Fields – You’ll run into a myriad of these fields in seemingly random places all throughout Arthur’s Pass. As mentioned in my other posts, these flower-plants are native to the area and do make for striking photo subjects, especially in a sunset backdrop!
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So you’ve made the long trek to South Island, and if you’re like most, you’re probably staying in Queenstown and getting flooded with activity options at every corner. Though the allure of bungee jumping, jet boating, and paragliding might be sufficient to keep you anchored to the city, I would encourage you to venture outward, and take a trip to Mount Cook.

Full disclaimer – this drive won’t be for the faint of heart, as Mount Cook Village is about a 3-hour drive away from Queenstown (~265km). Additionally, when we were in South Island, we travelled around in a campervan and had the option of choosing to spend the night near Mount Cook after our full day, which made the journey much less daunting (read about my obsession with the campervan life here). If you’ve already booked your full set of hotel stays in Queenstown, you may be a bit tired on the return journey, so that’s important to keep in mind. With that said, let’s get into the top 3 things to do once you’re at Mount Cook.

1. Heli Hike on Tasman Glacier

If you’ve done any research on TA for things to do in South Island, you would have come across glacier hikes / heli hikes which are extremely popular among visitors. A Heli hike will consist of taking a helicopter up to the top of the mountains to the glaciers, and in a small group setting, taking a guided hike across the glacier plains. Being surrounded by the massive glaciers present even during the peak of summer is quite surreal, and the entire experience is truly unique and memorable. Advanced booking is highly recommended, and you will have several options in terms of provider, location, and duration. For a bit more information on what to expect and pro-tips for planning your own heli hike, check out my other post for a detailed walkthrough.

2. Traipsing through Hooker Valley

South Island has a wealth of hikes scattered throughout its massive national parks, but the trouble is a lot of them are 3-4 hours each way. Although for those quite actively inclined this may not be an issue, but as a man on a vacation, this is where I run into issues (in my defense, I did convince my knees once to endure through a ~6 hour hike on Roy’s Peak – read about my experience here). This is why Hooker Valley at Mount Cook Village was perfect, as the entire hike is about 3 hours from beginning to end, and takes you through a beautiful valley laden with picturesque creeks and Instagram-able walkways, all the while surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

3. Photoshoots along the Road / Lake Pukaki

Try searching for #mountcook on Instagram, or any photo blog, and you’ll find that the drive to Mount Cook is one of the most picturesque journeys you can take. In addition to the various lookouts points along the way, the combined setting of grassy fields, hills of wildflowers, shimmering lights of Lake Pukaki, and the snow-capped mountains in the backdrop are more than enough to warrant pulling over to snap a photo, or two, or thirty. Let your creativity shine here as you determine the optimal shot, but here are some starting points that can hopefully inspire you!

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Helicopter ride, glaciers, hiking. In New Zealand’s South Island, these three things come together to create an epic, unforgettable experience. For the uninitiated, a heli hike consists of taking a helicopter up to the top of the mountains, and in a small group setting, taking a guided hike across the glacier plains. Depending on your fitness level and time constraints, you can even opt for the more intense version of the heli hike, which is a glacier climb that takes ~6-7 hours and will have you strapped to carabiners and climb lines as you scale up glacier formations. Unfortunately, our schedule did not allow us to do the latter, but a lot of the information presented here will still be applicable to you, so no worries!

Your research may have revealed there are two main options for glacier hikes – Franz Josef and Mount Cook (there’s also Fox Glacier, but only as a distant third option). Both departure points are of similar distance away from Queenstown, and technically visit the same Tasman glaciers, just on different sides of the mountain ranges. Not surprisingly, the basic itinerary and the prices are similar for both heli hike options, around 450-500 NZD per person (for the best prices, check out Bookme which we found to be cheaper by 10-20% vs. the operator websites). The exact operator type really won’t matter too much in my opinion, as long as it’s one of the top-rated firms on TripAdvisor, since the services offered and itinerary will be nearly identical (even the guides are mostly freelancers). Just be sure that bad weather cancellation policy is crystal clear and easy to obtain. We went with The Helicopter Line, given their long-standing operational history and experienced pilots. These similarities aside, where Franz Josef and Mount Cook differ are in the climate probability, glacier type, and helicopter ride duration.

Climate Probability: Franz Josef is on the west coast of South Island, and the combination of coastal fronts and pressure shifts results in 30-40% likelihood of getting rained/fogged out of your glacier hike. Needless to say, it would be quite devastating to have your trip cancelled after driving 3-4 hours, so this may be a critical factor for you to go with Mount Cook, which has over 85% of its flights operating as planned.

Glacier Type: This is a bit of a toss-up, so depends on your preference. Mount Cook glaciers are vast and wide, and resembles a giant block of ice in the middle of the mountains. On the other hand, Franz Josef glaciers are a lot more jagged and uneven, with finger-like protrusions along the glacier. Both blocks of glaciers are constantly moving, so the terrain will change every single day, but it really comes down to your preference for the type of hike you want, and depends on how the glacier shifted the night before you arrive!

Helicopter Duration: One of our greatest draws to this activity was the helicopter ride, which was a first for us. In reading through reviews and various sites, it turned out that the helicopter ride at Franz Josef was a whopping 5 minutes, which felt quite short to us,  even as helicopter beginners. In contrast, the helicopter ride at Mount Cook was 10-15 minutes, which certainly isn’t the longest duration either, but was still 2-3x that of Franz Josef. In our minds, this was the final nail in the coffin to seal the deal.

Keep in mind that regardless of whichever you choose, as long as the chopper lifts off and you’re on the glacier, I have no doubt that you’ll have an excellent time regardless of the choices made. Enjoy the hike! 

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We live in an age where a single egg can rack up 10 million followers on Instagram and over 52 million likes on one post (not kidding, look up @world_record_egg). So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that in Lake Wanaka, there is a lonely tree growing in the middle of the lake that is aptly named #thatwanakatree, and has over 37 thousand posts dedicated to its splendor. That’s right, folks flying in to Queenstown / Christchurch from all over the globe are making the trek to this small town of Wanaka about 70km north of Queenstown to photograph, video, and post about this damn tree.. and here I am also blogging about it. But really, the tree does make for some amazing pictures.

But aside from the famous tree, Wanaka town has a lot going for it, including a kid-friendly beach area, a growing restaurant and bar scene, and even a small food truck movement serving up a host of millennial favorites ranging from Amazon acai bowls to gluten free, firewood pizzas. Sleeping accommodations are still a bit lacking at the moment, but new boutique hotels and quaint B&Bs are sprouting every year to make your stay much more enjoyable. But of course, if you are traveling like a boss in a campervan, you can just stay in one of the many holiday parks in the area (you can read about my bias to campervans here).

A fun fact about New Zealand’s South Island – an overwhelming majority of the land mass is considered to be a national park, and maintained in exquisite condition. This also means there are scores of hiking options in the region, some that are quite arduous (like Avalanche Peak), and some that are more docile (like Hooker Valley). Fortunately for the Goldilocks in all of us, there is a happy medium – and it is Roy’s Peak located in the outskirts of Wanaka. Aside from the fact that the mountain carried my namesake, the views from the top were purported to be amazing (soon thereafter verified), and we were up for a physical challenge after days of driving around the island.

Make no mistake, the roughly 5-6 hours estimated round trip hike duration as suggested by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation was spot on for us. And yes, that means at least 3 hours of climbing up the mountain. But as they say, nothing good is gained without a bit of hard work. And once you get to the top, rest assured you’ll be well-rewarded with spectacular views of the Wanaka lake and the surrounding landscape (and of course the burned calories to go for a Fergburger). *Pro-tip* bring sun screen, water, and a power bar to keep you energized and protected as you scale the peak!

For a relatively small town, Wanaka has a lot to offer, and definitely deserves a day out..

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There is a true beauty in traveling through Western Europe, given the major cities in each country all boast a wealth of unique landmarks and activities – all entrenched in rich history, both uplifting and tragic. It’s suffice to say, to fully experience all that the western half of the continent has to offer requires a true immersion and months, if not years of dedicated time commitment. For most of us, such an endeavor may remain a pipe dream, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to chip away at the vast expanse of cultural experience that is Western Europe, one city at a time. As I explore more of this eclectic region, I will further expand on the list below (which remains an utterly paltry list at the moment), so please check back or subscribe to my newsletter below to be notified of new posts!

Cannes, France 

Vienna, Austria

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New Zealand’s South Island is so much more than just Queenstown. But if you’re reading this with plans to head there for your holiday, you already know this. Now the all-important decision is – to visit all of the instagram-drool-worthy scenic spots, do you take the campervan / motorhome route, or simply choose a central base and take day trips? In this post, I’ll try and explain my thought process on why I chose the campervan route, but also what you need to consider / know. *Food for Thought – If you don’t have a driver’s license, and/or don’t feel like driving on your holiday, you may need to go with a tour provider who can take you around. I would recommend choosing Queenstown as your home base, and book either a private or small-group tour provider who offers bad weather contingencies*

Reason #1 – Complete Weather Flexibility
There’s no denying that South Island has a lot of “must-see” sights and “must-do” activities, but it’s damn near impossible to get to these without getting behind the wheel (for hours at a time). Which leads me to my Reason #1 – Complete Flexibility.

You can be the luckiest person in the world, but if you’re spending more than a couple days in South Island, YOU WILL ENCOUNTER BAD WEATHER. I’m no meteorologist, but there’s something about the far distance from the equator and close proximity to Antarctica that completely wrecks the day-to-day weather predictability in South Island.

So let’s say you fly into Queenstown and want to head to Milford Sound for the day. This is a 5-6 hour drive depending on driving speed, traffic conditions, and whether you stop along the way. But know that Milford Sound is considered to be one of the wettest parts of the world and can rain at any given moment. If it’s not too terrible, you could still take the cruise, but if it’s really pouring, the cruise operator could suspend or cancel the cruise. What does that mean for you? A 5-6 hour drive back. Similarly, let’s say you want to drive to Franz Josef for a helicopter glacier hike. That’s a 4-5 hour drive from Queenstown. You should also know that Franz Josef has fog attacks quite often, which force all operators to shut down and cancel all flights. This may sounds like an extreme rarity, but trust me when I say that it is not (we literally experienced the latter).

BUT – if you have a campervan, you can easily find a campsite nearby, pick up food to cook in the van, take it easy and try your luck the next day. There’s no worry about paying ludicrous prices for a hotel last minute, or tiring yourself out from driving on top of a wasted day. You can salvage the disappointment and own your holiday. Can’t do that in a rented Toyota Camry.

Reason #2 – Unique Holiday Experience
My family never owned an RV, and aside from one painful trip from LA to Vancouver (painful for my parents dealing with two angst-ridden teens in the car), we rarely went on long road trips. So when we found out that roaming around in a campervan was a “thing” in New Zealand, we were immediately mesmerized.

New Zealand has ridiculously photogenic viewpoints. However, they are quite scattered across its land mass with often time consuming drives required (as mentioned previously). This means there are certain areas that tour groups just won’t visit, and even with a private car, unless you plan to roam aimlessly for a proper hotel in the middle of nowhere, you would be hard pressed taking that hour drive to “the spot” with 10,000 likes. And now imagine you rid yourself of these limitations, and free yourself from the yoke of needing to mold yourself into someone else’s schedule. That’s the holiday experience you can have with a campervan as it enables you to be creative, stop along the road when something catches your eye, or just park along a stunning lake and let the world pass by as you cook a burger in your van. Whether it’s with your significant other, a small group of good friends, or even an adventurous family (bold enough to withstand a long road trip together), the memories you can create are endless.

I can guarantee you that destinations which would allow you to have such an experience are few and far between. And New Zealand’s South Island is amazingly well equipped with the infrastructure to help you make the campervan plunge with ease. Which brings me to my last point.

Reason #3 – Low Barrier to Camping
If you’re like us, the immediate red flags that go up as you contemplate this unorthodox method of vacationing would be the following:

  1. Where the hell do I sleep every night? To answer this first question, I would point you to one free app – Rankers Camping NZ (iOS / Android). This is a government sponsored, frequently updated app that is basically your bible and lifesaver while on the road. Notice that although I linked the web version, I specifically say “app” because you should download the compatible app to your device, and then download the offline map and campsite directory of the entire South Island. While on the road, you will run into stretches where there is no phone reception or WiFi. Your GPS will work, however, and along with this app, you can find all the holiday parks and campsites your heart can desire, wherever your journey may take you. Do keep in mind you can’t just park and sleep anywhere, it does need to at least be a designated “freedom campsite”
  2. How do I shower? Assuming you got yourself a self-contained campervan (yes, you definitely should), you would be able to stay at Freedom Camps for free, but with no electricity hook-ups or other facilities, or a range of Holiday Parks. The latter will range in terms of price (NZ$25 – 50 nightly per couple) and quality of facilities (shower and toilet, full kitchen, laundry, etc.). In our trip, we mostly stayed at Holiday Parks as we had a lot of gadgets to recharge and wanted to use the electricity for things like the hairdryer, and ended up showering at the facilities or just in our van. I won’t lie, some facilities were quite “rustic” and we happily opted to shower in our van, but some holiday parks had amazing, spotless showers that were much appreciated.
  3. Am I going to look like a crazy person driving around in a motorhome? Not at all! We not only encountered hundreds of campervans on the road during our trip, but almost everywhere we went, there were lots of fellow campervannites(?) enjoying the unique travel experience and embracing their vacation freedom. What’s more, you’ll notice in supermarkets and gas stations that a lot of products and services on offer are very much catered to the campervan population, and we never felt like we were unwanted or had to modify our campervan life to fit the requirements of any location.

Now of course, not everything is peachy, and there are some things to consider if you’re braving the campervan life for your upcoming holiday:

  • Driving an oversized vehicle – Assuming you are getting a decent size campervan (even for just two people), you’re looking at a 6-7 meter long vehicle. Driving a campervan is not too different from a normal car, but you do need to be aware of your speed limitations, wide turning radius, and general required clearance.
  • Filling up on essentials and dumping the waste – A self-contained campervan basically means you have a bathroom on board (and in our case a full shower and a sink too), so you’ll need to fill up on fresh water (available in many campsites or gas stations). But that also means you have waste and “grey water” that will fill up over time. It’s actually not as terrible as you think, but there will come a time when you need to pull up to a dump station and empty out the waste.
  • Hidden camera speeding tickets – Don’t let the wide expanse of the South Island highways fool you, there are hidden cameras capturing your speed along the way. We learned this the hard way when we received a letter several days after concluding our trip that we were clocked speeding in the mountains somewhere. Tickets suck, whether or not you’re driving around in a sweet campervan.

Choosing your Campervan
Now if all of that has convinced you and you are ready to look at some campervan options, I can point you to where we booked our campervan – Maui Motorhome. Now when you start Googling, you’ll find that there are several major brands available for rent – Maui, Britz, Mighty, Jucy, and Wilderness. The first three names (Maui, Britz, and Mighty) are all owned by one company, THL. The difference between the three are Maui is the high-end line with the newest fleet, Britz then operates those vehicles when they get older, and Mighty is a mix of budget and peer-to-peer rental fleet. Jucy is a budget fleet (with bright purple/green colors) with varying degrees of campervans (some are just tricked out minivans with no showers and make-shift kitchens). Wilderness is a smaller outfit, but offers some attractive, luxury campervan options.

We opted to go with Maui, in their 2+1 Berth Ultima Plus. In our view it had everything we could want, with a bit of luxury and the peace of mind that the vehicles were newer and thus with (hopefully) less problems. I encourage you to book directly with the provider in the link above, as booking with 3rd party agents may not get you exactly what you expect when you get to the rental agency for pick-up. But the company does offer price match, so you can check out sites like Camper Champ which helps you compare prices and grab screenshots of any lower prices you find on the same model.

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Vacationing in South of France in general sounds fancy and evokes visions of indulging in extravagant, celebrity-like activities. While that may be true for some, for the rest of us it quickly becomes clear that while Cannes is great for lazy days on the beach, taking relaxing walks, and enjoying meals along its boardwalk area (Boulevard de la Croisette), it otherwise lacks the excitement that you might want while on an exotic vacation. So, if you have some spare time while in Cannes, and you want to see what else the region has to offer, here are 4 day trip ideas you can consider.

1. Perfume Crafting in Grasse

A short 20km drive away from Cannes is Grasse, a small commune in the mountainous region of the French Riviera. The city wields a long-storied pedigree in the art of perfumery since the 18th century, and is home to 3 well-regarded perfumeries, 1 perfume museum, and an international school of perfumery. Needless to say, booking a perfume making class at one of the 3 perfumeries is a must-do. Our perfumery of choice was Molinard, which was established in 1849, and had a well reviewed perfume making course, in addition to offering very attractive glass bottles to take home your concoction.

The entire process took a little over an hour (cost ~60 Euros when we went) and was truly an enjoyable experience. We were lucky as there were no other guests at the time (making it more personal), sans a tour group walking through the perfumery gallery during our workshop. The staff was also patient in walking us through the various steps to creating our own perfume, and gave us plenty of time to smell the 90 essences on offer for the perfume mix. After finishing our custom formula, the staff stored our personal ingredients and formula so that we can always call and order a refill in the future.

2. Paddle Boating in Gorges du Verdon

A bit further away from Cannes to the Northwest (~2 hour drive) is the wilderness surrounding Gorges du Verdon (Verdon Gorge). The Verdon river spider webs throughout the national park, and creates a network of canyons, or gorges, that visitors can hike along, swim in, and paddle through (in a small boat or a kayak). We did not make advance reservation for a paddle boat, although it is generally recommended given the limited availability. If you want an electric boat, they have even fewer fleets, so advanced booking may be necessary (but in all honesty, the manual paddling is not too arduous, so no need to fret if you can’t get an electric boat). The rental was about 30-40 euros in total, with very minimal operating guidance and simple instruction of returning the boat before 5-6pm when they close up shop.

There were several boats and kayaks along the gorge as we were paddling through, and many people stopped along the way (water is quite still so not an issue) to climb along the rocks and engage in some cliff jumping. Please do take care as some of the rocks are quite slippery, but the adrenaline rush is certainly worth the effort! And trust me, on a hot summer day, diving into the clean and refreshing water was wholly welcomed.

3. Cliffside Dining in Èze

Assuming you flew into Nice to get to Cannes, you may already know the lure of its beaches, bustling cobbled streets, and excellent museum selections making for an easy day trip idea. While I do not disagree, I would urge you to look even further east, and take a drive along the beautiful southern coast to Èze (~40 minutes from Cannes). Apart from offering breathtaking views of the best coastal scenery that the French Riviera has to offer, Èze is home to some of the most extravagant summer homes of celebrities and European royalty (think the Hamptons on steroids). In an effort to blend in, we opted for a lunch at La Chèvre d’Or, which is a hotel perched atop the hills of Èze, and also hosts a 2-Michelin star restaurant.

The dining experience was as you’d expect of renowned restaurants, but the beautiful surrounding is really what made the meal amazing for us. In fact, we found later that you could just eat at the Le Café du Jardin and enjoy your meal and the scenery outside, rather than sitting in the proper restaurant. Although the fixed course meal was both unique and delicious, if we were to go back, we would certainly opt to sit at the Cafe, and save not-so-few Euros in the process!

4. Living Out Your Best 007 Life in Monaco

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