Backpacking · Travel

Campervanning Around New Zealand: What To Know Before You Go

New Zealand and campervanning go hand-in-hand. What better way to explore all that the country has to offer than by hitting the open road and really getting in amongst it? It’s a really popular option for making your way around such a diverse and breathtaking landscape and, in all honesty, it couldn’t be easier. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind before you decide to head off on your adventure…

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Cost

Renting a campervan is not necessarily a cheaper option than renting a car and staying in hotels.

When we first decided to go on our trip, I assumed it would work out a whole lot cheaper than renting a car and finding accommodation along the way. Obviously it completely depends on your specific trip, but this may not always be the case. There are a few things to consider:

  • The actual cost of renting a van is more than that of a car
  • Vans use up a lot more petrol
  • Whilst you can stay for free in lots of areas (this is called ‘Freedom Camping’), you have to pay if you stay in campsites

What’s important to decide is whether or not you want to travel this way because of the fun and the adventure that goes with it, or because you want to save money. If it’s the latter, I’d just go for a car and stay in hotels/hostels along the way. However, if you find the idea of sleeping right by the sea in a cosy little van with minimal access to showers and big comfy beds all part of the fun, it’s for sure the right option for you… just don’t think you’re going to save big bucks by doing so.

When it comes to choosing where to rent your campervan from, there are loads of options available. We went with Jucy Campers and couldn’t have been happier with what we got for the price. We also went for the ‘stress-free’ insurance option, meaning we wouldn’t have to pay if anything went wrong. Although it costs a bit more, I’d totally recommend doing this just for the sheer peace of mind it provides.

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Size

You really might thank yourself for spending that little bit extra on a bigger van.

It was just me and my Boyfriend heading off on our adventure, so our initial choice was to go with a 2-person van. However, having had a little look on some forums online, it became clear that this might not be the best option. The 2-berth one is cheaper but it’s essentially just a big car where the back can turn into a bed. This means less space to actually chill out in the van. In summer (when you’ll be off out exploring and soaking up the sunshine for most of the time) that’s fine, but when it’s cold and drizzly outside it might be a bit nicer to have some space in the back of the van to sit with a glass of red and play cards on a table. Because of this, we went for the Jucy ‘Condo’ (a 4-person van) over the ‘Cabana’

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Petrol

IF A SIGN SAYS THERE’S NO PETROL STATION FOR 150 KS, IT MEANS IT!!

Oh my god, we were so stupid. Please do not do what we did. New Zealand can get very remote and there are plenty of stretches of road with few and far between. They’re not just winding you up when they warn you to fill up before one of these stretches. We zoomed straight past a petrol station because there was a queue to fill up, then zoomed straight past one such warning sign because, surely, there would actually be one somewhere, maybe just not on that road. Nope. Nothing. Nada. Cue petrol warning light, late at night, no phone service and absolutely no idea where we were. Luckily, we managed to see a sign for a Police Station and, in true Kiwi spirit, the lovely Policeman there siphoned some petrol out of his boat and gave us enough to get to the next petrol station. We could easily have not been so lucky. Take half a tank as empty and just be extra cautious. Besides, petrol stations every 15 minutes would ruin landscapes like this…

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Freedom Camping

You can’t just pull up anywhere and stay for free. 

Because New Zealand is SO RIDICULOUSLY BEAUTIFUL and such a must-do for nature lovers, campervanning is the preferred method of exploration for lots of people and it’s grown in popularity over the years. Because of this, campervanners got a bit of a bad rep for leaving their rubbish in their path, shacking up wherever they see fit and generally leaving a mess (I’m talking bodily fluids here) wherever they go. Now, Kiwis are very proud of their gorgeous country, and rightly so. Naturally they don’t want backpackers messing it up but they also recognised that to truly get the best out of their wonderland, people really should have the opportunity to see it this way. The solution: Freedom Camping. Designated spots where it’s permitted to stay and camp for free. Some have restrictions (number of nights, hours of use, no fires etc) and others are just totally open. It’s super important to stick to the rules because A) you could be hit with a nasty fine and B) there’s nothing more important than respecting different cultures and preserving nature…. also just the general idea of not being a dick.

Your best option is to download the totally brilliant Rankers app (literally we wouldn’t have been able to do the trip without it) which allows you to see an extensive map of where the freedom camping areas are and any restrictions they have. It also allows you to search for paid campsites (see below), petrol stations (seriously can I stress any more how important this is?!) and walking trails. Bonus tip: download all the maps when you have WiFI so you can search for all this even when you’re in a remote location without service.

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5. Paid Campsites

You can go longer without a shower than you think…

Freedom Camping sites don’t have any facilities. Some have toilets (but not all) and maybe a hose for filling up your water but they are what they say on the tin – areas to simply park up and stay. This means no shower and no electricity. Now, I’m of the mind that it’s so much more fun to stay in Freedom Camping spots and really get into the experience of it all but, in all honesty, sometimes you need a shower and a little bit more juice in your phone. In this case, you’ll need to stay in a campsite and pay for the privilege. Prices vary but most are about $30-40 per van and for that you will get a ‘powered site’ where you can plug your van in so you can have electricity, a communal shower area and a communal kitchen. Most will have WiFi too. My advice would be to stay mostly on the open road, but a few days on a campsite definitely won’t go amiss just to feel clean again. We only stayed in a couple but my favourite was definitely Ahipara Holiday Park on 90 Mile Beach:

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It’s worth noting here that in our van we didn’t need to plug in to have the light on or to use the hob, which is powered by gas. It also had a USB port so you can still charge most phones on the go without needing to pay for a space in a campsite.

6. What to Pack

You really do not need much. 

You’re out on the open road exploring a breathtaking country. This means more walks, hikes and lookouts than it does fancy dinners or rooftop bars. Obviously, in the bigger cities you might want a few nice outfits but, for the most part, you’ll be fine with gym gear or similar. You’ll want some nice cosy layers if you’re heading out in Winter and you’ll definitely want a pack of cards and/or other travel games. Rummikub was our game of choice. Food and drink wise, I’d say stack up on some beer and wine for some chilled out nights in the van and things you can cook cheaply and easily on a small stove. Our van came equipped with everything we needed cutlery/crockery/pots and pans wise. They also provided bedding although we did bring an extra blanket.

7. Choosing your Travel Buddy

Be prepared for armpits in the face.

If you’ve seen my post about travelling with your significant other, you’ll have heard me talk about how travelling brings you closer than ever with your partner. I’m not just talking gushy romantic stuff here, I’m talking toilet behaviour and all manners of bodily functions. Now imagine that cooped up in a campervan. Yeah, you need to be pretty close with your travel buddy before you head off. Otherwise, prepare yourself for emergency toilet breaks and clambering around a tiny van with plenty of body parts all up in your personal space. Anyway, it’s all part of the experience so just crack open a beer (pictured here is the DE-BLOODY-LICIOUS Four Strokes pale ale from Zeelandt Brewery in Hawkes Bay) and enjoy it!

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Have fun!

Really, you don’t need to do much planning or preparation for a trip like this. These tips may just help you prepare yourself for the adventure to come. It will be one of the best trips you ever take, trust me!

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