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Travel by Campervan in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide

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Everything you need to know about travelling by campervan in New Zealand.

So you’ve decided you want ultimate freedom to travel the country at your own leisure by travelling by campervan in New Zealand. That’s awesome! This guide will tell you all you need to know about travelling by campervan in New Zealand, from what sort of license you need to what costs to expect to travel by campervan in New Zealand.

This ultimate guide to travel by campervan in New Zealand is for both those backpackers who want to rent a campervan in New Zealand and those who prefer to buy their own. We’ll go over where to rent or buy a campervan from, important road rules to know for driving on New Zealand’s roads, what costs to expect and where you can legally sleep in your campervan if you want to.

So get ready to hit the road with this ultimate guide to travelling New Zealand by campervan!

Should you buy or rent a campervan in New Zealand?

The main factor that determines whether you should buy or rent a campervan in New Zealand is time. How much time do you have in New Zealand? Although buying a campervan works out to be the most cost-effective solution in the long-term, if you are on a short-term trip, you will waste a lot of your limited time on the buying and selling process. For those of you planning to be in New Zealand for less than a month, then renting a campervan is the no-nonsense way to get on the road as quickly as possible. For those of you with more time in New Zealand, for instance by being on a working holiday, buying your own campervan in New Zealand will be the best value for money considering it is likely that you can sell the vehicle at the end of your trip. Check out more pros and cons between the two in Should You Rent or Buy a Vehicle to Travel New Zealand?

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Can you legally drive in New Zealand?

Driving License

First things first, can you legally drive in New Zealand? To drive any vehicle up to a motorhome you need to have a full valid driving license written in English. If yours is not written in English then you will need to also carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a translation approved by the New Zealand Transport Agency. The former is easier to get and organise before arriving in New Zealand. Find out more in:

Age Restrictions

The legal driving age in New Zealand is 16 years old. You usually need to be at least 18 to hire a campervan in New Zealand. Plus, campervan rental companies often put an age restriction on their larger campervans at 21 years old. What’s more, many rental companies have a young driver’s fee for drivers under 25 years old. Read up on the restrictions in Age Restrictions When Renting a Vehicle in New Zealand.

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What type of campervan to get in New Zealand

Now you need to decide what type of campervan to buy or rent in New Zealand. There are so many options from small camper-cars to large motorhomes that it’s really worth thinking about this thoroughly. For a full comparison, check out What is the Best Type of Vehicle to Rent in New Zealand? and What Model of Car or Campervan to Buy for Travelling New Zealand.

Campercars

The most popular type of campervan available to buy at a cheap price in New Zealand is usually a SUV or people-mover with the back seats removed and fitted with a bed and perhaps other accessories. These are also the type of camping vehicle that you can rent without an age restriction as they are the easiest to drive. However, expect it to get quite cramped once your luggage is inside and to have limit amenities. These type of vehicles are not likely to be certified self-contained, so you can only camp in them in campsites, holiday parks and hostels.

Campervans

The second most popular backpacker vehicle to buy is a campervan – simply a small van or minibus that has been converted into a camping vehicle. Although more expensive to buy and rent than campercars, they offer more room for amenities, perhaps even water storage, waste water storage and a toilet which would allow you to have a self-contained sticker – something you will need if you want to be able to freedom camp. More on that below.

Motorhomes

The most spacious campervans that you can legally drive with a normal driving license is a motorhome. They range from 2 to 6 berth and usually have the full-works in terms of amenities: bedding, dining area, kitchen, shower, toilet and more. However, buying a motorhome is a pretty large investment taking you into the tens of thousands of dollars. Plus, buying and selling a motorhome is much more likely to be a lengthier process than with a smaller and more affordable camper. On the other hand, motorhomes are much more accessible to those wanting to rent a vehicle, as they tend to be just that little more expensive. Motorhomes will be self-contained meaning you can camp anywhere except where there are camping restrictions.

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How to get a campervan

How to rent a campervan in New Zealand

When renting a campervan you need to compare the campervan rental companies out there and see which one suits your needs. This is pretty straightforward, as once you have found the right type of vehicles, you just need to book direct with the company. Follow our advice on How to Compare Car and Campervan Rental Companies in New Zealand and save money on your booking with 20 Ways To Save Money on Car Rental in New Zealand.

When booking a campervan to rent you will either need to pay in full or pay a non-refundable deposit. You do not pay after you have rented the vehicle. You will have the opportunity to choose some optional extras, such as a GPS and picnic sets, however, you often have all you need included in the rental from bedding to cooking utensils.

How to buy a campervan in New Zealand

While there are plenty of campervans for backpackers on the market, you need to follow the necessary steps to avoid buying a lemon. Find campervans for sale on backpacker Facebook groups, the New Zealand auction site TradeMe, on hostel notice boards, backpacker car markets and more. Get ideas from Where to Buy a Backpacker Vehicle in New Zealand.

Always inspect campervans in person before buying. Arrange a viewing with the seller and inspect the vehicle for any faults, including all the amenities inside the campervan. Does everything fold up correctly? Does the fridge/toilet/waste water all work, for example? You will also want to make sure that the vehicle has all the necessary certificates like a WOF (Warrant of Fitness), electrical certificates and self-containment certificates if your van has power and a toilet. Once you are ready to go through with the sale, complete the change of ownership form with the seller. There’s a lot to go through but don’t worry, we go through it all in Buying a Car in New Zealand Step by Step.

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How to drive in New Zealand

Now you are ready to hit the New Zealand roads! However, there are likely to be a few road rules you that you might not be used to on New Zealand’s roads, so make sure you wise up before driving.

Although we go much more in-depth in How to Drive in New Zealand, here are the basic points:

  • Take it easy when driving a campervan, slow down on corners and let other drivers pass you where safe
  • Keep left! In New Zealand we drive on the left side of the road
  • When at a traffic light and the light turns green, give way to pedestrians first before turning
  • It is illegal to use your phone while driving, you must use a hand-free set
  • There is an alcohol limit for driving
  • Do not overtake when the road has solid yellow lines
  • Only overtake when it is safe to do so, such as when on a passing lane
  • Keep left on passing lanes when you are not overtaking so other vehicles can pass you
  • You can only park on the side of the road in the same direction as the traffic flow
  • Stick to speed limits
  • In winter, have snow chains if you intend to drive anywhere with snow
  • Slow down for animals on the road and wait for the farmer’s instructions
  • Slow down on gravel roads
  • Respect the priority markers on one way bridges (which there are a lot of in New Zealand)
Travel Times and GPS

One extra thing to note is the New Zealand travel times and using a GPS. Expect travel times to take longer per km than what you would expect on straight roads and motorways. New Zealand’s road networks consist of winding roads, gravel roads, narrow roads, as well as some motorways and straight roads. Always prepare for journeys to take a little longer than the estimated time given on your GPS. If you are going somewhere a little off the beaten track, it is best to compare the directions of your GPS to another map or satellite view. Your GPS is likely to find the fastest route, which can sometimes be old gravel roads and sometimes dangerous tracks. What’s more, some GPS data may be wrong or not updated so always double check the route.

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The cost of travelling by campervan in New Zealand

Cost of Fuel

Whether you’re renting a campervan or driving your own, there are some costs to consider for your budget. The obvious one is the cost of fuel. Of course, fuel costs vary throughout the country, but an average cost for petrol is usually NZ$2 per litre. For diesel, it’s NZ$1.35 but you also have to pay a road user charge (RUC) which is around NZ$62 per 1000km.

Ferry Cost

Another cost to put into your budget is the cost of the ferry between the North Island and the South Island. For example, it’s around NZ$420 each way for a full campervan with four passengers. Find out more in Ferry Between the North Island and South Island.

Toll Roads

The three toll roads in New Zealand are all on the North Island: the Northern Gateway Toll Road, the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road and the Takitimu Drive Toll Road. Find out more in Toll Roads in New Zealand.

Rental Costs

If renting a campervan, there is the obvious daily cost of the rental itself, which range from NZ$19/day for a small campervan in the low season to NZ$450/day for a motorhome in the high season. Other fees may include a young drivers fee if you are under 25 years old, a one way fee if dropping off the vehicle in a different location to where you picked it up, and an extra driver’s fee. There may also be optional extras liking hiring a GPS or snow chains. If there is any damage to the campervan that you cause, it is likely you will have to pay for damages unless you have paid for top insurance. We’ll go through more of that below.

Campervan maintenance costs

When having your own campervan, there is the risk of it breaking down or having some sort of engine problems. It’s up to you to get these fixed, as most insurance companies don’t cover major expenses past the basic breakdown cover. To reduce the chances of this happening, make sure you really check the campervan before buying it, plus keep the campervan well-maintained while it is in your care. Follow the tips in How to Maintain Your Car for Travelling New Zealand. Be aware that you also may need to update the WOF certificate of vehicle registration too. On top of that, because your campervan is going to be your home for so many months, keep it clean to reduce the chance of attracting insects. Keep food in containers, for example, and wash bed sheets regularly.

campervan insurance

While campervan insurance is not mandatory in New Zealand, some people do prefer to pay for insurance in case the worst should happen and the expenses are too much for them to afford. For your own campervan, we suggest you look at How Car Insurance Works in New Zealand to help decide whether campervan insurance is right for you. When renting a vehicle, it’s best to look at companies that either have insurance included in the price, then you have the option to drop the excess to a lower price by paying extra, for example, a high excess that might be included in your rental could be NZ$1,500-3,000, but you may have the option to reduce this excess to, for example, NZ$250 excess and NZ$0 excess/no excess at an extra cost. For more information, check out How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in New Zealand?

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Where to stay in your campervan

In order to keep New Zealand beautiful, there are some restrictions on where you can camp. Campervans can camp in designated campsites, holiday parks, park over properties and sometimes even hostel car parks. Most of the rules on where you can and cannot camp surround whether your campervan is certified self-contained or not.

What is a self-contained vehicle?

A self contained vehicle is a vehicle that is able to store at least three-days’ worth of fresh water, waste water and has a toilet on board. These must meet a particular standard to be given a Self containment NZS 5465 is the certification. A vehicle that is self-contained must display the blue self-contained sticker in order to freedom camp. Only self-contained campervans can park up somewhere for free and stay the night, except for zones that don’t allow camping. Find out more in Self-Contained Campervans in New Zealand.

Holiday Parks

To recharge the power in your camper, dump your waste and get some quick comforts, you’re likely to use a holiday park at least once on your campervan road trip in New Zealand. Holiday parks have powered sites and non-powered sites to park up your vehicle and make use of their facilities, including dump stations, kitchens, laundry, showers and sometimes more. To see what a holiday park is like in New Zealand, take a look at Accommodation Guide to Holiday Parks in New Zealand

Campsites / Campgrounds

Campsite are a little more basic than holiday park, offering much less facilities. For this reason, they are cheaper (sometimes even free) and have the bare essentials to keep the environment tidy. Most of the campsites are run by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Find out more in What is the Difference Between a Campsite and a Holiday Park?

Park over property

Some land owners allow self-contained vehicles to stay on their property overnight for a small fee.

Freedom camping

There are very limited areas around New Zealand where you can camp for free without a self-contained vehicle. Otherwise, camping with a self-contained vehicle is usually permitted on public land where there are not restrictions. Each district council in New Zealand have their own laws on freedom camping, so make sure you research before arriving in an area. Get more information at What it’s Really Like to Freedom Camp in New Zealand.

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Selling or returning your campervan

Returning your rental campervan

On the date, time and location agreed with the rental company, return your campervan. There is usually and inspection to see whether there are any damages to the vehicle. If there is any damage, the cost will be taken from your card if you have supplied the details or the damages will be taken from your deposit. Otherwise, your deposit will be returned to you and you are free to go. Make sure you don’t leave anything behind in the campervan!

Selling your campervan

Because campervans usually take longer to sell than cars, we recommend giving yourself at least two weeks to sell your van at the end of your trip. Use the tips we give in How to Sell Your Car in New Zealand.

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