Thursday, December 2, 2010

Welcome to Nelson

Before arriving in New Zealand, we had this vision of what living in a camper van would be like. Pulling over wherever we please to take a snooze. Stumbling out of a bar and into the parking lot to pass out for the night. All the flexibility of driving a car without the responsibility of getting yourself home. Fantastic.

Turns out, not so much. There is an insane amount of regulation regarding where you can park your van at night. In a country with so much damn space and so few people, it's pretty freaking frustrating how few places we're "allowed" to sleep in our van.

The most common option is the family-packed holiday park, where a parking space will run you about $30 a night. A PARKING SPACE!! That's more than we have been paying for most hotels around the world. And when you are already paying $70 a day for the van itself, it's kind of insulting really. Less common are the Department of Conservation run (DOC) sites. For around $10 a night, you trade toilets, showers and a kitchen for a pretty site surrounded by nature, often perched alongside a river. We like these sites.

Occassionally, in bigger cities, the camper vanner finds himself pretty screwed. Holiday parks are even pricier and DOCs are nowhere to be found. Yet residential streets and parks just BEG for you to park there and save your hard earned cash. This is what they call "freedom camping". Seriously frowned upon, but not necessarily illegal. It's a fine line.

We arrived in Nelson absolutely exhausted. We visited the two places in the Lonely Planet who claim to have campsites. Both turned us down, saying they only cater only to tents, not vans. We found a nice shady parking spot just outside of town in front of a pretty park with a picnic table, and started cooking up some dinner. Uncertain if we could really pull off sleeping there, we needed a rest regardless.

Ten minutes later we were approached by a woman walking her dog, who asked if we were looking for a place to camp for the night. I braced myself for a lecture on the sins of utilizing picnicing facilities for eating and parking a vehicle next to a curb. I was in no mood. In actuality, she was coming over to invite us to her home, where she runs sort of a boarding house for international travelers on working holiday visas. She would be happy to allow us to park in her yard and use all of her facilities, free of charge. Really?? Circumstance #278 of people extending their kindness to us for no darn good reason, and we were delighted to take her up on it.

What was even more delightful, was the environment we'd find upon our arrival. A bustling house of travelers and neighbors and family members coming and going. The kind of place where you're introduced to a "brother" who isn't actually related to anybody, where the wine is flowing generously, where the kids have strange names and mowhawks. Everybody was so open and welcoming that we instantely felt right at home. And the following night when a "cousin" called us on the house phone ("Reece, it's for you!") to invite us over for beers and an aunt offered to meet up with us when she got off work ("I'm a dominatrix"), well hell we were pretty much family!

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