Top Five Things to do in Wellington

Wellington is the city of many names: the windy city, WellyWood, the coolest little capital in the world, the most walkable little capital. It is the capital city of New Zealand, although Auckland is larger. Located on the southern edge of the north island, Wellington gets the winds and currents ripping through the Cook Strait.

Established by Maori in about 1280, Wellington became the capital of New Zealand in 1865, taking the title away from Auckland, which had been the capital since 1841. With its access to international shipping lanes, a sizeable harbour, and the second largest city in New Zealand, it was a logical choice.

Mount Victoria Summit, Wellington Harbour
Maori Totem on Mount Victoria

Wellington is situated on the Wairarapa Fault line and experienced earthquakes in 1848 and 1855. After the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 showed how devastating they can be on even modern infrastructure. Wellington has been hit by earthquakes in 2013 and 2014, although no damage has occurred. Earthquake preparedness remains a high priority in Wellington, with many iconic structures undertaking retrofitting and upgrading to modern earthquake safety standards.

Wellington is a fun and inviting place to visit. Here are the top things to do in Wellington!

Museums of Wellington

Wellington houses a plethora of free and cheap museums. Longer descriptions can be found in previous posts.

The Te Papa museum is the largest museum in Wellington. Housing a variety of natural history-type exhibits, it will easily take 1-2 days to explore this massive museum. Exhibits include the flora and fauna of New Zealand, ANZAC war history, Gallipolis’s scale of war, scientific advancement in New Zealand, Maori history and culture, New Zealand geology, climate, and natural disasters, and many more.

Te Papa Museum Entrance
Te Papa Museum Entrance

The Space Place is an amazing and interactive planetarium that is located in the botanical gardens and easily reached by taking a ride on the cable car. Clear evenings offer the chance to search the stars through the observatory’s James Cook telescope. There are also a multitude of displays about everything from our solar system, the modern space age, the theory of relativity, and the origin of our universe.

The Wellington Museum is situated on the waterfront and is much more eclectic than the other museums. Offering exhibits on New Zealand maritime history, the progression of pop culture in New Zealand, Maori culture and folktales, and many other things. Make sure to visit the Attic, a collection of the weird and random in New Zealand, including things like the New Zealand UFO files.

Harbour Board Entrance Gates
Harbour Board Entrance Gates

The cable car museum makes for an interesting and entertaining visit. Best reached by taking the cable car itself up from the harbour, the museum features the history of the cable car, access to the restored winch room, and two fully restored cable cars from the original system.

The Parliament building isn’t technically a museum, but there is a lot of history. Offering free guided tours every day, a visit to the seat of power in New Zealand can make for a fun and educational trip. It is also interesting to learn about the modifications that have been made to the historical buildings to protect and isolate them from potential earthquakes.

Welly-wood

Wellington is also the seat of the film industry in New Zealand. The Embassy theatre near the Wellington Central Business district has been used for a number of big movie red carpet screenings, including The Hobbit and The Two Towers. While I don’t usually advocate seeing movies while on vacation since the same movies will release at home, a visit to the theatre here is worthwhile. A high class bar, spiral staircases, marble sculptures, and an extremely classy theatre make this a unique movie experience.

Harry Potter in Wellington?
Harry Potter in Wellington?

Various locations throughout the Wellington have been used in movies, most notable the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Trilogies. Look for a future blog post on this topic!

A variety of sound studios, movie studios, and post production studios line the streets on the way to Weta Workshops. Weta Workshop itself offers two different tours at the time of writing: a workshop tour and a Thunderbirds tour.

Wellington Harbour at Night, from the Orient Parade
Night-Time Harbour View

The workshop tour takes guests behind-the-scenes into the weapons, sculpting, and prop workshops. They explain how different props are created and guests are invited to hold movie props including a variety from Lord of the Rings. The Thunderbirds tour takes visitors on a behind-the-scenes visit to the stages that are used in producing the new TV Thunderbirds series. The science of model-making and miniaturization are explained.

Walking in Wellington

There are a variety of walking paths throughout Wellington, catering to all ages and ability levels.

The botanical gardens are great for an afternoon stroll or a picnic. With views overlooking the CBD and the harbour, it is a great place to get some postcard-perfect views of Wellington. In addition to some absolutely beautiful gardens, there are interesting sculptures and statues to explore.

What time is it in Wellington?
Sundial of Human Involvment

My favourite was the sundial of human involvement, which is exactly what it sounds like. Andrew and I ended up visiting at night as well since the planetarium is located in the gardens. It makes a great place for some inner city stargazing with surprisingly clear skies.

At the top of Mount Victoria
At the top of Mount Victoria

Walking up Mount Victoria is well worth the panorama views of the harbour and the city of Wellington. There is both a walking path and a driving path to the top. The top itself has a short walkway with signs that explore the area’s history, offering explanations of notable geological points. It is best to go on a calmer day though, as the exposed point might blow away small children!

Walking path cannon
Walking path cannon

A stroll along the harbourside walking paths, from the CBD through to Orient Parade is also fun and entertaining. The path really comes alive on weekends, particularly if it is bright and sunny. Markets, craft stalls, and food trucks line the path, making it a entertaining place to walk.

Outdoor Sports

Wellington is great for outdoor enthusiasts. With a number of large harbours and bays there are a variety of water sports in the area. Nearby beaches are supposedly great for surfing, for all that the weather didn’t cooperate when Andrew and I were there.

There is an indoor climbing wall on the harbour front that also happens to rent paddle boards, windsurf gear, and a variety of other products. I was tempted to try out their massive paddleboards, but they are meant for 8+ people and we don’t know that many people in Wellington!

Super-sized paddleboards!
Super-sized paddleboards!

Andrew and I also had the fortune of meeting Ryan O’Connell, who runs Switched On Bikes. We were given the opportunity to try out electric bikes for the first time and it was a blast! I have thought about buying an electric bike before, but was curious to see how it actually worked.

Courtesy of Switched On Bikes
Courtesy of Switched On Bikes

I had always envisioned a really weak motorcycle, but it was more like an engine assist to get up some of the big hills. It was still necessary to pedal, I just happened to go a little bit faster a little bit more easily. We were having so much fun riding that we decided to ride up one of the many hills in Wellington to the top of the botanical garden instead of sticking with our original plan of taking the cable car up.

Shopping and Eating

No visit to Wellington is complete without a walk in the CBD, particularly on Cuba Street. Full of fun restaurants, funky bars, and unique stores, Cuba street is a shopper’s paradise.

Shopping in Welly
Shopping in Welly

There is a water sculpture on the street that Andrew tells me is ‘internet famous’. It was definitely fun to look at, although don’t walk to close to it if you don’t want to get splashed! Not all of the water stays contained in the kinetic water sculpture, particularly on windy days (which is every day in Wellington!).

Kinetic Water Statue
Kinetic Water Statue

Checking out the Hanging Bar, which is an eclectic little bar where all of the alcohol is hanging on chains from the ceiling. A stop for gelato, some Indian food, or some Thai food are all great recommendations as well. Andrew and I ate out more often than we probably should have in Wellington, but in a city that is known for its eateries and cafes it was hard to resist.

Cheap Dinner Recipes – One pot and under $10

One of the biggest challenges when camping in a small space is figuring out easy meals to cook that don’t take a long time and won’t break the bank. There are a number of cookbooks with camping recipes, but most seem to assume that you have a huge commercial kitchen, a food dehydrator, and a week to pre-cook and plan every meal prior to a camping trip.

While it is possible to prep a fair few meals from home when departing on a short camping trip, that isn’t possible for long duration camping.

Surprisingly Good Dinner
Surprisingly Good Dinner

Here are some of mine and Andrew’s favourite recipes that tend to be under $10, prepared in one pot, and take less than 30 minutes.

Cabbage and Bacon Stir Fry Recipe

Delicious stir fry that cooks up quickly, contains plenty of vegetables, and is inexpensive. Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry people are.

Ingredients

1/2 cabbage

1 lb of bacon, beef jerky, sausage, or ground beef

1 head of garlic

1 onion

Optional: Other in season vegetables including leek, capsicum/bell pepper, etc.

Method

Fry the meat in a large pot or pan. Ensure that there is plenty of leftover space for adding the vegetables.

While the meat is cooking, shred the cabbage, mince the garlic, and dice the onion.

Once the meat is nearly cooked, toss the vegetables into the same pan and fry another 5 minutes until the onion and cabbage are just softened.

Vegetarian Chili Recipe

Containing no meat and no items requiring refrigeration, this meal is yummy and filling. Feeds 4.

Ingredients

1 can baked beans

1 can lentils

1 can chickpeas

1 can diced tomatoes

1 head cauliflower

1 tbsp chili powder

Optional: Fresh onion, garlic, and/or tomato

1 bag of Nacho chips for dipping

Sour cream as garnish if desired.

Method

Dice the cauliflower into small chunks.

Open all of the cans and empty them into a large pot. Add the cauliflower and other ingredients, reserving the chips until the chili is done. Boil all ingredients on medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the cauliflower is softened.

This can also be pre-prepared and frozen into a container to keep the cooler cold on the trip, cooking it once thawed.

Serve and enjoy!

Chicken with Mushroom Sauce Recipe

Quick and easy recipe that can be easily modified to accommodate larger families. Cooks in 20-30 minutes depending upon the size of the chicken pieces.

Ingredients

1/2 lb. chicken breast or thigh, bone and skin removed (Approximately 1 breast or 2 thighs per person)

1 can of soup: golden mushroom, cream of mushroom, or cream of potato work best

1 cup of rice

Method

Combine all of the ingredients into a large pot and cook until the chicken is done.

National Rugby Museum

Rugby. New Zealand’s national sport. I guess when you have a home team that is one of the best in the world, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a game.

Admittedly, I had never really watched rugby before we came to New Zealand. Now, I think it is my new favourite sport. It’s like football, but way cooler. Imagine football if they didn’t stop the play every time the ball touches the ground. It makes for a much more challenging and dynamic sport.

Entrance to the Rugby museum
Entrance to the Rugby museum

Last year, Andrew and I had the chance to sit down with a local family and watch the New Zealand All Blacks win the 2015 World Cup Championships. It was such an incredible game with two extremely talented teams.

Rugby Champions
The Always Successful All Blacks

While there are still quite a few rules that I don’t understand, I’m starting to figure the game out. Thankfully, everyone in New Zealand is really passionate about rugby and doesn’t mind explaining the game to newbies. Andrew and I have spent a few nights sitting at bars soaking up the atmosphere and excitement while we watch the All Blacks dominate.

Sitting 'with' the All Blacks
Sitting ‘with’ the All Blacks

Palmerston North features New Zealand’s National Rugby museum, filled not only with history and a massive array of memorabilia, but also with a test area where everyday people can put their skills to the test. With our newfound passion for the sport, it was interesting to visit the museum and learn about its history.

Early Rugby Balls
Early Rugby Balls

New Zealand had one of the first women’s rugby teams. They also led the world’s anti-racism movement during the apartheid rein in South Africa. They pushed for the South African team to play in New Zealand with coloured players and requested that their Maori players be permitted to play in South Africa. Although there was a lot of political tension that occasionally resulted in cancelled games, the rugby field was one of the first truly diverse areas.

Championship Medals
Championship Medals

Ever the engineer, I really enjoyed seeing how the rugby ball evolved. From early pig-stomachs covered in pig-skin, the museum showed how the ball has changed to what it is today. Advancing technology, standardized requirements, and increased popularity changed the shape of the ball to what it is currently.

Early All Black's Uniform
Early All Black’s Uniform

Rugby also played an important part in the New Zealand national identity, which developed during the first World War. Many kiwis brought a rugby ball as their personal item when they left to fight in the war and impromptu games were a means of recreation. Developing their identity and playing on kiwi teams, they developed a strong sense of pride. Creating a team, they actually detoured on the way home from the war to play test matches in both London and South Africa.

Tackle Trial
Tackle Trial

Andrew and I had a lot of fun in the trial area too. Andrew is much faster at sprinting than I am (of course), but I am faster at tackling. Surprisingly, I also got the rugby ball through the goal posts on both attempts, but I think that was fluke more than anything. I enjoyed the tackle station, which had two tackle posts that we had to take down as quickly as possible.

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Andrew Sprinting

There was also a scrum machine, which tested how strong of a scrum we had. There weren’t any units on the machine, so the numbers are relatively meaningless, but Andrew’s scrum measured at 180 and mine was at 147! Not bad!

Rugby Scrum
Andrew in the Scrum Machine

I would love to find a pickup or casual team sometime and try actually playing a game of rugby. Maybe I would be able to get over my dislike of playing sports with balls; I have a habit of stepping on footballs and soccer balls, which is why I stuck to wrestling and discus in school.

Feilding – New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Town

When Andrew and I see a town that has won the annual New Zealand’s Most Beautiful town award, not once, not twice, but 14 times (!), well, of course we have to pay it a visit! Feilding is a small town on the north island of New Zealand, located approximately 20 kilometers north of Palmerston North (the nearest city).

Empty, but imagine them full of sheep!
Feilding Sale Yards

It is an Edwardian themed town and, once we arrived, we could see why it had won the award so many times! The city surrounds a beautiful central square with red-brick pavement, amazing flowerbeds, and some incredible landscaping.

Feilding Hotel
Historic Feilding Hotel

Topped with nearly every building looking like it belongs in a different era and a level of customer service and friendliness that are also from a different era, it was an extremely pleasant place to visit. There are no traffic lights and no parking meters, making this town feel truly historic.

Tribute to Feildings History
Welcome to Feilding

Feilding also has a rich rail history and still offers short rides on a historic steam train and jigger. The carriage and Coach house are well worth checking out in town.

The town started as a farming district 125 years ago and is still famous for its sale yards. We unfortunately weren’t in town for an auction day so didn’t get a chance to actually tour the yards, but simply looking at the sheer size of them and imagining them filled with an array of livestock was quite impressive. Farmers used to drive herds of over 100 livestock up the main streets to reach the sale yards on market days. With its old world charm it is still easy to imagine this happening.

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Town Square Clock Tower

Although we didn’t spend long there, Andrew and I really enjoyed taking the time to check out Feilding. From there we went to the small town of Foxton Beach, where we met a wonderful couple who truly made us feel like family. We enjoyed two nights at their house, some wonderful baking, and a fun night of board games.

Waihi – Gold Rush Town

Waihi is another small gold mining town located in the Coromandel Peninsula. The underground Martha Mine and the larger open pit mine have provided substantial revenue to the area. The area is unusually wet, with ancient Maori declaring the water a swamp land.

Maori Warrior
Maori Warrior

Andrew and I took a couple of days to visit the area, staying at the beautiful Waihi Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort. The resort was extremely high end as far as campgrounds go, offering spa pools, swimming pools, a small waterslide, pet eels, trike and surfboard rentals, and all manner of amenities. Like usual, there were a number of hikes available in the area, but Andrew and I decided to take a break from all the tramping and explore town instead.

Fall Colours in Waihi
Fall Colours in Waihi

The Gold Experience and the Mine tour are popular tourist activities in Waihi. The Gold Experience is aimed mainly at children and features a variety of hand on exhibits explaining how the mining process works. The ‘behind the fence’ mine tour looked interesting, until the information desk told us that, as of

Cornish Pumphouse on Rails
Cornish Pumphouse on Rails

2015, the open mine was closed and it was no longer possible to go underground. As such, we decided that there wouldn’t be much benefit to a tour guide telling us what we could read from signs ourselves.

Andrew and I walked part of the rim track around the open pit. We started at the Cornish Pumphouse, a massive structure that is visible from most of town. Built in 1903, it housed steam engines and pumping equipment to remove water from the historic underground Martha Mine. It was capable of pumping around 7000 liters of water per minute out of a shaft nearly 400 meters deep.

Open Pit Rockslide
Open Pit Rockslide

The Martha Mine stopped operation in 1952 and the building sat empty until 2006. Land shifting caused by the tunnels beneath the pumphouse created instability that threatened the buildings collapse. in 2006 efforts were undertaken to slide the building 300 meters from its original site using teflon pads sliding on stainless steel plates that can still be seen today.

Big Truck, Bigger Mine
Big Truck, Bigger Mine

The open mine ceased operations early this year due to instability in the walls. A few days before Andrew and I visited, a rockslide of approximately 2,000,000 tonnes fell from the north wall. Efforts are underway to stabilize the rock wall, although at the moment they aren’t certain if or when mining operations would continue.

Waihi was an interesting place to stop, although I think it would be better for a family with small children. Andrew and I really enjoyed our stay at Waihi beach and the Cornish pumphouse made an interesting picnic stop on our drive.

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. I dare anyone to say it!

Andrew and I took the road less travelled in order to visit the world’s longest place name. It is located near Porangahau, at the GPS coordinates 40.346S, 176.5402E.

There isn’t much there except the sign, but what a sign it is! The name, written in Maori, roughly translates to:

“The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”

Quite a mouthful even in English! Maori pronunciation follows closer to Japanese than English, with different vowel sounds than we are accustomed to. Wh is also pronounced as an ‘f’ sound, which makes this even more difficult to read.

I did take a stab at it. The video below shows attempt three (I think!). Andrew was much better at it but didn’t want to let me record him saying it.

Hastings

Everyone tends to lump Napier and Hastings together when they talk about the two, but I found them to have different and quite distinctive feels to them. Napier was more open and friendly, although Hastings did offer more ‘big name’ shopping. Destroyed by the same earthquake in 1931, Hastings opted for a combination of Spanish Mission and Art Deco in their architecture for their rebuild.

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Hastings District

On the way between Napier and Hastings, it is worth stopping at Cape Kidnappers, which from mid October to mid April is home to one of the largest Gannet Colonies in the world. Andrew and I opted not to walk out to the Cape for two reasons: we had just missed the main gannet season so there weren’t many there and we had the completely wrong timing.

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Cape Kidnappers

If you want to walk out to Cape Kidnappers, timing is essential since walking can only be done at low tide. Also make sure that it isn’t rough seas as the walk to the Black Reef can be quite challenging. It is a 5 hour, 18 kilometer return walk, so ensure that you are adequately prepared (which Andrew and I weren’t that day). They recommend that you depart from the parking lot three to four hours after high tide and to start your return no later than 90 minutes after low tide to ensure that you have sufficient time for the walk. During the main gannet season, it is also possible to take guided tours via tractor out to the gannet colonies. Although I’m not generally a bird person, I’d love to return to see this sometime…maybe next year!

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View from Te Mata Peak

Also in the Hastings area is Te Mata Peak. There are a variety of walking paths ranging from 1.5km/40 minute loops up to the 5.4km/2.5 hour Giant Circuit, which climbs up and through the entire reserve. We were warned that theft and vandalism are common at the lower carpark by some of the locals, who suggested that we drive to the summit carpark if we wanted to go for a walk.

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Te Mata Trig Station

The day we chose was particularly cold, windy, and rainy, so we opted to just drive to the summit and enjoy the view before returning. The views were spectacular from the top! On a clear day it is possible to see as far as the Tongariro Volcanic Range, which is a good 200km away. The peak is sedimentary limestone in nature, created by the geological forces generated by the collision of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.

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Hang Gliding Launch

Hastings itself has some nice architecture. My favourite was the Hawke’s Bay Opera House, which was remodelled in 2007 to add a modern feel while maintaining the original 1930’s design. In front of the library and art gallery is a collection of 18 Maori Pou, or carvings. The Pou Tupuna faces the marae that it  represents, acknowledging the past and inviting others into the social fabric of the region.

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In front of the Library
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Pou Tupuna

No city visit is complete without a walk down main street and through the central square. There are a number of sculptures and interesting buildings in Hastings, although I wouldn’t bother asking the i-site here for any assistance. It was the least helpful tourist information centre that I have ever entered. It is also run as a storefront and they were far more interested in selling their products than they were in providing any tourist information.

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Hastings Town Square

Thankfully we have good guide books! Lonely Planet always has good advice, for all that they are outdated as soon as they go into print. Google Maps also has good information on local areas of interest if you have a data connection.

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Hastings Architecture
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Hastings Church

Anyways, back to the town square. There is a train track passing through it, with a fountain on either side which is somewhat interesting. The focal point cinema and cafe has some neat architecture and a great cup of tea or coffee to enjoy while wandering the streets. The clock tower and sculptures on the streets surrounding the square were also interesting.

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Art Walk in Hastings
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Hastings Sculpture

Overall, we enjoyed Napier a lot more, for all that we didn’t mind having spent an afternoon in Hastings. If you’ve only got time for one though, I’d recommend visiting Napier instead!

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Focal Point Cinema

Winter Camping in New Zealand

It is starting to get to winter here in New Zealand and yes, the switched seasons still messes me up. May and June should mean spring, not autumn! The turning leaves are beautiful and there are a lot more evergreen plants in New Zealand, making it a lot greener than Canada in the autumn.

While winter here is nowhere near as extreme as a Canadian winter, with daytime highs around 10C-15C (depending where you are on the islands) and night-time lows between -5C and 5C, it is still rather chilly living in a campervan! We haven’t yet encountered frost or snow, although I’m sure that will change as we head to the south island later this month. It took a fair bit of research, talking to experienced campers in the NZMCA (New Zealand Motor Caravan Association), and some trial and error, but we have managed to make our campervan nice and cozy without spending a fortune.

Winter also means that the sun sets earlier, which tends to result in spending more evening hours in the campervan than we would in the summer. Board games, e-readers, and solar powered lights have become our friends in the last few weeks! Winter also tends to result in some spectacular sunsets.

As a side note, the NZMCA is amazing and something that I wish Canada had. It is specifically targeted towards campers with a trailer, RV, or campervan. They encourage members to become self-contained and part of the charter requires members to commit themselves to disposing of rubbish and waste water responsibly, recycling as much as possible, and maintaining a clean environment around their RV. No wild parties and leaving rubbish lying around! Part of the code also requires members to help others, which has led us to experiencing some of the most incredible generosity. While we don’t have much to offer in return, we have genuinely appreciated all of the wonderful people we have had a chance to meet through the NZMCA. We have also obtained discounts on everything from fuel, to insurance, to accommodations, to the ferry crossing, which has more than paid for the membership fee.

Anyways, back to winter camping!cropped-P9070268.jpg

Step 1: Winter Safety

Always be prepared! Winter weather in particular can be very unpredictable. You never know when a sudden storm might force you to pull over on the side of the road, sometimes leaving you stranded for a day or two before it is safe to continue driving. Make sure your vehicle is serviced before winter and that your tires have sufficient tread to handle the rainy/snowy slippery conditions. Andrew and I had to replace our front tires. We shopped around at four or five different locations and got the best quote and service from Mag & Turbo.

It can also be a good idea to make sure that your fresh tank is full, your greywater tank is empty, your fuel tank doesn’t get below half, and that your lpg/propane tanks have been filled recently. Andrew and I also have a habit of keeping 2-3 days worth of tinned food (beans, tuna, etc.) just in case.

Step 2: Your bed

Being cold in the evening is somewhat tolerable if you have a nice warm bed to curl up in at the end of the day. Andrew and I have been dreaming about getting a Duvalay, but unfortunately for us, this is a little bit beyond our price range. A Duvalay, for those of you who might have more funds than us, is a wonderful high-end sleeping bag that combines a thick memory foam mattress insulating you from underneath with a cozy warm duvet insulating you from above. Since it also zips closed, you don’t have any drafts. As a bonus, if you want to steal your partner’s body heat, you can zip two of them together to make a double-large bed!

Andrew and I opted for some flannel sheets, a fuzzy blanket, a wool duvet, and an amazingly warm and beautiful quilt gifted to us by fellow NZMCA members when we were staying with them one night. We had decided not to get a duvet actually until we stepped into the Warehouse and noticed their $300 wool duvets on sale for less than $50. With getting our fridge replaced and our new front tires costing significantly less than expected we found ourselves with enough extra to get the warm blanket. While living in a campervan where there is a higher chance of your bedding becoming damp, it is best not to opt for a down duvet, which loses its insulation and warmth when wet. Wool or synthetic is a much better option.

If possible, also get blankets that are 1-2 sizes larger than your bed. Especially if your bed sits against a wall or window, this will allow some extra insulation between you and the wall. It also prevents your partner from stealing all the blankets when they get cold since there is sufficient extra for both parties to cocoon themselves entirely.

Step 3: Your camper

We have invested in a small thermometer so that we know the temperature of our van. We have found that we start finding it uncomfortable when the temperature drops below about 16C inside. When plugged into mains power, Andrew and I have a small space heater that is sufficient to warm the camper quite nicely. When unpowered however, we have no heater and notice the temperature drop quite quickly!

Adding insulation to the walls, floor, and ceiling is the best bet, although this isn’t always possible or easy to achieve. Yoga mats and camp mats are generally made of closed-cell foam and can be purchased relatively inexpensively. With a few velcro strips, these can be fastened to the inside of your walls without having to disassemble the camper to get to the interior wall space for traditional insulation. Yoga mats in particular also come in a variety of colours that can match your RV interior! While not the prettiest solution, it is cost-effective and warm.

Windows are the largest areas where heat loss occurs, so insulation there is essential. Andrew and I picked up some cheap windshield foil covers at the dollar store. A little bit of electrical tape and these sealed nicely around the windows that we didn’t need to see out of, essentially creating a double-glazed window. The foil is a little bit sturdier than the plastic that is generally sold in hardware stores for this purpose, which works better for those whose house needs to move. For windows that we need to see out of (i.e. the windshield and the back window while driving), we used the suction cups that came with the windshield covers and small piece of velcro on the bottom. While not sealed as well as the tape, it still helps to prevent as much heat from leaving. If it is possible, some form of insulation between the driving area (with the windshield, passenger, and drivers windows…all glass and cold!) and the living area will significantly warm the campervan.

Just before parking for the night, turn the heat to high and let the inside of the van get warm and cozy. If insulated well, it should hold this temperature fairly well until it is time to crawl under the covers. If you have the means to boil water, investing in a couple of hot water bottles will also help keep you warm and cozy. As an added advantage, if you manage to find a cast iron kettle or pot to boil your water in, the pot itself will also radiate heat for awhile, warming a small area.

It is also possible to heat terracotta pots and use these as heaters, although this is also likely to reduce the life expectancy of your stove. Use extreme caution (or rather, DON’T do it!) if you decide to heat rocks. While they can hold the heat fairly well, any trapped water will cause the rocks to explode, causing damage to your van and possible injury to yourself.

Step 4: Winter Cooking

In the summer it was easy to simply toss the table and BBQ outside, sit in our camp chairs, and cook ourselves a nice dinner. In winter…not so much! More of our cooking is being done indoors, which leads to a few complications. Using any kind of gas stove indoors requires adequate ventilation, so make sure that you always have a few vents or a window open if you choose to do this. Adequate ventilation can also help with the smell of cooking food.

Our meals have also gotten a lot simpler with winter and tend to be single pot recipes that cook quickly, require minimal preparation, don’t smell much, and keep us full and warm for awhile. The ‘don’t smell much’ part is particularly useful in a very small camper or RV. While I love curry, I don’t necessarily enjoy waking up at 3am and still smelling dinner.

It can also be an excellent idea to pick up a carbon monoxide monitor for your campervan if you haven’t already done so.