Anna Niall PiwiWiwi Campervan New Zealand - Layback Travel

Anna & Niall – Surf Campervan New Zealand

PiwiWiwi - Perfect Individual Wonderful Interesting Wicked Insane World-class Irresistible surf trip in New Zealand! These are the words that come to our mind when we describe our campervan experience with PiwiWiwi. Anna and Niall will reveal the true meaning of their company name in the interview. The UK couple, well English and Welsh to be exact, have been running the campervan rental company since 2011 and are so far the only ones in New Zealand specialized for surfers. Having the heart of a traveler, the knowledge of a surfer and a happy customer in mind these two really set themselves apart in the campervan jungle. Moreover, they are an inspiring example, how travelling can change your life and to what extend - creativity and courage can lead to if you just give it a shot.

Anna and Niall, first of all: what does PiwiWiwi mean?

Anna: Actually it represents us, me and Niall. The story goes back to when we were on our trip around the world. At that time we were already seriously working on the business plan for our future campervan business in New Zealand but were desperately trying to find a good name for it. It was in Cusco, in an English pub where we went for my birthday, that we met some Australians, which happened to be originally from England. We started telling them about our plans of living in New Zealand and opening a campervan business. As you may know, Ozzys and Kiwis call British people Pommys. And after a few drinks, this Australian woman explains to me that she doesn’t feel like an Ozzy but neither does she feel like a Pommy. So she calls herself a Pozzy. Logically, we, who are going to work in New Zealand, have to be Piwis then.

Niall: But as I am from Welsh – I am a Wiwi! So together we are PiwiWiwi. Of course we did some research on the name, to make sure PiwiWiwi, doesn’t mean anything stupid in other languages, especially in Maori. And we found out that Wiwi in Maori actually means “to wander around” – a perfect name for our business!

How did you guys come up with the idea of renting out campervans?

Anna: We got the inspiration during our five-month trip in New Zealand in 2009/10, when we were travelling in the exact type of campervan that we rent out today. We didn’t like the idea of storing the surfboards under the car or on the bed. To solve this, Niall had his straps technique he used at home which tighten the boards securely on the roof inside the car. The last stop of our trip was Raglan and we both fell in love with the place. We had an amazing time. Niall would wake up early and drive to Manu Bay for surfing, so I would roll out of the bed at the beach with the view of the waves and the sunrise. Once we left the country three campervan companies were interested in buying our van. That was when we realized that there were not only big campervan companies, but in fact many little ones.

Niall: What we also realized after that trip was that we both can’t go back to our old lives. I was a mechanical engineer and I loved working, but not 40 hours a week. And also Anna couldn’t imagine going back to the office and working as a consultant. So there were three components coming together, that formed the idea of the campervan business: The fact, that you actually can open a small campervan business, the idea with the surf straps, with which we can serve a niche and a place like Raglan, where we could imagine living. Plus, we had my engineering skills and Anna’s customer relationship experience – the idea of PiwiWiwi was beginning to take serious shape.

What do you like most about your job?

Anna: The coolest thing about our job is that we are working with happy people. Because our ethos is to treat our customers the way we would like to be treated. So the people who are renting from us are happy when they arrive, because they are starting the holidays of their life and are happy when they return because they had an awesome time. What else can you wish in a job?

Niall: Yeah, sometimes I think I have to go back to my old job, just to get the feeling, how different it can be. It is easy to forget the good life you have, once you get too accustomed to it. I can't think of anything bad in our job.

Anna: Of course you always have to work in the holiday season, also on Christmas. We do get time off, but only in the winter, when New Zealand is cold. But we are happy to do that and to work with happy people just makes our life happy as well.

Tell us about your campervans. Why do you think they are perfect to travel in New Zealand?

Niall: The vans are fantastic for anybody. They are especially suitable for couples, also with a small child. I think a campervan like ours is a bit closer to outdoor camping than the big motorhomes. Be inside and outside at the same time. The size is also perfect to explore: it has a small turning radius, it fits in all parking lots and it drives well on gravel roads. For surfers we have accustomed them with surf straps - its easy to store away the surfboards and quickly take them out. 

Anna: I am also no big fan of the bulky motorhomes. Of course you got more space. Once we traveled with one of those. They are really convenient with shower and toilet inside - no need to go outside. But one night when I was in bed I realized with regret that I haven’t looked at the stars that night, because there was no need to go outside. 

Niall: We are now on the point of thinking about the future. We will soon replace the vans. But as the newer models are much bigger, I want to wait till I can get electric powered vans. I guess that it is only a matter of time, since the technological development in that matter is astronomical. It would be also easy in New Zealand as there exists already a great campsite network, which could also supply the electricity.
(What do YOU think about electric campervans? Fill out the survey from PiwiWiwi and let them know)

How would you describe surfing in New Zealand and the surf culture of the Kiwis?

Niall: It's funny - I became really lazy with surf trips, since we are living in Raglan. But when I travel I always notice how much variety New Zealand offers. So many good places to go to. Like Dunedin – just bring a heated wetsuit and though it up! Or Gisborne, such a great vibe over there. Taranaki also offers very nice waves – it is just a bit rocky. And getting in and out can be quite difficult. You can find really good point breaks in Raglan, in Taranaki, Shipwreck, south of Kaikoura or in Dunedin. When it comes to surf culture I have to differentiate Raglan a bit from the others. As it is quite touristy, it sometimes isn't the friendliest line-up. But anywhere else the vibe is very relaxed and people are super friendly. And you get more than enough waves, as there are just so many.

Anna: The whole country is like a village. Everybody likes to help each other. And if a Kiwi offers you help or invites you to come to his party or stay on his property with the campervan, he genuinely means it. It pays off to ask the locals where to go surfing. They will tell you – Kiwis are quite open and happy to share their local knowledge with you.

Niall: Reading the forecast in New Zealand is a bit of a mission. You have to take a lot into account and a wrong wind direction can mess up everything. Rule of thumb: On the West Coast you often get swell but the wrong wind – that’s why Kiwi call it the wild wild west. The east coast usually doesn’t get much swell but if there is some, the wind should be ok. I use the surf forecast of swellmaps or surf2surf. If you are on holiday, I recommend that you base yourself at a swell magnet where the swell hits from different angles and just wait and see which spot works best. You will find something for sure. 

What are your favorite places in New Zealand for other outdoor activities?

Anna: We really like the South Island. We spend most of our holidays there. I especially like Kahurangi National Park, which is in the Golden Bay - North of Westport. My favorite camping place is at Lake Pukaki. During the day you have this beautiful view of that clear blue lake with the snow covered Mt. Cook in the background. And during a clear night, you can gaze at the stars. There is no other place in New Zealand, where you can see so many stars.

Niall: When it comes to mountain biking New Zealand is also pretty awesome. In the bike park of Rotorua on the North Island you find many great trails and it is the best if you are seeking some adrenaline. I recently discovered a new trail on the South Island and I am really stoked about it. It’s called the Old Ghost Road and it’s an 85 km long trek that has especially been made for mountain biking. Normally the mountain bike treks just follow some 4WD routes. But this one is like a hiking trail for bikers. There are even huts along the trail where you can rest. It goes above the tree line and is sometimes steep but still manageable.

Last but not least, the MUST DOS in New Zealand?

Niall: A hot pie and a flat white coffee after you tired yourself out with surfing or mountain biking.

Anna: Visit the Te Papa museum in Wellington. It’s a great experience – and it is for free. Not to forget soaking in a hot pool. There are many of them in New Zealand. But hot pools only make sense in the winter time. Especially if you live in a campervan – like that you also get your free shower.