If you have been following along with our adventures (we love all of you who are!), you can see that we split our time between working on farms and traveling in our tres chic van, Ms. Serena Williams. You may also know that our plan is to be here in New Zealand for about a year, with no income other than the occasional odd jobs here and there. One thing we are constantly minding is how we spend our time and money. There are endless opportunities to spend money on really enticing looking adventures like rafting, zip lining, jet boating, zorbing, and alpine climbing expeditions, but we would be flat broke after a week of that. We didn’t save for that. We saved enough to live very simply and to see the country by exploring on our own. This post is a break down of how we are making it work without an income.
By balancing our time between working and travel, we get different benefits and can live fairly inexpensively. WWOOFing (working on farms) gives us the opportunity to learn valuable skills, get to know people, and our meals and lodging is provided in exchange for 4-5 hours of work. We have been lucky enough to stay with farmers who want the work to be something that we are interested in, while also being of use to them. They ask questions like, “What do you want to learn and do while you are here?”
While WWOOFing, we spend most of our time on or very close to the farm. We get to know the surrounding area well, taking occasional afternoon trips to the mountains or the beach. Our only expenses are on extras, which are usually just wine and cookies. Except that our current hosts provide plenty of both. (Thank you L&S!) Who needs packaged cookies when Lyndal made mousse au chocolate on a Tuesday night?
In the last two weeks of WWOOFing, our expenses totaled $74.50:
- $50.00 Doctor’s visit and antibiotics for my foot (which is slowly, but surely on the mend)
- $20 Torlesse Vineyards Pinot Gris
- $4.50 Foccacia from the Farmer’s market
While traveling in the van, our costs are higher, but we have the freedom to make our own schedule, to sleep late, to spend the morning sitting on the beach, wearing my straw hat and sewing up the holes in the armpit of my denim shirt, or to keep going on a dirt road just to see what is at the end of it. With that freedom also comes the challenge of stretching the dollar by buying day old bread and brownish bananas and finding activities that are free. (Hello, hiking and biking!)
Our costs for one week of living in the van and exploring come to around $600.
- $400 gas
- $50 campsite fees (Freedom camping when possible and shelling out for a Dept. of Conservation campsite when we really need a shower)
- $100 camping food (box of wine, pb&j supplies, oats, nuts, canned beans, lentils, farm stand veggies)
- $20 entry to Lake Tekapo Thermal Pools (50% off thanks to bookme.com, kinda like a Groupon)
- $25 breakfast at a farm stand cafe.
It is the balance of these two ways of living that makes our long term travel work financially possible and rewarding. Balance between time spent with new people and time alone. Balance between boxed wine and vineyard tastings. Balance between sleeping in the van and in a bed. It all evens out to make it work pretty well so far.
Oh, and the money we save by eating canned beans will allow us to afford a few splurges like bungee jumping and knife making
Last week was spent driving, sleeping, reading, cooking, eating, and not showering in our Nissan Serena van, who we have aptly named Serena Williams. Serena Williams has provided us with adventure that we didn’t even know we were going to have, and would not have had if we were backpacking or staying in hostels. We have to park her at a campground (many grocery store parking lots have No Van signs), so each day inevitably ends at a campground. And from what I have seen thus far, New Zealand doesn’t have KOA campgrounds just off I-95, wedged between the truck stop and the dump. Each one has been tucked away in a gorgeous spot, not listed in our Fodor’s guide.
The speed limit on the road to Coromandel Town was 100km/hr, but we never went more than 60 km/hr. We frequently pulled over for locals to pass us, as the road curved sharply, in and out, with each bay and peninsula that defined the rocky coastline. The sun began to set as we turned inland onto a gravel road that wound back and forth through brilliant green sheep pastures, climbing the mountains of the Coromandel range. At each turn, the road on the map became narrower and narrower and after we lost the sunlight, we were just kind of following a map through the darkness. What started as a windy, but exciting gravel road up the mountain, became a terrifying, dirt path descending through the pitch black bush in toward Stony Bay. And then it started raining. We drove the last 30 minutes in first gear, trying to avoid mud puddles and not thinking about old kidnapper men that might be lurking in the jungle. That’s when I started to wonder if we would make it through the mud, and if we did, if we would be able to get back out.
We ate our bread and carrots, set up the bed in the back of the van and read on our respective e readers until we fell asleep. I just started The Art of Fielding, which had my attention at page one, so I was up longer than anticipated.
It was rainy, dark and muddy when we closed the curtains the night before. When we opened them, this is what we found:
I have been nursing a variety of foot injuries* and Zach was itching to go climb a mountain, so we decided to split up. After importing our pictures, Lightroom organized them by the timestamp on the file. It’s pretty fun to see that while I was diddling around on the beach, Zach was in a sheep pasture, or while I was basking in the sunlight at the look out, Zach was barefoot, crossing a freezing stream.
While I was at the lookout, I met a local, Keith, who was baiting traps for weasels, stotes and possum. “I suppose that was your partner I saw a bit ago,” he mentioned. Beard? Yup. Ponytail? Yup. Orange backpack? (Go CUSE!) Yup. Well then, it sounds like you did. I sent him on a different route; the one where he was headed was quite boring. See that green patch in the saddle between the two peaks? He pointed at where the mountains meet the sky. You get 360 degree views from up there. That’s where he is. You all should have mirrors so you can send signals with the sun.
He sat down to roll a cigarette and I sat because that was the plan for the afternoon. We talked for about an hour while he smoked cigarettes and I ate my PB & J. The weasels, stotes and possum are predators of the ground dwelling Kiwi bird. They snatch up their eggs. The Kiwi was on the verge of extinction with less than 1,000 in all of New Zealand about 12 years ago when conservation efforts really started. Stony Bay is one of the first Kiwi preserves that began with 13 birds and is now up to 138 birds, with most of it’s population approaching breeding age. (Go Kiwis!) Somewhere in our conversation about living in the bush, mountains, and backpacking, we got onto the topic of how food tastes better when you go without something for awhile. I mentioned that we were planning to eat pb & js for dinner because we had yet to procure a pot, to which he quickly offered one of his. I didn’t have to tell him where Serena Williams was parked. He and the other park workers saw us come in last night and were laughing at us, creeping through the rain.
We made mashed Kumara (NZ sweet potatoes) with garlic, onions and a fried egg on top. By dinner time it was freezing cold. I finished cooking in my full on winter gear and we scuttled inside to eat at our dining room table/fold up bed. Never before has a HEAP of hot potatoes out of the back of a van tasted so good. So that is kind of how living out of our van goes. You do without some stuff and everything else gets that much better.
We are in the midst of a transition, from Waiheke Island (A), through Auckland, to Coromandel (B) for a few days, Martinborough for a week (C) and ultimately down to Canterbury (D) on the South Island by the end of the month. We need a vehicle to make this transition and continue on with our travels. It is time.
On Sunday we attended the Auckland Car Fair, held at the Ellerslie Racetrack outside of Auckland. We have known about the car fair for awhile, but were hoping to buy a van through word of mouth. We tried that, but it didn’t work. Time to turn to the professionals. (Professional used car salesmen? Mechanics? Scam artists?)
We got off the train with the rest of the tourists and traveled in a herd of languages: Japanese, German, Spanish, to the racetrack. Lost tourists trying to navigate their way may sound different in each language, but looks exactly the same: swiveling heads, scouring the streets for clues and signs. My instinct was to walk faster and beat the pack, but I am nursing a stubbed toe and had to accept that we were not going to be the first ones in. Dammit. I like being first. (Oh, hello little New Yorker tendency.)
We headed to the camper van row and started sizing up the cars, none of which I had heard of before. Toyota Estima? Hiace? Nissan Largo? A middle eastern guy had gutted his dented 1990 Toyota Estima taxi cab, complete with cigarette stank and stained seats, but was only asking $2,700. There was the 1985 Toyota Hiace with 300,000 km on it and completely gutted of everything except the two front seats that was going for $7,000. Then there was the dready guy and his gal pal who were lounging in tailgate chairs in front of their lifted, purple, 1999 Toyota Hiace with a bed, kitchen, and collapsable table inside. Too bad they were asking $9,500.
It seemed as if everything was either too expensive, too old, too many miles, expired this, broken that, too ugly, too small, too big, too whatever. We spent the rest of the day calling individual sellers, other car dealers, and mechanics. Twice we thought we found something, but after the pre purchase inspection, were told to stay far, far away from the vehicle. We across town and back again to look at vehicles, which by the end of the day, all looked about the same. After the fair had shut down and we were waiting on another van to arrive, the fair mechanics offered us a mid day Heineken, which was much needed and took the edge off before we geared up for another round of “How tall are the tales you’re telling me?”
In the end, we found a car that passed inspection. It is a red, 1992 Nissan Serena, which I dismissed it at first because the interior is ugly as sin (think frayed, beige poly-rayon curtains, with a possibly used mattress covered in primary colored geometric print fabric in the back) Thank god that Zach can see beyond that stuff. There will be a funeral pyre as soon as I can find some cheap material to redecorate with. It has a good engine, good cooling system, new tires, brakes work, whatever. That’s the important stuff. And that the search is over. Now off to explore!