We toured South Island New Zealand for 2 weeks in a camper van. It was our first time doing a camper van holiday and I must say, it was quite an experience.
So I thought anything with a ‘camp’ in it sounds like roughing it out and thus must be cheap, budget and economical, no?
Our first revelation was a few years back during a camping trip to Charmonix in France when a motorhome pulled up right next to our 2 man tent.
While we struggled to pitch our tent and cook over a portable stove, our new neighbor extended out his awning from their van, set up some outdoor chairs and a picnic table, ready for a BBQ cookout. We realized that camping comes in different grades and classes.
These days camping come with all the comforts of home. Our home for 2 weeks was a 6 berth camper van that could sleep 6 people and comes fully equipped with a bathroom, fridge, kitchen, TV and even a DVD player. And a camper van like this doesn’t come cheap especially during summer time, at least not in New Zealand.
Apart from the basic campervan rental, there was the diesel for driving the behemoth around and heating (yes, we needed heating even in summer), LPG gas for cooking which cost about $3-4 per kg to top up, and highway use tax based on mileage, as well as campsite fees.
Besides the campervan rental, the campsite fees worked out to be the most significant. It went by the number of people staying in the camper van although they usually charged half price for children.
The cheapest we paid was NZD $13 per adult per night for an unpowered campsite. Without A.C. power, we couldn’t use our kettle for boiling water and we ran the risk of not been able to switch on our lights at night if we ran the van’s battery flat. So on days when we freedom camped or camped at unpowered sites, we had to ration the amount of electrical appliances we used and we were always keeping an eye on the battery meter.
When it comes to bathing, there were public bathrooms where we had to pay a dollar or two to get hot water for a limited time of 5-10 minutes. Our van came with a heated shower. But on days that we needed to shower in the van, we worried about running out of water, power (for running the water pump), and even overflowing the potty and waste water tank!
For the better campsites, we paid about NZD$20-25 per adult which worked out to about $70-80 for the whole family PER NIGHT. These campsites were powered sites, so our camper van could be brightly lit at night. We could refill water and there were shower facilities with unlimited usage of hot water. I swear, having basic things such as light and water(HOT) were luxury!
On top of all these, we paid a premium for a camper van which was relatively new as the last thing we wanted was to have a break down in the middle of nowhere!
So if you do the maths, touring in a camper van actually doesn’t come cheap. It may be even more expensive than renting a car and staying in hotels. If you really want budget and cheap, pack a good old tent in your backpack and hitchhike. Or, if you have a couple of weeks or months to spare and are so inclined, pack all your essentials (including a tent) onto a bike like this, battle uphill slopes, freezing rain, relentless sun, and insane 30-40 km/h winds.
Some say touring in a camper van is like paying a small fortune to live like a homeless person. I agree.
For 2 weeks, this diesel powered truck was where we ate, slept and did our business. It was our shelter, our transportation, our home.