Adventuring by campervan across New Zealand is one of the most rewarding ways to experience this diverse and vibrant country. The roads can be completely isolated, the people amazingly friendly and the wildlife incredibly weird.
Read on for ten top campervan tips and tricks to help you plan your road trip. From booking early to downloading useful apps, and staying safe to camping free — we cover all the vital points.
1. Book your campervan hire well in advance
Regardless of which time of year you’re planning to take a motorhome holiday, book your vehicle well in advance. By doing so, you’ll:
- Have a better chance of getting the best price
- Ensure you don’t miss out.
If you’re intending to travel during the peak summer season from December to March, booking early is especially important. It also gives you the opportunity to begin planning which routes you want to take on your adventure.
Most New Zealand campervan hire and motorhome rental companies only have depots in Auckland and Christchurch where most international flights land and depart. A few also service Wellington and Queenstown.
One decision you’ll have to make is whether to travel in a loop back to your pick up location, or to create a one-way adventure and relocate the motorhome. Typical routes are:
- Christchurch to Auckland — see why travelling from Christchurch to Auckland by motorhome is an advantage
- Christchurch to Christchurch
- Auckland to Auckland
- Auckland to Christchurch
2. Check what’s included with your motorhome rental
Insurance is the big one to take some time to consider when hiring a motorhome. Wise souls know that if they can’t afford insurance, they certainly can’t afford to repair a damaged vehicle.
Do you want complete piece of mind, or are you happy to take on some risk? Do you really need campervan rental insurance?
Also think about any accessories you’d like onboard, such as:
- A bike rack
- Outdoor tables and camp chairs
- A child seat
- A barbecue.
Take a look at all our extras and accessories to help you make the most of your road trip.
Look into whether the motorhome hire company offers onboard WiFi. This can be a game changer when it comes to connecting with family and friends, or keeping up with work.
Find out whether onboard WiFi or New Zealand’s mobile data service is best for you.
Be sure to check the fine print of your rental contract to see if necessary items like bed linen, tea towels, dishwashing liquid and even beach towels are included. Most campervan rentals provide the basics but always confirm what’s included when you book.
Learn more about what to expect with your motorhome hire.
3. Take time to build an itinerary
Choosing where to go on your campervan road trip is almost as much fun as the journey itself. Taking into account the number of vacation days you have available, prioritise seeing and doing what you really want.
Perhaps you prefer to visit:
- Mountains or beaches
- Rivers or lakes
- Popular camp spots or isolated freedom camping sites
- Only the North Island or the South Island.
Tantalising signs that point to short walks leading to caves and bird sanctuaries, or watering holes and scenic lookouts, shouldn’t be missed because of a tight itinerary.
Travel with the thought that less is more and spend quality time soaking up a few magical locations rather than ticking places off a list.
Check out our range of itineraries to help you plan your motorhome adventure.
4. Download apps to make your holiday easier
It goes without saying that there are too many apps in the world these days. But if you can find the really useful ones, your upcoming holiday will be all the better for them.
Choose a well-respected New Zealand camping app like:
Updated regularly, they’ll ensure your Kiwi vacation runs smoothly by providing information on things like holiday parks, grocery stores, petrol stations and even road warnings. You’ll be guided to the nearest dump station, water pump or LPG refill provider.
Many of these apps also run offline when you can’t connect to WiFi. Most are free and once downloaded, they’re like having a travelling concierge in your pocket. You’ll even be able to search up surf beaches, golf courses and hiking trails.
If you have a specific hobby that you like to partake in while enjoying the freedom of travel, find an app that will help you make the most of it.
See our top ten free travel apps for ideas.
5. Keep offline maps as backups
The digital age has ensured that onboard WiFi is indispensable for keeping your travels on track.
New Zealand still has plenty of black spots where you won’t find mobile reception. If you’re planning to head off-the-beaten-track, you’ll want downloadable maps like maps.me that can be easily used offline. This type of app will help you explore places like the:
6. Know how to stay safe while travelling by motorhome
You’ll learn plenty about how motorhomes work when you’re on your road trip. Take note of the following safety advice to help ensure your holiday runs smoothly.
- Close your fridge and all drawers and cupboards before hitting the road — swinging doors and drawers on the open road are dangerous.
- Check you’re not plugged in to mains power when leaving campgrounds — driving off with the power cable attached can be anything from embarrassing to catastrophic.
- Ensure any loose items are secure.
- Keep a close eye on petrol and AdBlue a clear harmless liquid used to reduce the amount of air pollution created by diesel engines levels — as parts of New Zealand can be hundreds of kilometres from the nearest gas station.
- Always turn off your gas bottle before hitting the road, keeping in mind the well-known quirky phrase — lefty loosey, righty tighty.
- If your campervan rental has fold out steps, windows that open outwards or roof ventilation that opens upwards, ensure they’re all closed before driving.
Take a look at these motorhome safety tips for beginners.
7. Get reacquainted with cash
Aside from freedom camping locations, you’ll need to pay for campsites where you plan to stay the night.
Naturally, you’ll pay to park and plug in at commercial campgrounds. More rustic spots administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC) or by regional councils will also be pay-per-stay.
However, some of these sites only have honesty boxes — particularly the DOC ones. You’ll need cash to pay for these camps so it’s a smart move to withdraw some money from an ATM (or exchange some foreign currency).
Carrying some cash will also be tremendously useful for:
- Buying roadside fruit and veggie stalls
- Using camp showers and laundry facilities
- Visiting farmers’ markets
- Tipping street buskers and performers.
8. Camp with freedom
If your motorhome or campervan hire has a blue self-contained vehicle sticker, you’re legally allowed to freedom camp at approved spots throughout New Zealand.
Freedom camping is a uniquely personal way to experience the incredible outdoors of a country — and New Zealand is well set up to cater for freedom campers. Just be sure to look into the rules around freedom camping to avoid a fine.
Learn all you’ll need to know about freedom camping in New Zealand.
9. Drive with confidence
If you’re a visitor to New Zealand, you’ll probably find driving a little different to your home country. Below are a few important points to note about driving in New Zealand.
- Left side drive — vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road as they do in the UK and Australia.
- Livestock sometimes travel by road — large groups of sheep or cattle are often escorted by farmers from one side of the road to the other.
- Open road corners can have suggested speeds — especially on winding roads where these signs are there to help guide your speed.
- Railway crossings are often uncontrolled without barrier arms — so it’s safest to slow down and prepare to stop.
- One lane bridges are common in rural areas — where signs with arrows show you who has the right of way.
- Rest areas are aplenty — use them to pull over and take breaks or to let faster traffic pass by.
Get more information about driving in New Zealand for the first time.
10. Beat the bugs
You won’t find many hassles while on your RV road trip, but bugs could become one of them. The New Zealand sandfly is a ferocious biter — and its mate, the mosquito, often joins in the fun.
Remember to bring insect repellent and clothes to cover up around dusk and dawn. A number of picturesque spots have these bugs just waiting lakeside, riverside and beachside, ready for a feast. Flowing water and bush are their favourite hangout spots.
Some motorhome providers have insect screens that are solely designed for keeping the little blighters out — which can make a huge difference to your holiday.
Download a motorhome road trip itinerary