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February in New Zealand by Campervan

– Justin W Hall

Nearly a year ago, Kelsey and I decided we were going to celebrate, well, us! Many do this by spending a very large sum of money on a rather large party thing with many guests, boutonnieres, a fluffy white dress, and various traditions.

Neither of us really being the white fluffy dress type, we decided to forgo spending a very large sum of money and only spend like a sorta large sum of money on a really fun boutonniere-free vacation. This was especially awesome, as I’m not even really sure I know how to say “boutonniere” anyway 🤷‍♂️.

We had all sorts of ideas. We really wanted to go somewhere far but as avid mountain bikers, we really wanted this to be part of this trip. We talked about the European Alps, Australia, and this really cool island off of Portugal, Madeira.

I feel like we were pretty hot on Madeira and I’d love to check this place out, but ultimately we were more and more attracted to New Zealand. We realized we could rent a “campervan” and really see (and ride) a whole lot of this amazing country. The mountain bike culture there is also totally amazing and not having a language barrier was nice for logistics. We were sold!

Route and logistics

After some research, we realized we really needed three weeks. We also realized that a point to point would allow us to see both islands. Our plan was to fly into Christchurch, pick up the camper, cruise around the South Island, and eventually make our way to Aukland on the North Island. Our route looked like this.

Gameday

Like, literally. We landed in Christchurch on Super Bowl Sunday, which is actually super bowl Monday in New Zealand – timezones are confusing :).

Light rail from Golden to Denver & Kelsey's bike ready for travel

Commence van life

Our camper was just over 7 meters. A big vehicle but not monstrous. We also sprung for one that was nicer in terms of interior and had this cool storage thing in the back we could fit bikes in. This was totally worth it. After all, 3 weeks in a tiny space is hard enough. Add bike stuff, sweat, and two people used to a king-sized bed and it could get tricky. I’m happy to say we made it back to the States still liking each other.

Tough to capture – but the inside of our campervan

After 24 hours of traveling, we arrived in Christchurch midday. After the normal airport things, we got to our hotel, scooted downtown for Dinner then crashed out.

The next morning we were eager to get our campervan, build up the bikes, and finally ride! After a successful pickup, a few parking lot adventures in a large vehicle, and a bit of a learning curve in terms of driving on the “wrong side of the road”, we made it to Christchurch Adventure Park for our first ride in NZ.

Christchurch Adventure Park & home for the month

Onto the Southern Alps

We were PUMPED to get into the mountains and really looking forward to seeing the countryside. We awoke early the next day and headed northwest up to Craigieburn Forest Park. Being from Colorado, we live near big rugged mountains but man-o-man are these mountains stunning – and prominent.

We found the trailhead we planned to start at, changed, and started pedaling onward and upwards.

Onwards and upwards to Edge Track

After an hour or so climbing, we finally made it to the trailhead for “Edge Track” (Kiwis call trails tracks btw). This track is very aptly named. That’s the best way to describe it.

Edge track being particularly edgy & Kelsey enjoying the views

After riding, we headed down the road and found what might have been the best camp site of the trip and made dinner.

Pasta, wine and "Crunchies" for dinner on the East side of Arthur pass

The next day we awoke to day two at Craigieburn. Plan was Cockayne and Cuckapoo. Funny names. Equally gorgeous and tons of fun.

High alpine without the thin air was a welcoming change

South to Otago county

After we finished riding, we hit the road and headed South. The great thing about having the campervan was even though we knew Queenstown was our next big destination, we could take our time and sleep anywhere that night. We played this game a lot. We had a loose itinerary but we almost never really knew where we were sleeping until the day of and never more than a day or two out.

Pit stop at lake Tekapu with Mt Cook in the background.

The next day we arrived in Queenstown. While small (pop ~40k), neither of us was quite prepared for how bustling it was. Tourists, bikers, hikers, boaters, hang gliders, and much more. We found a parking spot and ate lunch we hopped on the gondola to ride the bike park. We camped at a “Holiday Park” (google it) that night which was a convenient walk to town for dinner and drinks.

Top of the bike park & downtown after dinner

The next morning we were awoke to rain. This worked out alright as we needed a rest day from riding and wanted to checkout a near by winery. We also had some laundry to do and some other unmentionable 💩 things to empty from the camper. It was super cool though. The winery had a “campspot” the cost roughly 25 bucks and was walkable to dinner and other wineries

Winery “home” for the night

The next morning we awoke rested, full of pinot noir, and ready to hop back on our bikes. The day's plan was to ride high above Queenstown on Coronet Peak. This area of NZ most similar to our home, Colorado. Far more arid, sandier, and not so many trees.

Rude Rock trail and Queenstown in the distance

After riding, we found a really neat campsite that was literally at the top of a pass between Queenstown and a smaller town, Wanaka.

Dinner & view for the night
Wine stroll

In the morning we headed down the other side of the pass into Wanaka. In a lot of ways, I liked this town better than Queenstown. Far less crazy, more quaint but still lots to do and plenty of places to eat and drink. We grabbed lunch, hit a bike shop, and got a great recommendation on a brand new bike park called “Glendu Bay Bike Park.” 

Wanaka!

This place was brand spanking new and 100% built for mountain bikes. It was hot and dry like Colorado and we had a blast!

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Lake Wanaka & proof that fat can fly

We crashed out that night pretty hard after two pretty long days. The next morning we had a 6-hour drive over to the west coast and then up to Greymouth. The west coast of NZ is very remote, moist, and rather buggy. At this point, I was excited to see it as I had a picture in my mind of it being a lot different.

Quick spin in Wanaka before departure

Rainforests, sandflies & a helicopter

We finished our drive just South of Greymouth and arranged to park our camper in a yard of a really nice Kiwi Couple. NZ has this really cool app that is basically an “AirBnB for campervans.” We rolled up, met the husband and wife, and old dog, and then walked to the beach for sunset! Evidently, there are penguins around. Sadly, we never saw them!

Backyard for the night

Morning came early. We had plans to meet a helicopter pilot in Reefton to fly us to the top of a mountain so we could ride “Kirwans” track. Setting this happened on our 6-hour drive the day before, during spotty reception (all of NZ). Kelsey did talk to the pilot’s wife. She said the pilot would meet us at the trailhead at 11 am and to bring cash. Err, ok. I was suspect but whatever. Worse case, we’d just pedal uphill the old fashioned way.

We stopped downtown for a flat white and a meat pie and then headed out to the trailhead. This trailhead was really in the middle of nowhere. I really had my doubts here but while we were getting our bike stuff together, a heard the swishing sound of a helicopter. I looked outside and sure enough, our helicopter was on here to pick us up.

The mountains here were so different but equally as impressive.

Heli drop on Kirwan's track

Nelson & wine country

After our heli escapade, we drove up to the north tip of the South Island to a really cool town called Nelson. Nelson is a mountain bike hotbed and has a metric ton of tracks to explore. We were, however, met with a curveball. Many of the trails we had planned to ride, were downright closed due to high fire danger. After talking to some local bike shops, we ended up 15 minutes north in Cable Bay Adventure Park. We had a tough time navigating this place but as a consolation, we found a way cool place to camp that night.

Kelsey in Nelson & a Maori statue
Another neat home for the night

For our second day in Nelson, we headed about an hour south just over the border into neighboring Marlborough country, which also happens to be the largest wine region in New Zealand. We rode a very steep, tight and rooty trail called “Unhinged“. Afterward, found dinner and Sauvignon Blanc in the sleepy wine hub of Blenheim.

Unhinged

Take the Ferry to Wellington

It was time to make our way to the North Island but not for one last stop. Well, two – a ride at White’s Bay and then a night in Picton before catching the three hour Ferry to the North Island.

White’s Bay was fast, techy and jumpy
Picton, our Ferry awaits
Leaving Picton and 👋 Wellington – we’re here.

Wellington totally surprised us. Way different that what we had seen. It’s a small city but feels like very metropolitan but not a snobby way–more of a hip modern-ish coastal way. We found an awesome Asian place to eat (not hard in NZ) and then spent way, way too much time looking for a place to park and sleep. This was literally the only night on the whole trip we had any sort of issue finding a place to park the camper. We ended up just parking on the side of the road on a rather windy, rainy night. This worked out fine but I’m glad we only had to do it once.

The next morning was rather damp. Very damp for Coloradans. It never really rained hard but the moisture permeated the air. Originally we planned to stay in Wellington for two nights but we decided that due to weather and camping difficulties, we’d ride Makara Peak mountain bike park and then head North to Rotorua.

Totally crazy bridge & a misty, jungle like day

Rotorua!

We got to Rotorua a little earlier than we originally thought we would but this turned out to be an excellent decision. Rotorua doesn’t have the huge mountains of the South Island but its jungly round like mountains and lakes are gorgeous as well and the riding is absolutely awesome! There is nearly 240 of miles of mountain bike trails in Rotorua and almost all of it is amazing. The one problem was the map was an overwhelming spiderweb of trails. The Whakarewarewa forest is where almost all of them reside. We were lucky enough to meet a very kind Aussie who visits the area frequently to see a local friend. He was pretty much our guide for three days.

Evil Monkey doing evil things and various Rotorua things

Last leg to Aukland

Finally, it was time to bring it home. We started our journey North to our final destination, Aukland. It was a hot muggy day and we were pretty beat from 3 long days in Rotorua. Motivation to ride was not exceptionally high. However with dwindling vacation days, some pending sketchy weather and simple a lack of riding in the proximity, we stopped for a short ride to stretch our legs at Oropi Grove before finding a quiet camp spot along the coast where we mostly just chilled out along the rocky coast.

Kia Ora

The next day was wet. We were close to visiting another park decided it wasn’t worth how sloppy we were going to get and by this point, we were quite tired. Instead, we grabbed lunch, visited another winery and took a quick spin around the small coastal town of Maraetai after finding a place to park for the night.

Aukland

All good things must come to an end I guess But not before a bit of time in New Zealand’s largest city. We dropped off the camper and headed to a hotel. After three weeks, it was pretty nice to have more space, not worry about fresh water, dumping grey water, dumping 💩, charging, or finding a place to park for the night. After checking in, we grabbed an Uber downtown for a night out on town. For us, this means a bit of walking around, some wine, dinner, and home by 9?

And just like that. Three weeks and one day. Three weeks was a good amount of time in a campervan but then again, there’s still more to see.

Hope to see you again New Zealand. ✌️

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