One of the very best ways to explore New Zealand is by motorhome or campervan. There are so very many scenic vistas that are simply not accessible by public transport.
We asked travel bloggers who had traveled New Zealand in a motorhome, to share with us their top tips to help you plan your road trip.
Top 20 tips for motorhome trips in New Zealand
DOCuments & SEcurity
DRIVING LICENCE: It seems obvious. Don't forget to bring your driver's licence! It can cause a heap of problems if you haven't got it and it will be very costly if you have to have it couriered to you.
AN ACCESSIBLE FILE FOR IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS: You need a file (an envelope, shoebox, file folder will do) to keep documents all together in one place, like your motorhome rental agreement, insurance documents, and emergency contact details. They need to be easily accessible if required in an emergency. Take photos of all important documents.
SECURITY: Common sense says to put as much as possible out of sight when you are away from your campervan. Make things as uninviting and difficult as possible for any potential thieves. Buy a cheap steering wheel lock. Anything that will make the thieves think it will be too difficult and for too little reward to break into your van.
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luggage & clothes
LUGGAGE: As little as possible. Do not bring a hard suitcase if you can possibly avoid it. They are a major hassle as there are few storage options for them, Soft-sided luggage is much easier to store than hard suitcases. If you have to bring a hard suitcase and are renting a van, ask if you can unpack your suitcase when you arrive and leave the hard suitcase at the office base to collect when you return. Pack light!
CLOTHES: Layers! The weather throughout New Zealand is very changeable and the nights, regardless of the season, are usually cool. A pair of flip flops- called jandals in New Zealand or thongs in Australia- are essential for wearing in campground showers and wandering about your campsite.
And the good old "motorhome" motto-
"A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE!"
Especially the torch! There's nothing worse than needing to go outside in the middle of the night and having to sort through piles of junk trying to find your torch!
THE BATHROOM & FIRST AID KIT
MOTORHOME BATHROOM: Your bathroom will be very very tiny.
Bring a hanging toiletry bag to keep all your toiletries accessible and any storage areas clear. Your toiletries are then all together in one place and not sliding around everywhere when you're driving.
To avoid nasty smells make sure you use the right RV toilet chemicals in the toilet, use special extra dissolvable toilet paper, and empty the tank regularly.
FIRST AID KIT: is a must as well as any personal medications, lots of insect repellant and sunblock.
keeping warm in winter
If you're going to be traveling in winter and renting a van ask about insulation, double glazing, and heating systems. Most of the bigger European built vans will usually have these.
If you're in a small van it probably won't have these features. Bring a good quality sleeping bag with you if you can, or go The Warehouse and buy one or an extra blanket per person and hot water bottles. Also, buy a cheap fan heater, if your van doesn't have one. You can give these things away when you've finished your trip but you'll be so glad you had them for little extra expense!
You can buy from the Warehouse or Bunnings a special camping rcd cable that plugs into the campsite power at one end and has a normal power connection at the other end, so you can plug in a small fan heater and that should quickly heat up your van.
Don't forget layers of clothing and thermals especially for the South Island. Merino garments are very reasonably priced at Postie shops, and gloves, hats and scarves at The Warehouse.
You can make some window insulation covers for your van by cutting up the silver windscreen shades to fit. This will give you good privacy too.
ITINERARY & MAPS
ITINERARY: Have an itinerary outline. It doesn't have to be set in concrete, but you need to have an idea of which direction you will be heading to and a prioritized list of must-see places. You don't want to be wasting precious time wandering around aimlessly.
These days there is so much information online. Some of the best apps for a New Zealand motorhome trip include Campermate, Campable, WikiCamps, Rankers Camping New Zealand and NZ DOC campsite finder. On these websites and apps you'll find maps that can be used offline and a wide variety of important information.
For paper maps and booklets check out AA New Zealand. They have stores throughout New Zealand and a wealth of touring information.
NEED A BREAK?
From time to time you may want a break from your motorhome and just want to treat yourself to a night in some spacious accommodation!
Check out some unique places to stay in New Zealand.
arm yourself with accommodation apps
Other than ensuring you tick off every item on your jam-packed bucket list, probably the biggest challenge for any campervanner in New Zealand is ensuring they secure somewhere to park up each night. Whether that’s finding a basic campsite just boasting some passably clean toilets or a plush park full of good amenities, ensuring you have a spot (and often power), is top of the list for many.
Now, while you can definitely plan your New Zealand itinerary ahead (bar that niggly unforeseen weather that often strikes of course!), your best bet on the road is to ensure you’ve downloaded a handful of the great camping apps. The apps like Rankers, Campable and Campermate will usually use your location to suggest accommodation sites, or you can use handy filters to figure out the type of campsite, whether they have dumping facilities and on-site facilities like toilets, kitchens and the like.
Most of the apps can be used offline, so you’ve got a handy map to get to the one of your choice, and sometimes you can book your spot ahead, to beat the crowds. And, just in case you really want to know what you’re driving into, accommodation apps are the best way to find recent reviews from vanners like yourself, so you’ve got a pretty accurate picture of where you’ll lay your head for the night.
Recommended by Lee from The Travel Scribes
include a bug guard on your travels!
New Zealand is a perfect place to explore by campervan but only if you come prepared. There is nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night with a ton of itchy bites! Sandflies are pesky buggers and are found in almost every region in New Zealand. The worst places you can find sandflies are in the Nelson region (especially Nelson Lakes), everywhere on the West Coast, Fiordland (especially Milford Sound), and Northland.
With that in mind, my campervan tip to you, is to include a bug guard on your travels. There are different types you can go for. I have seen campervan rentals with mesh sheets that cover the outside of the windows, held on by magnets as well as stick-on nets for the inside. For me, I went to Mitre 10 and grabbed some of their black garden mesh and attached it with a few velcro dots on my inside windows.
It is completely up to you on what you decide but I highly recommend packing some sort of net with you. Also for extra protection lap yourself up with the best bug spray you can find!
Recommended by Lee-Ann from Be Free With Lee.
FREQUENTLY FILL UP YOUR TANK!
My main tip for your campervan trip around New Zealand is to frequently fill up your tank. Even if it is still half full, I recommend stopping at a station to fill up before leaving a town.
This is especially important on the South Island. You can have long stretches of driving without any petrol stations in sight.
Learn from my road trip experience. I knew about it. I was careful every day. But I still forgot one day and felt stressed as my empty tank alarm lit up and there was no petrol station close to where I was…
I know it is not fun to fill up the tank, but the stress is even less fun!
Recommended by Claire from ZigZagonearth.com
Add 30 Minutes to your google map estimated driving times
When it comes to road tripping New Zealand, Google maps often plays a huge part in the planning of the route. Our biggest tip is to not pay much attention to the times it will predict.
The roads in New Zealand are stunning and there's a photo stop waiting around every corner. These will obviously add time on to your trip but you also need to account for the types of roads you'll be traveling on. Especially when you're driving around the South Island, the roads can be steep, narrow, and often icy. All of these things add up and a 90-minute drive soon turns in to 3 hours.
By all means, use Google maps as a navigation aid but our biggest tip for road tripping New Zealand is to add at least 30 minutes to an hour on to your drive time.
Recommended by Leah Officer from "Officer Travels."
always be charging
Travelling in a campervan while visiting New Zealand is a superb way to see the country. Whether you have a self-contained van and can freedom camp, or whether you are staying in campsites, you will need to keep your electronic devices charged. Campgrounds obviously have electricity sockets, but they’re not always in the most convenient of places, or worse, full when you arrive.
Using a power inverter that is capable of charging all your devices while you drive is a great way of being a little bit more self-sufficient and definitely eases the frustrations of arriving at a site and having to wait for power!
You can pick up an inverter that charges laptops, mobile phones, and cameras easily and never have to worry about leaving your device unattended or running out of power again – it will give you more time to spend exploring New Zealand, whether that’s great hikes, wine tasting or exploring the cultural heritage of the country.
Recommended by Sarah of ASocialNomad
When it comes to planning a campervan trip to New Zealand, the key is to stay organized. Life on the road can be chaotic if you don’t organize your camper. Come up with an easy way to transition from camp time to road trip mode. Simply back a road trip day-bag or two with several handy items you’ll need for your day of driving and exploring.
Keep essentials such as a hiking bag, camera, snacks, water, wallet, and other must-have items behind the front seats for easy access. If you’re cooking, don’t forget to keep the cooler with your lunch essentials handy as well. The last thing you want is to have to rummage through a large pile of gear while you're on the road. A simple organization scheme allows you to stay organized and efficient.
Once you’re at camp, put your day bag away and pull out your essentials for the evening. Your headlamp, sleeping clothes, extra layers, toiletries, and any other essential items should be handy for easy grab-and-go access. As a result, you’ll have an organized camp and won’t need to scramble to find lost items in the dark.
Recommended by Meg Atteberry of Fox in the Forest.
Create a meal plan
A self-drive road trip around New Zealand in a campervan is one of the most popular ways to travel, as it gives the freedom of exploring at your own pace.
Before embarking on a campervan trip, create a meal plan for your journey. It can be as relaxed as you would like, but having an idea of how many meals are required when traveling assists in many ways. A meal planner will help eliminate buying food you won’t need, which saves money and reduces wastage. It will give you the ability to make healthy food choices and can prevent a situation where you are stuck in a remote place with no dining options.
A factor that can be overlooked is how much storage, or what type of cooling device you’ll have in the campervan, which is where planning (again) can be of assistance, as you are only stocking the essential items to whip up a meal on demand. A list will eliminate the time you need to spend in the grocery store at the start of your trip and keep shop runs brief while traveling.
Recommended by Sharee Middleton from Inspire Family Travel
CARRY A BASIC TOOL KIT
Whether you are renting a camper van or driving your own, you should always be prepared for any eventuality and carry a basic tool kit (including a roll of electrical tape).
We made the assumption, when we rented a camper-van for a two-week holiday around the South Island of New Zealand, that they would include some tools for us and that assumption nearly caused our holiday to come unstuck.
Just outside of Bluff we heard a horrific bang then a terrible rattling noise. We found that the greywater pipe had sheared off and was dragging along the road. We called for assistance and were told to make our way to Invercargill, about 30km away.
We found a ball of string and tried using that to tie the pipe onto the under section of the van. Unfortunately, the string kept breaking every few kilometres so we had to keep stopping and tying on some more. Having a few tools, or even some electrical tape to secure it, would have made for a far less stressful morning.
Recommended by Susan Gan from Thrifty after 50
always use eco friendly soap
New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, which makes a road trip there even more spectacular but also why this tip is vital. When you are cooking in a campervan or even washing yourself in the morning, it is incredibly important to use biodegradable soap. as when you dispose of your grey water (dirty water) any chemicals can potentially destroy the natural landscape and poison wildlife. With so many campers on the islands, the damage over the years from inconsiderate tourists has caused devastation to the landscape, with campsites being forced to close because of this.
A tip which goes hand in hand with using biodegradable soap is that you should have a self-contained van (you have a toilet and wash facilities onboard )- that way you won't need to dispose of your grey water out on the landscape. Your dirty water is stored in the van. With self-contained vehicles, you have a pipe that connects to the grey water tank and you empty it at service stations.
The New Zealand government introduced a law to ensure that there is minimal damage to the landscape as possible – if your van is not self-contained there are strict rules on which campsites you can use, in order for your waste to be disposed of safely.
Please stick to the law not only to protect the environment (and keep these campsites open for others to enjoy) but also to avoid an expensive fine.
Recommended by Lauren & Darren from Faramagan.com
SAVE MONEY-STAY AT DOC CAMPSITES
Traveling in New Zealand by campervan can be inexpensive if you choose the campings smartly. The Department of Conservation (DOC) maintains an extended network of affordable campsites across the islands. These are among the cheapest options for overnight stays, especially if your campervan doesn't have a toilet, and you need to stay in places that are equipped with one.
During our 4-week campervan trip, we have almost exclusively stayed at these cheap places, while we explored geysers, fjords, volcanoes, and the Pancake Rocks. The price range varies based on the location and the available services. DOC campsites usually cost $5-20 per person per night.
Numerous free basic campsites are only equipped with toilets, while the most luxurious powered and serviced campsites cost $23. The other services may include sinks with running water, showers, picnic tables, and BBQ fireplaces. You can easily search for them, based on your needs, on their official website or one of the mobile apps for campervans.
Recommended by Katalin from Our Life Our Travel
stop at the local tourist information offices
During our New Zealand trip one of the things we did very often, was stopping at the local tourist information offices in the places we visited. We found that that the friendly and helpful staff at these Tourist Offices often had the best tips for things to do that weren’t in Lonely Planet.
This could either be for great activities in the neighborhood, such as a nice hiking trail, beautiful waterfalls, beaches or other interesting sights, but also practical advice such as good (legal!) places to camp with our small campervan or where we could fill up our water tank.
Besides the excellent advice, we often picked up a local map at these Tourist Offices and usually, there was free Wi-Fi as well, so we could send a quick update of our whereabouts and adventures to our family back home (we didn’t have a local SIM at the time, so that was our only time online).
Recommended by Lotte from Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog.
usE facebook to buy your campervan
Buying a campervan to travel New Zealand is actually crazy easy! Maybe even too easy!
I was pretty surprised how little we had to do to purchase a campervan. If you’re staying in New Zealand for more than a month, it may be worth looking into purchasing a campervan for your trip and Facebook is the best place to do it.
Just join groups in the town you’re starting out in or even ones a bit further out, if you’re willing to travel a bit to go see it. The best cities with the most available vehicles for purchase from my experience were Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
Once you meet up with the person and make your deal, all you do is hand over the money for the papers and keys, and fill out a two-second form you can find at the post office to trade the vehicle into your name. It doesn’t cost much and once you do that, you’re free to roam the country in your new van.
Using Facebook to sell our van was also really easy. It only took us a week to have a buyer find us and take the van off our hands when it was time to go.
Do note, like anything you do online, there are people looking to take advantage. So the great thing about Facebook is you can check someone’s profile a bit to see if they made the profile last week and have literally two pictures up… You may not want to do business with that person. Some people can also scam you over Facebook by requesting transfers via Paypal or something which is not recommended. Meet up, hand over cash, hand over keys - easy!
Recommended by Nina from Where in the World is Nina
EXTRA KITCHEN SUPPLIES FOR A RENTAL VAN
When renting a camper van you tend to get supplied with only the absolute minimum; 1 tea towel, 1 x cup, plate and cutlery set per person, as well as a few storage containers and serving bowls.
To make life easier on the road you should plan to take a few extras;
Hand Towel - a nice little luxury that doesn’t take up a lot of space.
Extra Tea-towel - taking your own tea means that you can alternate it with the one they gave you and allow it time to dry.
Serrated, stay-sharp knife - after spending two weeks hacking at tomatoes with a butter knife we ended up going out and buying a small serrated knife.
Plastic takeaway containers - we kept the takeaway containers from our dinner one evening and found that they really came in handy. They are useful for storing leftover food, they stack well, and don’t take up a lot of space in the tiny little fridge.
Zip Lock Bags - these take up very little space in your luggage and can be handy for storing all sorts of things.
Laundry pegs - these always come in handy; whether its to seal open bags of food, hang up clothes to get them out of the way or to hang out washing to dry.
And don't forget some dish wash liquid, salt & pepper, rubbish bags, cooking oil, and toilet rolls.
Recommended by Susan Gan from Thrifty after 50
download the campermate app
As part of our round the world family gap year, we spent two months touring New Zealand in a motorhome. To keep costs down we freedom camped wherever it was permitted.
Freedom camping is a generous New Zealand initiative that allows self-contained motorhomes and campervans to camp for free. We camped in big cities such as Wellington as well as isolated, rural areas in both the North and South Island.
The free to download CamperMate App was invaluable during our trip. This reliable app showed us the nearest free and low-cost camping spots to our current location, including the Department of Conservation or DOC sites.
The app was very useful in planning our route and timings for sightseeing and driving.
Recommended by Sinead from Map Made Memories
Gaspy App for best petrol prices!
Before you begin your campervan trip around NZ, download the Gaspy app as petrol/diesel will be one of your biggest daily expenses. If you're coming from overseas, you might get a little shock at fuel prices in NZ. They aren't low.
The price doesn't only depend on where in NZ you are. Prices can vary within a city depending on a variety of factors. The Gaspy app is great as it not only lists all of the petrol stations in NZ, but users submit the price they paid at each gas station. There are lots of users who regularly update the latest price, so when it comes time to think about filling up the tank, open up Gaspy and look around for the best price. The app is super intuitive to use.
P.S. collect your supermarket receipts. You'll often get a discount voucher you can use towards your petrol.
Recommended byJub from Chur New Zealand.