Funnily enough, we were first clued into the concept of “van relocation” on a sailboat returning from Capri, Italy back in June. We were chatting with an Australian couple after a long, strenuous day drinking beers and swimming through beautiful grottos in the Mediterranean. It’s a miracle we happened to remember discussing it months later when we booked our flights to New Zealand, but somehow it came to me about 30 seconds after pressing the “submit” button confirming our flights to Christchurch.
As you may have guessed, van relocation refers to exactly what it sounds like: relocating a camper van from one place to another. What’s so great about that? Let me tell you – van relocation happens to be very cheap, or sometimes, as in our case, free! What traveler doesn’t love a free rental car?
Why would someone give you a free camper van? Surely there is a catch.
Seriously, I can tell you from experience: there is no catch. Basically, it’s a win-win situation for vehicle rental companies and travelers. In our case, someone rented a camper van in Nelson and took it on an adventure, dropping it off in Christchurch. The rental company then needed to have the van returned to Nelson, but they would have to pay someone to do that. Somehow, the idea of free relocation came to fruition: why not have travelers relocate the vehicle and pay for nothing but the petrol? It’s a brilliant idea that benefits everyone! I wish it existed all over the world.
I still think there is a catch. Give me the details. What is camper van relocation really like?
There are multiple companies that solicit travelers for van relocation. The one we happened to use was Transfercar, so they’re the basis for my explanation. Both Australia and New Zealand have other relocation search engines as well as rental companies that list relocations on their own websites (i.e. Thrifty, Hertz, etc.)
After booking our flights to Christchurch, we registered for Transfercar, which was – you guessed it – also free, and took a total of about 1.5 minutes to complete. The list of available cars and vans was at our fingertips and, luckily for us, there happened to be one going to from Christchurch to Nelson. We requested the van and within a couple of hours we heard back from CamperCo and scheduled our pick up at the Christchurch international airport. All of this happened just a week and a half before our scheduled arrival in New Zealand.
After a grueling 24 hours of travel we arrived at the Christchurch International Airport and met Ron, a man with a bicycle who handed us the keys to our camper van and rode away. Welcome to New Zealand, a country without much unnecessary paperwork or ridiculous lawsuits. We jumped in the van (complete with our bedding and cooking equipment) and headed for the hills, and by hills I mean large snow-capped mountains.
The terms of each relocation is a bit different; ours allowed us three days (2 nights) to get the car from Christchurch to Nelson. Another beautiful thing we’ve learned about New Zealand is that “freedom camping” is totally legal here, which means that pull-offs and roadsides are totally acceptable camping spots, and once again, are free. Are you noticing the budget-friendly theme I keep returning to here?
We drove on the breathtaking Lewis Pass through New Zealand’s Southern Alps and found our first camping spot at a pull-off near a river. We woke in the morning to a stunning sunrise over the mountains followed by a rainbow that literally touched down on the road ahead of us. New Zealand is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I’m certain.
On our second day, we made our way to Nelson, stopping to hike to a waterfall along the way. We still had the van for another night – long enough to figure out where to stay in Nelson after we returned it.
Our first three days of transportation and accommodation in New Zealand cost us a total of $130 NZD (in fuel). I promise there is no cheaper way to get from one place to another AND have the freedom to camp and explore along the way.
I want to relocate a camper van! How can I sign up?
I wish I could be the hero and be the first to let you in on this hugely insightful travel tip, but alas Transfercar beat me to it. Visit www.transfercar.co.nz and click register in the top right corner. Fill in the blank fields and voilá, you’re ready to go. I highly recommend looking into van relocation before heading to New Zealand or Australia. I know we’ll be relocating more vehicles while we’re on this side of the world!