New Zealand: To Campervan or not?

Nowadays experiencing New Zealand via a campervan is a popular travel option.  As discussed below, it’s likely not the cheapest way to see the country, but it is more flexible than the typical rental car/motel option. Campervans allow one to camp in a wide range of outdoor environments, from urban to almost back-country (obviously a road is needed to the campsite!).  Assuming one is interested in sleeping in remoter areas of NZ than motels will allow, but without being a back-country tramper, it’s a great way to go!

What to consider when planning your New Zealand Campervan Adventure

There are two main questions to ask yourself. What route will you take, and in what vehicle will you travel? When beginning to plan your trip, both questions can seem overwhelming.

  1. What route will you take? When thinking of what route to take you have to determine where you will begin and end your trip, and where you will stay each night. A full breakdown of our route and where we stayed each night, can be found in this blog post: New Zealand: Month-long Campervan Route and Lodging Information.
    • Pick-up/Drop-off Camper Rental Locations: Consider flying in or out of Christchurch, as flights into this airport are often cheaper than others. We recommend doing the time/cost trade of touring in a single direction (paying Cook Strait ferry price once), as opposed to making a loop and flying in and out of the same airport (paying Cook Straight ferry price twice). Ultimately, we flew in to Christchurch and toured the South Island for three weeks and the North Island for two weeks, ending our trip and flying out of Auckland.
    • Where will you park your campervan at night?
      • There are three basic types of camp sites: Freedom Camping Sites, DOC Sites, and Privately Owned “Holiday Parks”. Having a self-contained camper enables you to park in any of the aforementioned site types. Renting a non-self-contained vehicle limits you to only private parks and some DOC sites. DOC sites are run by the New Zealand Dept. of Conservation (DOC), and are often ½ the price of the holiday parks, but do not generally offer more than a toilet, so no power, shower, laundry, kitchen or dumping facilities. Freedom camping allows one to park and camp overnight for “free” in many areas of public land in NZ, and can be an awesome way to both find a stunning campsite and save money. Some freedom camping areas are restricted to self-contained campers. If you’re new to camping, I’d recommend a powered site once every three days. That way you will have the ability to dump your tanks and take a warm shower! See my post on our route and lodging (New Zealand: Month-long Campervan Route and Lodging Information) for a complete breakdown of the sites we selected and their price per night.
      • Download the Campermate and/or ViewRanger App ASAP. Be sure to also download the offline maps/data in Campermate as well as in Google Maps, so you can access information without service. These resources give tons of useful information about campsites, groceries, fuel locations, etc. We used Campermate daily. We also heard the app Flush was really useful, as it maps all public bathrooms!
    • Useful Route Planning Tip 1: Give yourself a day or two in your campervan pickup location to learn your vehicle and stock up on items you need: groceries, hardware, rental bikes. We started our adventure in Christchurch, so a night at the Godley Head DOC site was perfect for giving our vehicle a test drive near our pickup location. Good thing we did, because we had trouble with our toilet, and had to go back to the JUCY office in Christchurch!
    • Useful Route Planning Tip 2: Make sure your route includes the following locations (trust us – you won’t want to miss these!): Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Mount Sunday (Edoras), Mount Cook (Lonely Mountain), Kenepuru Head Sound (stay at the DOC Site or Freedom Camp here), Cook Strait crossing via ferry, Wellington (Weta Cave and Victoria Peak for LOTR fans), Hobbiton, Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and Cape Reinga.
    • Useful Tips to read before your journey: Click here for a list of things we wish we would have known, including must have items to pack or pick up when you arrive in NZ!
  2. What vehicle will you rent? There are MANY vehicle types and companies to choose from. As previously mentioned, I recommend selecting a self-contained vehicle, which enables you to freedom camp.
    • We spotted more than 25 camper rental companies on the road (yes – we tallied every vehicle we passed on the road during our last three weeks!). With Britz, Maui and JUCY being the three most frequently sited rented campervan on the road. The table includes a breakdown of the vehicles we spotted:NZ campervan stats.png
    • While there are many companies to choose from, we ended up selecting JUCY Rentals and we rented the JUCY Chaser. It ultimately cost about $175 USD/day to rent for five weeks – you will need to also factor in the additional cost of insurance, fuel, sites, and food when budgeting. Some rental companies offer add-ons like insurance, extra tables, chairs, bikes, etc. We didn’t select any add-ons, but did rent bikes from Natural High, which enable one way bike rentals. If you’re interested in a cost breakdown of the trip check out this blog post: The Economics of a Month-long Campervan Adventure through New Zealand.
      • Note on renting bikes in New Zealand: Most of the roads are two lane high ways without shoulders. This is particularly true outside of the major cities. The JUCY Chaser doesn’t come with a bike rack on the back, so we had to store the bikes inside our camper. Some companies like Britz do offer campers with bike racks, and rent bikes with their campers.
    • Insurance – It’s easier cheaper to take non-JUCY insurance. We went with Tripcover, and paid $313 for $4000 worth of coverage (including luggage in the event something was stolen from the camper and damage to the camper) as opposed to the insurance offered via JUCY, which was far more expensive.

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