New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with hugely diverse landscapes, friendly people, and unparalleled opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking and camping.
The best way to explore New Zealand, without any doubt, is by campervan. Traveling New Zealand by campervan means you’ll have the freedom to go pretty much anywhere you like, at your own pace.
Campervanning in New Zealand is amazing, but there are some important things to know before you go. In this post, you can find 10 New Zealand campervan tips to prepare for your campervan trip in New Zealand.
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Campervan tips New Zealand
Campervanning New Zealand tips
1. Choose the right campervan for your trip
The first thing you’ll have to do before going online to find the perfect New Zealand campervan rental is deciding which type of van is the most suitable for your trip.
How many people will be traveling in the van? Which season are you traveling in (if it’s winter, read tip #7)? How long are you traveling (read tip #9)? Will you be doing freedom camping in New Zealand or do you prefer staying at New Zealand Holiday parks?
These are important questions to answer before renting a van, otherwise, you may end up with a less than perfect campervan for your specific situation.
We were traveling as a couple and wanted a cheap campervan without any frills. That’s why we opted for an economy campervan from Rental Car Village. This friendly family-owned business gives you great and personal service and offers excellent value for money.
There are many campervan rental companies, on the Motorhome Republic site you can compare several providers and get an idea about the price and the different types of campervans and motorhomes that are available.
2. Get a self-contained campervan
New Zealand is absolutely stunning and in order to enjoy your NZ campervan trip the most, I recommend renting a self-contained van. We didn’t do this due to budget constraints, however, I very much regretted this the moment we started searching for our first (free) campground.
While there are freedom campgrounds where you can stay with a non-self-contained van, these are pretty rare (and there are less every year due to increasingly strict regulations). With a self-contained campervan, you can stay at so many amazing freedom campsites, it will be hard to pick the prettiest one.
The requirements to qualify as a self-contained campervan are pretty clear. You need to be able to live in your van for 3 days without getting more water or dumping waste. Furthermore, the self-contained vehicle must have:
- A toilet
- Freshwater storage
- Wastewater storage
- A rubbish bin with a lid
Read more information on the official New Zealand government website. In the end, it can even work out to be cheaper to rent a self-contained van than a non-self-contained campervan because you can stay at a lot more free camping spots instead of paid Holiday Parks.
3. Checklist for your rental campervan collection
Maureen from So Many Places, So Little Time: To ensure that you have a hassle-free trip, it is important that you check a number of things, both before, and when you go to collect your rental campervan or motorhome.
For example, the weather in New Zealand is very changeable and you need to know if heating is available in your campervan and how to use it (read more about this in tip #7). You also need to know what type of fuel the vehicle takes, how to empty and clean the toilet (if you have one), how to get hot water, and what type of insurance you will require, etc.
You do not want to waste a minute of your precious travel time in scenic New Zealand spending hours trying to figure out how something in your van works or where it is located. Or worse still, having to go miles out of your way trying to find a place to have repairs done or buy something you forgot to bring.
You can click here for a printable checklist that covers things you need to do:
- Before you book
- Before you arrive to collect your campervan
- At the depot
- When returning the campervan or motorhome
Traveling around New Zealand in a campervan is an amazing experience and it’s important for your own enjoyment that you are well prepared and know the things you must check to make sure that you have a problem-free trip.
4. Check which items are included in the rental price
Bailey from Destinationless Travel: one of the most important things you should be aware of before renting a campervan in New Zealand is what’s included in the rental price, and what’s not! That’s right, you might think you’re scoring a cheap campervan rental in NZ, but once you look at the fine print this may not be the case.
One of the most common inclusions people forget to check is unlimited kilometers. Some rental companies only will allow you to drive a certain number of kilometers before they tack on a kilometer fee. Ensuring your campervan has unlimited km’s included will be super handy – especially if you’re going on a long trip!
If you’re renting a campervan in the winter, then make sure that snow chains are supplied with your van as these will be required for driving up to ski fields or to remote destinations like Milford Sound.
Also, look into other additional costs such as extra cleaning fees, if any roadside assistance is included in case of mechanical problems, and other basic things necessities such as a fold-out table and chairs for when you want to eat outside of the van.
All of these things are sometimes included in your rental price, and sometimes not, so it’s important to be aware of all rental inclusions before selecting your campervan rental company!
5. Essential campervan items
As mentioned above, there are many extras that you can add when renting a campervan. Some are included, some are not. While you may be tempted to add all the items that are offered by your rental company (because you’re unsure which ones you’ll need for your trip) let me help you decide which items are actually worth paying for by sharing my experience after our NZ campervan trip.
Below you can find the items I consider essential when renting a campervan in New Zealand.
Zero Excess or Comprehensive Insurance
Comprehensive insurance or no excess insurance means you have limited or no liability when you accidentally damage your campervan. Or somebody else’s car, like I did (see picture below).
Luckily we had paid an additional fee, so the damage I caused was paid by Rental Car Village. They were very kind about it, but I felt rather embarrassed nonetheless.
Of course, you should decide for yourself if you want to spend money on insurance. We were certainly happy we did because we didn’t want to run the risk of having to pay up to 3000NZD (that would have meant cutting our 5-month trip short due to a lack of funds!).
My recommendation about travelling in general is to have a buffer for unforeseen expenses, say 10% of your total budget. Because a lot can (and will) happen on a long trip and it’s better to be prepared.
This depends on your travel situation, but if you are traveling with a partner or travel buddy, consider paying extra for an additional driver. I really liked that both of us could drive our campervan.
On the days when I wasn’t driving in New Zealand, I could fully enjoy the scenery without scaring my husband to death by almost driving off the road because I was a bit too immersed in the views…
While the climate in New Zealand isn’t necessarily very hot, you will need a cooler box (or fridge, read more under tip #6) to keep your food cold and fresh. You can get reusable ice packs, though you will need to refreeze these regularly (this can be done at pretty much all Holiday Parks).
I use Maps.me, a great free app where you can download a map of New Zealand and use it offline. You can use it to plan your trip by marking points of interest and once while you are on the road, without using any (expensive) data.
Table and chairs
When camping in a van, you will be spending most of your time outside (apart from when you’re hiding from those pesky little sandflies). A folding table and a comfortable set of chairs are absolutely essential, you’ll be using them every day.
See tip #7 when you are planning to campervan New Zealand in winter.
6. Things you don’t need when renting a campervan
Looking back on the 6 weeks we spent in our van, here are some items I personally wouldn’t pay for again, if I were to make another New Zealand road trip (how amazing would that be…). These are items you don’t really need or can find a better (or cheaper) alternative for.
Consider bringing your own sleeping bag. Mind you, you will need a duvet or sleeping bag. New Zealand can be really cold at night and a travel sheet isn’t going to cut it. We woke up with snowy mountain caps one day and while it was the middle of NZ summer!
Obviously, the downside of bringing your own sleeping bag is that you’ll have to carry it around during your entire trip, which can be annoying if you plan to visit more countries after your New Zealand RV trip. Though with a small lightweight sleeping bag this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
A fridge that needs a powered site
If you plan on staying mostly at free or DOC campsites (like we did) without any powered spots you may want to skip paying extra for a fridge. You will only be able to use it while driving, so a cooler may be a better alternative.
Only a couple of years ago, GPS was how we navigated around unknown territory. These days, a better option is to get a local SIM-card with a data plan and use your phone to find your way around New Zealand.
Though in all honesty, it’s actually quite difficult to get lost in NZ since there aren’t that many roads to begin with, particularly on the South Island. And if you are ever unsure about which direction you should be heading, ask help from one of the friendly NZ locals.
7. Winter campervan New Zealand expert tip: gas heating
Holly from Four Around The World: if you are visiting New Zealand in the middle of winter, consider spending a little extra on a campervan that has gas heating. This will especially make your life easier if traveling as a family, so you have peace of mind that the kids are warm during the cold winter nights!
Having a warm van to come back to after a big day of exploring outdoors will help you wind down and sleep comfortably. It also means you can pack lighter, without having to get sleeping bag liners or something similar to stay warm overnight.
It does mean the extra cost of refilling gas bottles more often, but if you can afford it, it is well worth the splurge! You don’t need to hire a luxury campervan to have this option. There are budget-friendly campervan options that have gas heaters too.
8. Find a relocation deal to save money
Nadine from Le Long Weekend: while renting a campervan is probably the cheapest way to explore New Zealand, it still costs a lot of money.
One of the best campervan New Zealand tips to save money is looking out for a relocation deal. These deals are often advertised on aggregate websites such as Transfercar – which is a good place to search for all the deals at once – or on the individual companies’ websites.
How it works is that many people only want to drive one way in their camper – typically from the North Island to the South – and then fly back. So campervan companies offer special prices to people who are willing to drive the campervans back to their ‘base’ city.
Deals often include around 2-5 free days, a free tank of fuel, and a free ferry crossing (if required). You also have the option of paying a supplementary daily rate, so you can take a little longer to see all the top attractions in NZ on the way!
Overall, this works out quite a bit cheaper than booking a one-way rental directly. But be warned that you do need to have a little flexibility in your schedule, as deals tend to be advertised no earlier than a month out.
9. Buy a campervan instead of renting one
If you are planning to travel around New Zealand for an extended period of time, say more than 2 months, I recommend buying a camper van or car instead of renting one as rental fees really add up.
For our 5 month North America road trip we bought a car in Canada and it saved us so much money. If you are interested in buying a van, send me an email. I have a 100 NZD discount coupon for you to spend at Travel Cars NZ.
This company sells campervans, station wagons, and small cars and also offers a buy-back option (so you are guaranteed to sell your van at the end of your trip). Though there is a thriving campervan market in New Zealand so you’ll probably have no issues selling your car yourself.
Zach and Julie from Ruhls of the Road have some great tips when buying a car in New Zealand. As you begin your search for the perfect campervan there is some NZ lingo that might leave you scratching your head but here is a brief overview to help you find the perfect campervan.
WOF stands for Warrant of Fitness. Vehicles 1999 or older need a new WOF check every 6 months, and vehicles 2000 or newer need one every 12 months. For a vehicle to PASS, the owner must fix everything that doesn’t meet inspection qualifications. It’s important to know the vehicle’s WOF expiration date and take that into consideration when buying the car.
REG or REGO is the vehicle registration. This is not a make or break factor when buying a vehicle since it is very easy and cheap to extend your REGO however it is definitely something to be aware of and stay on top of so you don’t get stuck with a ticket down the road.
RUC stands for Road User Charges and is a tax on all diesel vehicles. Petrol fuel is more expensive in NZ, however, there is no additional tax involved like there is with diesel. Before picking what type of campervan you want (diesel vs. petrol) consider how many kilometers you will be driving and which option will be cheaper for you.
10. Download the Campermate app
Do yourself a favor and download the Campermate app. Do it now, it will make your campervan life in New Zealand so much easier.
This app is your best friend in finding NZ freedom campsites but also dump stations, petrol stations, public toilets, public showers, grocery stores and much more.
Regarding the campgrounds, the Campermate app tells you the exact location of the site and has reviews from people who have recently visited those campsites. These comments will give you up-to-date information about the facilities and current status of the site (e.g. if it’s still allowed for all types of vehicles to freedom camp there).
In any case, the Campermate app is a must-have for campervan travel in New Zealand.
Alternatives to renting a camper van
We absolutely loved our campervan road trip in New Zealand but there are several alternatives to renting a camper van.
Rent a car
Renting a car instead of a campervan is cheaper, plus you’ll spend less on petrol since mileage tends to be much better. We came across many people sleeping in their cars (mostly station wagons), but you can also buy a small tent if you prefer.
Travel by bus, cycle or walk
Other alternatives include going by bus (InterCity Bus has regular 1NZD promo fees) or cycling. If you are an active person and have plenty of time, you can even walk across New Zealand!
Hiking in New Zealand is amazing and there are numerous trails. In fact, there is a 3000km trail called Te Araroa starting at Cape Reinga in the North of New Zealand all the way to Bluff in the South. This way of traveling definitely brings you to places you wouldn’t easily get to by car!
Campervan trip New Zealand
I hope this post will help you plan for your New Zealand campervan trip. Exploring New Zealand with a campervan is absolutely amazing and something I highly recommend to anyone who loves road trips!
Looking for more New Zealand travel information?
Check out my New Zealand page for more resources!
This post was updated in October 2020.