We love New Zealand, so much so, we’ve embarked on 3 separate Campervan tours across the North and South Islands. In our opinion, combining your transport with your bed for the night, amongst the surreal scenery that Maori call Aotearoa or “The Land of the Long White Cloud”, is just the best experience and certainly the most incredible way to get the most from this extraordinary country.
New Zealand is around the same size as the UK but with a tiny population of just 4.6 million compared to our huge 66 million, so there’s lots of open space, few people and miles of road to yourself. It’s no wonder that when you take to the road in New Zealand it seems that every other vehicle is a motorhome! So here’s our warts and all take, on what to expect when renting that ideal camper in New Zealand!
Firstly, hires are known as rentals and campers will be described as either a campervan, camper or motorhome.
Generally, size will be determined by Berth rather than a van type, usually ranging from 2-6 Berth. That means they sleep 2-6 people but may not mean the same number of seatbelts! So do check the seatbelt to Berth ratio, you don’t want to be turning up with 5 people and only 2 seatbelts!
Remember that a 2 berth camper doesn’t necessarily mean it’s small and a 5 berth doesn’t always mean that it’s large…..confusing yes but don’t panic!!
Ok, so in simple terms, you can get a Toyota Hi-Ace (think small!) that has 5 seatbelts and sleeps 5 people. Similarly, you can rent a Mercedes Sprinter long wheelbase that sleeps 2 people with only 2 seatbelts but size wise, this is far bigger than the Hi-Ace!!
With the above in mind, if you’re unsure, check the vehicle dimensions and look at the layout plans and any YouTube video that the company or previous hirers may have produced.
A Google search, will produce a load of rental companies, many being agency or comparison sites, click on them and they’ll bring up a selection of rental companies throughout NZ.
We prefer to look directly at the rental companies own websites. We feel it gives a better idea of what they can provide and if they would be the type of company we’d want to hire from, not forgetting that they may have a deal or better price booking direct.
There are several rental companies that dominate the market but many more smaller operators.
For those who don’t mind blowing the Budget – Small to Large Campers
What they offer:
Campers to suit everyone from individuals and couples to families, specialising in newer models and lower mileage. They may even have a new fleet each season, check before you book on age and mileage.
If you want a big camper, these are the main companies to look at, the larger campers will come with hot water, heating and a shower room, as well as lots of other comforts, smaller campers will generally have cold water only and no shower room, so it will mean using the kitchen sink for washing and a stowaway Porta-loo for that emergency night-time dash!!
Of course, the downside is, that the more large and newer the camper, the more expensive it will be to rent, also, the rental company will possibly be more fussy when you return it and you’ll feel more obliged to totally look after it!
Price Savvy – Small Campers and People Carrier Campers
What they offer:
Geared for couples, singletons or friends. They may be older vehicles or higher mileage, although you could be lucky and get a newer model, especially if they’ve just introduced a new layout to the fleet.
Fuss-free, functional and easy to manoeuvre due to the compact sizes. They’ll be generally equipped with cold water only, a porta-potty for night time and some vans will be crouch height only – If you want to stand up make sure you get a Hi-Top type!
Expect bright colours to attract that youthfulness in you! Check before booking on what age vehicle you’ll be allocated, or ask if it’s possible to book one of their latest vans.
We have used Travellers Autobarn for a 5 week tour of New Zealand in March and April 2018 and previously over 5 months on a road trip across Australia in 2017. We found them fab, vans that are easy to use, basic but strong and reliable and genuinely easy going to deal with as a company.
They were also very reasonable to rent for our periods of rental and really helpful and approachable throughout. We even had our adult Son’s accompany us at various times. The Toyota Hi-Ace Kuga model that we rented has 3 seats in the cab and a spare sleeping area in the Hi-Top section, just perfect!
The Budget Brigade
What they offer:
Exactly what it says on the tin!! Attracting the young rental market and backpackers, these small campers, cars and people carriers are definitely easy to spot. Some covered in graffiti artwork, you’ll get noticed and it covers a multitude of sins under all that paint!!
Super basic, our Son hired one from Wicked, he was horrified at first sight at what he was going to be living in for his 10-day trip but completely loved it!!
If budget brigade is all you can afford, batten down the hatches and get used to it, you’ll soon adjust and have a sense of sheer accomplishment at the end!!
Now we’re super fussy! When we’ve hired a camper we’ve cleaned it before emptying our bags and filling the cupboards with the food shop! Maybe that’s just us being too OTT but you may want to do the same, we like to buy anti-bacterial wipes at the supermarket and give the van a good wipe over. Although standards are very good, they may not be up to your expectations so be flexible and expect a little spring clean! Oh do check under the seats before you drive off, we had the last occupiers bedding scrunched up there and we know that’s not unique to our rental company!!
Don’t underestimate the current popularity of camper rentals in NZ, book well ahead to get the right van for you at the right price, unless you’re flexible, it’s unlikely you’ll get a last minute availability for the exact dates and van type you need.
Peak season is December to March, if you’re touring during this period we’d definitely recommend booking as soon as possible. Off-peak is much quieter but still popular, remember that unlike many destinations around the world, New Zealand is one of those countries where touring by Camper is so the done thing, they are everywhere and most people seem to want to rent one even if they’ve never emptied a porta-loo before in their lives!!
Renting a Camper isn’t necessarily cheap. Unless you’re really friendly with someone that’s going to be touring with you and you don’t mind sharing a very small space together, e.g 2 or 3 couples sharing a 6 berth and the cost between you.
The good news though, it’s both your transport and accommodation rolled into one, it’s also you’re cafe and restaurant! Soooo handy, to pull over next to some magnificent beach, pop the kettle on or fire up the barbecue and enjoy the moment!
It’s also super convenient, all you’re clothes, outdoor gear, food and necessities tucked away for the duration of your stay going from place to place with you, no having to pack and unpack those suitcases each night.
Auckland for the North Island and Christchurch for the South Island are the two main pick up/drop off locations for rental companies. There aren’t many who provide other locations, Jucy do have a base in Wellington, the capital, which is situated at the South of the North Island and Queenstown, the adventure capital of the South Island.
You can pick up and drop off at different locations but this will generally cost you more, it’s handy though. For example, you could arrive in Auckland, collect a camper and travel the North Island before venturing on the ferry from Wellington, across the Cook Strait to Picton in the South Island. Where you could then drop off at Christchurch and catch a flight home from there, instead of having to make the journey back up to Auckland or vice-versa!
Yes! If you’re under 25 years of age or over 70, then either you may not be able to hire at all, or there may be additional costs or restrictions to what camper type you can rent or both! It’s a case of checking with the rental companies. In some instances, with the budget rentals in particular, they may offer rentals to under 21’s.
Be honest about what you have, ask what the implications are, if any and don’t try to hide it! Each rental company will tell you what they allow so be open and ask.
Sort of! New Zealand is a great wild and open country to explore, it’s all about nature, scenery and the phenomenal natural beauty that just seems to be around every corner. To immerse yourself within the glorious surroundings, the authorities do offer a form of wild camping, similar to a French Aire system.
This is known as Freedom Camping and to park up overnight at a designated area, the camper must be certified as “Self-Contained”, they’ll be a sticker on the back window to confirm this. It ensures that there is an onboard waste tank, fresh water tank and a toilet, so that the occupants are not using the outdoors as a loo and are taking their waste away with them etc.
All Freedom Camping areas will be marked with a sign and will display any restrictions or notices about the parking. Parking is usually permitted for up to a set period, e.g 24/48 hours, the sign will tell you exactly how long.
Parking is often free to use but also can be charged, especially in a city or popular tourist location.
Actual Wild Camping is tolerated in some areas but be sure to clear up after you – Leave NO trace and don’t overstay your welcome, in other words, arrive late, leave early and don’t be in one place for more than 24 hours!!
New Zealand is great, similar to many parts of Europe, it offers emptying facilities outside of campgrounds.
Look for the signs in or around main towns to identify a camper service area, here you can empty the waste and toilet and fill up the fresh water. Most facilities don’t have a drive over drain like Europe, instead, they use a long waste pipe which will be rolled up in the camper, this you attach to the waste outlet on the van and put into the dedicated waste drain provided at the camper service area.
Of course, if you are staying on a campground then they will have a similar area to do the chores!
New Zealand has a wide variety of campgrounds on offer, they can be very basic with just nature to admire or full of facilities from jumping pillows to thermal pools.
Most larger sites have a camp kitchen, these are a great area to cook up the evening meal, relax and get chatting to fellow cooks and travellers.
Many campgrounds are dated compared to Europe but it’s NZ and that’s all part of the enjoyment. If you want the best on offer, in terms of modern amenities, the Top 10 Holiday Parks are a group of campsites with more facilities and often completely refurbished toilet blocks, camp kitchen areas etc. If you’re touring around, using a few sites, it’s more economical to buy the membership card for around $50 which then gives a 10% discount off site fees and it’s also valid for 2 years, just incase you make a second trip!
If back to nature is more your thing, you can’t go wrong with the fabulous environments offered by the Department of Conservation Campsites providing a selection of beautiful locations across New Zealand.
There’s a wealth of choice from small private campgrounds to larger chains, not forgetting Kiwi Holiday Parks who also have a network of sites across the country and similarly to the Top 10 Parks, they offer a discount card purchase.
The main thing is, if you’re touring during peak season and don’t want a disappointment of ‘No Vacancy’ then book ahead.
A pitch in New Zealand is called a “Site”, with a choice of “Powered Site”, that’s a pitch with electric to us Brits or Non Powered, that’s no electric!!
Most will have BBQ areas and a laundry, sometimes you’ll need a $1 coin for a shower (gives around 3minutes).
Staying at a campsite during Peak Season can get expensive. On our visit in March/April 2017, we paid between $35 and $65 per night for 2 people and this was off peak during some of this trip. The average price that we paid was $46 per night.
We try to do a mix of freedom camping and sites, then budget further when on a site by alternating between a powered and non-powered site. In a rental camper, the chances are you’ll have to hook up to a powered site every couple of days to keep the charge on the leisure battery.
Campsite pricing includes 2 people and the site for the camper. Electric will be extra and a shower may be extra again in the form of a coin operated timer outside the shower door….yes, you need to plan this part carefully, to avoid trying to conceal your modesty whilst wedged between the shower door and the coin machine!! Although it may only be $1 per shower, if there are a few of you in your family these soon add up over the length of the trip!
Here’s the good bit, it’s the same as here in the UK, one of the few countries to drive on the left, so no need to adjust to driving on a different side of the road for us Brits.
Quiet, country roads cover large areas of the country. It’s busy around the cities but otherwise, driving is easy and stress-free. Distances are fairly long because of the lack of motorways or dual carriageways, so it can take some time to do a relatively short journey compared to driving in the UK or Europe.
There shouldn’t be much in the way of traffic jams though, in many areas it will be just you and the wildlife for company!
Reasonable but it is increasing, unleaded is between around $2.15 and $2.48 per litre depending on where you fill up.
Yes, there are 3 and all in the North Island. Tolls cost between $1.50 and $2.50, pay by phone or online, we always do this as soon as we stop incase we forget! You don’t want the rental company to receive a fine, they’ll bill you and add on an admin fee!
The rental company will usually provide you with an App. The Travellers Autobarn App that we used is superb. You can download it on their Wi-Fi on pick up and it then provides you with everything you could possibly need to know! Search for campgrounds, freedom camping spots, toilets and laundry to name a few, there’s pricing, reviews and daily offers from campgrounds, super easy and super efficient! Just make sure you’re phone sim allows roaming in NZ, speaking of which this leads to our next point!
We can use our usual UK mobile data abroad in many countries, which includes New Zealand at no extra cost. This is vital if you want to be online on tour without the need for Wi-Fi. We use ‘Three” and find their network really excellent when we travel, we have one mobile on a £12 per month, 4GB allowance and the other on a £14 per month 12GB data plan. We also take an iPad and buy a Sim only from “Three” to take with us, they have various size GB available in store which last different time lengths, we currently have a 24GB which lasts 2 years from the date you start using it (unless you use the data sooner!).
Of Course, you can buy a Sim in NZ.
Double check on phone calls & texts too, there may be limits on what you can use abroad.
Do remember to check on other countries you land at en-route to NZ, for example, we can’t use ours in Dubai, so if you’ve checked for NZ and it’s fine to use, it doesn’t always follow for where you may stop before and after you get there! It can cost a fortune so don’t make the mistake.
We use fold away adventure type travel gear instead of traditional bulky suitcases…..yes you have to think of everything and a hold-all type bag is great. We have ones with the added convenience of integrated wheels, so we can pull them along for the airport and then fold them away for storage inside their own carry bag when not in use…….here’s the link to the super easy Eagle Creek Wheeled Carrier .
If you opt for a bag instead of a suitcase, these fit easily under a seat in the camper. We have seen suitcases on the pitch outside a rental camper at night time, not ideal, but if you have to take a big suitcase just think about where it’s going to be stored!
New Zealand is super camper-friendly, far more so than the UK and equal to the big camper loving nations in Europe such as France, Italy, Germany etc.
It’s an outdoor lovers paradise and New Zealander’s welcome the camper world with open arms, appreciating also, that camper is a very big part of the economy and the tourist industry.
It also seems that the camper is a big part of New Zealand life for those that live there, after all, what better way is there to get into the heart of this wonderful down to earth country than behind the wheel of their very own holiday home on wheels.
New Zealand is a very safe country with little in the way of violent crime. We have always felt extremely safe there, but like anywhere we visit we always recommend taking correct, sensible precautions and don’t let you’re guard down just because you’re travelling.
It’s always advisable to keep any valuables out of sight, don’t leave anything on display to attract attention and always lock the camper doors & windows. As with anywhere, when you park up, look around you, if you don’t feel right about where you are, move on!
It’s easy, fun to do amongst the most fabulous scenery with easy-going locals and you’ll sure to feel part of one big camper-touring community! Camper’s are everywhere, Freedom camping spots can be full to the brim by the end of each day, campsites are a hive of activity for those wanting a proper place to pitch up, relax, enjoy the space and facilities of the amenities and get chatting to those fellow travellers.
If you’ve never set foot in a camper before, you’ll wonder why on earth you’ve waited this long, New Zealand is just the most relaxed place to try it out and you’ll certainly have that seed planted to want to do it all over again!!
Here’s A Tour of Our Travellers Autobarn Rental Van!!