New Zealand Campervan Life - the best & worst moments so far

Updated: Mar 22

It's Saturday morning on the 31st October here in New Zealand. I'm sat beside the van, a gentle breeze coming through from the hills on my right, Piha Beach and the famous Lion Rock to my left. The sun's out despite the rainy forecast so we're feeling grateful for the ability to live more outdoors and enjoy the fresh air.

The reality of van life, as with everything, is not what it looks like from the perfectly posed pictures you see on Instagram or Pinterest. Whilst there are definitely a huge volume of perfect snapshot moments and an amazing general lifestyle (depending on who you are and how you work), there are also a lot of difficult moments that accompany that lifestyle, especially when living in a van with your partner and your cat.

Sometimes the reality of sharing a very tiny space, and I'm talking like.. 1.5m by 2.1m, is definitely a learning curve and something that you need to find your own personal groove with. There have definitely been moments I've sat there thinking, fuuuuccckk, you are pissing me the hell off... for essentially no reason.. just because I've been craving a little bit of my own time. But that's the reality of spending every waking minute with someone and sometimes not having the option to take time and space for yourself. It's completely normal to want, need and honour the fact we all need time on our own, regardless of how happy you are in a relationship or how much you love your significant other.

A lot of this week has been raining, so we've found ourselves relegated to the inside of the van far more than we otherwise would be which has only fostered frustrated feelings - mainly within me, Sam's the coolest bean (which at times winds me up even more hahaha!).

But that's the truth of it. I'm not going to sit and pretend that there are never any frustrating moments or that I don't lose my shit from time to time because the reality is that I do. So does everyone. I'm not perfect and I think the more time we spend being real about what our lives look like genuinely and appreciating that life doesn't look like a Pinterest photo or an Instagram reel the greater chance we have at living our life to the fullest. With each moment we learn how we can ride the waves of life and navigate through any difficult times not only on our own but when in a partnership. We're not given handbooks to anything - whether that be campervanning, careers or relationships, every part of our life is basically a huge trial and error, which is a wonderfully frustrating truth.

So yeah. The first five days of us transitioning into our new lifestyle has had its challenges, we've bickered here and there, I've had the odd cry (mainly for personal reasons which i'll share) but overall it's been great. And as with anything that's worthwhile doing, the pros have most definitely outweighed the cons. There is so much about living in a campervan that suits who I am, and the same goes for my boyfriend - luckily that's something we have in common. And already we've met some awesome people on our journey and we can't wait to continue doing so. We've experienced some really beautiful places, and shared passionate and connective moments that have reminded us of why we chose to begin this adventure in the first place.

The main thing I've found myself getting frustrated by is not having enough time for myself. Which might sound selfish but at the same time it's really really not. We all need to nurture our inner bodies; listen to the emotions that are rising up within us so we can do the work we need to to ensure we are living as the best versions of ourselves .This in turn means that we can not only enjoy our lives as much as possible, but that we're the best version of ourselves for other people. So that, in situations like living in a van with your boyfriend, you're not a hormone-fuelled, angry, reactive, emotional bitch, but a lovely, considerate, thoughtful and patient lover. Investing time, and genuinely prioritising time on our own, is just the greatest portal to living that 'best life.'

So that's what this is for me. Writing does that for me. I'm able to sit here and reflect on my own behaviour the last few days - consider what I would and wouldn't like to continue doing. I have time to find stillness within myself and reconnect with that. That stillness allows me to slow down and remind myself of how important it is to have perspective.

You don't suddenly become happy just because you're traveling. It's such a common misunderstanding and I guess romanticisation of things like traveling, van life and adventuring. Yes of course, having the time and ability to move around and explore beautiful places is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't directly correlate to happiness. It does help facilitate situations and moments that enhance those feelings, naturally, but if you're not happy in yourself, jumping into a campervan will not change that.

And I'm not saying that because I'm unhappy, but there is a lot of unrest within me. I have a lot of work to do at the moment to get back to the best version of myself, and I'm glad I have the ability to recognise that. I guess I just want to highlight that fact because people do see photos or videos or girls posing in thong bikinis on see-through-water beaches and assume that that equates to happiness; that the people doing those things are the most happy they could be when in actual fact, that photo has no reflection or bearing on someone's level of happiness.

On Wednesday afternoon I found out my grandfather had passed away. My mum called me crying to let me know that after the last 8 weeks of unrest and pain for him, the time had finally come. My gramps was my hero, literally. I was as close to him throughout the course of my life as I am my parents, so losing him, although it's not come as a surprise, has absolutely knocked me for six. Last night I spent the duration of mine and Sam's dinner crying.. and no matter what I did I couldn't stop.

So when you read my blogs or look at my Instagram, I hope you remind yourself that picture perfect doesn't exist. Happiness doesn't consume me 24/7 just because I'm living in a van and traveling around New Zealand. Life is complex, we all have emotions (and hormones) and we just need to learn how to make the most out of every situation we're in - whether that's traveling the world carefree, slogging it in a job we don't like to reach the next goal or simply having to do the mundane shit. Your effort into your own happiness is the most important thing to living a happy life. It is always a conscious thing. Focus your energy and your attention into your own life, each day that you live, and look at how happy you are. If you are, think about ways to enhance that, to grow it. If you're not, it's time to show up for yourself and consistently make your own happiness a priority because that shit doesn't just happen.

So on that note I wanted to share with you some of the best and the worst moments of the last 5 days with you guys. A little bit of travel inspiration with a hint of perspective. Nobody has it all figured out; no matter what you see or fantastize about anything, nothing good exists without bad. It's an ancient Buddhist philosophy - you can't have one without the other. If there is no good, there is no bad. If there is no bad, there is no good. So always remember that - with regards to other peoples' lives and with your own.

I hope you like what comes next :)

Best Moments

1. Mangapohue Natural Bridge

Nacho ( enjoying the view

Just a 30-minute drive up the road from the Waitomo Glowworm caves (pls don't pay to go there) is Mangapohue Natural Bridge. We stayed at the little car-park on our second night on the road (technically a self-contained car-park in case you want to go, but we were fine), for no reason other than it was close to the waterfall we wanted to go and see the following day.

Another campervan spent the night there too and in the morning we got chatting away with the couple who told us we had to go and see the bridge (we originally had no intention of), and it was freaking amazing. One of the most enchanting and beautiful of nature's creations - it honestly felt like you were entering a world that should have existed millennia's ago.

As you cross over the mini bridge from the carpark and turn left to follow the trail you'll find rocks engraved with oyster fossils and fallen debris nestled among the grasslands. As you climb over stye's and enjoy the hilly views, after about five minutes you'll find yourself at the base of some steps leading up to this breath-taking place.

We had a bit of a nightmare just after this photo was taken of Nacho - he jumped down unexpectedly and I dropped his lead causing it crash into him as it wasn't locked in place. That in turn spooked him and caused him to run away, which again caused the lead to chase him and sometimes catch up to and boop him, spooking him more. He ran so fast down the steps we'd just climbed and it was only thanks to a wired fence catching the lead handle that we were able to get him back at all.

I was petrified, and cried for most of walk back to the car haha. But despite our ordeal (don't worry, Nacho is groovy now) we would still highly recommend this place - it's definitely worth going out of your way for.

At night, the entire cave is also alight with glowworms - this wasn't something we were blessed to see ourselves as we went in the morning but the couple who told us to go said it was absolutely incredible. If we are to pass through again, we'll be prioritising doing that walk in darkness.

Luckily for you, you have me to tell you to absolutely go and witness the phenomenon that is the glowworms in that magnificent place (don't pay the rip-off $50 to go to the Waitomo caves... go and find them yourselves for free!)!

2. Bridal Veil Waterfall

Bridal Veil waterfall boasting an amazing 55meter thin but mighty cascade of water is an epic stop-off just 20-minutes outside of Raglan.

This waterfall is beautiful, sprouting from a jagged rockface with random trees and bushes growing out of it, too.

From the car park, you'll walk 10-minutes through what mirrors prehistoric rainforest to reach the top of the falls. From there you have the option of a further 10-minute walk to reach the bottom of the waterfall, descending over 230 steps down with a gorgeous mid-way view-point and rest-stop to break up the stairs (not so necessary on the way down, but on the way up is a very welcomed break).

From the bottom enjoy views looking up in amazement at this natural wonder - sit on the bench for a while in silence and simply take time to appreciate where you are and all that your life entails. There's something pretty magical about waterfalls like this - they seem to take out you outside of yourself and really remind you of what life is all about.

3. Getting our passports stamped at Hotel Whangamomona on the Forgotten World Highway

One of the remarkable things about New Zealand is that it is always full of surprises.

I bet you didn't know that without even leaving the country you can get your passport stamped within the border of New Zealand?

Well, you can. And all it takes to do so is to follow the Forgotten World Highway (amazing in itself anyways) and make your way to Whangamomona; an independent Republic that is home to around 8 residents.

There's not much more in the 'Republic' than what you see in the photo above - the hotel doubles as the local pub, cafe and passport office! Pretty unique.

We headed into the hotel, Sam bought a pint, I had a wine and for an additional $2 per stamp, we had our passports stamped!! We paid $6 to have our three passports (I have two) and my journal stamped so we left feeling like we'd experienced something pretty amazing.

The inside of the hotel looks like any old English pub in all honesty, with old wooden furnishings and a big log fire, a pool table next to the bar and an array of old-school photos; the vibe was friendly and relaxed. I think my favourite part about the whole thing was the awareness it seemed to have on mental health, with a beautiful canvas detailing and highlighting how to essentially live a good life.

The only criticism we had is that, as two people who follow plant-based diets, we were a little bit lost for options on what we could have to eat at the pub.. The only option we found that we could perhaps trrryyy to make work was the cheese board where we asked for no meat to come with it. But otherwise, fellow veggies, our advice would be to ensure that you eat before you go!!!

4. Cheap, quality food along the country roads

Another amazing thing about traveling New Zealand is the quality fruits and veggies you can pick up as you drive for next to nothing.

We picked up a bag of grapefruit for $2.. TWO DOLLARS and inside the bag were about 17 grapefruit. You could buy maybe one for that price in the supermarket..

Everywhere you drive there are little signs along the road detailing what each house or farm is selling out the front of its property. And another beautiful thing about the Kiwis is that trust still exists in this wonderful land. There's a little money box locked up next to the food they're selling, all you need to do is pop in the right amount of money and walk away with your goods. It's THAT simple, and we couldn't recommend it more.

Just $6 for fresh eggs from the farm itself?! No brainer, please and thankyou.

So if you travel around New Zealand, keep your eyes peeled along the country roads, always keep petty change in the van and stock up when you see something that takes your fancy. It's well worth it, and the produce is always gorgeous and high-quality and you're getting it right from the source!!

5. Spending all the time with my love

Whilst I'm passionate about highlighting the normalcy of needing space and your own time within a relationship, one of the greatest things about this campervan life is getting to be with Sam all the damn time.

Since we shared lockdown together from April-May 2020, we've barely had more than a full-day together each week. And it was lockdown that was a huge turning point for us. It was the time that my partner decided he no longer wanted to work in the hospitality industry, at least in the way he was used to doing. He decided that he wanted to be home more and share the evening with me - and one day our family. He was still passionate about what he did, but suddenly he decided that it was no longer really worth what it took away, and that there were ways he could still live the passion and enjoy what he did without having to sacrifice time we could be enjoying together.

It was also the time that I realised, or was reminded of the fact that I'm not made to work in an office. I fucking hate it. I'm way too creative and opinionated to shrink myself down to working in a corporation. I've worked for myself for over two years, and that's the way I like it. I simply am not able to do a job that i'm not wholeheartedly passionate about, and thankfully for me, the things i'm passionate about are viable and important.

So basically lockdown was a massive moment for us in our relationship. It was the best time, getting to spend everyday together, getting to grow together and leap forward into depths that would have taken much longer to reach had we not been gifted time.

This time feels just like that again. A gift. Time to be with the person I've loved since the moment I met him nearly a year ago. And whilst there are of course times when we need our own space, the majority is happily spent closely together.

When you find yourself in the right relationship, everything becomes easy and happy. Life isn't tainted with arguments, conflicts or wanting different things. And whilst I also highlight frequently that what you see on social media is never a true reflection of someone's life, luckily for me everything I share about my relationship is actually bang on the money. I'm the luckiest girl in the world to be with such a kind-hearted, supportive, forgiving, trusting, open and conscious man and being able to share this adventure with him is the greatest blessing of all.

The not-so-great moments

And now we're done with all the good bits, it's time to also reel it back with a little reality check.

1. NZ Parking Fines

Well to start off with, day 1 of our travels we woke up to a $200 parking fine for parking in a prohibited area *major eye roll*

We didn't realise it was prohibited, obviously, but that's the issue sometimes with freedom camping in New Zealand - it's not always so freedom-y. Most of the time you can and do get away with it - we traveled around the South Island in our 7-seater Suzuki with no bother at all, and day one of actually being in the van we got a ticket. Serious bummer. As I'm in that week or so before my period I'm more sensitive and down than normal anyways and getting that fine definitely caused a little mini meltdown within me as me drove away from Taranaki that morning as I freaked out about what the point of it all was and how we were going to do this... (don't worry i'm feeling much calmer now ahaha)

2. Constant Rain

Second of all, it rained for the first three days almost continuously. There were moments that it cleared up but by and large it has been pretty rubbish weather until now which not only brings your mood down a bit anyway, but when you're living in a van, I can assure you, it can reaaally bring you down.

We were lucky that for a lot of our adventures the rain held off, even if it was a bit grey, but the shit weather has definitely made it more difficult to feel like we're living that carefree summer-vibe euphoria I guess is associated with living van life.

Honestly, that's about it for the negatives. The list may not be as long, but trust me, you should never underestimate the power of consistent rain haha.

Well that rounds up my first blog since being on the road - eeepp!

I hope you enjoyed it, and be sure to keep up with my instagram and youtube as I'm going to begin releasing lots more exciting things that you'll definitely want to see.

Take care lovers, speak soon.

AJ x

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