Campervanning New Zealand in winter: A must have guide

While summer is considered peak season in New Zealand, there are many reasons why campervanning New Zealand in the winter is a fantastic idea. You may be wondering if you’re going to freeze your butt off or spend the days soaking wet and miserable. The short answer to these questions is no, you won’t. Not with a little preparation anyway. After travelling New Zealand and spending two whole winters in a camper in the Netherlands, I’m pretty comfortable with this topic. There is no one who dislikes being cold and/or wet more than I do. The great thing is that there are plenty of ways to negate this and be perfectly comfortable and you’re in luck, because I’m going to share them with you below!

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What are the advantages of campervanning New Zealand in the winter?

Coming from Sydney, Australia, I’m used to a certain temperature. A warm temperature really. I thought our winters were cold until I started travelling. Turns out our winters are really very mild and the rest of the world freezes during those months. Who knew? I honestly hate the cold. Seriously. I hate being cold. You get the idea. I have come to learn however, that just because it’s cold outside, doesn’t mean ‘I’ have to be cold. There is also real beauty in the cold. The changing landscape. Snow. That feeling you get when you’re rugged up and snuggled under a blanket.

As a traveller, there are also some fantastic practical benefits to winter travel. The two biggest benefits to campervanning New Zealand in winter are the prices and the solitude.

Editors tip: Check out our complete guide to campervanning New Zealand

New Zealand is substantially cheaper in the winter

New Zealand is a tourism hotspot, and why shouldn’t it be? It’s spectacular. The thousands of tourists that flock there during the summer months every year contribute massively to the economy, but also to the inflated costs of services, such as campervan rental. With such high demand, many companies sell out of campervans months in advance. This high level of interest means they can charge whatever prices they want, and they do. You will usually pay two to three times the cost for a campervan in the summer than you will in the winter. Yes, two to three times the cost.

If you decide to travel in the winter you’ll pay substantially less money for the same quality campervan. This is amazing because you get so much more value for the same amount of money. I’ll explain more below, but I would highly recommend using this huge price difference to get a larger camper. One that you can stand and move around in. It’ll make everything a lot easier, especially on those cold and wet days.

There are not as many people during the winter months

Another benefit to less people campervanning New Zealand in winter is well, less people. I’m not anti people, I like them, honestly. What I didn’t love though was turning up to a freedom camping site only to find it was full. In summer, there are many more campervans than freedom camping spots. You’ll need to arrive early to see if there’s space, and if there isn’t, you need to keep driving. This means you could miss out on staying in some incredible locations. You also may end up needing to pay for accommodation. In the winter, you’ll have almost free reign on the land.

Of course the same applies for tourist sites and attractions. It’s not such an issue with the sites themselves, but for the parking areas. It can be difficult to find parking, especially if you have a larger camper. In the winter you’ll have no issues at all with finding parking, and when you do get into ‘the attraction’ you’ll have the whole place almost to yourself.

If you’re actually WANTING to see other people, don’t worry, that’s also possible, they are there. You just won’t be able to throw a stone and hit them like you would in the summer.

Campervanning New Zealand in winter

The scenery and nature is incredible during the winter season

New Zealand is known for it’s incredible scenery. Those beautiful snow topped mountains take on a whole different look in the winter. The sea becomes wilder. The Sounds become mistier. There is a wildness that descends across the islands and it is beautiful. Winter in New Zealand is also a time when wild life experiences are at their peak. Whale Watching off the coast of Kaikoura for example is at it’s best in winter.

Snow activities such as skiing

If you love winter and snow then New Zealand is the perfect place to be. The extra snow on the mountains make them idea places to ski and snow board. This is something that New Zealand is quiet well known for. Make the most of it and go heli-skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding or alpine snowshoeing. The adventure in New Zealand only gets better when the winter rolls around.

There are some disadvantages to campervanning New Zealand in winter too

The weather – obviously

I’ll discuss the weather in more detail below. Here, however, I would be remis if I didn’t say that while it is probably not going to be as cold and horrible as you might first think, you will most likely hit the occasional day of crap weather. There may be the odd day you don’t want to go outside. Maybe you get a little wetter and colder than you’d like on another day. You may end up eating your dinner inside the camper instead of outside at a table.

There are just some times you can’t negate the weather. I’ve had days at snow fields where I sat inside by the fire. It happens, and it’s ok.

There is less availability and opening times at tourist attractions

With less people, companies have no need to run endless tours and buses to attractions. In summer you may have 20 different start times but in the winter you may only have a choice from 5 or 10. All this means is that you want to be a little more organized. Don’t expect to turn up somewhere and jump on a tour right away. You may have to wait a few hours for the next one.

Driving a campervan during the winter

Campervanning New Zealand in winter means you could end up driving on roads that are iced over or covered in snow. It takes a little more effort and concentration so it’s tiring. It also slows you down a little. Well, I hope it slows you down, be safe please.

What’s the weather like in New Zealand during the winter

While the winter weather of New Zealand is not particularly harsh, one thing to keep in mind at all times is the variability and sudden changes in weather. This is also true in the New Zealand summer. You can easily experience all seasons in an hour.

Winter on the North Island of New Zealand

The North Island of New Zealand has a sub tropical climate and is warmer than the South Island. During winter, temperatures on the North Island range from around 16 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius over night. There is also quite a bit of rain in the North Island during winter. Auckland is considered the warmest big city in New Zealand with an average winter temperature of between 8 and 15 degrees Celsius.

Winter on the South Island of New Zealand

You may be surprised to know that rainfall on the South Island is actually lowest during the winter. Temperatures on the South Island vary from around 10 degrees Celsius during the day to -10 or -15 at night. This of course depends on where you are on the Island. This combination of low temperature and dryness make it a perfect time to explore some of the mountainous areas.

Average temperatures and rainfall of cities during winter

PlaceAvg Min (C)Avg Max (C)Avg Rainfall (mm)Avg days rain (per month)
Queenstown-11097-1059 -12

Hiring a campervan in New Zealand during winter

Things to consider before you hire your camper

When hiring a campervan for the winter, there are a few extra things that you’ll want to consider.

  1. The size of the campervan: You want to make sure that you have a little space inside to move around and also hang things up if they need to dry. I would recommend taking advantage of the cheaper prices to upgrade a little.
  2. A self contained van will make things a lot more comfortable. A self contained van comes with it’s own little cassette toilet. This means that you can pee at night without having to go outside. There are other benefits to having a self contained van and I’ve outlined them all in this article for you
  3. Heating is not a 100% requirement, there are other things you can do to be warm, but it’s useful. Not all campervans come with heating. Some may have heating in the drivers cabin but not the main cabin at the back.

Don’t hire a campervan until you’re read our article on how to choose the best campervan for your needs!

What to look for in a hire company when hiring a winter campervan

What type of extra’s are included when hiring a winter campervan?

You’re going to be travelling in the winter, right? So it would be great to get some freebies included to help you survive the cold. Travellers Autobarn for example offer free additional heaters, hot water bottles and sleeping bags with all winter hires.

Spaceship Campervan Rentals offer an add-on ‘Winter Warmer Pack’. They occasionally offer it for free although if you have to pay it is about $50NZD (at the time of writing)

Snow chains and winter tires

If you plan on driving in the mountain regions of the South Island you will need snow chains. You’ll want to ask how much these are to hire. If you’re not experienced with snow chains, you’ll also want to ask for a demonstration. No point having them if you can’t put them on! Check if you have winter tires on the car.

Is the campervan insulated?

Ideally you want a campervan that is designed and insulated for winter weather. If you don’t get one, it’s not the end of the world, but you’ll need to get creative with covering your walls and floor. You may end up doing this anyway. We usually purchase a couple of very cheap small rugs and cut them to fit the floorspace. It really helps if you’re not standing on cold floors.

Campervanning New Zealand in Winter - Fox Glacier

Driving a campervan in New Zealand in winter

Snow Chains

Campervanning New Zealand in winter can be treacherous in some places due to snow and ice. In general, road conditions in New Zealand are really good, so as long as you take it slowly you should be fine. Make sure you have snow chains (and you know how to fit them) if you plan on going to the more mountainous areas of the South Island.

Slippery, boggy, muddy tracks

Unsealed roads leading to off the beaten track areas, freedom camping places and DoC camp sites can sometimes get a bit muddy when wet.

Plan to drive short distances only

Try not to cover big distances during really horrible weather and snow. It will take you a lot longer than you think during bad weather. The amount of energy and focus required can be really draining. Also, if it looks like you’re not going to get where you want in time, it’s tempting to speed up and push the limits. Instead, set smaller, manageable targets and stay safe.

General driving tips for campervanning New Zealand in winter

  • Drive slowly
  • Avoid hard braking
  • Do not change directions to quickly
  • Make sure you have a decent gap between you and the car in front
  • Always drive with your headlights on
  • Check the weather regularly and consider changing your plans if you know that it’s horrible outside
  • Buy a sim card so you always have connection, but also download offline maps so that you’re never lost out in bad weather.

Our advice on staying warm when campervanning New Zealand in winter

  • If it’s really cold, stay at a holiday park. You’ll have electricity to power your heating and hot showers to warm you up. Having a good source of water is also useful for making tea or coffee and refilling hot water bottles. If you’ve been out hiking, you’ll enjoy the hot shower.
  • Having electricity or a spare battery is great for recharging electronics. There may be the odd day where you can’t, or don’t want to go outside. You’ll enjoy being able to use your electronics.
  • Take or buy some extra towels and blankets that you can use to cover the door, bare walls and windows. In our caravan in the Netherlands we made a curtain to cover the door frame as cold air was coming through the seals. Anything you can do to stop the cold coming in helps.
  • Standing on a cold floor is horrible. We buy cheap matts or carpet and cut them to fit.
  • You’ll need to put a little effort into keeping the floor clean. Dirt, mud, snow etc will follow you in. Putting a folded up towel at the entrance offers a fast solution. You can shake it out when its dirty and put it in the washing machine.
  • Take lots of layers and thermal clothing that you can put on and take off to adjust your temperature.

Best places in New Zealand to visit during the winter

  • Queenstown – An adventure seekers haven, Queenstown offers incredible adventures whether you’re there in the summer or winter. If you’re into snow sports however, the winter is the time for you.
  • Rotorua – A beautiful city with so much to do, there are some beautiful walks around Rotorua. Not to mention an endless number of opportunities to warm up while you float around in a Geothermal pool
  • Kaikoura – Visit this lovely little town on the east coast of the South Island for whale watching. The height of winter is the perfect time to see the Giant Sperm whale migration.
  • Lord of the Rings locations – such as Glenorchy and Mt Cook come alive with winter snow. It’s hard to image these mountainous areas get more beautiful but somehow winter manages it.
  • Milford or Doubtful Sound – New Zealand’s prime tourist attractions are unmissable any time of year. Winter, however is a lot less busy!

What to pack for campervanning New Zealand in winter

  • Thermals – Thermals are long base layers that help to trap body heat while wicking away moisture. They are a must if you want to stay warm.
  • Socks – I’d recommend a mixture of thicker and thinner socks. You may need to double layer.
  • Beanie and scarf – help keep your body heat in. A scarf can make a great wind break for the face
  • Gloves – Try to find both a thin and a thick pair of gloves. Thick ones are great when it’s really cold but can be hard when you need to use your hands. Thin gloves are better for dexterity.
  • Down winter jacket – you know, the big puffy ones. Perfect for keeping you toasty warm.
  • Gortex outerwear jacket – You wear this over your down winter jacket. It will stop the wind getting through but also protects your down jacket from the rain. 2 for 1 benefits!
  • Sleeping bag – a good winter sleeping bag is perfect for sleeping in the cold. It will trap your body heat close and keep you warm.
  • Sleeping bag liner – to improve the heat retention of your sleeping bag, a sleeping bag liner is a must.
  • USB Flash drive – You can load this with television shows and movies to watch when bad weather strikes. Not having to rely on internet means you can watch them anywhere at any time.
  • UE Boom for sound – Trust me on this one. After years living in campervans and caravans, the UE Boom is one device we love. When it rains really hard, your tin can campervan becomes a rain echo chamber and you won’t be able to hear your tv show or music. The UE boom gives you extra volume.
  • Small waterproof backpack – It’s always a good idea to carry a small waterproof backpack when you go on hikes or at any time you might get wet. It’ll keep your valuables and camera safe and dry.
  • thermoses – We love thermoses. We take them with hot or cold drinks depending on the day. On a cold morning they’re also great to fill up before you drive off and you’ve got a hot coffee that’ll last you the morning.

You may also find these articles useful

This article contains affiliate links. For more information please see our affiliate disclaimer here.

A complete guide to campervan travel in New Zealand in winter. Covering the pro's and con's of winter campervanning, how to find a camper, what to pack and where to go in winter. #newzealand #campervan #travel #winter
A complete guide to campervan travel in New Zealand in winter. Covering the pro's and con's of winter campervanning, how to find a camper, what to pack and where to go in winter. #newzealand #campervan #travel #winter
About Christine

Christine and her partner Ben have spent the last few years traveling through New Zealand and then Europe by campervan. They travel with their dog Alisa, who they adopted in Croatia. You'll find them exploring old cities, hiking through National Parks, and taking unforgettable road trips.

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