NEW ZEALAND IN A CAMPERVAN: BUDGET, ITINERARY & TOP TIPS

NEW ZEALAND IN A CAMPERVAN: BUDGET, ITINERARY & TOP TIPS

Travelling New Zealand in a campervan is the best way to explore this beautiful country and this guide will share exactly how to do it. From how to find cheap campervan hire in New Zealand to the best free campsites, we share our tried & tested tips to save you time, money and stress on the road! We also share our guide to cooking in a campervan, our full road trip itinerary and a breakdown of how much our tour of New Zealand in a campervan cost.

Bridge In The South Island Of New Zealand Over Arthurs Pass

CHOOSING A VAN FOR YOUR NEW ZEALAND ROADTRIP

Before our tips on finding cheap campervan hire in New Zealand you need to ask yourself the following questions to find the van for you.

1. Will You Be On A Budget & Aiming For Mainly Free Campsites?

If yes, your campervan rental in New Zealand must be a self-contained vehicle. This means there is a toilet and has water in it (even a portable toilet passes) otherwise you may face fines for freedom camping in New Zealand. This means “campercars” are usually out of the question. Although they are cheapest to hire, their seats just fold down into a bed and all cooking/washing up must be done outside the van so space is limited and they won’t be self-contained certified.

Cute Green Campervan Next To Lamp Post In New Zealand

2. Are You Allowed To Hire A Campervan In New Zealand?

Depending on the country where you passed your test will depend if your license is eligible for campervan hire in New Zealand. Always check on your country specifically, however generally if your license is English, you should be fine. If it isn’t you will be required to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP).

3. How Many People Are You Taking On Your New Zealand Roadtrip?

On one hand, splitting the cost between more people does make your campervan rental in New Zealand cheaper. However, we chose a 3 person Kuga despite being a couple because Daz is 6ft 4 so needed the height and Loz is a fashion graduate so needed the extra space for all her pointless clothes. A Kuga camper had a double bed and single bed. We used the higher up single bed space for storage which made such a difference to our New Zealand roadtrip!

Couple Smiling While Sitting In A Campervan

4. How Long Have You Been Driving?

Most companies offering campervan hire in New Zealand have a minimum age policy of 21, then slap on a “young driver’s fee” if you are under 25. Also, if you are younger, insurance can be incredibly expensive. The other issue is, the roads in New Zealand are incredibly unique – tight turns, steep hills and ever changing weather conditions means experience is essential as it’ll be nothing like driving the wee Fiat 500 you usually drive at home and parking it is completely different too!

HOW TO FIND CHEAP CAMPERVAN HIRE IN NEW ZEALAND

Step One: Compare

Use a Campervan Comparison site such as Motorhome Republic to compare prices and narrow down the competition.

Step Two: Haggle

From the hundreds of companies that do campervan hire in New Zealand, we narrowed it down to two companies thanks to the comparison site which were very similar in price. However, there were pros and cons to both such as, one offered free camp chairs & table the other offered free ferry transfer. We then emailed the two companies with each other’s quotes and used instant chat to tell them they’d made the final of Loz & Daz’s Campervan Search.

Our honesty paid off, it instantly started a bidding war with one company even sending us cute puppy memes to try and persuade us to choose them. There is always wiggle room with companies for discounts, the odd cheeky freebie and of course puppy memes always help sweeten the deal when on a mission for cheap campervan hire in New Zealand.

Step Three: Select

Finally our search for cheap campervan hire in New Zealand was over and our champions were Traveller’s Autobarn. However, being Scottish we love a bargain (and so many people miss this step out) so for a further discount we recommend a company such as STA who claim to “beat any quote”. This got us our ferry ticket for free which was meant to be NZ$200.00+ and our camping equipment such as table & chairs thrown in.

Campervan Parked While Overlooking Lake In New Zealand

HOW MUCH DID OUR NEW ZEALAND ROADTRIP COST?

HIRE: £3,378.27 

This was in peak season for 5 weeks and included a $0.00 excess for insurance (35 nights)

FUEL: £868.80 

This was for both islands and we drove 6619km (4112 miles)

CAMPSITES: £422.94 

This could have been much cheaper but as it was peak season and our first time in a campervan we didn’t brave many free ones!

FOOD / DRINKS: £1,528.85 

We did “big” food shops in places such as Pak’nSave and New World but did eat out a handful of times.

ACTIVITIES: £545.36

This included some big adventures such as Hobbiton, Waitomo caves, Milford Sound, a wine tour in Queenstown + more!

TOTAL (2 PEOPLE): £6,744.22 – Approx. NZ$12,720.00

Man Driving Campervan With Lake And Mountains In The Background

Budget Tips

  • We created our route of both islands, calculated the total distance, then worked out how many km to the litre of petrol we would get. This gave us an approximate figure for fuel prior to our New Zealand roadtrip.
  • Bare in mind other expenses such as insurance, ferry transfers, toll roads and break downs.
  • If you are short on time and budget, look into campervan relocation. For as little as $1 a day you can relocate vehicles for hire companies!
  • When shopping at most supermarkets in New Zealand, check your receipt as you receive discount off your fuel (around $0.06 per litre). 

COOKING IN A CAMPERVAN ON A BUDGET

Now that Daz shared his expertise on the budget side of things, this is where my expertise come in. Cooking in a campervan can be challenging for numerous reasons: you are limited on space, gas, time and budget! Luckily for your we have SO MANY campervan recipes to suit all budgets and tastes including one pot camping meals and vegetarian camping meals.

We also recommend watching our cooking in a campervan videos on YouTube, to be honest we’re not going to put Jamie Oliver out of a job however, they give you a great insight into what cooking in a campervan is like in terms of space, recipe ideas and how to use leftovers!

Our final suggestion would be to read our cooking in a campervan top tips. We learned SO MUCH from our New Zealand road trip such as storage ideas, cleaning hacks etc which we have rounded up in one quick guide!

Looking Out The Back Of The Campervan While Eating Dinner

PLANNING A ROUTE FOR YOUR NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP

New Zealand in a campervan has been the absolute highlight of our travels so far, only made possible by our fool-proof itinerary which covers all the highlights and a few hidden gems. We created a 3 week South Island itinerary and 2 week North Island itinerary including all stops, things to do and where to camp. In all honesty, we couldn’t choose an island we preferred – both are completely unique yet equally mind blowing.

Road In New Zealand Leading Towards The Mountains

Highlights Of Our South Island Itinerary

  • Lake Pukaki Campsite (our favourite free campsite in New Zealand)
  • The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound + camping at Milford Sound Lodge
  • The Steampunk town of Timaru – we did promise off the beaten track
  • Arthur’s Pass – the most insane road from our entire New Zealand road trip
  • Tasman Glacier National Park – both the drive & hike itself, so worth the detour!
Road In New Zealand With Blue Skies And Mountains Either Side

Highlights Of Our North Island Itinerary

  • Our day in Wellington – it was such a vibrant, fun little city
  • Wai-O-Taupo Thermal Wonderland – an unforgettable day trip, like walking through a different planet
  • Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the most challenging yet rewarding hike we’ve done so far
  • Waking up in our campervan on our birthdays, then treating ourselves to glamping at Takou River lodge.
Girl Standing On Top Of The Mountain

WHERE TO STAY WHEN TRAVELLING NEW ZEALAND IN A CAMPERVAN

With the lack of Wi-Fi and endless options, we felt a little overwhelmed choosing campsites during our New Zealand road trip. However, we’ve put together a few very helpful guides, the sort we wished we could find prior to our campervan holiday in New Zealand which will help you guys.

We rounded up the best sites (both paid for and free) based on facilities, affordability, location and Wi-Fi. We even created a cheeky little cheat sheet that has every campsite we stayed at during our New Zealand road trip in one handy place – it’s completely free to download, save and use!

Sunset Shining Into Campervan In New Zealand

Our favourite campsites from New Zealand in a campervan:

New Zealand Campsites Cheat Sheet Download Banner

FREE CAMPING NEW ZEALAND VS PAID FOR SITES

Free camping in New Zealand is an amazing experience, not only because you save money but these sites often offer the best views, stargazing spots and space. So why pay for any campsites?

1. Power & Poops

If you are in a campervan you will need to charge your battery, empty waste water and top up with fresh water every 3 days or so. This is not always possible when free camping in New Zealand and you will be required to book a site and pay for power. Free campsites in New Zealand request you are a self-contained vehicle, defined by “a self-contained vehicle must retain all waste within the confines of the vehicle and leave no trace of its visit to a site” which essentially means you have a toilet and water on board. Free camping in New Zealand with a car is far more difficult as you won’t be self-contained so are limited to which free sites you can stay at and fines will incur if you break these rules.

New Zealand In A Campervan Near The Beach

2. Toilets And Showers

Some of the free sites in our North & South Island camping grounds guide do have showers and flush toilets but many do not. Most free campervan sites in New Zealand offer drop toilets which do exactly as it sounds. Your “business” literally drops into a pit. They can smell horrific and at times are full of flies, which can make a trek to the toilet in the dark even more frightening but it’s all part of the New Zealand in a campervan fun!

3. Beating The Competition

Free camping in New Zealand is incredibly competitive. As mentioned, these spots have the best views and obviously don’t cost a penny so lots of people want to camp there. This means, if you have a busy day ahead booking a paid for site is usually a better option as you’re guaranteed a space regardless of what time you arrive. When we used free campervan sites in New Zealand it was usually on days where we were finished site seeing by around 4 or 5pm so we could secure a spot early.

Campervans Parked In Front Of Lake Pukakai New Zealand

4. Keep It Clean

When free camping in New Zealand please take only photos and leave only footprints. When idiots urinate outside, leave litter and park out with designated areas it not only causes havoc to the eco-systems in these areas but will result in more and more free campsites in New Zealand being closed. Only park where permitted and leave the site exactly as you found it.

WHAT ARE DOC CAMPSITES?

These campsites are essentially a happy medium – they’re not entirely free but they are super cheap. They stand for Department Of Conservation and as they are managed by the government specially for tourists, they do have better facilities than the usual free camping sites. The best part is the price, generally they’re under NZ$10.00 and have the best views nearby nature reserves, peaceful lakes, forest walks and the best star gazing spots!

Looking Out To The Sea In New Zealand

WHAT TO PACK FOR A CAMPERVAN HOLIDAY IN NEW ZEALAND

These are the items that saved us money, time and stress when road tripping New Zealand in a campervan. Although there were still a few disasters, travelling as a couple isn’t always straight forward (especially when you feed Daz a 5 bean chilli then have to sleep next to him in a van) these were the essentials that helped keep us alive/stop us from killing each other.

Looking Out Over Lake Tekapo While Having Lunch In New Zealand

1. Torch

Nothing tests a relationship than holding the torch for the other as you brave a pee in your first dark drop toilet or ideal for more romantic stuff like midnight stargazing strolls.

Torch
954 Reviews
Torch
  • 【Super bright with multiple modes】Powerful 800 lumens LED Torch generates a brilliant large area floodlight or a perfect focused spotlight. Adjustable focus with 5 modes: (High, Medium, Low,...
  • 【High quality】This LED Flashlight body is built of high quality aluminum alloy, and it has a very solid construction,High-Efficiency and Great Output LED Chip,and it's also a zoomable led light...
  • 【Easy to carry and charge】Easy to carry as a backup tool and small enough to put in your pocket, handbag, drawer, or car compartment. This flashlight takes 3 standard AAA (Included ) or a single...

2. Portable Speaker

Tunes make everything better including your cooking skills.

Portable Speaker
18 Reviews
Portable Speaker
  • 【Double Assurance of Powerful HD Music】The front 8W dual-driver speakerphone offers an impressively powerful and crystal-clear sound. The rear passive radiator guarantees bass boost without any...
  • 【Waterproof and Shatterproof】IPX6 Waterproof technology enables you listen to music even when it half soaks in the water. Mpow R3 Bluetooth speaker is perfect for beach and pool parties. The...
  • 【Stable and Wider-coverage Bluetooth 4.2】Advanced Bluetooth V4.2 ensures a stable streaming from 33feet(10m) away. Bluetooth 4.2 makes it easy and fast to connect with our R3 speaker with your...

3. Coffee Grinder / Nanopresso

Save money (and the planet) by avoiding buying barista coffee and make your own instead from the comfort of your wee van!

Nanopresso
31 Reviews
Nanopresso
  • [SUPER PUMPING SYSTEM] Built around a newly patented pumping system and no battery/electric need, the Nanopresso is powerful. With the help of your hands, a maximum of 18 bars (261 PSI) of stable...
  • [EASIER THAN EVER] The Nanopresso works best with all varieties of ground coffee. Add the boiling water to its tank and pump manually, it is delightfully easy to operate and easy to prepare your...
  • [SMALLEST AND LIGHTEST] Nanopresso's ergonomic design and shorter length makes it your travel companion of choice. Nanopresso is engineered to be extremely light. Yet, designed to go wherever you go,...

4. Fairy Lights

You may have fell out every 20 minutes over the sat nav but fairy lights make everything look cute (including each other after 3 days without showers)

Sale
Fairy Lights
38 Reviews
Fairy Lights
  • 50 LED Lights: 1 Pack includes 50LEDs.These lights are nice and bright! You will not be disappointed by the amount of light that these bright lights produce. They will brighten any dark corner,...
  • Safe and Reliable: The product requires 3 AA batteries, (not included). This is wonderful for homes with children and pets, because there is no risk of electrical shock. Our copper lights stay cool to...
  • Water Resistant: They are IP65 water resistantand will work in hot or cold, rain or shine. (The battery housing does need to be protected from water). They are suitable for indoor or outdoor use.

5. Camping Chairs

If your campervan rental in New Zealand does not include these, get some! Essential for Al Fresco dining, days down the beach and stargazing!

Camping Chairs
492 Reviews
Camping Chairs
  • SIT BACK AND RELAX WITH YOUR FAVOURITE CHILLED BEVERAGE as there is nothing better than having a good brew outdoors in the summer. A handy cup holder is built into the armrest so your drink or mobile...
  • THE DURABLE STRONG STEEL FRAME will ensure you get the best experience from your Highlander chair. Constructed with a Polyester PVC coated material makes it easy to wipe down and clean with a damp...
  • PACK YOUR CHAIR AWAY HASSLE FREE when you are on the move. A matching colour carry bag with handle comes included with your purchase allowing you carry it in your hand or throw it over your shoulder....

6. Portable Charger

Essential if you plan on freedom camping in New Zealand, as you won’t have electricity often. This is the best one we have ever used as you charge it once, then it lasts around 1 week – 7 full charges of a mobile phone! It can also be used to charge Go Pro & camera batteries!

Portable Charger
7,310 Reviews
Portable Charger
  • The Anker Advantage: Join the 20 million+ powered by our leading technology.
  • Ultra-High Capacity: Weighs as little as a can of soup (12.5 oz) yet charges the iPhone 8 almost seven times, the Galaxy S8 five times or the iPad mini 4 twice.
  • High-speed charging: PowerIQ and VoltageBoost combine to deliver the fastest possible charge(does not support Qualcomm Quick Charge). Recharges itself in 10 hours with a 2 amp charger, phone chargers...

7. Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot

During your New Zealand road trip you will struggle for Wi-Fi which can be essential for booking activities, campsites and finding directions. We recommend this one because it can be used in almost any country and is open to all operators SIM cards, so grab a local data SIM and connect your devices.

Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot
252 Reviews
Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot
  • Practical, portable and Powerful: Travel the world with Huawei's super-fast 4G Mobile Wi-Fi. A pocket-sized solution to low-cost travel Wi-Fi.
  • Parental Control and guest network - A simplified system to help you manage connected devices, disconnect any device at the touch of a button.
  • Speed: LTE FDD 150 Mbps / LTE TDD 112 Mbps. An ultimate, rechargeable battery with 6 hours working time. Stay connected for longer.

8. Insect Spray

Both repellent against sandflies and mossies but you might want to invest in ant spray too, to kill any crawlies that get into your van (our campervan hire came with).

Sale
Insect Spray
929 Reviews
Insect Spray
  • Up to 9 HOUR insect repellent protection from mosquitoes, midges and biting insects.
  • Particularly suitable for long haul travellers, malaria risk areas and those wanting extra protection from insect bites.
  • Contains 50% DEET for effective protection

OUR TOP NEW ZEALAND CAMPERVAN TIPS

  • Van life is a community, if you have too much of something / not enough fridge space etc, share it with your neighbours. Karma will reward you!
  • Arrive early to ensure a space at free campsites (ideally before sunset)
  • KEEP TO THE LEFT – Especially if this is not your usual side but also because the majestic scenery of New Zealand is incredibly distracting, keep your eyes on the road!
  • Kiwi Club – Our campervan rental in New Zealand gave us a Kiwi Club keyring which gave us 10% off all Kiwi campsites and money off local attractions.
  • Do not take a suitcase it will be impossible to store in your campervan. Instead we use packing cubes inside our backpacks, these fitted perfectly under the seats with one side dedicated to Daz’s stuff and one mine.
Packing Cubes
672 Reviews
Packing Cubes
  • Double zipper pulls make opening/closing simple and fast
  • Mesh top panel for easy identification of contents, and ventilation
  • Soft mesh won't damage delicate fabrics
  • Star places on Google Maps and download them to use offline as Wi-Fi & signal will be scarce!
  • Leave enough time. Google maps may tell you a driving time but always consider the weather, road conditions (gravel is common on New Zealand roads) as well as the never ending photo/petrol/toilet stops! The most common thing to slow you down during your New Zealand road trip is the huge motorhomes, they go slower than tractors uphill so getting stuck behind one of these bad boys will add considerable time to your journey!
  • Download Campermate to ensure your New Zealand in a campervan trip goes as smooth as possible!
  • Park in the direction of travel. Daz almost got a parking fine for not parking in the direction of travel (on the left). It is illegal in both New Zealand and Australia to park facing oncoming traffic.
  • If you are moving slowly round the winding rounds in New Zealand, pull over in slow moving vehicle lanes to let those faster moving vehicles past you.
Girl Walking With Windswept Hair Near Tasman Glacier In New Zealand

Hopefully you have the most epic time travelling new Zealand in a campervan. To date, our New Zealand roadtrip has been our favourite adventure, with so much to see and do we loved every minute. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or if we’ve missed out any tips and we hope you enjoy van life as much as we do!

For more photos of our adventure, please take a peek at our New Zealand gallery

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