The view from here
When we decided to tour the South Island in New Zealand last month, we only faced one question: car vs. campervan?
I was driving through The Burren in County Clare, Ireland, when I first discovered the immense joy of hiring a car instead of grappling with public transport.
Well, when I say “I was driving”, I mean my partner was driving while I had my head out the window breathing in the fresh Irish air and the sweet, sweet smell of freedom. Just us, our racy red hatchback, and miles of unexplored terrain ahead.
Ever since that road trip along Ireland’s West Coast, I’ve opted for self-drive holidays wherever possible. I love being able to explore a new destination at my own pace without worrying about train timetables or smelly bus rides.
Sure, it’s not the cheapest form of travel, but for us it’s always worth the price tag. So when we decided to tour the South Island in New Zealand last month, we only faced one question: car vs. campervan?
Last year, we hired a Jucy Condo (converted van) and had the time of our lives staying in picturesque campgrounds. So this year, we thought we’d hire a car and stay in inner-city hotels to see which experience we liked best.
After much thoughtful consideration (and a few on-the-road debates), here’s our take on each experience.
Renting a car and staying in hotels
We flew in and out of Queenstown and picked up a tidy Mazda 3 at the airport. The car was comfortable, smooth to drive, and had a good stereo and air conditioning - we were happy.
That was, until, we got on the road and passed a bright green Jucy Condo and felt our first pang of jealousy. The condo towered high above us in our ‘ordinary’ car and seemed to radiate a cheerful, holiday spirit. We drove past many, many more campervans on our trip, and every time we felt hopelessly boring in our simple hatchback.
But at least we had the promise of a comfortable hotel bed and reliable wifi to look forward to, right?
The main reason we chose to hire a car instead of a campervan was because I needed to work in the evenings (I’m a freelance copywriter). That, and we wanted to have our own bathroom (shared toilet blocks at campgrounds are very hit and miss).
All of the hotels we stayed in were comfortable and tidy, plus we really appreciated being able to squeeze into small parking spots and drive around busy cities with ease. However, in all other aspects of the trip, we yearned for the romanticism and *true* freedom of driving with our bed in the back.
Renting a campervan and staying in holiday parks
You can probably already tell that we vastly preferred renting a campervan and staying in holiday parks.
Renting a car felt so normal and easy - almost too easy. Isn’t part of being on holiday doing something completely different? When else do you get a chance to sleep in a van and cook two-minute noodles in your tiny van-kitchen?
We found that with a campervan, we spent more time exploring and less time lazing around. In a hotel, there’s always that temptation to spend the afternoon eating room service and watching trashy TV instead of forcing yourself outside (okay, maybe we’re just lazy, but still).
In a campervan, there’s no TV, free wifi, or outrageously large spa bath to distract you. There’s just your bed and a small kitchenette. When you’re not sleeping or driving, you’re outside. You feel that much closer to nature and you’re more likely to truly disconnect.
Since you’re also using shared facilities (toilets, showers etc), you’re less likely to care about doing your makeup or finding the perfect outfit. You roll out of bed, hop in the driver’s seat, and hit the road. There’s also something really nice about being able to pull up and enjoy a cup of tea or bite to eat in the back of the van wherever you want.
As someone who prefers slow travel and getting out of big cities, I find campervans the perfect fit. You’re completely self-sufficient and don’t need to bother with air conditioned hotel rooms or strict check-in times. And in New Zealand most holiday parks are set in beautiful surrounds - you can wake up in some pretty amazing places.\
Next time, we’ll definitely be hiring a campervan to get the full ‘road trip’ experience - what about you?
Author - Jess O'Connor
Jess co-created Travelher and is a freelance copywriter based in Auckland, NZ. She loves reading, writing, road trips, baking up a storm in the kitchen, and spending time in nature. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about Jess, here.