Travel Stories

A Southern Experience

Travelling through New Zealand in a camper van

Above Photo: Matt McHattie

Hobbits, sheep and stunning scenery are probably what most people think of when discussing New Zealand. For us, however, the snow-loving maniacs, it represents a world of unexplored snowy terrain – a country with endless opportunities for adventures. And sheep.

We got to chat with three Kiwis who recently took it upon themselves to go back and explore their beloved home country, with their adventure being sponsored by none other than The North Face. Roland Morley-Brown (RMB) and Maria Kuzma (MK), both known for their participation in the Freeride World Tour contest were kind enough to share their thoughts on their latest trip. To give us a bit more perspective on it all, we also got Matt McHattie (MM) to join us and give us a filmer’s perspective on things.

“Yeh, it’s like living in a refrigerator”

If you’ve always wanted to rent a camper and travel through the Land of the Long White Cloud called New Zealand, here’s your chance to get a deep dive into where to go, how to prepare and what to expect.

Note: A solid amount of the word ‘like’ has been removed from the following answers.

How is travelling around NZ in a camper van?

MK: It’s stunning, it’s easy. You just sleep by the road or by a lake and it’s beautiful. The only bad thing about it was that it was super cold. And the first 10 days were really wet, so everything was wet.

MM: Yeh, it’s like living in a refrigerator.

RMB: The camper van we had was a four-wheel-drive truck with a fibreglass box. It had a double bed, a little fold-out couch thing, and a little kitchen area and a fridge. So, it was super basic.

MM: We could probably have gotten a way warmer and nicer one but the idea behind the four-wheel-drive was to get up all the access roads. You cannot access any ski fields, as you have to drive up some dodgy road for a minimum of 40 minutes.

MK: So, we wanted a good four-wheel-drive to get us up those roads, especially the ones in the club fields, since they are a bit more off the beaten track.

Club Fields explained by Wikipedia: a club ski field is a small ski resort run by a ski club to provide affordable skiing to its members.

What route did you choose?

RMB: We picked up the Tui Camper in Auckland and then we drove down to the centre of the North Island, Tukino, Mt Ruapehu (first shred spot in the first episode). Then we left Tukino and drove to Wellington, where we boarded the ferry to Picton, top of the South Island. We continued to drive south via the west coast of the South Island to Temple Basin (second shred spot in the first episode). This one is very special because you park down at the bottom and then you need to hike up for an hour, and they have this cool little goods lift that transports all your snowboard bags and gear up to the hut. Then you just hike up with your backpack through the beautiful forest up until the snowline and up to the hut. It’s really secluded and away from people and everything, that’s really sick.

“The basic premise of the trip was to go and hit all these club fields in NZ”

MM: And you hike up past this big waterfall.

RMB: After that we drove through Arthur’s Pass to east coast South Island and continued on down to Queenstown, shredded The Remarkables (Queenstown) for a few days while we lined up a day in the Heli with Southern Lakes Heli Ski (second episode). After that, we headed back north to Mt Dobson (central South Island). For the next 10 or so days we were driving between Mt Dobson, Wanaka and Queenstown trying to chase the best weather and conditions (which is what we turned the third episode into). We did this until the Freeride World Tour event was on at The Remarkables 7th Sept. We rode the comp and headed back to Christchurch to return the camper and flew back to Bali on the 9th. The basic premise of the trip was to go and hit all these club fields in NZ, which is pretty unique, and the experience that you get from those places is pretty sweet. We were there for four weeks. Five? A month-ish.

What was the best thing about the trip?

MM: For me it was, just to explore the New Zealand club scene, besides the other major resorts, which there are only like four. The South Island’s probably the main hub. Anywhere you turn in NZ it’s like a postcard. It was like ‘stop the car let’s film’. It was just really cool for me personally, to go and explore, to hike and go to this more backcountry-ish side I’ve never been to – it was pretty much a full tour of NZ. It was epic. There wasn’t really one major highlight, the whole thing was sick. But you need to have a good crew to do that with. You couldn’t put three people who didn’t actually know each other in a van. You have to know each other pretty well in order to do that trip. Patience is key.

RMB: Driving up Tukino…

“Getting dropped on the ridge by yourself and watching the crew fly away was kind of scary”

MM: So, getting up Tukino there was a foot of snow, and the camper van got stuck so many times and had to get dragged up by this giant tractor to get us up to the top. It took us three hours to get up when it’s normally like half an hour drive.

RMB: And the chains the rental company gave us they were too small…

MK: If we would just have waited then it would have been towed up, but no Roland just lost his shit.

MM: We did a lot of shovelling.

MK: We did all the shovelling.

MM: You need a proper forward drive to get through there, giant tyres, full kit… It was pretty funny.

RMB: It was my worst part.

MM: We were real explorers crossing the arctic or something. But we were really just getting up an access road covered in snow… But I can’t say it was my favourite bit. What was my favourite bit? Despite having to rescue Maria’s snowboard (see image below), that one line I had to ride down to get it, I got to ride to the end and it was actually so much fun. And then turning around and looking back up like fuck, that’s way further than I thought.

Make sure you won’t drop your board from the same spot as Maria did, and if you do, make sure it’s not white.

MK: My favourite part… It was so cold, like super cold all the time, so we got to go to the hot pools every now and then to shower and heat up. The feeling after not showering for a couple of days, and hiking around, and then going into those hot pools was really good. And the Heli day was awesome, that was incredible. And it was Matt’s first time.

MM: Yeh that was my first Heli. That was epic. That was definitely a highlight for sure. Getting dropped on the ridge by yourself and watching the crew fly away was kind of scary. Literally, in the middle of nowhere, on a fucking ridge. Ok bye. That was epic. Best snow, best vibes and definitely best footage we got from that day of Heli.

RMB: There’re so many favourite bits. I went back and visited my old primary school. That was pretty cool. But overall, my favourite bit is just being in the camper van because I love being mobile. Pullover and park. And because it’s really fucking cold, my favourite bit was getting in the sleeping bag at night because it’s so warm. You do it every night, for 20 nights, and it becomes your favourite thing. I couldn’t wait to get into my sleeping bag.

Roland and Maria enjoying some oats with a view. Photo: Matt McHattie.

What about the worst bits?

RMB: The worst kind of frustrating thing for me was that first day when we kept getting stuck. It was the first day and I was super hyped, and this mountain in the middle of the North Island, Mt Ruapehu, you never get a good sunny day there, maybe one in sixty days and it’s like boom bluebird perfect. And that morning was really nice, and we totally wasted it trying to drive up the access rode so that just really pissed me off. That was the worst thing for me. But it feels like it isn’t even a big deal. Nothing was bad for the whole time apart from that.

MM: Camper van broke, that was a bit…

“There’s no way in fucking hell that any other country would allow people to go on this”

RMB: Yeh, but that wasn’t even bad. We called a tow truck.

RMB: Luckily, we were really close to Maria’s brother’s house in Wanaka. Like literally just down the road when it happened. We were able to load all of our shit out of the camper and take it to his house, leave the camper overnight, and get it tow trucked to the place the next morning. We were only without it for two days.

MM: It wasn’t that bad, it was more that could have happened anywhere, at some fucked up access road, then we would have been screwed.

RMB: That was good timing. That was almost the best thing.

MK: I mean, it was all pretty good fun. Maybe. Yeah. It was all pretty good fun.

MM: Except for the broken lift.

MK: So, the lifts at the club fields are really unique… They’re all rope tows, but they’re like gnarly rope tows. You have to wear a special big fat leather belt. They call it a nutcracker, but it’s this metal whip, that you have to carry around with yourself and attach yourself to the rope, and just attaching yourself to the rope is a skill. You can fuck it up really bad, and then you can fuck up your hand… Like full Kiwi crazy.

MM: There’s no way in fucking hell that any other country would allow people to go on this. Safety hazard. Full on. Every time you go over a pollie, you’ve got this middle clip, you got to physically hold onto a rope, and it goes through these pollies, these big round wheels, and if you put your finger in there, it is fucking gone. So, you have to make sure you let go of the rope with one hand and still hold the clamp on with the other and try not to get anything caught and stay upright, it’s stressful.

RMB: It’s exhilarating, that’s for sure.

MM: I’m sure it’s exhilarating with twenty kilos of fucking filming gear on your back.

I saw a clip from a very windy ridge, that didn’t look like too much fun…

MM: I almost died.

RMB: It was really windy.

MM: Like gnarly windy.

MK: We were literally getting blown off the mountain.

What about the funniest parts of the trip?

RMB: Everything was funny. We’ve all spent so much time together that we know that when one person is pissed off it’s hilarious for the other two.

MK: We were hiking many hours…

RMB: That’s another cool thing in NZ these club fields exist, heaps of sick terrain that you can hike to quite easily if you’re willing. Which is real dope. And no one’s there, it’s like going to… Finland? But way steeper. NZ really encourages free camping. There’s loads of places all around the country, north, south wherever, where they set up spots, pretty much aside the road where you’re allowed to pull off. They might have a tap with running water or something like that, or a toilet or whatever, and they encourage people to sleep in the vans and stuff. That’s why heaps of backpackers or trailers, in general, come to NZ and want to rent camper vans because there’re so many places where you’re allowed to stop and hike, and it makes life real easy for everyone. As long as you clean up after and take your rubbish with you and stuff. It’s pretty dope.

I see you were rocking the new TNF Future Light outerwear, how was that?

MM: Yeah that stuff is the shit.

RMB: They’re real nice. They’re super nice to wear.

MM: It works too well. It’s so waterproof that your pockets fill up with water and drown your phone. They should put a note on the jacket “it’s too waterproof, pockets will flood – disclaimer” (Matt’s phone died on the first day because his pockets filled up with water and ‘drowned it’).

Photo: Matt McHattie.

In a nutshell, this is what we’ve taken from this chat:

  • Be prepared for the cold, especially whilst living in a camper (apparently a North Face sleeping bag keeps you snug no matter the weather)
  • Four-wheel-drive crucial if you want to access the club fields that are a bit more off the beaten track
  • Make sure the chains for your trucks are the right size
  • Bring a good shovel
  • Have your tow truck number handy
  • Choose your route wisely
  • Explore the club fields (however, be careful with the lifts if you deem your fingers precious)
  • Do not travel with strangers nor people that have the potential to trigger your insanity after one week
  • Be prepared for snow
  • Do not leave your board unattached to anything on the top of the mountain while it’s windy af (and if you do, make sure it hasn’t got a white top sheet)
  • Hot pools may save you from hypothermia
  • As might a good, warm, proper sleeping bag
  • Patience is key
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