Our crossing from the North to the South of this surprising country was not our finest piece of organisation.
Mistake no. 1: We didn’t book the crossing until 3 weeks prior, which left us with little and very expensive choice ($450/€300) return, arriving at 12.30am).
Lesson learned: These boats are packed with vehicle drivers, they take much longer to cross and are not as frequent as we thought.
Mistake no. 2: Booking and subsequently cancelling a hostel for the short night in the ferry’s landing town Picton, after getting our car and realising we could sleep in it. We downloaded an app to show us where we could camp/park, as freedom camping is generally not allowed, or at least cannot be relied upon. The key element to this mistake was not checking the app before arriving in Picton, assuming we would find something quickly and easily. However, there was only one free campsite for the next 100km (for non self-contained vehicles, i.e sans toilettes). We headed there, which leads us directly to mistake no.3-
Mistake no. 3: Missing the turn off to the free campsite. Due to a misunderstanding between pilot Adrien and co-pilot Me, we drove straight past it and found ourselves with the next option a half hour drive away and sadly not free (it’s 1am by this time, me being me I am exhausted and not the most fun co-pilot, and also have somehow caught a darncold). We turned around, found the free campsite, but alas- the 12 parking places were taken, presumably by people who had the same idea as us, but with improved map-reading/communication skills.
Lessons learned: Plan ahead! Don’t assume, particularly in the more remote and wilder South Island, that campsites will be easy to find or plentiful. Assume they will not be and take action beforehand (I can sense the virtual slap on the wrists from my Dad as he reads this).
It is true what they say, there’s always a silver lining: in this case, a myriad of silver stars in the most incredible night sky either of us had ever witnessed***
In the end we turned around again and headed to the very reasonably priced $14 per person per night campsite half an hour away, where we arrived just before 2am, found a spot, magically transformed our car into a campervan, and had a good 6-hour sleep, waking at 8am to get back on the road.