How to sell a campervan in New Zealand

As I hope I’ve exhibited in penning the series “Freedom to Roam,” there are few better travel experiences than touring New Zealand by campervan. Trekking through the Southern Alps, exploring hidden wine regions, sampling freshly caught seafood, basking on lazy beaches — all are accessible by simply putting four wheels beneath your feet and hitting the open road.

That being said, all of that goes out the window once it comes time to sell the van. For all the monuments of relaxation, which lay scattered about the country, selling a van in New Zealand can be the most ulcer-inducing, stress-provoking, miserable existence that can surely be the worst part of your trip. It’s the price to pay for the economic gamble, and unlike most fairy tales, it doesn’t always have a happy ending.

As I discussed in the initial entry to the series, “New Zealand by campervan,” travelers can save heaps of money on long-term New Zealand travel by opting to buy and sell a van versus renting one and eating the cost. Potential risks of this option, however, involve buying a van that needs immediate maintenance or, worse yet, the chance that you aren’t able to sell the van before you leave the country.

So after 7,000 kilometers, in which the van transported me from glaciers to rodeos and Murderer’s Bay to Mordor, here’s a look into how the gamble worked out as well as some tips for recreating the adventure. First off, you’re going to have much better luck selling a van in Christchurch than in Auckland. Why? Because there are about 45,000 campervans for sale at any given time in Auckland. The supply far outweighs the demand, and this is terrifying if you are a seller. As a general rule for buying and selling a campervan in New Zealand, buy one in Auckland but sell it in Christchurch. Trust me on this one.

I was not in Christchurch, however, I was in Auckland, and competition was stiff. In a market like this you need to get noticed fast, and you want to make sure your car is clean and in good working order. Luckily, ours was only in need of an oil change. So with new oil, a new filter and $85 later, I was in possession of one more selling point.

Next, you need to find a place to advertise your van.

Option #1: Backpacker’s Car Market, Auckland

Though the name sounds welcoming, be warned. This place can be the most depressing spot on the planet. If you are a seller, seriously, this can be the seventh circle of Hell. Here’s the deal with the Backpacker’s Car Market: As a seller, it’s going to cost you $135 NZD for a spot at the market in which you have three days to sell your car. If it doesn’t sell after three days, time to fork up the cash again.

During our time at the car market there was a lone traveler from Israel named Gabriel who couldn’t sell his van. It was painted the color of an old man’s couch and had about 340,000 kilometers on it. Gabriel was on his 14th straight day of sitting at the market, which is a soul-sucking garage in a sleazy part of town. Needless to say, Gabriel was not in a good mood.

The main problem with the Auckland Backpacker’s Car Market is literally in the name; you are selling to backpackers. Often times this means you are haggling with people with minimal foresight with regards to quality and maximum emphasis is placed on the cost. If the van next to yours is $200 cheaper, they’re going to buy that van. Why? Because, that’s like, a lot of beer, dude.

Furthermore, every day there is a new seller who is on their third day or has a flight in the morning, so they get desperate, drop $1000 or $1500 off of their car and leave the country with something other than a total loss. As you can imagine, it’s tough to compete with these people.

Granted, there are all sorts of travelers who successfully sell their van here, but a room full of money-desperate travelers trying to sell used cars to penniless backpackers is a recipe for misery.

Want a better option? Sell your car at the Backpacker Car Market in Christchurch where you can leave the van for up to six months. Plus, there are only about 12 vans here to choose from, so it’s a seller’s market.

Option #2: Utilize online forums

Just as we have Craigslist here in America, so too does New Zealand have their share of online forums. While TradeMe is the most well known, they require a hefty listing fee as well as a fee for if your van sells. It’s cheaper than the car market, but it’s still an expense. Better bet is to go on Gumtree or Backpacker Board where you can list the van for free and still reach a large number of buyers. This option works best if you have a mobile telephone where buyers can contact you to arrange a meeting.

Option #3: Put flyers at a hostel

This seems like a good idea until you go into an Auckland hostel and add your flyer to a stack of about 100 deep. Similarly, staring down a wall that is plastered in flyers for vans that are exactly the same or cheaper than yours can be another depressing realization. Nevertheless, you still have to try…

Option #4: Sell it to a dealer

For those who have entered desperation mode there are a fair amount of dealerships willing to give you pennies on the dollar for what you paid. This is a last resort as you won’t get more than a few hundred dollars, but it beats taking a total loss. Still, not recommended.

Option #5: Good old fashioned ‘For Sale’ sign

This, it seems, is almost clichéd. It’s just too easy. Put a sign up on your car and go about your daily life. What an incredible concept! There’s no way that can actually work though, right?

Wrong. Of both the campervans I’ve ever sold in New Zealand (2007 and 2012), this is the method through which I sold both vans. Once, while parked outside the Fat Camel hostel in downtown Auckland, and this current time, while sleeping at a holiday park on the outskirts of town.

So after nearly a week of haggling at the car market, printing dozens of fliers, visiting every hostel in Auckland, putting write-ups on every message board and getting jerked around repeatedly by a penny-pinching German named Johan, I was at wits end and beside myself with the frustrations of being unable to offload a perfectly good van and recoup some of the money I barely had in the first place.

Just when all seemed lost and this gamble was going south, an unexpected voice with a decidedly British accent disrupted me from a vigorous writing session inside the television room of the crowded campground.

“Are you Kyle? The one with the van for sale in camp number 13?”

“Why yes. Yes I am. Why don’t we step outside and chat.”

This concludes blogger Kyle Ellison’s series “Freedom To Roam,” the tales of an epic eight weeks spent embedded in a New Zealand campervan. After the worst week of his life spent failing to sell his van, he finally lucked out on a deal for $3400 to an affable British couple who he wishes nothing but the best in their travels. So what was the final overall cost for a campervan for eight weeks in New Zealand? $300. Was it a gamble? Sure. But when you’re an international vagabond, sometimes that’s just how you have to roll.

New Zealand’s King Country: Historically off limits, still beautifully empty

It isn’t often you are able to pet a stingray while firmly standing on land.

Somehow, however, this is exactly what I found myself doing while watching the sunset in New Zealand’s Aotea Harbor. A little visited eco-outpost on the west coast of the North Island, the coastal estuary, which creeps inland, has created a sheltered harbor reputed to be the final resting place of a waka, or canoe, which originally transported the first Maori settlers to New Zealand around 1150.

The area, I would soon find out, is steeped in far greater history than just that of the canoe.

Standing on the rocks of the estuary while cooking a dinner of quinoa and vegetables, which is the type of dinner you frequently eat when you live in a campervan with no refrigeration, a large stingray decided to come up and rub his belly on the very rock I was standing on. After examining the flimsy critter for a number of minutes, there really was nothing left to do but bend down and run a hand along its slimy black wing.

“Last week we had the orcas in here,” came a voice from behind me.

Spinning around to find the voice, I found an aging Maori gentleman who had decided to accompany me along the rocks.

“Had the big bull one with that tall dorsal fin leading the others right through this harbor. Get them every few weeks or so,” he explained.

With the fading sunlight illuminating the coastal sand dunes, the image of a pod of powerful orca plying the waters of this hidden harbor was an image I desperately hoped to see. These waters are also home to Maui’s dolphin, the most critically endangered dolphin species in New Zealand whose numbers are thought to have fewer than 150 left in the wild.

You would think that a place such as Aotea, which offers stunning eco-diversity, calming views, and natural hot springs right on the beach, would be a tourist magnet that everyone had heard of. Yet strangely there is nobody here.The same went for nearby Bridal Veil Falls, a cascading 180 foot waterfall, which plunges through dripping green rainforest. Arguably the most perfect waterfall I’ve ever seen, there was nobody there to enjoy it with me.

The dirt roads were all empty, the surrounding hills were silent, and you got the feeling that tourists simply just don’t ever come here. It’s like I had stumbled into a zone where mainstream tourists simply don’t bother to go.

After further research, I learned that’s exactly what I had done. This area here is the King Country, and it’s been like this for quite some time.

With British settlers populating New Zealand en masse throughout the 1850s, inevitably, there were bound to be skirmishes with the local Maori iwi (tribes) who had been populating the land for hundreds of years. One such altercation came in the Waikato region of the North Island in 1863, where, after a decisive loss, a Maori chief by the name of King Tawhiao retreated into the heavily forested hinterlands to reassemble.

Fortifying the area with heavily armed pa sites, for nearly two decades skirmishes between Maori and pakeha (white settlers) dotted the outskirts of this semi-independent area, which would soon be known as the “King Country” for those loyal to Tawhiao. Rugged country with infertile soil not suited for farming, it was understood amongst British settlers that this was a no-man’s land for people of their kind.

One of the final holdouts of the native Maori, formal boundaries were actually drawn in 1884 delineating an area of 7,000 square miles of land loyal to King Tawhiao, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Belgium or New Jersey. During this time the King Country even published its own regional newspaper with a printing press acquired from missionaries who abandoned it due to the threat of impending war.

Finally, however, with an increasing amount of western settlers encircling the rugged outpost, an informal treaty was negotiated at the town of Raglan where agreements were made for gradually assimilating the land and the Maori population into the local economic and political landscape.

Over 130 years later, the place still has the feel as if nothing was ever signed at all. Local marae (ceremonial meeting places) seem to be clustered more densely here than in other parts of the country, and the population density of Maori is evident in the few passerby you do actually encounter on the roads and small towns.

Standing in an isolated cave set an hour away from the more popular Waitomo Caves, it’s easy to understand why King Tawhiao chose this rolling hinterland for the ultimate hideout of his people. In the silence afforded in the valley of ferns, I remind myself that the history of this region, and this country, is still in its adolescence in comparison to other nations around the world. Did King Tawhiao once stand and ruminate on the King Country, his country, from here in this very cave only a few generations before?

Though the King Country may not be at the top, or rather, far from the top of virtually all tourist itineraries and guidebooks, there are few sites in Aotearoa which offer such a strong semblance of the past — sloping hills and dense forests where history can still be felt in the present moment.

For 2 months, Gadling blogger Kyle Ellison will be embedded in a campervan touring the country of New Zealand. Follow the rest of the adventure by reading his series, Freedom to Roam: Touring New Zealand by Campervan.

Guide to the ultimate “man day” on New Zealand’s Coromandel peninsula

Caution: In this article the author makes wildly general, mildly controversial, and borderline sexist remarks, none of which are meant to be offensive. Any abrasive remarks can be attributed to an obscene adrenaline rush derived from an extended period of time in the great outdoors. And maybe the feijoa juice.

Don’t get me wrong, the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island of New Zealand is a place that can be enjoyed equally by both sexes. Clear ocean waters rife with marine life, dense jungles dotted with waterfalls and swimming holes, rural towns with country stores set beside single lane roads; these are qualities of the Coromandel which can be appreciated by men and women alike.

Nonetheless, in scouring the Coromandel from the confines of the campervan, there are elements of the sparsely populated peninsula which speak to the curious, nearly-Neanderthalic urges of adventurous young males. Climbing mountains, digging big holes, these are things we enjoy. Throw in a little local alcohol just for fun, and the Coromandel can make a case for one of the world’s best outdoor playgrounds.

Planning on visiting the area? Here’s a three-step itinerary for piecing together a “man-day” on New Zealand’s Coromandel peninsula.1. Climb a mountain

Although the Coromandel doesn’t have any mountains taller than 3,000 ft, the dense, forested interior of the peninsula is covered in walking tracks ranging from 20 minute loops to multi-day tests of wilderness navigation. In the Kauaeranga Valley alone there are 21 marked hiking trails which offer sweeping views of the entire Coromandel range, many of which offer access to isolated watering holes where thundering waterfalls are your only companion.

While all of the tracks on the Coromandel are worth a wander, none of them offer views as famously stunning as the challenging Pinnacles track. Departing from the top of the Kauaeranga Valley, the 16 km long Pinnacles track passes through sopping wet jungle that was once home to loggers harvesting massive kauri trees. From the sides of the muddy trail it’s still possible to make out the campsites cleared for early loggers, as well as the stone steps in the pathway carved so that pack horses could gain a better foothold.

At the top of the three hour climb lies a set of metal stairs and hand rails which lead to the greatest view in all of the Coromandel. Clambering to the summit of The Pinnacles offers the hiker a 360 degree view full of vertical rock faces and densely forested jungle as far as the eye can see. The entire gaze to the horizon is completely devoid of humanity, and from the tip of the craggy summit it’s still possible to feel that just for a moment you may actually be the only person on Earth.

2. Drink

After completing such a conquest it’s fair game to have sudden urge for a drink. After all, nothing screams victory like a celebratory stein full of grog. Luckily for Coromandel visitors there are a handful of local wineries and distilleries scattered along the eastern side of the peninsula, all of which are within close enough proximity to hit a few different spots over the course of an afternoon.

At Purangi winery, a funky, curious establishment set discreetly off the side of the highway, the visionary winemakers have actually experimented with creating a liqueur derived from the extract of the feijoa fruit, a little known citrus fruit which flourishes in New Zealand and is sometimes known as “pineapple guava”.

“All Kiwis love their feijoa mate”, claims the bartender, who I reckon has already had a few glasses by mid-afternoon.

“Most don’t know you can freeze it though. Keeps it good all year. We just like to make liquor out of it.”

With the type of sip that inevitably leads to a full body shiver, the feijoa juice alarmingly goes down potent but smooth. It’s just one of the myriad drinking opportunities which occupy the rural coastline, and whether it’s wine, local craft beer from Whitianga, or a generous quaff of feijoa juice, an afternoon spent imbibing the local swill can be a Coromandel afternoon exceptionally well spent.

3. Dig a Hole

Yes, that’s right. Dig a hole. As evidenced by young children at the beach, particularly boys, there is a certain fascination with digging big, deep, maybe-I’ll-get-to-China types of holes. Now take that fascination and combine it with the possibility of striking an upwelling of volcanically charged hot springs, and the digging mission takes on an entirely new level of excitement.

At the Coromandel’s insanely popular Hot Water Beach, amateur diggers descend in droves onto the golden brown sands during low tide, and for two hours on either end of low tide it’s possible to dig a massive hole in the sand to create your own hot tub fueled by the 140°F upwellings rising from the volcanic Earth.

Admittedly a bit overplayed (nearly every store in town sells shovels, for example), creating natural hot tubs on the beach at sunset is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the entire Coromandel.

Regardless of its popularity, comfortably situated in a recliner made of sand and immersed in the tepid natural spring, I strike up a conversation with Angus, an affable Kiwi who has brought his family up from Wellington on vacation. We talk of the Pinnacles, the hot springs, the kauri forests, and of course, the feijoa, its distilled juices still swimming in my head.

“Sounds like you’ve had quite an adventure day”, he remarks. “That’s why we come up here from the city, to get back into the outdoors. This whole Peninsula is an incredible playground.”

Cracking a smile and shooting a quick glance at his two young boys digging happily in the steaming waters, Angus nails the Coromandel right on the head.

“It’s a great place to just be a boy again.”

For 2 months Gadling blogger Kyle Ellison will be embedded in a campervan touring the country of New Zealand. Follow the rest of the adventure by reading his series, Freedom to Roam: Touring New Zealand by Campervan.

The two worlds of Waiheke, New Zealand’s paradise island

Sipping a succulent syrah inside of the beachfront tasting room at Man O’ War winery, a quick glance of the room is all it takes to confirm I’m out of my element.

To my left, a middle-aged man sporting crocodile shoes and hair of a dubious authenticity casually flashes a credit card for $500 of the vineyard’s finest vintage. To my right, a suntanned yachtie with a bushy white mustache gesticulates to an acquaintance about the strength of the new varnish recently applied to his helm station.

Then, sandwiched between the two socialites, is me, a wandering travel writer who temporarily lives in a van which was shipped to the island on a 45-minute ferry. Meekly performing a free wine tasting just trying to learn a little about Waiheke wines, the contrast is pretty black and white.

Luckily for all parties involved, however, Waiheke Island is more multi-dimensional than simply being a playground for the uber-rich. Sure, there are expensive rave-parties at vineyards, hidden beachfront mansions, and trendy, high-priced boutiques lining the island’s main thoroughfare, but there is an entire other side to Waiheke which can’t be invested in, can’t be corrupted, and definitely can’t be bought.

I am here to explore that side of Waiheke.”It’s paradise island!” claims my friend Barlow, a couldn’t-be-happier Waiheke Island resident.

“It’s like living in the 1970’s! Come stay for a year!”

A recent transplant to the island from Australia, Barlow is one of the few workers swimming upstream against the river of Kiwis “jumping the ditch” to Australia for a share of the booming mining business, an industry where average salaries hover around $124,000 U.S. dollars per year. Don’t believe me? Check out this chart.

Barlow, however, wants no part if it. Instead, he’s enamored with the antiquity of Waiheke and the pervasive sense of island calm. There are no malls on Waiheke, and there are no freeways. With a population of only 8,000 residents, Waiheke is the third most populated island in New Zealand, yet still retains a small town feel. He instructs me to park my van on the grass just off the side of the road.

“You can leave it there for a month” he claims. “And no need to lock it.”

Later in the afternoon we take a hike along a coastal trail accessible only at low-tide. Although the island is only 36 square miles and crawling in private boats over from Auckland, there are still a surprising amount of hidden coves with nary a person on them.

Confirming the notion there are still places to escape the “see-and-be-seen” areas of Waiheke, the first person we encounter on the two mile amble along the coast is a woman opting to sunbathe in the total nude. A turquoise t-shirt placed ever so delicately over her face, we decide to scamper further down the trail and allow her to erase her tan lines in peace.

Meandering around a few more empty points, we find a lone fisherman seated calmly on a rocky outcropping, a faded straw hat protecting his sun-shriveled neck. Though I notice no fishtails poking out of his white plastic bucket, he exudes the feeling he hasn’t a care in the world.

“Nice spot for fishing you’ve found out here” I acknowledge upon approach.

“Ah, the fish are just a bonus mate. I come out here to find myself. Have some time for my thoughts. Might dive for some kina when the tide backs out a bit.”

A local seafood delicacy, kina is a a type of sea urchin endemic to New Zealand waters where the bitter tasting roe can reach prices of $25/pound. Climbing a densely forested pathway away from the pensive fisherman, I reason that kina can, in a way, speak to the dichotomy of Waiheke. Some people on Waiheke prefer to buy their kina; others would rather dive for their own.

Treating myself to a glass of Te Whau syrah at the end of the hike, followed by a pint of Onetangi dark ale from Waiheke Island Brewery (what? I’m on vacation), I eventually find myself wandering Oneroa Beach beneath a sky painted pink by the setting Kiwi sun.

There on the beach is when it hits me.

This, I realize, does not cost any money. This soft white sand beneath my feet, the smell of salt wafting off the tranquil Hauraki Gulf, the easygoing atmosphere of the locals strolling the beach alongside me, this is all part of the Waiheke charm that doesn’t have a price tag dangling off the end.

So although Waiheke Island may boast a glitzy reputation, travelers to New Zealand should remember that Waiheke is still just an island, and as is often the case, the best parts of island life always comes free.

Hiking across Mordor in Tongariro National Park

There aren’t many places where you feel the urge to wear your wedding ring around your neck and begin dodging fictional forces of evil.

New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park, however, is exactly one of those places.

As anyone who has been to a movie theater in the last ten years probably knows, New Zealand was the setting for the epically popular Lord of the Rings trilogy which introduced us to the adventures of Middle Earth.

Arguably one of the best known movie series of an entire generation, the movie saga has simultaneously done wonders for the New Zealand tourism economy by displaying the country’s enchanting and other worldly scenery to a global audience of millions. While Middle Earth tourism has sculpted out its own niche for diehard fans (my 2012 New Zealand road atlas, for example, points out where each scene was filmed), as a casual viewer there are only a few place names I actually recognize.

One of these, of course, is Mt. Doom, and as I set out from the campervan into the volcanic cinder of the Tongariro Crossing-one of New Zealand’s most heavily trafficked walks-I found myself standing directly beneath it.

So what exactly is Mt. Doom?

Well, to begin, its real name is Mt. Ngauruhoe, it is 7,516 ft. high, and from the best I could tell there aren’t any quivering, flaming black eyes located anywhere near it. While Mt. Ngauruhoe doubled as Mt. Doom, the surrounding bits of Tongariro National Park provided the scenery for Mordor, the fiery and terrifying volcanic wasteland that serves as the home of evil.

As it happens, Tongariro is actually pretty cold, even during the summer months. Lacing up my hiking boots at 6am with about 100 other trekkers, the morning dew had frozen and blanketed the campervan beneath a thin layer of frost.

“Weird”, I thought. “There’s not supposed to be snow in Mordor.”Actually, back here in reality, Tongariro is home to Whakapapa ski field, one of only two areas on the whole North Island of New Zealand which receives enough snowfall to warrant ski lifts and groomed runs. Though Mordor is colder in reality than in the movies, the threat of volcanic eruption is still very real.

Nearby Mt. Ruapehu is an active enough volcano that warning signs scattered around the park advise skiers what actions to take should the mountain decide to go all volcanic and bubbly during their mid-winter ski session. A legitimate concern, the mountain last experienced a major eruption in 1996, and volcanic lahars–essentially boiling rivers of mud–have been known to push their way down to within a few feet of chairlifts which regularly carry resort guests.

And, since Tongariro is still comprised of active volcanoes, it would make sense that there are hot springs, sulfuric lakes, and places where steam rises straight from the Earth.

As I enjoyed a lunch of sweet chili tuna (why don’t we have flavored tuna in the US?) above the turquoise (and toxic) Emerald Lakes, it wasn’t hard at all to see why the Lord of the Rings scouts chose this place. A sea of multicolored cinder, the entire landscape is bathed in that oxymoronic volcanic quality where new earth appears to be old; just because it isn’t covered in grass doesn’t make it old, but, in fact, too young for organisms such as grass to have taken root.

Though Tongariro gets pigeonholed nowadays into Mordor tourism there’s still much more to the park than volcanoes and moonscapes. Many places in the park are actually fairly green and lush, and on the trail out to Tama Lakes it’s possible to be surrounded by volcanic, sub-alpine shrub land and still sunbathe at the base of a cascading waterfall.

Or, if trekking across barren cinder flats isn’t quite classy enough, you can always retire to the historic and ultra-elegant Chateau Tongariro and listen to the tunes of the grand piano played next to a roaring fire. Constructed in 1929, the Chateau was originally a luxury outpost for outdoorsmen and adventure seekers aiming to explore the beauty of the island’s volcanic highlands. Today it’s still possible to book a room at the Chateau or simply call in for a glass of wine, an entrée of lamb, or, of course, a panoramic view of Mordor.

Though the silver screen has made this place famous as of late, Hollywood was far from the first organization to recognize the beauty of Tongariro. Wanting the land beneath these mountains to be preserved and maintained for eternity, it was the Maori chief Horonuku Te Heuheu Tukino who in 1887 first gifted this land to the New Zealand government to preserve and protect the sacred alpine ground for generations to come.

From Maori chiefs to mythical hobbits to active volcanoes to a wayward vagabond touring the country in a campervan, Tongariro National Park is a magical place to find yourself when given the freedom to roam.

For 2 months Gadling blogger Kyle Ellison will be embedded in a campervan touring the country of New Zealand. Follow the rest of the adventure by reading his series, Freedom to Roam: Touring New Zealand by Campervan.