As many of you know we spent the majority of our time travelling the East Coast of Australia by camper van and as this is quite a popular way of seeing both New Zealand and Australia, I thought I would give a bit of an overview of our experience of both living in a camper and Britz; the company we rented our vehicle from.
Overall I would say that our camper van experience was a positive one. After a month of dormitory rooms and a strict itinerary in New Zealand, we welcomed the freedom and privacy a camper van gave us. Being able to drive where we wanted, when we wanted was a breath of fresh air – our favourite thing was to stop at a view or point of interest that we stumbled across, without having to worry about anyone’s plans but our own!
We also liked the fact that we got as close to being a Tortoise as any human can be. Driving around with your home in the back makes stopping for lunch and food shopping so easy and makes the organisation of a day so much easier.
While we really did enjoy our camper experience, it is worth bearing in mind that the space you are in is small and you are living on top of the person you are sharing the vehicle with. This was fine (although sometimes a little trying) for myself and Matt, however I imagine it could be the source of some serious conflict among others. Before embarking on a camper trip therefore make sure that you can live with the person in cramped conditions!
The only slight negative about the experience could be that a lot of the city campsites are on the outskirts, meaning that most of the time public transport is needed. This was not a problem for us because we made sure we had the relevant charge cards and found the public transport quite fun (weird I know), but others would find it annoying I imagine!
When booking a camper van please make sure you book it well in advance! We stupidly left it until two weeks before we were due to pick the camper up and because of that paid a hell of a lot more than other people we met along the way! Be aware that often you will need to pay for the rental and then for liability insurance; which can quickly add up!
Hiring a camper may not always be the cheapest option to travel. I think overall we spent more on the camper and for campsites (campsite prices varied between $15 – $65 per night) than someone who was to travel via Greyhound (the main country travel coach) and to stay in dorm rooms. However the extra we did pay was worth it for us because we had privacy, peace and quiet (campers are usually tucked away at 7/8pm) and complete freedom.
We rented the Britz HiTop , which was the smallest camper available that wasn’t a car. Made for two people, this van is very very cosy and you cook, sleep and eat in the same space with just a few tweaks. This camper does not have a shower or toilet facilities, which means that unless you’re dedicated to saving money (showering where possible and ‘wild poo’s’ – yes some people do this!), freedom camping is out of the question. Free campsites with facilities in a good location are practically non-existent so be prepared to factor this into your price plan (see above).
While the vans are cleverly laid out, they are put together sloppily and without much care and attention. We had two vans (see below) and both had issues with this! Think leaking fridges, gaps under units so your stuff gets wet when said leak happens and bed slats not fitting together properly. All of this is seemingly minor, until you’re living in it 24/7!
Overall Britz (also Mighty & Maui) was a good company to rent our camper from HOWEVER, there were a couple of issues that we had which I think people should be prepared for when renting with them.
- Both of our camper vans were tired and filthy. We actually changed to a newer camper around two weeks into our rental because we found mould on the already stained cushion covers and our duvet and pillows had some very suspect stains on them. The second camper we got however was just as dirty, with hair and dried milk in the fridge, dirty shelves and again stained cushions. Hilariously this van was apparently checked for cleanliness by the branch manager before being dispatched to us! If you are big on cleanliness like me therefore, arm yourself with some antibacterial spray!
- As mentioned, the vans Britz rent are not put together in the best way. Things don’t fit together quite right and our fire alarm was stuck to the ceiling with sellotape (until it fell off and then sat in our cupboard). Make sure you thoroughly look around the van before you leave the depot as it may save some time and bother later on!
- It’s surprisingly difficult to get hold of a certain branch directly. When we had a problem we had to go through a middle man (On Road Care), and while they were nice, because they were not a direct contact, it was hard to get any issues satisfactorily solved. Admittedly when we dropped the camper back, we were reimbursed for the lack of cleanliness and Britz were hugely understanding. Do not be scared therefore to take photos of any issues and to raise these with the company on the return of the vehicle.
- They try and sell you stuff you just do not need. Even though we had just paid a shed load for liability insurance, we were still asked if we wanted to pay yet more in case we tipped the van (you’ve got to be an idiot to tip these things) and also whether we wanted to pay $150 for ‘quick return’ – to skip the queue and not worry about returning the vehicle with full petrol and gas. This is a joke seeing as petrol cost us around $65 and our gas refill $22. Apparently you’re paying to save time, but our return took all of 15 minutes and that was because I complained about cleanliness. Don’t give in to their up-sales!
We paid for nicer campsites most of the time, because we wanted comfort and a good location. It is worth bearing in mind that you can do about 2 days on an unpowered site which is usually cheaper, before then having to rent a powered site to charge everything back up again. However unpowered sites will not give you use of the plugs or microwave, so be prepared to use the stove for cooking and boiling water. Also bear in mind that some campsites do not allow camper vans on unpowered sites as they are for tents only. Sometimes you will just have to go for a powered site and suck up and pay.
Overall the camp sites we stayed in had good, clean amenities – just be prepared to walk for a couple of minutes (doesn’t sound like much but when it’s 3am and you need a wee that walk seems miles). Also be aware that often you pay for the location. For example our campsite in Byron Bay was one of the worst in terms of amenities and park layout, yet it was one of the most expensive because of it’s ‘in demand’ location.
We would definitely recommend a camper van experience to anyone travelling New Zealand or Australia. It is a great way to see a country and the freedom of movement is a true joy. However make sure you book in advance and really weigh up your options in terms of the vehicle, the company and the price. If you take into consideration all of this you are less likely to hit any surprises along the way!