Home OceaniaNew Zealand Campervan in New Zealand. Guide to success!

Campervan in New Zealand. Guide to success!

by Timo Hirvonen
Matkailuauto Campervan
Tarinoiden taival:FacebooktwittermailFacebooktwittermail

This posting will give information on how to choose a campervan that is the right size and price as well as appropriately equipped. Attached is also a list of the important things – everything from driving to budgeting – that are worth considering before booking a campervan. The post will focus on giving tips applicable to New Zealand, but the information can be applied elsewhere, too. These advice will help you succeed in enjoying the possibilities offered by campervan travel to the fullest.

20160725-043052-NZ

Contents

  1. Start here
  2. What kind of a car and equipment
  3. Kitchen equipment and Cooking
  4. Parking
  5. Accommodation alternatives
  6. A list of good campsites
  7. Driving a campervan
  8. Other beneficial things
  9. Thoughts, Feelings and budgeting
  10. Checklist
  • 20160620-110913-NZ
  • 20160611-095215-NZ
  • 20160610-090031-NZ
  • 20160609-090837-NZ

1. Start here

20160607-131743-NZ

Most people begin the hunt for the campervan with a merciless Internet search in order to get some kind of an initial idea of the service providers and different car options. It is therefore a good idea to look into it a bit, if you want to get the best bang for your buck.

Car companies are usually not good places to start. We were at the brink of desperation right from the get-go, because even though we were able to find ”a good car for a good price,” the total sum ended up being a lot higher due to the automatic addition of random items – everything from insurances to GPS and patio furniture.

Many of the car rental companies also weren’t able to show images of the layout of the car or a clear list of the basic appliances and equipment that came with the car. The biggest anxiety was caused by companies that, after choosing a campervan, threw a three-page list of extras at us. From the list we had to choose how many patio chairs, tables, sightseeing flags and so on. The total price then ended up being something completely different than what we had initially been given.

To form a big picture we absolutely recommend reading blogs that have collected the best car rental tips. These will help in formulating an idea of one’s own needs and preferences. The best link that we found was Wilderness New Zealand “How to choose –guide”. The writing delved into what things are good to pay attention to and what kind of situations it is possible to end up in with a campervan. The best part was first and foremost reading about the pros of traveling with a campervan compared to a regular car and hotel accommodation. That’s what it’s all about, really.

  • 20160616-090627-NZ
  • 20160607-123610-NZ
  • 20160609-072205-NZ
  • 20160613-132426-NZ

Top

2. WHAT KIND OF A CAR AND EQUIPMENT TO GET?


GET A CAR THAT’S BIG ENOUGH FOR THINGS AND PEOPLE.

Our family of five would have gone crazy in a space that’s too small – especially, since it was winter in New Zealand and the outdoors wasn’t available for use in the same way as in warm weather. A good alternative was therefore to get a campervan, where the grown-ups and the baby slept on the wide bed downstairs and the pre-teens got their own place for escape on the car’s top shelf. There were curtains to make both spaces secluded. This is especially convenient, if you plan on having any kind of intimate interaction with your spouse…

20160608-090020-NZ
20160614-162323-NZ

CHOOSE A VEHICLE THAT’S SELF-CONTAINED

Our campervan of choice was a Berth 5, whose strategic measurements were 7.1 meters in length and 3.5 meters in height. The car provided seating for six people and sleeping for five. The car was fully self-contained and had a shower, a toilet, a kitchen, and heating. The toilet and the grey water tank are particularly important items on the equipment list, because a campervan equipped with these is allowed to park at so-called Freedom Camping –areas. That, in turn, will save money in camping prices. Remember to check that the campervan has the appropriate toilet-sign, which entitles camping at the free areas.

image-self-contained

20160621-092502-NZ

As a family of five we didn’t really get to test the shower at all, because the grey water tank would have filled up immediately. The water pressure in the shower wasn’t anything to write home about, and it’s hard to recommend campervan showers for anyone with long hair. We found it easier to take our showers either on the camping area or at local outdoor pools which always had a hot water pool as well as fun water-related activities for the kids. This, of course, varies country to country. A lot of nature destinations also have showers in conjunction with public bathrooms, which are good to make use of.

WHAT EQUIPMENT?


Our car package included transportation to and from the airport, a full insurance (250€ deductible), patio furniture, a child seat, a paper map and a so-called media package, which included a local phone, a 3G modem, a charger, an inverter, a GPS, a socket adapter and a tourist radio. The inverter proved to be very useful when using Freedom camping sites, because it enabled the use of the car battery by converting the power from the cigarrette lighter so that it could be used with other appliances (cell phones, cameras and computers.)

20160609-105917-NZ

The tourist radio uses GPS and tells you about the areas sights and accommodation options whenever the car is in the range. This was a fun addition to travel and offered a good selection of 80’s and 90’s hits even when the normal radio wasn’t functioning properly. Its only downside was that we got a great introduction to the new city when we arrived, but then got the same introduction the next day as we left – over and over and over again. The first two times this was a source of amusement, but the following ten times it just caused growing irritation.

There are a lot of providers offering campervans and there are also lots of different campervan users out there. We ended up with a company called Eurocamper. The price of the car was a little higher than what we had originally planned, but the customer service was fantastic right from the first email. They also had a great attitude towards first-timers. Here’s a list of a few service providers in New Zealand.

  • 20160607-161454-NZ
  • 20160608-090242-NZ
  • 20160609-125550-NZ
  • 20160614-162602-NZ

Top

3. KITCHEN EQUIPMENT AND COOKING


Cooking in a campervan can be quite hard, but this, too, depends largely on the level of equipment and the functionality of the car. We found cooking to be easy, because the kids could get food whenever, as long as you planned the food and grocery store visits well. New Zealand is an expensive country, so for budget reasons we prepared almost all of the meals in the campervan, excluding store-bought picnic food and a few visits to Chinese and other inexpensive restaurants. At the same time the youngest member of the family refused to eat kids food.
Be prepared for the fact that the car’s gas cooker may be inefficient, the pots too big and the equipment lacking. Check the equipment in advance. We got lucky and had sharpened kitchen knives, which made cooking more enjoyable. Little things like a wine bottle opener may be missing.

The best part about traveling with a campervan is being able to stop at a gorgeous location to cook and to enjoy dinner while the sun descends below the horizon. We had breakfast by the beach next to the car several times.

20160621-173700-NZ
We got by with salt, pepper and herb mixture. Don’t forget fresh herbs and citrus.
Pasta combined with fresh crushed tomates or a ready can from the shop. Add in some tuna or shrimps for a more meatier option.
You can find grilled chicken from all of the bigger grocery stores. This is easy to combine with a green salad or make your own version of the famous Vietnamise banhmi sandwich.
Pick your meat, fry it on a pan and make your version of a brown sauce with flour, water and butter if you feel like buying it. Boil some rice or potates to accomppany and the kids will enjoy.
Buy some onions and mushrooms. Make your own broth. Chop the onions and mushrooms, give it a quick fry and put aside. Take yesterdays rice and put it on the pan with medium heat. Keep adding the broth until the rice starts to thicken. Add in the onions and mushrooms. Top of with cheese if you have any lying around.
And the kids love. In our family the basic wrap contain rice, tomato, bell pepper, lettuce, meat, chicken or fish and some hot sauce and chicken. Avocado goes as it is topped with some lime

Top

4. Parking


Memorize the car’s measurements. Most parking spots only accept vehicles that are no more than 6 meters long. Parking spots in cities are tiny or there are few of them. Some bridges may be challenging for high cars. Outside of cities, at ports and hypermarkets you’ll find separate parking areas for campervans.

20160612-120206-NZ

Top

5. Accommondation options


New Zealand accommodation can be divided into three categories: holiday or motor parks with or without electricity, Department of Conservation (DOC)-campsites and Freedom camping. Each option will be introduced below.

20160610-081529-NZ

It’s worth noting that the van batteries do not last for a long time. This is especially important in the winter when using power for heating. In other words: the campervan uses the battery all the time, unless it’s connected to a power source. It’s becoming increasingly common for the cars to have a sun panel on the roof, but on cloudy days they are not particularly useful from the heating perspective.

  • 20160618-101514-NZ
  • 20160610-085915-NZ
  • 20160622-102050-NZ
  • 20160622-102043-NZ

You should also keep in mind that when the car is operating using the battery as its only energy source, the microwave oven, toaster, electric kettle or outlets don’t work. Heating requires electricity, too, even if it runs on gas or diesel. This means that when the battery level falls, the heating quits working. We combined different accommodation options based on our needs, because many nights were very cool. When the energy runs out at 5AM in the morning, you begin to long for a constant power source. An extra blanket is not a bad idea either, if you travel during the winter.

20160607-165147-NZ

HOLIDAY AND MOTOR PARKS


Holiday parks or motor parks are full service camping areas which you pay for. At these spots you can plug the car in to an electrical outlet. Services also include warm showers, bathrooms, washing machines, water for the car and emptying services. At some of these spots there is a common playroom, a kitchen, and a kids play area. The prices for these camping areas in New Zealand vary between 15-30NZ$ per person per night.
  • 20160618-095901-NZ
  • 20160618-110442-NZ
  • 20160608-144941-NZ
  • 20160616-090646-NZ

There are vast differences between the quality and the level of service among the parks. It’s therefore a good idea to, once you’ve decided on your route, look into the places located on your route. Some of the places have fully heated shower facilities and extra services from free bicycles to places for sleeping on the beach, whereas others have cold shower facilities and limited shower times, or even coin-operated showers. The pricing is fairly similar everywhere.

20160608-140620-NZ

Yet another issue is the location, for which it’s worth paying extra. We traveled during off-season and got to stay at seaside places and other spectacular nature sights. During peak season it is recommended to make the bookings well in advance.

Many of the parks close their reception already at 5 or 6PM, so if you haven’t made a booking, make sure to at least secure your spot.

20160617-172249-NZ

DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION CAMPING SITES


New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) sites are camping areas maintained by the government. They have public bathrooms and some even have showers.The prices vary between 10 and 20NZ$. DOC-areas do not have electricity services and the price is high compared to the holiday/motor parks (price-quality –ratio). Many of these spots are, however, located at truly spectacular nature sights, so it may be worth paying for the location if the Freedom Camping sites are full.
  • 20160607-145614-NZ
  • 20160618-091209-NZ
  • 20160608-084242-NZ
  • 20160612-121317-NZ

FREEDOM CAMPING


Freedom camping, or free parking spots, are free of charge. You can park there either with a campervan that has a ”Self Contained” sticker, or with a smaller campervan that has its own toilet. Freedom camping spots are getting more rare as travelers abuse the nature resources. A good substitute for these are the DOC areas.

Do not arrive late at the Freedom camping spots, because they only have a limited number of spots.

20160609-071909-NZ
20160607-145920-NZ

Top

6. A LIST OF A FEW GOOD CAMPING SITES IN NEW ZEALAND

  • 20160608-141114-NZ
  • 20160616-152709-NZ
  • 20160608-084418-NZ
  • 20160616-162229-NZ

Top

7. Driving a campervan


Driving a campervan is like driving any other big vehicle. If you don’t have experience in it, don’t worry. The cars are really easy to drive, as long as you remember a couple of things.

20160607-143230-NZ
  1. Make sure that every loose thing is in its spot and that all the drawers are closed before taking off.
  2. Don’t make tight turns. Unlike in a smaller car, the rear doesn’t follow the front, but tries to cut the corners.
  3. If you park right next to a wall, keep in mind that the rear easily scrapes the wall when you take off. Depart easy and don’t make steep turns. This is especially important to remember on ferries and other spots where parking is tight.
  4. Don’t get excited on curvy roads, because at some point the reality of the car’s measurements will hit you and you have to resort to using the oncoming traffic’s lane.
  5. Take it easy with bumps. Especially on bigger cars the rear end has tight suspension and items in the car tend to jump around.
  6. Beware of windy spots. A big vehicle can catch the wind and surprise you.
  7. Get an automatic and an engine that’s big enough, so you don’t have to stress out when going uphill.
  8. Remember to always have the toilet lid and lock closed, especially when driving.

Top

8. Other beneficial things


Campermate


Campermate is an app that you can download on your phone. There you can find lots of useful information from accommodation to dumping spots. The app will also give you good offers and discounts to holiday/motor parks. We got free internet time and a free entrance to the hot pool. Remember to open the app every time you are online and check the offers on your route.

20160611-131846-NZ

CONNECTING TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF INTERNET


This will be a writing of its own, but both in New Zealand and in Australia the mobile broadband is expensive and many of the ones offered by hotels are lousy or limited to 100-500MB, at least out of the ones we encountered. There are exceptions, however, like the one at Peketa Beach with its incredibly fast 10GB free internet for one device, which you could still switch to work with others.

Other than that, we took full advantage of other available sources. The number one places turned out to be the city libraries. Every library had a free wifi with no password required. Runner-up on the list was Starbucks and KFC.

We had a 3G modem included in our car. It cost 50NZ$ per 3GB of data, which for us lasted for about five days (excluding Netflix). This came handy when on the road and to our surprise worked well on our route.

20160607-161858-NZ

Top

9. THOUGHTS, FEELINGS AND BUDGETING

Our hearts belong to New Zealand, partly due to campervan travel. The campervan allowed us to go places we otherwise wouldn’t have stopped or stayed at. It’s a good idea to look at life from a different perspective. We learned that two weeks in a campervan went by fairly easily with three kids when the car worked and the New Zealand weather was agreeable. Next time we’ll target for the kiwis’ summer, though, so we can enjoy the country with less clothing and maybe do some beach vacationing, too. This doesn’t mean that we don’t recommend other times of the year, though. On the contrary. Many of the destinations were exceptionally beautiful inclear, cool weather, and there were next to no other tourists at the accommodation spots or the nature sights. We don’t, however, recommend mid-winter, because the roads can be snowy or full of black ice, which makes it harder to control the vehicle. Many places are closed during winter because of mud or snow. This is why we, too, left some of the south island sights for the next trip.

  • 20160612-135725-NZ
  • 20160608-094007-NZ
  • 20160612-151527-NZ
  • 20160612-093323-NZ

Planning the route is an important part of a successful vacation. Think about how much sitting in a car you can take per day, because traveling by campervan is slow. The average speed is about 60 kilometers per hour and sometimes even that is pushing it. Decide how much discomfort you are willing to stand. Emptying the toilet or the grey water tank is a project entirely of its own and depending on the number of people onboard you may need to do it fairly frequently.

Traveling by campervan in New Zealand will save you a lot of money. Hotel nights are really expensive, even by European standards. Eating out isn’t cheap either and the ”menu del día” of southern Europe as well as other inexpensive lunch options are non-existent. On the other hand, coffee, food and wine is excellent. New Zealand even has home delivery for coffee! A more precise budget will follow later, but here is a general idea of the budget.

  • 20160613-090307-NZ
  • 20160608-084254-NZ
  • 20160607-142836-NZ
  • 20160611-153847-NZ

THE BUDGET FOR OUR FAMILY OF FIVE WAS AS FOLLOWS:

  • Camping site accommodations 30€/night, including internet. Every other night we stayed for free, used internet hot spots, and went to hot pools or public pools. The campground fees depend on the number of people.
  • Mediapackage and modem internet deal with Vodaphone 2 x 50€. And yes – internet is expensive.
  • We drove 2000km in two weeks, and we filled our gas tank four times. Our budget for this was 400€, which was a little much. Our campervan was a fairly new model and used less gas, which is worth noting. We only paid for parking in very few places and the cost was only a couple of dollars. There are luckily no tolls on roads.
  • For food, we budgeted 100€ per day for the whole family, including coffee and snacks. One restaurant lunch would have cost almost our entire daily budget, so we ended up making our own food and only buying the take away –coffee. Even coffee began to be pretty costly, so we bought our own espresso maker and ended up making the coffee, too. It’s worth checking to see if there is a coffee maker or some kind of a pan included in the equipment, in case you need several shots of caffeine throughout the day.
  • You can spend astonishing amounts of money on sights. We favored free nature sights, but of course the trip to Kaikoura to see whales, the geysirs of Rotorua, or the thousands of glowworms of Waitomo Cave were on the bucket list and were worth paying for. We recommend pondering beforehand the things you want to do and checking the prices in advance. New Zealand is also a daredevil’s promised land where you can try bungee-jumping and other experiences, if you have a buldging wallet.
  • Our campervan cost 1500€, which is actually an ok price for two weeks of accommodation and car rental. For the money we got loads of experiences that money can’t buy. There was so much space in the campervan that we didn’t even fill up all the closets. Naturally we had few items with us, but it’s worth acquainting yourself with the storage solutions of the car. As a tip: it’s a good idea to store things in the same place. Otherwise you’ll constantly be searching for the hair brush, flashlight and other small items.

More thoughts and feelings about New Zealand can be found in our post Do these 5 things in Kaikoura, New Zealand

  • 20160612-115746-NZ
  • 20160612-110628-NZ
  • 20160607-112103-NZ
  • 20160612-135524-NZ

Top

Checklist

  • It’s worth including the ride to the car and back to the airport or the hotel in the package. Several of the campervan companies are located further away. Especially if you are planning on returning the car to a different spot than where you departed from.
  • In the beginning, form a general idea of the basic facts of traveling by campervan.
  • Plan the equipment you need and what is really worth paying for.
  • A TV on the equipment list does not mean that it has TV channels. You can view programs through your own Internet or download a few movies for rainy days.
  • Check the kitchen’s equipment level in advance.
  • Don’t take a car that’s too small.
  • In the winter make sure there is heating for the back of the campervan, too.
  • Check in advance that there are enough blankets in case you are traveling in the winter and plan to do Freedom camping. Alternately getting a few blankets from the supermarket doesn’t cost much. We used big towels for keeping us warm in a few emergency situations.
  • Make sure there is gas in the gas tank.
  • A 9 kg gas tank is enough for two weeks for a family of five when cooking a lot.
  • Plan the menu at least a couple of days in advance.
  • Have dry food and water available for emergency. The distances can be long.
  • The gas tank needs to be returned full. Ask the rental place for the nearest gas station that does refills in your bottle (so you don’t have to buy a new one). This saves a lot of money.
  • Empty (the toilet and the grey water tank) and fill up (water) every chance you get. We always emptied when staying at campsites every other night.
  • Fill up no later than when your tank is half-empty. The distances between gas and service stations can be long in New Zealand.
  • Having a top bunk saves a lot of situations when traveling with kids. It’s like an extra room.
  • An insurance is a must. This is not the right place to save money.
  • Back the car up to the scenery you want to see. In most campervans the area for hanging out – the table, couch and the beds – are situated in the back of the car.
  • Mobile broadband is worth investing in, if you want to use the internet on the road and make reservations over the phone.

Top

Links

You may also like

2 comments

Travel tales • How much did New Zealand cost? Budget and best saving tips. March 27, 2017 - 16:51

[…] We wrote a separate post about traveling in a camper van, which by the way is one of our most read posts. In it, you’ll find everything you need to know. Campervan in New Zealand. Guide to success!. […]

Reply
Nallammai Singaram September 24, 2017 - 08:22

Hello Sir/Miss,
We would like to book a campervan for three or a car yo travel around NewZealand from Queenstown to Christchurch (16 – 23 if October).
Could you let us know of your best deal.

Thank you,
Nalla
Malaysian Traveller
2 Adults and One 12-years old.

Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.