Getting Ready To Travelling NZ Solo
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Hannah Klein
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Getting Ready To Travelling NZ Solo

Planning the Bucket List Trip

Words by Emma Fenton-Wells

Blog # 1 of her solo trip in NZ

 

On a previous Bucket List Trip, Emma sits next to her little brother in Morocco in early 2020

On a previous Bucket List Trip - Travelling Morocco in early 2020 with my [not so] baby brother

 

Sun starting to set over White's Beach, near Auckland

White's Beach, near Auckland. Photo credit: Kyle Myburgh @kylemyburgh

 

It’s been on my bucket list for many years: the goal to see New Zealand by road, all of New Zealand. I just didn’t think it’d happen in 2021, after returning from 11 months of COVID-19 restrictions in London. 

 

Having braved the worsening conditions back in the UK, I made the tough decision to head back to my childhood home, Aotearoa New Zealand, and to take this hesitation in normal life to finally get to know the country in real detail. 

 

Returning took nine weeks’ to arrange - moving out of my flat, putting everything I own in storage, six different flight itinerary changes, a week of isolation with my family in Suffolk, then another two weeks of Managed Isolation Quarantine at The Sebel Auckland Manukau, accompanied by five COVID-19 tests before my release. It was an extraordinary journey to say the least. 

 

With freedom in my grasps, I started to plan what this bucket list trip might look like. I had to take a few considerations into account:

 

  • I’d be travelling solo. Safety had to be paramount. I also wanted to make sure I was coming in contact with the locals often so it wouldn’t be isolating.

  • I love hiking, but needed to ensure I was prepared for undertaking some of the great walks available

  • Leaving in mid-February meant chasing the end of summer, especially in the South Island where it gets colder quicker

 

Safety

 

Clouds above Milford Sound Fiord

The insane beauty of Milford Sound. Photo Credit: Peter Hammer @peterham

 

 

New Zealand is regarded as the third safest place in the world to travel solo as a woman, only beaten by Iceland and Canada. Even taking this into account, I undertook loads of research about staying safe, especially when out in the wilderness. My recommendations:

  • Let close friends and family members know where you’re going. Sure, itineraries change, but it’s important that you’re regularly checking in. For me, I planned to check in with my Mum in Australia each day, as well as my best friend in Auckland. They also knew how to contact each other. That way, should the worst happen, they would know where I am. 

  • You’ll be told a million times, but it’s true, weather conditions change rapidly in New Zealand. When you reach camping grounds, check in with the site managers or rangers, and let them know if you’re planning on doing long hikes or other activities. This is particularly important if you are travelling solo. 

  • Also check the forecast for the region you’re travelling in before setting off on a drive. Conditions can quickly become dangerous and you’re as good as the information you have. For instance, rain further up a mountain range could easily impact your plans for the day. Stay informed. 

  • Download apps to help you make informed decisions about where you stay and what to do. Personally, the ones I found most useful were:

    • ApolloConnect: Keeping information about your vehicle handy is never not going to be a bad idea.

    • RankersCamping: An excellent app filled with reviews of campsites across the country. Profiles on campsites include whether or not they’re powered, the price range of staying, and facilities available

    • CamperMate: This app takes RankersCamping a step further and has added in public toilets, dumping stations, petrol stations, and well-known tourist spots.

    • Ok2Stay: Tourism New Zealand recommended this one to me. Founded by a couple in Taranaki, Ok2Stay is a community of independent and artisanal makers who are open to campers pulling up on their properties for a night or two. From cheese mongers to vineyards, I thought the subscription was worth every penny as it gave me an excellent guide to eating my way around New Zealand. 

  • Get to know the Department of Conservation website well. It’s where you’ll book any DOC run camp sites (and they run A LOT of them). They also have excellent information about construction and closures. Check it out before you head out.

  • If you’re concerned about driving in New Zealand, it’s worth taking a refresher course. It’s free and takes about an hour to do. Check it out here.

  • Be prepared to be stuck somewhere for an extra day or two. This means having enough fuel to comfortably make it to the closest petrol station, extra non-perishable food and a couple extra bottles of drinking water. 

  • Delay posting your location on social media by a few days. For some, this might be an overkill, but after reading the accounts of other solo female travellers, I took to heart the message that if you have public social media accounts, consider holding off tagging your location until you’re onto your next location. It only takes one creeper to ruin a good time. 

  • Finally, befriend the community of Grey Nomads already roaming New Zealand. Within my first few days on the road, I’d driven in a convoy with them during some bad weather, asked advice about emptying grey water and received some excellent recommendations for where to go next. 


 

Picking a vehicle

 

The rear door of an Apollo Euro Tourer open, overlooking a beautiful sunny day at the beach

 

 

A great thing about New Zealand is the ability to Freedom Camp. It means that as long as you have a self contained vehicle (i.e., an onboard shower and toilet), the country is your oyster - just make sure you’re leaving the place as pristine as the way you found it (there’s more to the art of Freedom Camping, but we’ll visit this at a later stage). 

 

When I was chatting to the team at Apollo about my trip, they suggested the Euro Tourer. It’s a 2 berth campervan, with a big double bed at the back to sleep up to two people - more than enough for this kiwi returnee. 

 

 Although the Euro Tourer is a touch bigger than the 19-year-old Mercedes I normally drive in London, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to manoeuvre. (Plus the look on the faces of Grey Nomads when they drove past me was priceless. It’s not everyday a 29-year-old woman is driving a campervan solo).

 

The Euro Tourer came with everything I needed too - from bedding to towels, cookware to camping chairs to sit outside. Once I picked the ol’ girl up, I popped into the Warehouse down the road from the Apollo depot in Auckland to pick up some fairy lights, an extra knitted blanket I could use outside to stargaze, tupperware for leftovers, and cleaning supplies. It really was #EasyasApollo.

 

The branch also has a ‘pay it forward’ shelf where returning travellers can leave items for those setting out. 

 

Ideas and inspo

 

Adventure seekers crossing Hooker Valley Swingbridge

Hooker Valley Swingbridge. Photo credit: Tyler Lastovich @lastly

 

Emma's iPhone image library showing a full screen of screenshots of New Zealand travel inspiration

I spent weeks screenshotting inspiration using Instagram hashtags

 

Regardless if you’re getting away for an extended weekend, a week, a month, or more, there’s never a shortage of things to see and do in Aotearoa. Ahead of starting the trip, these were some of my bucket list items: 

  • To see the seals in Kaikoura

  • Consume as many pies as possible across the country (they’re a real delicacy)

  • Chase the Southern Lights in the South Island

  • See the Kākāpō reservation in Fiordland

  • Spend a few days in the stillness of Doubtful Sounds 

  • Hit up a few hot spring beaches and Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel 

  • Eat fresh Oysters in Bluff 

  • See the Dark Sky Reserve in Lake Tekapo

  • Go to Te Papa museum in Wellington

 

After mining the experiences of friends and my own memory of camping as a kid, I next went on the Apollo website to check out their itinerary suggestions. This gave me a good idea about how much time I should spend in each area.

 

Next, I went onto Instagram and followed a couple of New Zealand based hashtags. That’s right, not accounts, hashtags (for instance, #purenewzealand #destinationnz #earthpixnz). Whenever an amazing location came up on my feed, I’d screenshot the location and add it as a saved location on my Google Maps app. This meant that whenever I was driving somewhere I would be able to see what else was close by.

 

Once I got out of iso in Auckland, I asked every Kiwi I came across where their favourite places were. Before I left, my notebook was filled with conversations and hand drawn maps. Kiwis love their country and are full of recommendations. 

 

 As I was leaving in mid-February, I decided to spend the first two weeks hitting the East Coast of the North Island, before exploring the South Island whilst the weather was still good. Then, I’d spend the last two weeks driving up the North Island’s West Coast, all the way up to Northland and the Bay of Islands. 

 

In saying that, with only a few exceptions (i.e., seeing Crowded House in Queenstown), I decided I would follow my curiosity. Afterall, New Zealand is one of the best places on earth to do this in. 

 

So what’s next?

Over the next few months, I’ll be talking you through my adventures driving New Zealand. From the great beaches, mountains and lakes, to where to eat along the way. Okay, there’s going to be a lot of food recommendations because if there was anywhere on earth to be constantly full of delicious meals and sights, it’s Aotearoa. 

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