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Interview With a Cruiser Project: our turn!

The Johnson Family 2017

I must interrupt my blogging sabbatical to bring you some exciting news! When our friend Livia Gilstrap of The Interview With a Cruiser Project asked us if we’d like to answer a few questions we said HELL YES. Michael and I have been getting ready for, actively cruising, or recovering from since 1999 and we’ve formed a few thoughts and opinions in that time. Head over to the site to read our interview. And if you do, you’ll find out what exactly it is we’re doing in the photo above.

How to campervan on the cheap in New Zealand

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand

It’s hard to believe that the 2016 Puddle Jumping fleet will soon be sailing into New Zealand for cyclone season. While some of you may be looking for work to fill the cruising kitty as we did when we sailed in nearly broke, others may be looking at a leisurely six months to explore these islands at the bottom of the South Pacific ocean. You’ll find out in Opua that New Zealand is not a cheap place to travel…unless you know how to travel cheaply here. Even if you arrive in NZ the modern way — via plane — here’s our top tips for travelling on a budget by motorhome in New Zealand.

Buy your motorhome or van. Renting an RV or campervan can cost upwards of $200 per day. For trips of a few weeks, that might be the easiest option. But if you are looking to travel for several months or more, it’s much more economical to simply buy one. Start your search on Trade Me. Look for a motorhome or campervan that’s got a recent Warrant of Fitness to avoid any upfront repairs. Make sure it’s Certified Self Contained (i.e. has got holding tanks) or you won’t be able to freedom camp anywhere. Buying any vehicle is simple in New Zealand: all you have to do is bring the registration to your local Post Shop or VTNZ and they’ll handle changing the vehicle into your name, a 5-minute process. When you’re ready to pass it on after your road trip, just pop another ad up on Trade Me and hopefully you’ll get a buyer straight away.

Freedom camping 10 minutes from Wellington's C.B.D.

Freedom camping 10 minutes from Wellington’s C.B.D.

Join the NZMCA. For less than $100/year you can join the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association. This is a great bunch of folks and besides their nonstop campaigning for motor caravanning rights, NZMCA provides very affordable motorhome insurance (sign up!), a bi-monthly magazine, resources for free or cheap places to park up (including NZMCA parks and park-over-property sites), discounts on services (Cook Strait ferry crossings, for a big one), an extensive travel directory, rallies, and a lot more. The NZMCA also has a brand new mobile broadband service offered for a fraction of the price cell providers charge.

There's not much freedom camping in Auckland. This NZCMA park in west Auckland was a life-saver during our time there.

There’s not much freedom camping in Auckland. This NZMCA park in west Auckland was a life-saver during our time there.


Download the Wikicamps app. Get this on your phone or tablet — it’s the best app you’ll use your entire trip. Updated constantly by app users, it’s got all the freedom camping sites, places of interest like libraries and laundromats (including waste dump stations — you’ll use those a lot) and ratings and comments of all of the above. You can even save the data for offline use (and you’ll be out of cell range often so be sure to do that).

Get your DOC campsite pass. Your NZMCA membership includes the option to purchase the Department of Conservation campsite pass. Get one! With only a handful of exceptions, this pass allows your family to camp fee-free at over 170 DOC campgrounds around the country. It’s a bargain at $175 for the 2016-17 season, considering current DOC campground charges are $5 – $18 per adult and $3.00 – $7.50 per child, per night.

Avoid holiday parks. Sorry NZ tourism, but at NZ$50-$75 per night for our family to stay in a typical holiday park we avoided these like the plague. Not only are they expensive, but they are often crowded too. There are plenty of free places to park up and spread out. If you do need, or want, the luxuries of a holiday park (a shower or washing machine, perhaps), opt for an unpowered site to save a few bucks. We stayed in a few parks when winter temps dropped below freezing so we had power to run our electric heater; check your Wikicamps app for more affordable parks. There are some gems!


Go swimming. If your fresh water reserves are limited — as ours was — you may start smelling a bit due to lack of showering. Luckily, New Zealand’s got plenty of lakes, rivers, and oceans to have a dip. Or, if you really need a shower, head to one of the many amazing swimming pools found all over. Our kids loved the water slides and giant waves! A real bargain for everyone.

Stay for the winter. I know, you probably plan to sail back to the tropics at the first sign of winter, but in our opinion, winter and spring (June-November) are the best seasons to travel New Zealand, by any means. Crowds are non-existent, off-peak rates apply, whitebait fritters are on, and you can even find some snow to play in. Saying we love winter here would be a stretch, but it’s a great way to stretch travel dollars.

Eat in. But you already know this, having sailed through French Polynesia, right?


Any other tips for cheap motorhome living I’ve forgot? Leave a comment and I’ll update this list.

Respect the signs please, protect our freedom camping rights.

Respect the signs please, protect our freedom camping rights.

We had the best beach in New Zealand all to ourselves last winter. (Wharariki Beach, South Island)

We had the best beach in New Zealand all to ourselves last winter. (Wharariki Beach, South Island)

Parked up at the Honest Lawyer, Nelson. Amazing coffee in the morning to boot!

Parked up at the Honest Lawyer, Nelson. Amazing coffee in the morning to boot!


Freedom camping next to the Whangarei bridge.

Freedom camping next to the Whangarei bridge.


We tried to visit the Coromandel one Easter weekend when we lived in Auckland. Last winter we had the whole peninsula to ourselves.

We tried to visit the Coromandel one Easter weekend when we lived in Auckland but the roads were gridlocked and we had to turn back. Last winter we had the whole peninsula to ourselves.

Cup Fever

Watching the America's Cup in NZ

Up early to watch the America’s Cup in New Zealand. Late to school, again. (No, that’s not aboard Wondertime. More on that soon, I promise.)

I think I might get it now, this little country of New Zealand. Or at least a little bit more than I did a few months ago. I thought to myself earlier this week: “Man, if we’d left to go south from Washington just two years later not only would the girls have been older, out of diapers, and actually remember the trip [Holly has no recollection of sailing across the Pacific, yet alone California, Mexico….] but we would have been in San Francisco for the America’s Cup.”

“Scratch that,” I replied to myself.

New Zealand is the best place to be watching the America’s Cup action from. It’s absolutely everywhere. Cup talk is on every TV station, every radio station. It’s been the cover of the NZ Herald for weeks. There are live viewings of the races on the Auckland waterfront with hundreds attending, lining up at 6am to get into the shed. I’ve talked about it with pretty much every Kiwi I know, even the other mums and teachers at the girls’ schools. They are showing the later second races at Holly’s kindy in the mornings and Leah tells me it’s on in her year 3 class too. Everyone is talking about sailing. Everyone wants ETNZ to bring the cup home. So. Bad.

The desire to win is thick here, so palpable. People care so much. New Zealand boat builders and sailors are the best and everyone wants the world to know. I sense this little country – which barely makes it onto nearly every map I come across – feels like they are up against big bossy America and is determined to show that the little guy can win with pure skill on their side. The problem is the big guy has a whole lot more money and can afford to improve his boat each day (with Kiwi builders, ahem) and that might be the trick. It’s not been looking good these past few days for the Kiwi team and I worry what will happen when everyone’s clenched fists collectively release tomorrow. I seriously see a spike in Prozac scripts happening if the cup stays in San Fran. Major national pride is on the line. It’s that serious here.

What they don’t know here is that your average American couldn’t care less about this little sailing race on the bay. At least there hasn’t been a peep about it on The Daily Show, or even Colbert Report, which is about all the news from the U.S. we can take these days. Maybe I’m wrong and there’s more a buzz in the U.S. about the Cup this year outside of sailing aficionados but judging by all the posts about football on my facebook feed I’m doubting it. I certainly remember absolutely nothing about the America’s Cups from years past, except maybe shrugging it off as a bunch of rich guy’s toys.

Clearly, it’s still a bunch of rich guy’s toys. But after experiencing the Cup from the other side of the ocean, I can see that it’s much, much more than that to this proud island nation. My fists are clenched too.

Kia kaha Aotearoa.

Addendum: I just came across this post from a NZ blogger via the ETNZ Facebook feed and I think it says it all…

An Open Letter to Emirates Team New Zealand, from Team New Zealand


Watching America's Cup at kindy

Watching America’s Cup race #14 at kindy


Watching America's Cup at Microsoft TechEd Auckland

Watching America’s Cup at Microsoft TechEd Auckland

How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps


Want more? Good news! Full book now available with heaps more New Zealand immigration tips: “How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps.”

Print book available at amazon.com and other online bookstores.

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I have, at times, found myself a bit frustrated with our oldest daughter Leah. She is quite a stubborn persistent child. If someone tells her that she can’t do something then there’s no stopping her until it’s done. It’s not a bad quality, to be sure. I guess you could say her parents are a bit like that too. We lost track of the number of times people told us over the past few years, when we’d mention that we might like to live and work in New Zealand, that it couldn’t be done.

“There are no jobs in NZ.”

“It’s impossible to get a visa there.”

“You guys are too old.”

“Your health is not good enough.”

I guess you could say there wasn’t any stopping us until it was done. Last month, the beautiful, friendly and peaceful little country of New Zealand granted us residency which means we can live, work, vote, enjoy affordable socialized healthcare, and go to any school here as long as we like. It’s an outstanding honour.

It certainly wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that difficult either. There was a lot of paperwork, fees, a lot of waiting and hand-wringing and stress. We’ve gotten a number of emails from friends asking how we did it so I’m going to tell you for three reasons: (1) we want all our friends to move here with us, (2) we wish we’d had this information 8 months ago, (3) to prove it really can be done and if it’s your goal too don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I want to add an important caveat here: we are not lawyers or immigration advisors of any kind. I am documenting how WE travelled down our New Zealand immigration path and yours may be completely different depending on your circumstances. Immigration laws and regulations change all the time as well and what I describe was only true at the time of our application process, the first half of 2013. However, the cruisers we know who have landed and stayed in NZ have pretty similar paths to residency.

So here you go, 31 easy steps to move to New Zealand: