New Zealand is all you could wish for a camper-vanning holiday with the little ones on board! Fabulous landscapes, safe roads and easy access to gorgeous camping spots make up an ideal road-tripping combo! Fancy going to bed every night counting shooting stars? Waking up by a clear blue lake? Letting the kiddos explore wild and free!? Yes, yes and yes!
In this one-stop family-friendly guide to campervan adventures in New Zealand, we’ll get into the essentials of planning your trip around the ‘Island of the Long White Cloud.’
Getting to New Zealand is quite easy and straight forward, flights to New Zealand are fairly frequent and easy to purchase. Please do be aware that visitors from Visa Waiver countries need to hold an NZeTA -New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority- to enter the country. This requirement started on the October 1, 2019, so it’s quite recent!
Beyond being a great way to explore the country, it gives families the freedom to go at their own pace without worrying about catching buses -the public transport network is not very developed!-, flights or even checking in and out hotels. It goes without saying that road-tripping gives folks an extra dash of adventure!
Let’s boil down the logistics for this one-of-a-kind outdoorsy quest! Generally speaking, rental services in New Zealand are quite good. Different companies would offer different add-ons -from GPS to camping gear- you can choose from while you are booking. When it comes to insurance, it’s always better to get full coverage or a low excess fee! We recommend comparing a range of companies and really getting into understanding the costs, pros, and cons of each one. Don’t fall under the idea that just because you’ll save money on accommodation, a campervan holiday will be cheap-as! The cost of renting a self-contained vehicle with amenities plus petrol may break even when you compare it to a traditional holiday.
To help you find the best campervan rentals in New Zealand, we've chosen the top 5 companies offering convenient deals, different drop off locations, and family-friendly sized vans -and motorhomes!
It is highly recommended to head with the family to New Zealand during Spring and Summertime, as this will be the most comfortable period. Although some regions are so humid that even in the mildest months, they won't let you escape from the rain! With that in mind, try to plan around the warmest months. In general lines, the 'dry season' runs from December to February.
We don’t recommend covering the two islands if you have 2 weeks or less. Also, traveling with the wee-adventurers means it’s important to keep an easy pace! Regardless of what many people say, the country is not THAT small. We’ve seen way too many folks underestimating distances, only to realize that even if two places are only 40 km apart, the route between them may circle up and down, taking over 5 hours to get from one to the other -been there, done that!
Possibly the top perk of renting a self-contained campervan is that you can easily find where to spend the night -for free! The CamperMate and Campers NZ Apps will make it very easy to find from where to do free camping, to paid campgrounds, dump stations, and even petrol stations! You can also take your pick at one of the many campsites -powered and non-powered- or cheap Department Of Conservation sites offering only toilet facilities. Always keep a wee stash of cash as you’ll need to pay for these!
The North Island concentrates most of New Zealand’s population hence you can expect to come across more traffic, fewer spots for camping and longer driving times to reach isolated areas. North Island's scenery is quite tropical boasting heaps of pristine beaches, geothermal activity, volcanoes, and Maori heritage sites!
On the other hand, the South Island is bigger in size but has 4 times fewer people living in it so it really gets you in a middle-of-nowhere mood. You can drive for hours and hours finding just a handful of little ‘ghost’ towns. When it comes to scenery, alpine countryside rules! However, if you reach the South Island’s northernmost regions, golden sand beaches will be waiting for you and the kiddies! Consider that if you choose to do both islands, you’ll have the added costs of crossing with the Interislander from Wellington to Picton -more on that in a minute!
Let’s take a quick sneak peek into a 2-weeks classic itinerary around the North Island! Bend it upside down if you please, but try to keep these spots in mind at least! Get your campervan in Auckland and make your way down to Wellington.
Although most of the highlights will be along route Nr 1, make it to the Coromandel Peninsula first for lush nature, beaches -Narnia’s opening scene was shot in Cathedral Cove- and some fun hot spring experiences. You can even get a shovel and dig your own tiny-spring at the Hot Water Beach. After the first encounter with wilderness head to Rotorua for extreme geothermal activity, Taupo Lake for outdoors adventures and Tongariro National Park for moon-like landscapes. All in all, you can easily spend two amazing weeks with the whole gang in here!
Buckle up to enjoy one of the most scenic routes in the whole world! This route can easily go both ways as you can start from Queenstown or Christchurch the same. Let’s say you pick up your rental in Christchurch and start making your way down to Lake Tekapo -the scenery here is just unique!
From there, take a detour to Aoraki-Mt Cook and get lost in the expansive valleys surrounding New Zealand’s highest peak. Then head to Wanaka and enjoy an adventure of two at the Mt Aspiring National Park and get set to visit New Zealand’s famous adventure capital…Queenstown!
Looking for something other than alpine scenery? Make your way up the wild West Coast! It’s amazing to see how the terrain shifts from glaciers and wet forests to pristine golden sand beaches. This route alone could easily take a whole 10 days!
To get hands on the steering wheel, your driver’s license must be in English. Otherwise, you’ll need to keep an International Driving Permit (IDP) handy at all times. Although some companies will ask you for it when you are browsing for a rental, all of them will require your IDP when you pick up the camper. Once you are on the road, always keep it close as there’s a lot of police control on kiwi roads!
Something that makes visitors a bit wary is that people drive on the left side. This means the steering wheel will be on the other side of the car -like in the UK! So, you may need to practice and take it easy until to get used to it! Roads can be quite narrow and winding with one-lane bridges, railway crossings, and gravel roads -especially if you are heading to remote areas. Other than that, driving across the country is absolutely safe. For more information on New Zealand's road rules, click here!
‘Self-contained’ refers to vehicles that don’t need outside resources for functioning. There are toilet facilities within the car with the capacity to contain up to 3 days of greywater. Every so often, you’d have to get rid of the waste at dumping stations -most located in motorhome campgrounds or in public areas. As you are going to be doing what in the local lingo is known as ‘freedom’ or ‘wild’ camping, it’s paramount to get a certified self-contained vehicle! Not just for the sake of family-comfort but also because in New Zealand there’s a ‘no trace’ policy stating people should not leave rubbish or trash behind in any place!
Plan your trip’s budget! Consider that beyond the cost of your camper rental bearing in amenities, and even if staying as much as possible in free camping spots, you’ll need to use electricity and dump waste at some point! If you are crossing islands, add the cost of the Interislander Ferry cost. Finally, weigh-in and budget for petrol -on average 2.25 NZD a liter. Toll Roads are to be found only in the North Island!