If you are thinking of travelling New Zealand in a campervan and have no idea where to start planning? Don’t panic! This article on campervanning New Zealand is all you’ll need to plan and execute your dream holiday. Travelling New Zealand (NZ) by campervan is the ideal way to see the country. With its incredible scenery and abundance of available campervan accommodation options, you’ll absolutely love the freedom of getting off the beaten track. This guide contains everything you need to know so you can hit the ground driving, so to speak! Keep scrolling to the bottom for a complete list of our New Zealand campervan trip articles.
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- 1 Planning a New Zealand campervan trip – know before you go
- 2 Best time to visit New Zealand
- 3 Seasons in New Zealand
- 4 For more information on travelling in New Zealand try these articles
- 5 Reasons for travelling New Zealand in a campervan
- 6 How does a campervan road trip work
- 7 Buy or rent a campervan for New Zealand?
- 8 Hiring a campervan to travel New Zealand
- 9 Hiring the best campervan in New Zealand
- 10 Choosing the right campervan in NZ
- 11 Best campervan hire companies in New Zealand
- 12 How much does it cost to hire a campervan
- 13 Extra costs associated with campervan hire in New Zealand
- 14 Campervan Insurance New Zealand
- 15 How to find cheap campervan hire in New Zealand
- 16 Drivers license for New Zealand
- 17 Planning the perfect NewZealand Campervan trip Itinerary
- 18 Getting to New Zealand
- 19 Do you need a visa for New Zealand
- 20 What is the best campervan route for New Zealand
- 21 One or two islands?
- 22 North or South Island?
- 23 Where to start your campervan trip
- 24 How much time do you need for a campervan trip?
- 25 Where to end your New Zealand campervan trip?
- 26 New Zealand South Island itinerary
- 27 New Zealand North Island Itinerary
- 28 How to travel New Zealand in a campervan
- 29 Where do you stay on a campervan trip
- 30 Campgrounds in New Zealand
- 31 How to find campgrounds
- 32 Types of campgrounds in New Zealand
- 33 Private campgrounds
- 34 Department Of Conservation campgrounds
- 35 Freedom camping in New Zealand
- 36 Free camping in New Zealand vs paid campsites
- 37 Do I need a self-contained van?
- 38 Where to find fill and dump stations
- 39 How to use dumpsites
- 40 How to find toilets in New Zealand
- 41 Showering on a campervan trip
- 42 How to do laundry on a campervan trip
- 43 Internet service in New Zealand
- 44 Call Reception
- 45 Useful apps
- 46 Driving a campervan in New Zealand
- 47 How much will a campervan trip cost in New Zealand?
- 48 Packing list for New Zealand
- 49 Tips for packing for your New Zealand campervan trip
- 50 Campervan packing list
- 51 Is it safe to travel New Zealand in a campervan?
- 52 Cooking in a campervan
- 53 Responsible travel on your New Zealand campervan trip
- 54 Final thoughts on campervanning New Zealand
- 55 Related campervanning New Zealand articles
Planning a New Zealand campervan trip – know before you go
Best time to visit New Zealand
Personally, we would recommend Autumn or Spring for campervanning around New Zealand. However, summer is the most popular time. There are two main drawbacks to summer, the crowds and the cost.
The prices of everything increase during peak season or summer. You’ll be paying substantially more for your campervan than you will for the remainder of the year. If your budget is important to you, your money will go a lot further at other times of the year.
If you’re heading to New Zealand for winter sports, it makes sense to go in the colder months. Most attractions in New Zealand are open year-round, ; for example, we walked on a glacier in the middle of summer. So there is no need to freeze your backside off unless that’s actually your purpose of travel!
Seasons in New Zealand
New Zealand has four distinct seasons and there is a running joke that you may experience them all in one day! The weather can change quite quickly so it helps to be prepared.
Is there a difference in the weather between the North Island and the South Island?
Overall, the North Island is warmer than the South, with the top of the North Island, around Cape Reinga, having a subtropical climate.
New Zealand has plenty of sunshine and moderately high rainfall, which is why the country is so exquisitely beautiful. The green rolling hills and lush rainforest directly result from the unique climate. There is more rainfall in the South.
While some parts of the North Island experience snow, the South is where you’ll find the most extensive fields and glaciers.
What are the seasons in New Zealand and what can I expect from the weather?
Summer is great for spending time on the beach or enjoying one of New Zealand’s great hikes. The New Zealand summer is from December until the end of February.
The summer is a very popular time for a New Zealand campervan trip, with thousands of campervanners arriving in New Zealand. With the warmer weather come much higher prices and much busier attractions, accommodation and roads. Expect to pay almost double for anything aimed at travellers.
Summer temperatures range from 21-23 degrees Celsius (70-90 F) between December and the end of February. So in summer, you’ll have the longest daylight hours and plenty of time to enjoy the great outdoors, maybe lay on the beach somewhere. The North Island is warmer than the South, with an average temperature of between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius.
Due to the crowds, Holiday parks and freedom camping sites are often quite busy during this time.
Spring is from September through November. The temperatures average between 4.5 and 18 degrees Celsius (40-65 F). Spring is a great time to visit as the flowers bloom and baby animals are being born.
The whole country comes alive with colour in the spring as the plants and flowers flourish. Waterfalls are at their peak after the winter rains and temperatures begin to increase.
Autumn, or fall
March, April and May make up Autumn, with an average temperature of 7-21 degrees Celcius (45-70 F). Autumn is a great time of year for hiking and outdoor activities as parts of the country take on the beautiful auburn hue of leaves changing colour.
Autumn is a mix of cooler temperatures and changing colours. Trees will begin to turn auburn and whole areas look spectacular. The weather can be pretty good and if you travel in the early month’s many summer activities such as swimming are still possible. Rainfall increases however so be prepared for wetter weather.
If you’re into cold-weather activities such as skiing and snowboarding then Winter, June, July and August are great months to travel. Temperatures range from around 1.5 degrees to 15.5 degrees Celsius during the day (35-60 F). Campervanning New Zealand in winter is a lot easier and more comfortable than you’re probably thinking.
Winter in NZ is ideal if you’re after snow, glaciers and cooler temperatures. It’s a great time for whale watching, soaking in a geothermal hot pool, or witnessing the southern lights.
The benefits of winter, which is definitively low season, is that you will have most places to yourself and you will pay a lot less for the pleasure than you will during the high season.
For more information on travelling in New Zealand try these articles
Reasons for travelling New Zealand in a campervan
Pro’s for travelling New Zealand in a campervan
You have more freedom
We’ve found that simply being able to get in the camper van and drive to the next destination or site that we wanted to see is much more liberating than having to spend time organising transport, pre-booking everything, etc. It feels a lot more whimsical and free
Campervanning around New Zealand can be less expensive than other means of travel
While campervanning New Zealand is not cheap, for those watching their budgets, it can be cheaper than travelling in other ways. For example, if you stay at free campsites and cook your own meals. This is obviously cheaper than staying in hotels and eating at restaurants. So therere things you can do to reduce your expenses. Whether it’s cheaper will largely depend on the cost of the campervan you hire and how much petrol you use.
You’ll really get to see the country
You will see more of the country and get off the beaten track. I think this is one of the biggest benefits. You can see things you wouldn’t see any other way.
You always have your ‘home’ with you
This is actually something that we love about campervan and motorhome travel. You don’t have to constantly pack and unpack and you always have a space that is yours.
Campervanning around New Zealand allows you to do just that if you’ve ever dreamed of pulling up by a beautiful lake, grabbing a fold-out chair and relaxing with a drink.
Con’s of a New Zealand Campervan Trip
You don’t have a lot of space
Campervans don’t have a lot of storage, so you have to pack lightly. Unless you hire a larger motorhome, you’ll need to be ok with being in a fairly confined space.
Basic activities can be a little more challenging
Going to the toilet, showering and doing laundry requires more thought than you’re (hopefully) used to. If you’re really concerned about doing these things, jump down to the section where we explain toilets, showers and laundry.
How does a campervan road trip work
If this is your first campervan trip, you’re in luck! There are not many countries where campervanning is as easy as it is in NZ. The whole process is quite simple. It all starts with getting a campervan.
Buy or rent a campervan for New Zealand?
If you’re travelling for more than a couple of months it’s worth considering whether or not to buy a vehicle for your New Zealand campervan trip.
Advantages of buying
- If you’re travelling for more than a couple of months it may be cheaper to buy your camper than to hire one. This is because the daily rate of hiring a campervan quickly adds up. This is especially true if your road trip also covers the summer months.
- You can make any necessary changes to keep you comfortable. For example, you could add fly screens or extra insulation.
Disadvantages of buying a campervan
- It can take quite a while to both find a camper you like and then sell it at the end of your trip. You’ll need to consider adding a couple of months on either side of your New Zealand campervan trip to buy and sell the vehicle. Alternatively, you could always buy ‘site unseen’ before you arrive, but that can be risky. It really isn’t worth investing that time if you’re staying in New Zealand for less than a couple of months. You’ll spend a lot of your trip buying and selling a camper rather than travelling.
- No assistance and breakdown fees if you break down or have any problems
Tips for buying a campervan in new Zealand
- Try searching Trade Me to look for campervans and motorhomes
- Make sure you always ask questions about
- the vehicle and maintenance history
- when the warranty of fitness for the campervan expires
- when the last oil change was
- ask a mechanic to look at it for you and take it for a proper test drive
- make sure the interior is in good condition and that the taps and stove work if you have them
Hiring a campervan to travel New Zealand
The most popular option is to hire a campervan for a New Zealand road trip. Hiring a campervan or motorhome is fast and easy and allows you to choose precisely what you want.
Advantages of renting
- You can book your campervan before you arrive in New Zealand.
- Collecting a campervan takes a couple of hours at most. You’ll learn how it works and check you have everything before you set off
- A hire van will come with (almost) everything you need for your trip so you need to buy very little to ‘kit it out.
- Breakdown coverage comes with campervan hire, so if you have any problems, call the hiring company, and they’ll fix everything.
Disadvantages of hiring a campervan
- Depending on the length of your stay it may be more expensive to hire a camper van over the long term than it is to buy one.
- You often have to return it to the same place where you picked it up. This means you’ll need to make a round trip. Some companies offer a one-way trip so check before you book if this is what you need.
Hiring the best campervan in New Zealand
Choosing the right campervan in NZ
Our best tip for choosing a campervan is to spend some time thinking about what you need before you book your campervan. You want to consider a few things when selecting the vehicle you will drive around New Zealand.
Our top advice for choosing your campervan
Consider the size that you’ll need
Choose a campervan slightly bigger than you think you’ll need. You want to be comfortable, right? So I’d recommend going one size up. Our New Zealand campervan was the first of a few, and we went bigger for the next one. Ben is 6’2″ and spent the whole time bent over, even when sitting in bed.
Self-contained or nonself contained?
Establish whether you need a self-contained or non-self-contained vehicle. This will affect whether you can use freedom camping sites and whether you must duck out in the cold to pee! Of course, you’ll pay extra for a self-contained campervan.
For a vehicle to be classed as self-contained, it must
- have enough fresh water storage for three days per person or a 12L fresh water tank
- Gray water tank of 12L per person for three days
- an evacuation hose
- rubbish bin with a lid
- a toilet – fixed or portable
Read: Self-contained vs non-self-contained – which do I need?
Where do you want to go and what do you want to do
Think about your interests and where you’ll take the camper. Do you plan on spending a lot of time in cities, where a small Volkswagen transporter would be easier to park than a large full-sized Mercedes Sprinter? Do you intend to spend time off-roading, where a 4WD vehicle is important?
Best campervan hire companies in New Zealand
We used Motorhome Republic to find our camper, they offer campers from all the best companies and you can easily compare prices, types and models. Make sure you read plenty of reviews of the hiring company before committing.
The most popular and best rated campervan companies in New Zealand
- Britz Campervans
- Maui Campervan Hire
- Travellers Autobarn
- Mad Campers
- Apollo Campers
- Mighty Campers
- Jucy Rentals
How much does it cost to hire a campervan
The type and size of your campervan will affect the overall cost of your campervan hire. You can expect to pay almost half the cost in the low season, compared to the high season. Motorhome Republic suggests the average price of 2 berth (sleeps two) campervans for different months is as follows
|Average 2 berth rental price||Average rental length|
Of course, these ‘averaged’ prices include the high-end vehicles as well as the budget ones. So you could pay more or less than this depending on your vehicle type.
Extra costs associated with campervan hire in New Zealand
When you’re booking your campervan, it’s super important that you check what comes with the campervan, and what does not. Do you get bedding? Pillows? Towels? Sometimes you don’t. The catch is always fold-up chairs. You’ll have to add them separately to your campervan hire (in most cases) and you’ll pay extra. You kind of need them though, if you want to sit outside.
When considering your options it is wise to consider the type of fuel you will use. Petrol is more expensive and includes the ” road tax” in the price. Diesel cars, however, charge you an additional tax, based on distance driven. As at 1st July 2020, this is $76 NZD per 1000 km driven.
This is something to keep in mind when hiring something that runs on diesel. We did just over 8000 km on our last trip, so when we returned our camper van we had to pay just under $600 to our camper van hire company.
One way fee
If you’re not returning the camper van to the exact same place you collected it, you may need to pay a ‘one-way’ fee. This is usually $100-$200.
If you’re exploring both Islands, you’ll need to take the ferry which will cost an additional few hundred dollars.
For example, the minimum cost for two people and a 5-meter camper going one way is around $260 NZD. If you’re intending to come back you’ll pay double that. I made this mistake in my planning!
Campervan Insurance New Zealand
Nobody is interested in talking about insurance, but it’s vital and will be a significant expense. When you hire a camper van in New Zealand it will probably come with basic insurance and rather sizeable insurance excess. With the company and camper van, we hired the excess was $4000 NZD. This means that if we had an accident, we would have to pay up to that amount. The company wants to know that you have that amount available, and they may freeze it on your credit card. If they do this, you won’t be able to use that money on your travels.
All companies will try to sell you their premium insurance, which means that you pay a set extra amount for the insurance upfront. However, you will then not have to pay the excess.
You can definitely do this, many people do, but it is usually more expensive than using third-party insurers.
Instead of paying the hire company’s excess, you also have the option of finding insurance through a third-party issuer. This will usually be a lot cheaper. Thankfully, our travel insurance offered good excess coverage within our policy!
We are firm believers in travel insurance and always take out the maximum coverage. World Nomads is our go-to insurer. We had a situation last year where I needed to use my travel insurance and they were phenomenal, so when it came to us booking our New Zealand travel insurance it was a no-brainer.
For us, travel insurance for 2 people was quite a bit cheaper than buying the extra camper insurance directly with the hiring company. World nomads have amazing coverage and cover up to $3000 AUD of excess per incident. This would leave us with only $1000 excess that we would need to pay if something happened. If we had an accident and it cost less than $3000 to repair, our travel insurance would cover it in full.
This was much cheaper for us in terms of upfront costs and it included our travel insurance expense. As always though, make sure you do your own research and decide which option is right for you.
How to find cheap campervan hire in New Zealand
- Consider travelling in Spring, Autumn or even winter to reduce the hire cost
- Book your campervan early. Campervans can often book out if you want to travel New Zealand in a campervan in the summer. This means that you have less choice and may end up paying more. Getting in early also means you have the same campervan you want for your New ealand campervan trip.
- Plan to return your campervan to the same city where you picked it up
- Look for ‘relocation offers’. Some companies offer campervan relocation deals. This means that they need a car returned from one office to another. You will usually pay much less for these deals. However, you typically have a set time frame to return the vehicle. It also limits where you can go and what you can see.
Read: Budget campervan hire in New Zealand
Drivers license for New Zealand
In order to hire a car or motor home in New Zealand, you’ll need a driver’s licence that is written in English.
If you have a driver’s licence in another language you will need to either have it translated by a New Zealand-approved translation service or apply for an International Drivers Permit.
Ensure you have the required documentation before arriving in New Zealand to avoid problems when you arrive to collect your campervan.
There is an age restriction on being able to hire a campervan in New Zealand. Make sure you check that you meet the age requirements with your potential rental company.
Planning the perfect NewZealand Campervan trip Itinerary
Getting to New Zealand
New Zealand has 5 international airports that you can fly into. Auckland is the main international airport on the North Island, while Christchurch is the main international airport on the South Island. In addition, Wellington (North Island), Queenstown and Dunedin (South Island) accept international flights arriving from Australia and Fiji.
Make sure you fly to the airport, and Island, that is closest to where you want to start your trip to avoid having to transfer onto a domestic flight.
If you do need a domestic flight however there are many smaller regional airports to choose from. Air New Zealand and Jet Star are the primary domestic airlines however there are a few other smaller ones that can take you to more remote destinations.
Do you need a visa for New Zealand
Always check your own visa requirements prior to travel. Currently however
- citizens and permanent residents of New Zealand and Australia
- citizens of the UK
- and citizens of countries that have visa waiver agreements with New Zealand
do not require visas to travel to New Zealand. However, you will need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) prior to arriving in New Zealand. You can find all the information you need at the New Zealand Immigration website.
The length of time citizens from different countries can stay in NZ varies, so make sure you check before booking your trip.
Citizens from other countries are required to pre-organise a visa for New Zealand.
What is the best campervan route for New Zealand
One or two islands?
To travel around both the North and South Islands on your New Zealand campervan trip, you’ll need at least two weeks if you don’t want to feel rushed. three weeks would be even better. You will also need to take the ferry between the Islands.
People will often take the time to delve deeply into one Island at a time, and there are a few good reasons for this.
- There is an endless number of things to see on each island so you won’t run out of things to see or do
- you don’t want to spend your whole New Zealand campervan trip driving, no matter how beautiful the journey is.
- You won’t need to pay for the ferry between the two islands
North or South Island?
While this is very much a personal decision. In general
- Warmer weather
- Beautiful beaches and coastline
- Geothermal and volcanic wonders like Waimangu, Wai-O-Tapu and Tongariro Crossing
- Maori Cultural experiences such as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Maori Hangi meals
- Winter sports and adventure activities
- wild, rugged nature
- Glaciers and snow-covered mountain peaks
- New Zealand’s most famous great walks
- Abundant wildlife
Where to start your campervan trip
You’ll most likely fly into either Auckland or Christchurch International Airport. Make sure you choose the airport on the island you want to travel to. You’ll also need to fly out of this airport as you will generally need to return the campervan. We flew into and out of Auckland in the North Island. So if you’re trying to decide where to begin, consider these two things.
- Finding the cheapest flights – Which island is cheaper for you to fly into?
- The time of year and weather – Is the weather suitable for what you want to do on your trip?
How much time do you need for a campervan trip?
How long is a piece of string? Is that an Australian saying or a worldwide one? Either way, the choice is yours and depends on how much you want to see, whether you’re going for one particular thing and whether you intend on visiting both the North and South Islands.
If you’re going for a few days, or a week, to do a few particular activities, focus on campervanning only a small area of New Zealand.
For both Islands or slow travel, ideally, you would want more than four weeks. We saw a considerable amount across both islands in 5 weeks, but we barely stopped moving. We are usually slow travellers, so this was unusual for us, but we were driven by the desire to cover as much as possible.
I did my best to structure our itinerary to a manageable pace, taking certain places and activities out, making sure we didn’t drive too far each day but that we drove far enough. And still, there was so much we missed!
Where to end your New Zealand campervan trip?
You will probably end your trip where you began as you’ll need to return your campervan. If you book a one-way trip, you’ll need to work out how to get to the nearest international airport for your return flight.
New Zealand South Island itinerary
If you’re planning on exploring the South Island, don’t miss our self-drive itinerary covering the best of the Island. It’s a long itinerary, but you could break it down and do any portion of it. Otherwise, factor some of these South Island highlights into your Itinerary.
Highlights of the South Island
- The drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau and, of course, Milford Sound itself
- Kingston Lake freedom camping site just outside Queenstown
- Bungy Jumping in Queenstown
- Visiting some of the small towns like Glenorchy and Arrowtown
- Whale watching in Kaikoura
- Exploring the Catlins
New Zealand North Island Itinerary
There are some great New Zealand campervan road trip routes on the North Island. Try exploring Northland from Auckland or the Coromandel Peninsula. Here are some of the best North Island highlights.
Highlights of the North Island
- Driving through the Northland region and exploring the Bay of Islands
- Soaking in hot springs in Rotorua and at Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel
- Maori experiences such as eating a Hangi Dinner in Rotorua
- Driving through the centre of the North Island
Tips for planning your route for travelling New Zealand in a campervan
- Make sure to consider where you will pick up and drop off your camper. Will you take a return route, or will you drive one way?
- Remember that larger camper vans travel more slowly, so you’ll want to factor that in when looking at travel time. It will take longer to get from A to B. New Zealand is also quite hilly, which adds to travel time. Always factor in more travel time than you think you’ll need.
- You may want to consider the cost of petrol (gas) when driving long distances as the cost will add up quickly.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to see the sights, rather than spending all your time in the car. I try to minimise driving to no more than 3 hours on any given day, whether we’re travelling slowly or moving quickly. I want to get out of the car and see things, not watch everything flash by.
- Plan to arrive at your chosen campground before 7 pm. Freedom camping grounds fill up quickly. Paid campgrounds often have reception areas close around 7 pm, although it may be later in the summer.
- Factor the seasons into your plans. You can campervan around NZ at any time of year, but you need to be realistic about your interests, the type of activities you want to do and your tolerance to temperatures. For example, if you plan on travelling the South Island in the winter, you’ll also need to consider whether you need snow chains and a campervan insulated for winter temperatures.
How to travel New Zealand in a campervan
Where do you park a campervan in New Zealand?
Depending on the size of your campervan, you may have issues with parking in some city areas. However, for the most part, smaller campers under 6 meters should have no problems parking in regular car spaces.
Most tourist sights have large car parks, and larger campers shouldn’t have any issue parking there. However, if you’re there in peak season with a large campervan, I would plan on arriving at tourist attractions fairly early to guarantee a parking space. You may have an issue if you arrive at the busiest time of day.
Where do you stay on a campervan trip
Campgrounds in New Zealand
If you’re wondering where to stay in a campervan, don’t worry; New Zealand is perfectly set up for travelling in a campervan. You’ll never have any problems finding somewhere to stay. There are thousands and thousands of campgrounds throughout the country. A campground is usually a designated area for campervans, motor homes and tent campers. There are different types of campgrounds, each offering different levels of comfort and service. Naturally, the more ‘luxuries’ you want, the more you’ll pay. These campgrounds will have amenities such as toilets and showers and usually have some sort of kitchen facilities. These typically include BBQ or cooking facilities and sinks for washing up. If you’re trying to keep your budget down, don’t panic; there are many free options available, although these have fewer facilities.
How to find campgrounds
There are two leading apps that you can use on your New Zealand campervan trip. I’d recommend getting both and seeing which one you prefer.
These apps will show you all your options for paid and free campgrounds. They’ll also show you what sort of facilities the campgrounds have. You can use the filters to search for what you’re looking for. We preferred CamperMate.
Types of campgrounds in New Zealand
Holiday parks in New Zealand
Holiday Parks are the more luxurious of your accommodation options. They have plenty of facilities which are usually quite lovely. They’re often located on relatively lush grounds and may have other facilities for guests, such as a pool. But, of course, you’ll also pay more for the comfort. Top 10 Holiday parks are great, all over New Zealand. Holiday Parks are a favourite of more comfort travellers and locals on holidays so that they can be pretty busy, especially during the summer.
Facilities you’ll find at a Holiday Park
- hot showers (some are free, others are coin-operated – although we only came across this once)
- coin-operated washing machines
- garbage facilities
- water filling and dump stations
- outdoor common areas and things such as pools, children’s play areas and common seating areas
How much are holiday parks
Paid campgrounds will cost anywhere from $20NZD per person for an unpowered site to around $30 per person for a powered spot. So for a couple and a camper, you’re looking at about $60 NZD in peak season, less in winter.
Private Campgrounds are essentially where people let you camp on their property. They are usually reasonably inexpensive as they don’t have a lot of facilities available. Sometimes all they have is a drop toilet.
How much do private campgrounds cost?
These shouldn’t cost any more than $5 to $20 NZD.
Department Of Conservation campgrounds
The Department of Conservation looks after the National Parks in New Zealand and manages a range of campsites across the country. These campsites are usually in the middle of the National Parks and are often beautiful places to stay. There are different types of DoC campgrounds.
Serviced DoC campgrounds have things like hot water, flushing toilets and laundry facilities. However, they cost up to $23 per person per night for a powered site.
Scenic and standard campgrounds
Standard and scenic campgrounds have fewer facilities than serviced campgrounds. Scenic campgrounds, however, are usually in the most beautiful places and are quite popular. The price reflects this. Scenic campgrounds cost around $18 per person, while a standard campground costs about $8.
The basic campground likely only has a drop toilet, it any toilet at all. So they’re free to stay at, but you need to be fully self-contained.
Freedom camping in New Zealand
Freedom camping is known as wild camping or boondocking in other parts of the world. In some countries, you can do this anywhere you like; however, that’s not the case in New Zealand. Freedom camping is tightly regulated. We have a whole article on freedom camping, so if you’re interested in finding more information, I’d recommend you read that. It’s perfectly doable, but you need to understand how it works.
It’s important to know two main things about freedom camping in New Zealand.
- Freedom camping is tightly regulated and lends itself to vehicles that are ‘self-contained’. However, specific regulations apply to self-containment, and we discuss these further below.
- Spending the night next to a beautiful lake at the bottom of the mountain is everyone’s dream. If you’ve seen the photos on Instagram, you’re probably looking forward to waking up with that view. You and everyone else. Aside from the regulations regarding freedom camping, it’s essential to know that freedom camping is a seriously competitive business. There is a lot of competition for the somewhat limited number of freedom camping sites. This means you must be a little organised and arrive at freedom camping spots early to ensure you get a place.
Free camping in New Zealand vs paid campsites
You will probably end up staying at a mixture of free and paid campgrounds on your New Zealand campervan trip. Sometimes all the free campgrounds will be full. Sometimes you’ll just want the paid facilities. We always paid for a nice campsite after a big hike or a hot day. For example, I knew that after 6 hours of walking the Tongariro Crossing, all I would want was a long hot shower. Knowing this, we booked a paid site for the night before and after we hiked the Crossing. I was right; by the way, the hot shower was heaven.
Paid campgrounds offer an easiness and a certain comfort level. Everything you need is right there, on hand. Water. Waste, toilets, showers, laundry. Free sites offer a fantastic view and a much cheaper price point.
Do I need a self-contained van?
I would always opt for self-contained because I have a bit of a phobia of drop toilets or outhouses. Being Australian, I’m always scared of snakes or spiders crawling out! I also don’t love walking around in the dark looking for the loo. But that’s me. There are quite a lot of freedom camping sites and DoC campgrounds that require you to be self-contained. This means you have many more options for places to stay for cheap.
If you think you can get a non-self-contained vehicle and stay at self-contained only sites, think again. Self-contained vehicles have a self-containment sticker on the front window and are easily recognisable. Campgrounds are patroled, and offenders can be fined.
If you’re self-contained, you’ll need to get familiar with dump stations.
Where to find fill and dump stations
Dump stations are designated areas where you can legally empty your waste water and refill your water tank with ‘potable’ or drinkable water. Most, but not all, dump stations have a place where you can empty your toilet. You’ll find dump stations at campgrounds and specific locations throughout the country.
The easiest way to find dump stations and places to refill your water is by using the Camper Mate app. We found this app invaluable, and I would highly recommend it.
How to use dumpsites
Your camper should come with a grey water hose which you attach to your grey (waste) water tank. The other end goes in the marked grey water drain.
To refill your tank with potable water, you’ll have a separate ‘refill’ hose, which you simply connect to the tap. But, first, you’ll need to ensure that the water is potable. This means that it is safe to drink.
To empty your toilet, you remove the cassette from your toilet and empty it into the designated drain. You can then rinse the cassette, add new toilet chemicals and reattach it.
The whole process is quite simple. The most important thing to remember is to keep the area clean and only dump it in the designated area. Do not use the fresh water hose to wash out your toilet. Think hygiene and keep all hoses for their sole purpose.
How to find toilets in New Zealand
If you have a self-contained campervan, you’ll have your toilet, but trust me, you’ll still use public restrooms. Public toilets are located in most areas of the country, often by parks and recreational areas, visitor I-sites etc. I was surprised at how clean and well-maintained the public toilets in New Zealand are. There’s always toilet paper, and more often than not, there’s soap too. This was not at all what I had expected.
If you have the Camper Mate app, you’ll be able to find the toilets closest to you.
Showering on a campervan trip
The reality is that you won’t have a shower inside the camper unless you have a larger motorhome. If you spend most of your time at freedom and DoC camping sites, you probably won’t be showering every day. Baby wipes are an excellent option for general ‘maintenance’; however, you will want to shower properly at some stage. As I mentioned, we always booked a paid campground with showers after a hot or active day.
How to do laundry on a campervan trip
If you’re staying at campgrounds, they will usually have washing machines for a small fee. You will, however, need to take your washing powder. Some places, however, will sell you suspicious-looking single-serve bags! I wouldn’t count on them supplying it, so make sure you have your own.
Outside campgrounds, there are laundromats for public use everywhere throughout the country.
The CamperMate app will help you locate the nearest laundromat to you.
Internet service in New Zealand
With a population of only around 4 million, New Zealand is relatively sparsely populated, with long distances between its main cities and even country towns. As a result, phone and internet reception can be pretty sketchy. While you’re in and around the cities, you’ll probably have good reception, but it’s all the in-between areas where you’ll have zero reception. This is challenging for a few reasons, namely if you need to use maps on your phone or try to find a place to stay for the night while driving. Hopefully, someone else is driving and not you.
We were shocked at how bad the internet availability was in New Zealand. As mentioned, you’ll have very little reception in many places. Most campgrounds and holiday parks will say they have free WiFi. To be honest, that means nothing. I can say I’m a pink unicorn. It doesn’t mean that I can fly or have a horn. Don’t buy data from the campgrounds. You may not even be able to use it.
Most campsites limit the amount of free data they give you, and it’s usually as little as 250MB. Even then, it probably won’t work.
We wanted to edit some photo’s our first week in New Zealand and needed quite a bit of internet. We went to reception and purchased a few gigs at one of the holiday parks. They happily sold it to us, but when we tried to use it, there was no reception ANYWHERE. We ended up giving the data to our neighbouring camper when we left, having hardly used any of it.
Take a portable hotspot on your New Zealand campervan trip
For day-to-day WiFi, we use a portable hotspot. It uses a mobile phone signal. To be honest, there are some cheaper options out there.
Google offline maps
Make sure that you download Google maps offline. That way, you always have a map to follow. It’s frustrating to get lost in the middle of two towns with no idea where you’re going.
You can pick up a local sim card at the airport on arrival for telephone reception.
There are three networks
We’d recommend Vodaphone. That being said, don’t expect always to have reception or coverage. There are a lot of areas where you just won’t get any bars on your phone. The other aspect is the cost. There is very little competition, so phones and the internet are expensive.
If there is one app that is useful for New Zealand, it is the CamperMate app. You can find the location of all sorts of things from accommodation options to public toilets and gas stations near your site. We used it almost every day.
Driving a campervan in New Zealand
Driving tips for New Zealand
Here are some helpful tips for driving in New Zealand
- Make sure you stay to the left. New Zealanders drive on the left-hand side of the road.
- If you’re driving slowly, allow traffic to pass. It’s the law, not just common courtesy.
- Be sure to obey the speed limits. New Zealand is pretty strict about it, and given the mountainous, winding roads, it’s much safer.
- There are quite a few one-lane bridges and passes, so keep an eye out for the signs and oncoming traffic. Make sure you have priority before you push on.
- Approach mountain passes and corners carefully.
- The weather in New Zealand can change quickly to strong winds and heavy rain; drive with caution.
How much will a campervan trip cost in New Zealand?
General daily budget
You could do a New Zealand campervan trip for under $120 NZD per person daily. If you were trying to campervan around New Zealand with this budget, you’d be best to travel in shoulder season or low season when campsites and attraction costs will be cheaper. You’ll be able to cheaply hire a decent campervan too. You’ll need to stay at a lot of free campgrounds and cook your own meals.
A mid-range budget is between $120 and $200 NZD per person, depending on the activities you choose and your method of travel. This amount will give you a comfortable campervan, even in the NZ peak season. It will also allow you to afford some adventure activities. You will probably want to prepare some of your meals. But you could pay for accommodation more often.
There is no limit here but expect to pay over $250 per person to travel in style. A lush camper will cost you over $300NZD per day alone if you travel in peak season. Of course, if you get a larger motorhome, it could cost you upwards of $500 per day.
Budget tips for travelling New Zealand by campervan
- Avoid travelling in peak season to reduce the cost of hiring a campervan
- Shop at the supermarket or local markets to reduce the cost of food. Avoid eating out.
- Stay at free campgrounds more often than you pay for campgrounds.
- Fill up on gas or petrol in smaller towns outside the cities; they’re usually relatively cheaper.
- Eat more vegetarian meals – not only because the meat is expensive but because the refrigerators in campervans are small and you’ll have to go to the supermarket often to stock up. So it’s easy to spend more money.
Packing list for New Zealand
If you’re looking for the perfect packing list for your New Zealand campervan trip, give us your email below, and we’ll send our list.
Tips for packing for your New Zealand campervan trip
- Take backpacks and soft baggage with you. You’ll have a hard time storing a hard suitcase while you’re travelling in New Zealand
- There is limited storage space in a campervan so pack the bare essentials.
- Don’t panic; if you forget to pack something important, you can always buy it in New Zealand.
- We used towels that came in the campervan but if you’re doing a New Zealand campervan trip in the winter, try bringing microfiber quick-dry towels; they’ll dry much faster in colder weather.
Campervan packing list
If you intend on freedom camping regularly, you’ll need to make sure you can recharge your electronics. These are portable chargers and transformers. These are the ones we’d recommend
A good power bank
The Power Bank RAVPower 26800mAh Portable Charger 26800 Total 5.5A Output 3-Ports External Battery Pack Portable Phone Charger Compatible with iPhone 11/Pro/Max/8/X/XS, iPad, Samsung, Other Smart Devices will charge your phone and quite a few other devices up to 7 times, or over an average of 9 days. You can also charge three items at a time, so there won’t be any arguments over whose phone has less battery. Admit it; you’ve had them!
A portable wireless router
We’ve already mentioned Tepy, but we can’t stress enough how much you’ll wish you had this in New Zealand. Another option that a lot of people recommend is the Skyroam Solis below. We haven’t personally used it, but you can compare it with the Tepy and see which you prefer.
A portable speaker
This one is just for fun, so you can enjoy your music while watching the sunset over the water. The Oontz Angel 3 gives you a great sound with a blue tooth range of over 30 meters!
New Zealand is a beautiful country to campervan around. With our campervanning around New Zealand tips, it can be easy and cheap to see some spectacular parts of the country.
Is it safe to travel New Zealand in a campervan?
Staying safe in New Zealand
A New Zealand campervan trip is safe in general. New Zealand is a safe country, and we felt comfortable. That being said, we always recommend taking responsibility for yourself and your possessions to reduce the risk of having any problems.
Theft of property
This, unfortunately, is the most likely risk in New Zealand, and it is often from other travellers rather than locals. Therefore, we recommend the following precautions.
- Never leave your items, particularly valuables, unattended.
- When you leave your campervan, make sure nothing of value is visible.
- We were told to shut the curtains when we left the camper unattended. That way, no one knows whether we are inside it or not.
- Many of the hiking tracks in New Zealand have remote, vacant car parks, and these are prime targets for thieves. If possible, use a busier car park, or, if you’ll be gone a while, take another form of transport to the track.
What do I do in an emergency?
Calling 111 in an emergency will get access to the police and ambulance. Fingers crossed, you don’t need that!
Always, always take out travel insurance.
We personally never leave on a trip without travel insurance, and World Nomads is our go-to. Always. We had to use the travel insurance once, and they were great.
Cooking in a campervan
No matter how big your campervan or motorhome is, you’ll probably need to get used to cooking in a much smaller kitchen with fewer pots and pans than you’re used to. In addition, most campervans only have two or three small burners, so cooking extravagant meals is not an option. Finally, the refrigerator is also relatively small, so you won’t have as many ingredients as you usually would. All this means that you’ll probably have to change your cooking style.
- Cook simple meals with fewer ingredients
- use prepackaged sauces and marinades that you can keep in the cupboard rather than in the fridge
- use some canned foods to create space in the refrigerator for necessary refrigerated foods
Responsible travel on your New Zealand campervan trip
- Always take all your rubbish with you. Don’t leave anything behind. If a rubbish bin is full, wait for the next one. Don’t leave the trash on top where it can be blown away or rummaged by animals.
- Follow the freedom camping rules. The rules are there because campervan travellers were causing havoc and damaging the local environment. The local councils put the regulations in place to protect the local area. If we keep causing problems, they’ll keep tightening the rules.
- One of the biggest problems of the past was people going to the toilet in places where one should not be going to the toilet. Don’t do this. If you’re not going to go to the effort to find public restrooms, get a self-contained campervan, so you always have one handy.
- Obey containment zones in National Parks. Sometimes areas are closed off to protect the local animals, such as in breeding season. Another reason may be disease spread, such as the disease affecting Kauri Trees.
Final thoughts on campervanning New Zealand
There really is no better way to travel New Zealand than by campervan. You’ll see things that you wouldn’t otherwise see and you’ll be amazed by the beauty. The great news is that its really easy to do a New Zealand campervan trip. I hope this guide has answered all your questions.
Related campervanning New Zealand articles
- How to campervan New Zealand in the winter
- Where to park a Campervan in New Zealand
- The best New Zealand road trips and itineraries
- Road trip Auckland to Coromandel
- Itinerary for the Coromandel Peninsula
- A 5 weeks South Island itinerary
- The best small towns on the North Island
- Small towns on the South Island