Everyone that has been to New Zealand (or seen any Lord of the Rings movie) can tell about the beauty and natural wonders of this remote land.
All alone in the Pacific Ocean, with its closes neighbor Australia being 3 hours flight away, New Zealand is divided into two big islands. The southern one being the more touristic one and the northern one, where business is done.
Our plan is to see the main wonders of this quasi-pristine country in five weeks, and for that purpose, we rented a campervan.
Buy or rent, that’s the question?
Traveling on a campervan is no cheap deal, and there is a huge range of possibilities, starting with barely modified cars, to fully equipped motorhomes. There is a plethora of websites and books telling stories about how easy is to buy a used campervan, abuse it for a couple of months, and sell it back before leaving the country with a minimum depreciation of the value. This option sounds appealing, but it holds a risk, not being able to sell on time and ending up loosing too much time in paperwork, insurance, and mechanical problems.
When we found a cheap rental company (read “barely modified truck”), we decided to give up on the idea of buying and use all of our time to travel the country. Link: Campervan Village Rental
So, what is a Campervan?
The thing about a small vegetable delivery truck, put a bed inside, a couple of shelves, water container, gas stoves and voila: the perfect traveling vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been traveling for 11 months now, half of them in low budget countries. Arriving in New Zealand is considered a luxury, prices are high here, even by western standards.
DOC: That’s the key
There are plenty of campings available throughout the country, same as Australia, equipped with kitchens, clean toilets, hot showers (some 6 minutes for USD 1.5), BBQ, electricity to charge your phones and some even have wifi (usually limited). And at the end of the day, you’ll just get into your car, laid down and lock the doors. Good night.
But these are expensive, at least for the budget traveler, some charge up to 50 USD for a couple, it’s not a lot, but it’s a bad value.
The alternative is provided by the Department of Conservation, an arrange of camping grounds with basic (very basic) facilities, sometimes only a compost toilet in the forest and crystal clear water from a stream, most of them are set in postcard-perfect locations; by the lake, river or mountain. Quiet places where you have to bring everything you need and end up bathing in glacial cold water after a long day trekking.
The price is usually below half of the private ones, some even free, and the scenery is priceless. Even when we indulged ourselves several times lately, the most memorable grounds we stayed were undoubtedly the DOC camps.
So what’s wrong?
While we are having a great time in direct contact with mother nature, the truth is that there is no other option to explore the country. New Zealand failed to provide the independent tourist with and affordable traveling option: public transportation is non-existent, guesthouses are ridiculously expensive (minimum USD 30 for a dorm bed in a shared room), and although there are many tours, most of them involve helicopters, bungy jumping, private boats, or guided walks; none of them for less than USD 100 a days. Even renting a bike for a day will cost no less than USD 30.
There are not enough hotels or hostels, so the prices go up and tourists end up in tents or sleeping in their cars. There are not enough affordable restaurants, so people cook by themselves. There are no buses, so people drive by themselves.
The evident result doesn’t seem to be so bad, but tourism is probably the most equalizing industry of all, giving uncountable opportunities to private entrepreneurs to flourish in accommodation, transportation, guiding, and catering. But the country has privatized the tourist industry and left it in the hands of big corporations, all the money goes to the big players: supermarkets, car rental chains, fuel suppliers and camping corporations.
Tourism contributes about 6% of the GDP of the country with more than 3.5 million visitors a year. This is already causing strain on infrastructure: roads, parking, available camping spots, hotels, etc.. Now think about 150 million neighboring Chinese (and growing) tourists leaving every year their country. When the hoards discover this paradisiac spot and decide to make it China’s natural Disneyland, this is going to explode. Better New Zealand start growing its tourism infrastructure or they will be in trouble.
New Zealand is under-populated, it’s a developed country-island inhabited by 3.5 million people, this is not enough to maintain their economy going. The solution they came up with is called “work and travel”, invite youth (under 30) from developed countries do enjoy high paying wages for unskilled jobs: construction and services mostly. We call them “gap yearers”, and you can see them everywhere, sometimes you wonder if there are Kiwis in this country at all.
While there are so many millions of people starving in failed countries, countless refugees and so many people looking for opportunities to escape poverty around the world, why does this government prefer temporary white young workers, while most of them coming from well established rich countries anyway?