Choosing a campervan for New Zealand: Your ultimate guide

Choosing a campervan for New Zealand is the important first step in planning your dream trip. Heading out on the open road to explore a new place in a campervan is an exciting prospect. The thought of it brings to mind nights spent gazing at the stars and sitting in silence watching the ocean before climbing into bed for the night and listening to the waves as you fall asleep. Your campervan will be your home for the duration of your trip so it’s important that it meets your needs. If you’re not sure which camper is right for you, we have all the information you need to make the best choice.

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For more information, please see our disclaimer here.

Is a campervan the right choice for you?

Before we even start getting into the nitty gritty of camper vans, it’s important to be sure that a campervan is the right choice. There are many other ways to travel that give you the freedom of a camper, for example you could take a 4 wheel drive and a tent. Many people take a camper car for shorter trips around New Zealand. Maybe you’d prefer something bigger, like a motorhome? Here are some things to consider to help you choose the right campervan for New Zealand.

Choosing a campervan

What are the different types of campervans available in New Zealand?

Camper cars – small and easy to get around in

A camper car is really just a car that converts into a bed at night. They usually come with very limited facilities and certainly with limited space. Camper cars can be good for shorter trips or when you want to save some money. They’re also good if you intend to stay in a hotel or at a holiday park for a few nights here and there.

They are not great if you want to cook a lot of your own food or need some space to move around.

Campervans – a wide ranging term

A campervan is a larger vehicle that usually has more space in the back. It will often have more kitchen facilities and the option of a toilet. Campervans can be self contained or non self contained. If you intend to freedom camp, your campervan will have to have a toilet to be considered as self contained. If that all sounds very confusing, you can read this article on self containment and it’s importance when campervanning in New Zealand.

Campervans come in different sizes so keep reading if you want to think it through further. There are many more things to think about when you’re choosing a campervan for New Zealand.

Motorhomes – a little more luxe

A motorhome is a larger campervan. It will have good kitchen facilities as well as a toilet and often a shower. You will definitely be able to stand up and walk around in the back. Motorhomes are the most expensive option for campervanning around New Zealand.

Motorhomes, while having many benefits in terms of style and comfort, also come with their own challenges. For example, they can be difficult to park.

Where do you want to stay in your campervan?

The type of campervan you’ll need depends on how you envision yourself spending your nights. Where do you want to sleep? Do you intend to stay at holiday parks? Do you want to stay ‘off the grid’? Your preference for overnight parking will play a big role in choosing a campervan for New Zealand.

Staying off the grid – Freedom camping and DoC camping

Freedom camping

Pulling your campervan over and sleeping beside the ocean in New Zealand is called freedom camping. Depending on what country you’re originally from, freedom camping in New Zealand may be VERY different to what you’re used to. Freedom camping in New Zealand is highly regulated and you can’t just pull up anywhere and spend the night.

In order to freedom camp in New Zealand you need to

  1. Stay in approved freedom camping places
  2. Have a self contained campervan – that means having your own toilet and grey water tank

There are usually no facilities at freedom camping sites, so you’ll also need to be able to prepare your own food and take your own rubbish

Department of conservation camp sites

DoC or Department of Conservation camp sites are managed sites. These sites vary from very basic, which may only have a drop toilet, to a little fancier which may have cold showers, or a BBQ and tablets and chairs. You will need to pay for DoC camp grounds and the cost varies from about $3 per adult at the basic sites, to $15 per adult for the all inclusive sites.

Camp grounds and holiday parks

Camp grounds and holiday parks are a little fancier. You’ll have access to toilets and hot showers, BBQ areas, laundry facilities and kitchen and washing up rooms. There are often also things like swimming pools. At these sites you can plug your campervan in and use their electricity to power your electronics.

What amenities do you need in a campervan?

Think about where you want to stay each night and decide which of the below amenities you want or need in your campervan

  • Toilet – a small cassette toilet that you will need to empty each day
  • Shower – only in larger campervans and if you’re staying in Holiday Parks you can use theirs
  • Kitchen – do you want to cook all your own meals or eat out? If you want to cook you’ll need kitchen facilities and a fridge
  • Bed – How big a bed do you need? If you’re tall or broad shouldered you may want to focus on bed size
  • Interior height? – Do you want to stand up inside?

One of the biggest decisions is whether to get a self contained or non self contained camper van.

How much space do you need?

Does your home on wheels need to be able to sleep 1 person, or do you have a family of 5 you need to house? Bear in mind that a camper is your home, transport and often your restaurant. You will be getting up close and personal with everyone in it, all the time. If its a camper for two people, don’t try to squeeze three! It’s a recipe for disaster.

If your budget allows, when choosing a campervan for New Zealand, I’d always recommend going one size up than what you think you’ll need. So if you have two people, find a camper for 3.

After you’ve thought about whether a camper meets all your needs, the next decision is whether to rent or buy. There are pro’s and con’s to both.

Jucy campervan driving in New Zealand choosing a campervan

Where do you plan on going?

Do you want to be able to park your transport in the city (in which case smaller is better) or would you prefer a big spacious motorhome that allows you to stay comfortably at freedom camping locations?

What are you going to do on your trip

This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but if your intention is to go off roading or 4 wheel driving, you’ll probably find that a camper isn’t the right choice. Think about what kind of activities you intend to do. Your camper is your transport and home, when choosing a campervan be sure to keep in mind that it will need to go where you want to go.

Choosing to hire a camper van

When we hire a campervan, we use Motorhome Republic to compare prices and read reviews of the hire companies

For trips that are shorter than a couple of months, hiring a campervan is the best way to see New Zealand. New Zealand has no shortage of different types of camper vans, you simply need to know what you’re after and compare prices.

Pro’s of hiring a campervan

  • It is faster and easier to hire a campervan than it is to buy one for short term travel.
  • If it brakes down, you can usually just call the rental company to organise help for you
  • You don’t have to worry about selling it afterwards, you simply return it.

Con’s of hiring campervans

  • there are some restrictions on where you can take the camper van.
  • Generally, it will be more expensive to take the camper van one way, so you either have to return to the original location or pay an extra one way fee.
  • It can be quite a bit more expensive to hire a van longer term than it is to buy one.
  • You’re unable to make personal adjustments

Some things to consider when hiring a camper van

  • When you hire a camper van, it will come with a standard level of insurance that covers the vehicle. In the event of an accident, you will be required to cover the damage done, up to the amount of the excess in your policy.
  • You can opt to purchase an additional excess coverage through the hire company, however we’ve found this to end up being fairly expensive. It can easily add a few thousand dollars to your trip. Alternatively, make sure that you have a travel insurance policy that covers you for any excess. Note: I’m not an insurance expert so double check and do whats right for you!
  • You will need to pay a bond for the camper van when you hire it. Different companies have different requirements here so shop around as the value can be quite substantial. You’ll need to have the total sum available on a credit card for them to hold.

Don’t miss our article on how to compare campervans for hire in New Zealand, we’ll tell you how to find the best, most reputable hire companies and how to compare the vehicles.

Choosing to buy a campervan for your road trip

Pro’s of buying a campervan

  • total freedom to do what you want, when you want
  • great for long term use
  • cheaper because you can buy and sell (assuming you have time as it can take quite a while to sell for a decent price) even so, what you lose on selling it for a lower price might be less then what you would have payed to rent it for all that time you used it.

Con’s of buying a campervan

  • Campers can take a little while to sell which means you need to have time to move it if you want to see a decent return.
  • You are responsible for all the running and maintenance costs of the van from the time you purchase it.

New or used campervans?

While there are different factors to consider, generally, the decision about whether to buy a new or used camper will depend on your budget, as a new camper can be quite expensive.

As a rule of thumb, whichever you choose, don’t put all of your budget into buying the campervan. You’ll need to keep some for the following expenses

  • comprehensive insurance
  • future add ons or things that you want to purchase or add for your comfort or to make it feel more homely
  • upcoming repairs and maintenance,
  • running costs such as fuel (efficiency can vary massively depending on fuel type, size of the van and weight)

What to look out for when buying a used camper van

  • vehicle maintenance history and km
  • fuel type and consumption – the size of your fuel tank, the fuel type and the average consumption will determine how often you have to fill up. Campers are heavier and therefore burn more fuel. A petrol engine will always burn more fuel than diesel, this especially goes when the vehicle is heavy or heavily loaded.
  • battery set up and power, ideally your new camper would have 2 batteries; one to start the car and keep it going. and one for the camper power. Solar panels will give you extra juice and keep you going when you are in the same spot for several days.
  • water tanks and storage are particularly important if you’re going off the grid for days at a time
  • comfort – make sure the bed is the right size and you can move around inside well enough
  • Personal storage space is important so that you can hide away your belongings and you’re not manoeuvring everything around the camper constantly.
  • Ventilation is important if you plan on cooking inside the van, it also helps if you can open windows at night for air. Fly screens are great.
  • Make sure you check seat belts, brakes, suspension, clutch/functioning of the automatic gearbox, all should work well.
  • Inspect any rust and any accident damage, a lot of country’s will allow you to get a history report of a car for a small price.
  • Check that the oil isn’t burnt and there are no contaminants in the coolant.
  • Make sure that there are is no visible (white) smoke from the exhaust or obviously strange sounds
  • There should be no windscreen cracks or chips.
  • Make sure it has a current roadworthy certificate (if applicable) and we’d recommend to have it looked at by a mechanic.
  • If you’re buying a converted van, it also helps to consider who has done the conversion and if they know what they’re doing. Ben’s cousin and his girlfriend bought a van in Australia. One night, smoke started pouring out from behind the inner wall, beside their bed. The fire brigade was called and at one point it looked like the van was going to burn. Turns out the person who had done the electrical’s in the back of the van hadn’t installed any fuses and the wiring was on fire.
Choosing a campervan

Licences and permits

You will need to be able to present an english version of your drivers licence when you arrive to collect your vehicle. If your drivers licence is not written in english then you will need an International driving permit. These are arranged in advance.

Its also important to know that really big motorhomes can sometimes require a light truck license so make sure that you have the ability and license required if your intention is to hire one. Don’t give your insurance a reason not to pay if something may happen, as you are practically always not insured if you drive without the appropriate license.

Well, they are the basics of deciding on buying and hiring a camper. I hope that helps. If you have any questions or just want to tell me your thoughts, comment below.

You may find these articles useful

Planning a campervan trip soon? Here’s how we go about it

This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For more information, please see our disclaimer here.

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A complete guide to choosing a campervan for New Zealand. What you need to know and think about before hiring or buying a campervan or motorhome
A complete guide to choosing a campervan for New Zealand. What you need to know and think about before hiring or buying a campervan or motorhome
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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