Squirrel – and our South Island camping road trip, Feb 2020

Squirrel has recently taken us on a road trip, from our home in Whitby to Little River on the Banks Peninsula. We intended to go all the way to Akaroa, but circumstances prevented the last leg.

As the Squirrel only has a range of 70-120kms, this trip obviously had to be planned carefully, and I spent weeks on Chargenet, Plugshare and Locus maps plotting the chain of charging stations we had to use, our camping stops, and carefully checking distances and elevation gains and losses. Eventually I had the trip south in the finest detail, and a rough idea of how we come back north. Going south involved staying on State Highway one all the way to Christchurch, and returning north was either going to be a similar route, or via Hanmer Springs, depending on how Squirrel behaved over the long distances.

In summary, we traveled 1033km in the van, plus the two ferry crossings. We fast charged 17 times, at a total cost of $165.43, we charged a total of 142kWh, taking 9hours 18 minutes on the chargers. We drove for 22 hours 18 minutes in total, and we averaged 7.35 kilometers per kWh, and 46 kilometers per hour. We stayed at 4 campsites for a total of 11 nights.

So on to the detail and photos. This may come out as bit of a list, but if you would prefer a detailed spreadsheet, I have that available too! (PDF download)

Day 1

On 16th Feb at 12:35 am we departed Whitby with a full charge and a fully loaded van. We took it easy to the Bluebridge ferry terminal in Wellington, and arrived with 80% charge, so decided not to top up in Wellington. The ferry left at 2:30 am, and arrived in Picton on time, and we disembarked at about 6:00 am. We had a cabin on the ferry, which is so worth the extra money!

First charge was at Spring Creek, at 6:52, after 31.5 kms (which may include the driving around the ferry terminal in Wellington), where we charged from 57% to 80%.

I took a selfie of me and Squirrel, this is the very first selfie I have ever taken, and for obvious reasons, will be my last!


Spring creek at 7:00 am is lovely. Quiet, sunny, listening to the birds, and charging quite peacefully.

Lynn at Spring Creek

Next charge was at Ward, from 36% to 95% – its a long way to Kaikoura! We got to the Flaxbourne Cafe at Ward about 8:00, just 59kms from Spring Creek. The cafe is great, we had a large pot of tea between us, and sat quietly while the van struggled up to 95% (42 minutes charge time).

Charging at Ward

Thus far the driving has been easy, we took it slowly to conserve energy, and we enjoyed the scenery.

The next leg to Kaikoura is 82km, really on the limit of what we can do in one go in the van. We took it really easy, and even with a short stop at Ohau point we averaged 46kph to Kaikoura. It is a beautiful drive, and as we hardly saw another vehicle it was no hardship.

Seal colony at Ohau Point

We got to New World Kaikoura at 10:25, and charged from 26% to 80% while we shopped (25 mins).

Kaikoura New World Charger

We then moved 5 mins down the road to the Information Site charger to finish off charging to 95%. As the van charged we got coffee and a “three cheese” croissant each at the coffee cart just across the road. Cannot recommend this place enough, we stopped on the way back and it was even better! Enjoyed a rest and a walk while we were here. We had to pay for the car park to charge, when the charging finished we moved the car and used the time I paid for.

Kaikoura i-Site charger

Kaikoura to Cheviot is only 70kms, but there are a couple of major hills in the way, hence the charge to 95%, and the slow, easy pace we used to get there. That said, we arrived at  with 36% left and had no reason to panic really.

Cheviot is nice, but “spoilt” by the tour buses stopping and crowding out the cafes. I know the cafes wouldn’t be there without the buses, but still… 🙂

Charging at Cheviot

We charged from 36% to 80%, and pottered down to Gore Bay (8km) and finally settled on the Buxton Campsite at the north end of the village. This is a fairly basic campsite, right next to the surf beach, with spotless if old facilities, and we can thoroughly recommend it.

Day 2

We stayed two nights here, we were only intending to stay one, but it was so nice and peaceful (other than the surf noise) we stayed another. Shortage of supplies moved us on. We had a couple of great beach walks, and a walk up Tweedie’s Gully to the new look out.

Day 3

We went back to Cheviot to top up for the big drive to Amberley, but on the way we stopped to look at the Cathedral Cliffs, and then went via a railway halt called Nonoti. There is a story behind this name which I read just after I arrived in NZ nearly 40 years ago, and I have always wanted to visit it. Unfortunately, this signpost was the only reference to it I could find!

“There is also the strange name Nonoti in the Waiau Valley. The story goes that the local MP — or was it a squatter’s wife? — was invited to give the district a name, but modestly declined with the words, “No, not I.” Of such tales are legends made.” (from Canterbury Tales on the New Zealand Geographic website).

I originally read a much more detailed version of this, involving the committee building the Main Line railway, who had one last railway halt to name, and as they could not decide between themselves on the name, they determined to ask the Chairman of the committee when he walked in to start the meeting, and that they would take the first words he uttered!

A bit disappointed we drove back to Cheviot, and did a quick charge from 54% to 95% for the 66kms to Amberley. Once again, there is a hill or two which worried me a bit, but we took our time again and did the 66km in an hour and arrived with 32% to spare.

Charging at Countdown, Amberley

A couple of hundred metres up the road is a little French Bakery, which does nice food and coffee, but unfortunately we got some sushi from a shop in the Mall instead, which was very disappointing. We enjoyed sitting in the park to eat it though.

We felt that with so many chargers in the area, we would just charge from 32% to 80% for the drive to Halswell. We set off for the 57 kms drive feeling comfortable. However, there is no real chance of driving this section of SH1 at a nice slow pace. We kept up with the traffic, with lots of stops and starts again, and arrived at Halswell New World  at 2:30pm, with just 23% remaining – the lowest of the trip so far!

Halswell New World Charger

Once again, we charged to just 80% for the drive to Little River, at just 47kms it was not a big deal. A lovely drive to Little River, around the southern edge of the Banks Peninsula, and then following the river up to the old railway station and the cafe. With just 32% remaining it was time to charge to 95% for the final leg over to Akaroa.

But it was not to be. We plugged in on the Orion charger, and set it going. I had just sat down to my coffee in the cafe, when the phone alerted me to the charger finishing the charge, after just 18 minutes. I went back to the charger and found that the charger had faulted after getting to about 74%, but had managed to get 6.6 kWh into it. As we had to have a full charge to get to Akaroa and back (a 500metre hill in the way, and no fast charger in Akaroa!) I waited a few minutes and plugged it in again, getting to 80% this time. This time it finished normally, but I needed 95% so I put it on again, and one again it faulted at 92% charge. By now I was getting frustrated and was watching it closely, and noticed the that the charge power was much higher than I would have expected at other chargers (such as Veefil or Delta type), twice as high in fact. The first charge of the three also seemed to put too much power in in the time it took. I gave up on the charger, and decided not to risk the trip over to Akaroa that day.  I was tired and a bit worried about the car.

Little River Station Charger

Our plans were reluctantly changed, and we drove the 4 kilometres to Little River Campsite in the Okuti Valley, where we found a site with power and set up for the night. While driving the van to the site, a charge warning light (the one that looks like a charging plug) was flashing.

Little River Campsite is great, getting a bit old and run down, but small, clean and reasonably cheap, so we set up camp and researched on our phones what the issue could be.

Little River Campsite

There were no definitive answers on the web, but various suggestions included completing the charge on another charger to reset the warning light. The following day I charged it to 100% using the 16amp charger plugged into the caravan socket on the site, but the light continued to flash. The campsite charges $5 more for a powered site, but as I only used it once, we only paid the one $5!

We didn’t know if the van had a fault that had upset the charger, or whether the charger had a fault which upset the van, or whether it was just more of the issues we get with chargers not always recognising that the MIEV is something they can charge.

Days 4 & 5

We made the decision to stop at Little River for a few nights, and we enjoyed a rest and some great walks, the best being the Okuti reserve path from the campsite up to the saddle by French Hill, where we thought we might get a view of Akaroa, but we had to go another 2kms each way for that, and as we were a bit tired we never saw Akaroa! But it was a 10km round trip, with 600 metres of climb, so well worth doing.

Day 6

On the 21st Feb, we set off back towards Christchurch, intending to find an EV dealer (EVCITY probably) and from them find someone who could check out the van and reset the warning light for us. We stopped at Halswell again, and charged from 51% to 88% to make sure everything was working OK. When I finished the charge, the warning light had stopped flashing, the van had charged normally, and the range we were getting seemed to be OK. Feeling relieved we decided to carry on with our trip. Just in case, we decided on a night or two in Christchurch, so we drove up to Spencer Park, in Spencerville, just 30km North of Halswell. We drove through Christchurch city, and stopped briefly at Northland Mall to buy a new map book for the journey.

Spencer Park is a huge, council owned campsite, taking up many acres of the coastal strip north of Christchurch. Fortunately, it was mid week and off season, so there was hardly anyone on the campsite.

Days 7 & 8

The first day we went for a long walk on a very long beach. We walked North towards the Waimakariri river mouth, but turned around just 1km short of it, and walked back. We did about 8kms on the beach altogether, very good for the soul! The second day we bought an Orienteering map for the fixed courses in the Bottle Lake Forest. We did the orange course, and quite enjoyed it. I haven’t orienteered for 19 years, it was quite nice to exercise the brain as well as the legs!

While we were camping, I had thrown my rucksack into the driver’s footwell, where it had pressed the brake pedal, switching the brake lights on! Unfortunately, the brake lights are covered by a groundsheet while we are camping, and I didn’t notice until I got back from orienteering and tried to unlock the doors with the remote key, and nothing happened. The 12v battery was almost completely dead. The van would turn on to accessory mode, but not into ready mode. With no one around for us to borrow jump leads from, I had to improvise. We have a 90 Ah LiFePO4 house battery which we keep charged with a solar panel on the roof. We use this to run a small 30 litre fridge. I needed to connect it to the van 12v battery. I took a cable that was used to plug the fridge in, hacked off the cigarette lighter socket, and connected the bare wires to the 12v battery terminals, and plugged the wire back into the house battery, and then quickly turned on the car. Success! I left it on for an hour or so to recharge the van’s 12v battery. While waiting for the van to charge the 12v battery I rebuilt the hacked connector wire with twisting and tape so that we could plug the fridge in again. Surprisingly recharging the 12v battery took 4.5% of the traction battery charge!

Day 9

The third day we decided to set off for Hanmer Springs. First stop was Amberley, where we charged from 19% to 95%, and enjoyed coffee and delicious food at the French Bakery mentioned earlier.

The drive to Culverden goes over the Weka Pass, which really drained the range on the meter, but the gentle cruise from the bottom of the pass to Culverden replenished the range meter nicely, and we arrived with 43% left.

Culverden Charger

Nice charging site with full facilities, no painted lines to worry about, and not very busy either. Found a cafe, had tea and a sausage roll, and charged to 95% again.

We got to Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park with 59% left, and did not have to worry about charging it again, but Martin the campsite manager said we could use the camp power if we needed to. Very nice of him.

Days 10 & 11

We relaxed at Hanmer for a couple of days, hired some mountain bikes on day one, and enjoyed the Heritage Forest trails, then had a game of crazy golf followed by a couple of hours in the hot pools. Day 2 we climbed to the top of Conical Hill, via the Dog Stream track, and then had another hour or two in the pools to finish off.

Day 12

On the 27th we set off for the long drive north. We were uncertain whether we would stay somewhere and catch the ferry the next day, or just go for it and try for a ferry that night.

The first leg was back to Culverden for another charge to 95% from 33%. We found a much better cafe across the road, The Red Post. Lovely breakfast Belgium waffle for me, and pancakes with fruit for Lynn, and delicious coffee.

The drive from Culverden to Cheviot is only 52kms, but there is a big hill on the Leader road. We drove so lazily from Waiau to SH1 that we managed to arrive at Cheviot with 43% remaining, and averaged 8.7 kms per kWh!

At Cheviot, we charged to 95%, and got a cup of tea at the Cheviot Hotel, and sat in the little war memorial park to read while we waited.

Cheviot to Kaikoura was a lovely drive too, especially the coastal section, and we did the 57 kms to Kaikoura arriving with 38% remaining. We were starting to get good at this economy driving thing!

While charging at Kaikoura, we visited the coffee cart again and had some tea. After sorting out the tea bag which had been crammed into the leaf filter in the tea pot, we managed to get a good cup of tea!

We charged at the Kaikoura i-Site to 95% again, and this time we knew we needed it for the 84kms to Ward, finishing with a long hill up to Ward. Little did we realise that a northerly wind that hit us just before the Kekerengu Store would have such a dramatic effect on range. We finally arrived at Ward with just 20% battery left, with the range meter flashing showing just 11kms!

Charging at Ward was straight forward, just to 80% as we knew that was enough after coming south. However that northerly was still with us, the traffic was quite heavy, and the Weld pass seems a lot higher from the south! We rolled into Spring Creek with just 21% remaining, with just 12kms flashing on the range meter.

Spring creek at 5:30 in the evening on a Thursday is horrible, heavy traffic queued in all directions, people stopping at the Four Square in their double cab utes, leaving their diesels running noisily, some seemed to be taking short cuts to avoid the roundabout  by driving through the car park!

On top of that I noticed that the charge was going much more slowly than usual, at about half the usual kilowatts. I let it get to 60%, enough to get to Picton, and stopped the charge. It had been a hot day (26 deg C all day), with many fast charges, and much regeneration down many large hills, I suspected that the battery was a little warm!

When we arrived at Picton we managed to change our booking to the 7:00 crossing rather than the next afternoon. While waiting to board the ferry, I fired up an app on my phone called OBDzero, which half works on my van, and I found that it actually shows the temps of the highest and lowest cells in the battery, and they were at 44 deg and 35 deg.  So yes, the battery was a little warm. As we got off the ferry, I ran it again, and the highest temp was down to 35 deg, everything getting back to normal.

Once off the ferry, we had to charge again at Churton Park, as the climb up to Johnsonville really drains the battery. So we charged up to 53% from 26%, which got us home to Whitby with 35% remaining!

Lots more to say and talk about, maybe in another post!

Dave and Lynn

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