How Buying a Car Changed My Travels in New Zealand

Owning a Car

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I had heard that buying a used car and camping in New Zealand was easy, but I didn’t realize just how easy until only 12 hours after clearing customs, my boyfriend Macky and I were counting out our cash on the counter of a bike shop in Takapuna, a suburb north of Auckland. Extracting $2,500 in cash in a foreign country in 12 hours is a feat in and of itself. After three ATM withdrawals and a cash advance, we still came up $100 short of the negotiated price. Crap.

“How about we throw in a couple of t-shirts?” I offered. We had brought along a stack of t-shirts from our cycling team just for this purpose.

“Deal,” said Nick, the former owner of a red 1995 Toyota Corolla.

And just like that, after outfitting all of the shop employees in Santa Fe Brewing in Pivot Cycles t-shirts, we were holding a key. “What, no paperwork? Don’t we have to go to the DMV or something?”

“Oh, nah, you can do all that online.”

Okay, then, we were car owners.

Owning a car has given us a sense of freedom and spontaneity that we’ve never felt on previous trips. We figured out that we can sleep in the back, provided we prop open the rear hatch with sticks to allow our feet to dangle out.

Of course, then there was the more complicated matter of driving the car. New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road. (They also ride bikes on the left side of bike paths and walk into grocery stores through the left-hand door, in case you’re interested in avoiding collisions.) Our new car also happened to have manual transmission, meaning one needs to shift with one’s left hand. While this makes sense when you think about it, I still find it irritating and nearly impossible to pull off. I’m supposed to shift with my non-dominant hand and pay attention to the left side of the car, which suddenly seems absurdly far away and makes me worry about taking out pedestrians and light posts, all while watching where I’m going and driving on what seems, for all intents and purposes, like the wrong side of the road.

That said, we are getting the hang of it (or rather, Macky is getting the hang of it, and I am getting the hang of not squealing every time we turn out into traffic) and it has quickly become clear that traveling by car is the way to see New Zealand. This country is made for campervanning, tramping, vagabonding, and living on the edge.  There are free campgrounds packed with brightly painted campervans bearing slogans like “Save wildlife! Throw a party!” (I’d love to know how that works, too.)

Of course, there are downsides to living out of a car. It’s been five days since we last showered and we’ve resorted to lurking outside the local visitor’s center, trying to eek out a WiFi signal (and generally failing).

Owning a car has given us a sense of freedom and spontaneity that we’ve never felt on previous trips. We figured out that we can sleep in the back, provided we prop open the rear hatch with sticks to allow our feet to dangle out. We bought a camp stove for 15 dollars at New Zealand‘s Walmart equivalent and are mastering an array of one-pot meals. Yesterday it poured rain so we moved our bedding to one side of the car and cooked in the back. I’m sure this is a horrible fire hazard, so you probably shouldn’t do it, but we stayed dry. And it felt cozy, like home.

Of course, there are downsides to living out of a car. It’s been five days since we last showered and we’ve resorted to lurking outside the local visitor’s center, trying to eek out a WiFi signal (and generally failing). But in exchange for stinking and foregoing Facebook, we have walked on black sand beaches and swam in crystal clear rivers. We’ve cavorted with ducklings and ridden our mountain bikes through groves of nikau palms where the only sound is the deafening roar of cicadas. We have seen the sort of country that only real vagabonds see. And we’re just getting started.

About Syd Schulz

Syd Schulz is a recent graduate of Middlebury College (it’s okay
if you’ve never heard of it). She is currently wandering the world
looking for things to write about and good places to ride her bike
down mountains. She blogs at Nomadically
Inclined.

5 thoughts on “How Buying a Car Changed My Travels in New Zealand

  1. April 3, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks for the advice! I currently have a long trip planned to New Zealand and never would have thought of this. This will make it a lot easier

  2. February 5, 2014
    Reply

    Oh I´m your fan! Your writing is wonderful, feels like I´m there with you =) Can´t wait for more adventures, keep them coming!!

    • February 5, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks, Milene!

  3. Janet
    February 4, 2014
    Reply

    We had a similar shower/internet challenge in Australia recently and found s solution–Macca’s (their nickname for McDonalds). The Maccas at highway rest stops frequently had showers. What they rarely had were electrical outlets. Next time we’ll pack the inverter!

    • February 5, 2014
      Reply

      Libraries are the way to go in NZ! They are super nice and have free wifi–sometimes they even have cafes inside the library, which is awesome.

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