Seeing New Zealand by camper van

Camping NZ

We just finished up a long, slow, six month wander New Zealand. I have to say, it’s been one of the pleasantest places we’ve had the privilege to travel. It definitely falls near the top of our “easy to travel” countries list.

Even if you’re a very new traveler, or have special needs, you’re going to find NZ a pleasure.

  • It’s first world
  • English speaking
  • Accessible in most places for wheelchairs
  • Sign-language is an official national language, so many people speak some
  • It is a virtually GMO free country, with excellent food labeling systems for people who have allergies or intolerances.
  • There are loads of playgrounds and skate parks in even the smallest towns
  • Children’s menus and pricing are ubiquitous
  • It’s compact and easy to get around, so in even a few weeks you can see a lot
  • Most museums are free, or by donation, which stretches the budget and the learning
  • It’s very safe, there’s nothing poisonous, you don’t need special vaccinations
  • It’s a very open, tourist-friendly culture

This is also a country made to be driven.

If you head to NZ and don’t hire a car and hit the roads, you’ll have missed some of the best the country has to offer. The cities (small by international standards) are wonderful, but it’s the countryside and the small towns that hold the real charm and the real adventure.

Lots and lots of people come to New Zealand every year to see the country by camper van or RV. My parents did, ten years ago, and their raving about their adventures here were a large part of why we decided to stay for so long. While the famous “free camping” that New Zealand has been known for, has been ratcheted down on somewhat in the last couple of years, due to abuse and misuse of public properties, there are still some free and very good low cost options. The catch: most tourists never find them.

Here’s why:

If you google “camper vanning New Zealand” or some such, what will come up is a long list of camper van and RV hire sites. Everything from the more than a little dodgy “Wicked” vans to the very efficiently marketed “Jucy” fleet, to the big “Kea” RVs (which is what we would have needed for our family of six with big kids.)

Knowing that the best way to see this country is by camping, it’s really tempting to hire a van. We know lots of people who have, with varying degrees of happiness with the service and results. It doesn’t seem like it will be *that much* more expensive than staying in a hotel, perhaps it will even be cheaper if you are used to staying in nice places and you’re only coming for a couple of weeks.

A  few myths to be debunked:

  1. Renting a camper van or RV in New Zealand is NOT CHEAP
  2. Most of the best “free camping” sites and virtually all of the low cost ones you will not be able to use, but you’ll never even know it (I’ll tell you why in a moment).
  3. Factor in the cost of gas (currently $2.25/L or $10/gallon) or diesel ($1.50/L or $6/gal) but with diesel there’ll be a tax surcharge which levels the playing field
  4. With a rental you can expect to be paying for camping 80% or more of the time. If there are two of you, you might find campsites for as little as $20-30 a night, for our family of 6, we average $80 a night if we have to stay in a campground. Camping is charged by the head almost everywhere outside of North America.
  5. While renting means that all taxes, registration and maintenance are rolled into your price, if you have trouble with your van, it is likely that you will have to return it to your point of origin to get it fixed, this is a real inconvenience if you’ve only got a few weeks. This happened to our friends. They opted to just fix it on their own dime so it wouldn’t ruin their trip. They were not reimbursed.
  6. If you are from a righthand drive country there may be insurance differences.


Interested in how to get around much of that? There are options for the patient and the creative thinkers out there I wrote a very long explanation of how to make it happen without spending an arm and a leg and getting the “local” intel as the cherry on top!

Posted by | Comments (2)  | August 27, 2013
Category: Destinations, Oceania

2 Responses to “Seeing New Zealand by camper van”

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