New Zealand,  Oceania,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Christchurch, Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura (New Zealand): Travel Diaries

After 10 hours of flight from Kuala Lumpur (imagine the number of hours of flight from France!), we land in Auckland …
…. to catch a plane 4 hours later to Christchurch.
Checking prohibited or restricted items at customs is going better than expected. Like Australia, New Zealand is very fussy about customs. However, we took care to throw away any food, any item containing honey, and to declare ourselves as pestiferous (dirty shoes, items in contact with non-potable water, contact with wild animals during the last 30 days). We were expecting to be quarantined for weeks to prove that we were not infected with Ebola, and in the end it went very well. It’s better to declare too much than not enough (you have to fill out a health form as long as your arm when you arrive), at worst they throw away our belongings and that’s it.
We arrive in Christchurch around 5pm and a shuttle bus passes every 10-15 minutes to drop people off exactly where they want. For only 29$NZ, we are dropped off in front of our hostel at 5:30pm. We did not pay too much attention to the schedules, but it was a chance to arrive before 6 pm, the closing of the reception. Besides, while passing at 9:02 pm to the Subway in front of us and by being almost pushed back, we begin to understand that we should not laugh with the schedules here. A lot of stores close at 6pm, camping sites close between 8pm and 9pm.
Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Our two days in Christchurch can be summed up in one word: REST. 5 hours jet lag not helping, and the city has nothing exceptional to visit, we enjoy the comfort of our hostel before spending 3 weeks in a sleepervan.

Day 3 : Sleepervan rental

That’s it! It’s the big day! We go to SpaceShip Rentals to get our sleepervan back. We reserved it at last minute (1 week before the rent) and moreover for the beginning of the high season (November), of the blow we had an exorbitant price. 97,37$NZ per day (already with -20% of reduction because we take the van from Christchurch) and 30$NZ of insurance (all included, 0 excess) per day. Ouch, that hurts the budget!
Taken of remorse, we check the rates for … 2017 and find that booking in advance wouldn’t have made us save money in the sense that the rates are already set beforehand. Booking in advance only allows us to have more choice and therefore possibly fall on cheaper models.
Warm clothes and some cooking gas canisters left by previous travelers are collected free of charge (all renters have a small space where you can leave things free of charge for the next travelers). And here we go!
Our sleeper van is a Toyota Estima transformed into a campervan. It has the advantage of looking like a normal car (monospace format) and attracts less thieves, while other campervans are visible for miles (either with graffiti or with a huge logo of the renter). It is less well laid out than the other campervans in the sense that you have to cook outside the car. But I chose it for that reason because (1) I hate that my sheet smells like frying (2) it makes us a more comfortable bed (3) the car is smaller so more manageable than the other campervans.
We go to the supermarket (Countdown) to fill up with food and at Caltex to fill up with gas and drinking water. Our car rental company gave us an AA loyalty card. All you have to do is create an account with this card, every time you buy gas at Caltex or BP, you get a discount of 6 cents/liter. If you shop at Countdown, you can increase this discount to 9 cents/liter.
For our first two days, we decide to make a loop: leave Christchurch to go to Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura and then return to Christchurch for 2 hours. This is to test the car, do a minimum of racing, and take advantage of the return to Christchurch to buy what we still miss.
Our first stop is in Hanmer Springs, only 2h30 away but since we took some time to do the shopping, we only arrive at the campground at 6pm. It is there that we realize: we are in the mountains in fact, that’s why it is cold!
The owner welcomes us warmly. We take the opportunity to ask stupid questions such as where to picnic, can we use the kitchen/shower of the campsites without staying the night etc.. She is very kind and patient because I had all the answers.
For our first night, the owner gave us a parking space, not because she doesn’t like us, but because it’s the only place sheltered from rain and wind. As we have no electricity in our car (apart from a battery for the fridge), and the temperature drops to 1 degree tonight, even a partial shelter is nice. She is quite right because an hour later, the rain starts to fall and only stops in the early morning.
Seeing that we are absolutely not equipped to survive such a low temperature in the car, we run to buy two hot water bottles at the local supermarket (NZ$5 each). We fill it with hot water available in the camp kitchen. The strategy pays off because we didn’t get too cold at night.

Day 4: Hanmer Springs and its thermal pools

It’s 10:00 a.m., and everyone must leave the premises. That’s good because we plan to go to the thermal (and hot) water pools that open at 10am. The entrance costs 20$NZ and there are about ten pools of different temperatures, with or without jacuzzi, including 3 very hot (between 40° and 42°) which smell strong sulfur. People go from one pool to another until they find THE pool that suits them.
The view from the pools over the snow-covered mountains is breathtaking. And bathing in warm water while it is cold outside is quite fun.
The warm shower after the pool is also very pleasant. I mention it because the unlimited hot shower is an obsession/grail of the campers here. In the cheapest (or even free) campsites, there is no shower. In the average campgrounds, there are hot showers but they are usually paid AND timed (e.g. NZ$2 for 5 minutes). Campers therefore take turns taking hot showers and if possible unlimited showers. On the CamperMate application reserved for campers, you can even display all the places where you can take showers (cold or hot) outside the campgrounds 😀.
On the road: we see a guy bungee jumping. Very brave!
Picnic on the road. JB loves my omelet sandwiches with toast.

Day 4 bis: Kaikoura

We drive all afternoon to arrive in Kaikoura, a very charming seaside town, backed by snow-covered mountains of unparalleled romanticism. The road leading to Kaikoura is also very pleasant where we make “wow” at every bend, discovering landscapes more beautiful one than the other.


We wanted to test the famous lobster BBQ at the roadside, but it is closed too early (6pm). So we have to be satisfied with going to see the seal colony (we saw three, huge ones) before finishing in a local bar. If you look well, there is one in front of me, on a rock.


Kaikoura is well known for its whales, seals and dolphins. To see the whales and dolphins, you have to pay for the excursions. We decided not to do it here (there are limits, we aren’t going to spend 130$NZ/person each time) and enjoy only the landscapes. The path along the sea is an invitation to picnic and jogging but it is late, we have to go to the campsite.

For the night, we choose a 100% picturesque place: Paia Point, 20mn from Kaikoura, at the edge of the beach. This campsite has the peculiarity to depend on another very well equipped campsite. So even if we pay a small fee (13$NZ/person) and it is only equipped with toilets, we have the right to use all the facilities of the campsite next door (1km away): kitchen, shower, toilet, washing machine (for a fee).

Waking up in front of the sea is very pleasant even if the night was cold and windy. Just before falling asleep someone knocks at our window, a charming neighbor tells us that we forgot to turn off our headlights, thank you ma’am!

It is here that we met a gentleman who frightened us too much with his long beard, sitting in lotus position in his dilapidated caravan. But when he opens his mouth to talk to us (the next day), there is only kindness that emanates from him.

Day 5: Return to Christchurch

After having done our first laundry (we take advantage of it, 2$NZ the laundry, 2$NZ the drying it is half as expensive as in the other campsites), we leave, direction Christchurch to buy what we still miss:
– a comforter, 20$NZ at K-Mart because we’ve been cold the last two nights
– hangers, to hang our coats, indoor clothes and backpacks. Instead of leaving them lying around and watching them fall off with every brake. We had also been able to buy two hats before at slaughtered prices. As it is spring, it is very hard to find winter items. But we have just spent three months in Asia, we are cold!
100% equipped, we will spend the afternoon and the night in Akaroa

Part 2: Practical Tips


  • Customs :

    • FAQs on what is and what isn’t allowed on New Zealand soil can be found here: https: //
    • If on the plane, you find that you have unauthorized products in your hold luggage, don’t worry, the passage through customs is done after you have retrieved your luggage. And before that, there are plenty of garbage cans where you can throw those items before you get caught by customs. Impossible to miss, there is a huge sign “Last chance”.
    • It is better to declare too much than not at all (any omission to declare results in a $400 NZ fine, direct!). But you still need a reason to declare, for example, if you checked the “food” box, an officer will ask you “what item did you check that box for? You can’t tell him “I don’t know, I ticked everything so you can check it yourself”. No !

  • SIM card: there are SIM cards in all supermarkets. Personally, I chose SPARK. For 50$NZ, I get 3GB for 2 months and 100 minutes of calls
  • Hypermarkets: Countdown (like Carrefour), Pak’n’save (cheaper than others)
  • Gasoline: You can take loyalty cards at Mobil (6 cents discount/liter), the AA card is used at BP and Caltex. Diesel is cheaper than regular 91
  • Website: Kiwipal – the one and only French guide to consult. It’s super complete, each visit is told in the smallest details, like when you arrive at a certain place you will see this on the left, that on the right. It allows you to decide if you want to go there or not. The only reproach that we can make them is to have times of transport a little too optimistic: 300km in 3h30? LOL!!!
  • Applications to download :

    • CamperMate (for a list of campsites, showers, gas, toilets, places to visit)
    • Camping NZ: only interesting to get -10% discount on cruises and tours
    • Frogs Guide New Zealand : french guide, 9,99€


  • Sleepervan :

    • Rental of the Spaceship Beta 2S sleepervan (Premium model) for 24 days, including NZ$30 per day for insurance (all inclusive): NZ$3056.88
    • The Spaceship Beta 2 model, a little less well arranged, costs 2800$NZ, insurance included for 24 days
    • We asked the agency to take all the money before our arrival. If we did like everyone else (i.e. pay the money by credit card on the day we picked up the car), we would have had to pay extra bank fees (I don’t know if it’s Spaceship’s way or it’s for all companies)
    • Rental of a table and two chairs: 50$NZ
    • We already have our GPS so we didn’t have to rent one, but otherwise it’s 5$NZ/day, better to buy one if we stay several weeks.
    • Gasoline: 10L/100km with the price of gasoline at 1.92$NZ/liter. Estimated fuel budget for 24 days at : 723$NZ. Budget not to be underestimated if you have a tight budget
    • NZ$0 Toll

  • 2 nights in Christchurch: The Old Countryhouse, private double room: NZ$170
  • 1 night at Hanmer Springs: Alpine Holiday Apartments & Campground, unpowered site (site without electricity) NZ$15/person
  • 1 night at Paia Beach: 13$NZ/person
  • Races: 200$NZ at Countdown
  • Other Expenses :

    • Hot water bottles: 10$NZ both
    • Comforter : 20$NZ
    • Hangers : 3$NZ
    • Laundry: between NZ$2 and NZ$4 (stock up on the NZ$2 coins, the machines only accept these)
    • Dryer: between 2$NZ and 4$NZ (it dries super well despite a large quantity of clothes, unless otherwise stated on the Campermate app)

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