You do not have to be a hippy to hit the road in a van, there are few better ways to see the world and here is how to start. While exploring America’s mother road, Route 66, in a campervan, I found myself lost in Bryce Canyon National Park late in the night. Tired, I pulled over and wild camped, the big benefit of driving your own ‘resort’. The following morning I realised I wasn’t far from a 2,000m-high glance, at which I came, bleary-eyed, in sunrise, completely unprepared for the landscape spread out before me.
From my randomly found vantage point I watched the day break over a 30km-long set of eccentric amphitheatres and pinnacles, all rich-reds and yellow-oranges; the kind of image that burns to your memory. And it was a fluke made possible simply by travelling in a campervan.
The USA is created for campervanning. Other countries can be less hospitable, but still attainable to those with a van and a spirit of adventure. The open street lures campervanners. Speak to camper owners as the opinion is much the same: those vehicles give you the liberty to go where you want, when you want, knowing you’ve got a comfy bed awaiting you at the end of the night.
This freedom also means you’re not held to ransom by outrageous prices for a cuppa at a tourist place, and you won’t ever be caught short in a public place. Additionally, campers carry all of the amenities you need to reside ‘off-grid’, away from mains electricity and water supplies with some having added luxuries such as automotive leather and the latest multimedia technology. Below are a few places you should you go in your campervan adventure.
Nature pulls out all the stops right out of your window, a conveyor belt of peaks, beaches, fiords, and glaciers. New Zealand’s landscape changes constantly. You can be driving through a valley, with mountains soaring either side with the air flowing in through the Webasto sunroof, then across the corner to find a wild shore or the tip of a glacier field. That is the beauty of New Zealand, it crams a huge drama in its small proportions.
The delight of exploring by camper is that, should you like an area, you can stay the night: local law permits you to free camp so long as you’re at least 15km from the nearest large town and off the public street.
The winter months (Jun-Aug) are a great time to see New Zealand in all its exotic glory, when waterfalls cascade off the mountains and the seas continue to be packed with whales. Avoid peak season (Jan-Mar) and you’ll have the streets pretty much to yourself.
- Te Anau to Milford Sound Drive: through beech trees into the gold meadows of Fiordland National Park, before winding down to the Audio. A simply stunning route.
- Coromandel Peninsula: The area that goes from Waihi in the south to Port Jackson from the north is a superb, forested mountain driveway.
Although the country’s road networks are great, a few of NZ’s best bits require a little leg work to reach. Get off the road and on a bicycle. You’ll find a vast network of cycling routes, for each and every ability. Perfect for investigating where four wheels can’t go.
Here the drive is where scale is everything, never-ending horizons, big skies and the longest open streets ever.
Australia is vast. In the outback you can drive all day and not see a soul, a complete dream for self-sufficient campervanners and ideal for off-road desert experiences. However, at its edges things aren’t so intense, a diverse and unique mix of reef-meets-rainforest, long sandy coasts, vibrant cities and fascinating hinterlands, well set up for vanning exploration.
Watch out for road trains, though, these trailer-towing behemoths can be over 35m long. They churn up a lot of dust, and overtaking them requires time. There’s significant (if intriguing) wildlife to prevent too, many rental campers will be fitted with 4wd bull bars to shield against roaming cattle and kangaroos.
- Adelaide to Melbourne: contains one of the best roads in the entire world: the Great Ocean Road.
- Fraser Island: spend weeks wildlife-spotting and nights around the campfire. Also, 4WD vanners will love nipping up and down the enormous golden beaches.
- Cape York’s Overland Telegraph Track: A favourite of serious off-road fans; includes a wilderness peninsula of tropical forest and savannah, just suitable for hardy 4WDs in the dry season (May-Oct).
It’s easy to dismiss rural Australia as an empty, barren atmosphere. Yes, it is stark, but there is a lot of personality off these razor-straight roads. Meet the Aborigines of the Red Centre’s Pit Lands, just south of Uluru, or follow Simon Reeve’s information on unearthing Australia’s greatest surprises.
Wild paths for intrepid vanners. Arranging a camper excursion in South America is much more an art than a science. Work out what you would like to see and come up with a path around that and the seasons, stay flexible and you will be rewarded with actual experience.
From the barren wilderness, magnificent mountains and huge plateaus to coastal streets passing seas occupied with penguins and whales, this can be a continent ripe for exploring. Argentina is possibly the very camper-friendly nation in the area, as a result of its off-road community, its national parks along with its abundance of industrial campsites with electrical hook-up.
To Tierra del Fuego: Journeys down both the west and east coasts of Argentina into the top tip of South America are magnificent, with a few unsealed road surfaces it makes it popular for 4WD cars with a roof rack platform.
- The Lake District: Spanning both Chile and Argentina, this bulk of waterways provides spectacular driving on great roads.
- Even the pampas: Just south of Buenos Aires, these crazy grasslands, filled with birds, provide fabulous extended drives.