Craig and I recently spent three weeks exploring New Zealand in a Spaceship. Not the intergalactic-travel type of spaceship — the campervan kind.
Spaceships is a company that started up in New Zealand to provide campervans for the budget traveller. It now has branches in Australia and the UK and is expanding into Europe. It’s doing well, and deserves to, since the product is fantastic.
You might have seen the distinctive, bright-orange vans driving around — we had, but we hadn’t considered hiring one. Actually, we were going to nick their design and convert a car ourselves. But we were more than happy to have a go in a real Spaceship.
A Spaceship is a converted people-mover, a seven- or eight-seater car like a Toyota Estima or Lucida. The back seats are replaced by two-thirds of a bed, which you extend at night — it can be extended to full length in either direction. Under the bed there’s storage space, where you find the fridge, the cooker and all the cooking and cleaning equipment.
Our trip started in Christchurch, where we picked up the car from a helpful staff member. We drove down to Dunedin, and were amazed at how easy it was to drive — but then, it’s a car, not a traditional campervan, so I suppose that made sense. The idea was to sleep in the van, but we didn’t actually manage that until night three, when we found a gorgeous beach in the Catlins. The view was incredible and the food we cooked up was pretty tasty too. Since it was winter, it got dark really early, so we retired into the Spaceship to watch a DVD.
In the end, we slept in the van about one night in two, and despite the weather being atrocious, we weren’t cold at all. We mostly stayed at DOC campsites, but we did park on the side of the road a couple of times when we couldn’t find a suitable camp.
The thing I liked most about the Spaceship is how easy it is to drive. It’s much smaller than a full-size campervan, so you can park in a regular parking space, but it’s got everything you need to sleep, cook and generally have a good time. The features are also fantastic — fridge, cooking equipment, DVD player and DVDs. And the staff are helpful and willing to help you when you have problems.
The only cons I could think of are related to accessories. A Tourist Radio decoder box is provided free when you pick up your Spaceship. It took us a while to raise the enthusiasm to listen to it, and gave it a couple of hours before relegating it back to the glove box. The local area information is useful and valid, but the radio segments are overscripted, poorly acted and patronising. Not a great combination.
Similarly, the sat-nav devices Spaceships have on offer are the worst I’ve ever come across. They aren’t worth the extra fee — in fact, I’d consider paying not to have one! They are difficult to program, irritating to listen to, and sometimes send you in the wrong direction entirely. We were better off with a map — and Spaceships provide good ones for free.
A Spaceship is a great way to see New Zealand — it’s easy to drive, comfortable to sleep in, and the support and accessories smooth the way even further. I’d recommend it for any independent or budget traveller who wants to see as much of New Zealand as they can at a reasonable price. It’s also useful for families or travellers who plan to stay in motels or holiday parks, but want the freedom of being able to camp by a beach for a few days of the trip.
A Spaceship was provided free for review. Check current pricing here.