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.
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.
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!
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.
HOW MUCH DID OUR NEW ZEALAND ROADTRIP COST?
This was in peak season for 5 weeks and included a $0.00 excess for insurance (35 nights)
This was for both islands and we drove 6619km (4112 miles)
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Pin This Post
Please note this post may contain affiliate links, which add no extra cost to your purchase but earns us a small commission.