A Long, Cold Winter in New Zealand
One French couple's cold winter spent living the vanlife, documented on 35mm film
When did I really realize the situation? Maybe it was when olive oil had frozen solid overnight. We were in New Zealand in the middle of winter, in a rented campervan, and the temperature had dropped down to 14°F (-10 °C).
The olive oil was nothing compared to my camera. At the time I didn’t know it, but those temperatures almost killed my poor old Minolta—of the 7 rolls I brought back from the trip, almost half of the pictures were totally black due to the cold preventing the shutter from properly operating. Strangely though, the most unpleasant moments were not the desperately cold nights. Covered with two large quilts, staying deep inside our sleeping bags closed like sarcophagi, and wearing a beanie, it was rather OK.
No, the hardest part was just before, or just after the night. Imagine setting up the bed at 6 P.M., with the sun already down and freezing temperatures creeping in, before having to remove your jeans to slip into the sleeping bag. Imagine also waking up and realizing that the condensation has frozen, forming a layer of frost on the windows inside the van. I won’t even talk about doing dishes with cold water—a torture for the fingers when the temperatures are negative.
New Zealand in the midst of winter gives a new meaning to the concept of comfort zone. But it’s definitely the best time of the year to be alone on the South Island roads, driving without crossing any sign of life other than fur seals on the East Coast, and sheep everywhere else. Many times we stopped in completely empty camping spots—waking up alone, facing the sea while the sun slowly rises, is a quite magical experience. And what if you could see dolphins in the distance while brushing your teeth? Oh, wait, it happened.
After 20 days, the campervan becomes an intimate friend: you know him by heart, his likes and dislikes, as well as the sounds of broken crockery in the back. It is also your shelter, your one and only. A limited but essential protection against the harsh weather. This explains the sadness you feel when dropping the keys on the counter at the end of the trip. At the corner of the street, you will probably think, "It was a great adventure, let's come back in summer."