How to Avoid Tourist Traps on your Motorhome Holiday

How to Avoid Tourist Traps on your Motorhome Holiday

Hot Water Beach full of tourist


The true magic of New Zealand is in its hidden gems — those off-the-beaten-track places that you might sometimes miss unless you have local knowledge. It’s these locations where you’ll find peace, tranquillity and superlative landscapes that the country is famous for.


In this blog, we share some New Zealand motorhome travel tips, such as utilising freedom camping spots, embracing the outdoors, shopping for community food produce and chatting to the locals.


Enhance your motorhome holiday experience by following some of our expert advice — and avoiding crowded tourist traps.




Be open to local knowledge

Chatting with the people who live in a place is probably the single best way you can find out what to see and do — without the crowds. 


Local selling at a famers market


It’s like winding back the clock to a time before the internet gave you all the answers. New Zealand is a country that’s full of friendly people who mostly love to chat. Make the most of it by getting inside knowledge from:


  • Campground workers — who often know about short hiking trails in their area
  • Small retail business owners — like dairies or cafes in small towns
  • Beachgoers — who may know some secret inlets or caves nearby
  • Kiwi holidaymakers — many of whom vacation at the same spots annually.


Advice on where to go, what to do, how to stay safe and how to be mindful of the environment will be freely available if you can strike up a conversation.


Take a look at our blog on why New Zealand is a great road trip destination.


Tourist trap tip #1: Popular eateries may have equally good competitors

Travelling around New Zealand, you’ll hear the usual word of mouth that you must try Fergburger or you have to taste a pāua pie from Tokomaru Bay.

Often these establishments have long queues or big crowds, and can even sell out of their most popular product. However, there are sometimes alternatives like:

Darfield Bakery or the Sheffield Pie Shop instead of the Fairlie Bakehouse

Devil Burger instead of Fergburger

Karaka Lobster instead of Nins Bin


Research and plan well

A little research goes a long way, especially when planning to bypass overcrowded areas on your New Zealand motorhome holiday. A few steps you can take to minimise your chances of getting trapped amongst tourists is to:


  • Travel outside the peak seasons — which are commonly the summer holiday period throughout December and January, and during school holidays
  • Check Google — to find out which hours of the day are busiest for popular eateries and activities
  • Visit lesser-known attractions — for example, the Abel Tasman National Park has many beaches but Kaiteriteri gets overcrowded whereas Tōtaranui Campground has an amazing beach with fewer people
  • Download useful travel apps — like CamperMate and Rankers NZ for alternative places to stay.


Research places to go on Google


The Department of Conservation (DOC) also looks after more than 200 campsites in forests, by beaches and near lakes, often with very limited space available at each site.


New Zealand also offers opportunities to pull over for the night at vineyards, working farms and even out the back of rural pubs. Start your research early and continue asking around while on your motorhome hire vacation.


See our comprehensive guide to motorhome camping in New Zealand.



Take the opportunity to freedom camp

Freedom camping sites are usually in highly scenic locations right across New Zealand. Many of them are remote — making it easier for you to steer clear of the crowds.


Generally, freedom camping spots operate on a first come, first served basis. If you’re planning to travel outside of the high summer season and not during public holidays like Easter, you’ll be able to find freedom camping spaces available. Just ensure you:


  • Park up in designated freedom camping areas
  • Rent a recreational vehicle that’s fully self-contained
  • Have the appropriate certified self-contained (CSC) sticker on your motorhome hire.

Freedom camping at a remote spot


All Wilderness motorhomes are certified self-contained and have the blue responsible camping sticker displayed.


Keep in mind that having a plan B is a wise idea when it comes to freedom camping. Regardless of what time you arrive at your intended camping spot, all the spaces could be full. Being prepared to drive a little further for your second choice is smart planning.


Find out how freedom camping works in New Zealand.


Tourist trap tip #2: Fiordland is more than just Milford Sound

Doubtful Sound is just as spectacular as Milford Sound yet it gets a lot less visitors. Consider joining a tour to Doubtful instead of Milford — where you’ll save on driving time and be just as awestruck, yet encounter a lot less boat traffic in the fiord.




Drive less but see more

The distinctive topography of New Zealand’s landscape means that travelling by road frequently takes longer than anticipated. Most roads aren’t straight — they undulate over hills and meander through mountain passes and around rugged coastlines.


Taking a break in between driving


To fully enjoy your motorhome rental holiday aim to keep travel days fairly short. If you can limit your daily distance to around 200km, you’ll spend more time enjoying the places you get to and less time driving.


Take a break every now and then when you see roadside rest stops — to appreciate the amazing scenery all around you.


Read our article about taking your time to travel New Zealand by motorhome.



Cook in your onboard kitchen

Joining the masses to look for a table at the country’s best establishments isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun holiday. But with a kitchen onboard, you’ll have the choice to skip eating out and can focus on preparing cordon bleu meals in your motorhome hire.


The country is fortunate to have many world class farmers’ markets, plenty of roadside stalls and numerous berry farms and orchards. Keep some cash on hand for honesty boxes — so you can gather up fresh produce and help out small rural traders. Picking your own fruit at berry farms is a joy on its own.


Cooking in a motorhome kitchen


Create a few culinary masterpieces in your campervan rental with the help of our recipes for the road ebook.


Tourist trap tip #3: You can camp without the crowds

Take advantage of DOC campsites where possible as they’re often more authentic, down-to-earth experiences without the hoards of people at commercial campgrounds.

Most DOC camping sites have minimal facilities. If you stay at one in a premium motorhome with an onboard bathroom, this won’t be an issue.

Book well in advance and you might even get the entire camping area all to yourself.




Get information on-the-go at isite visitor centres

Information centres in New Zealand are known as isites — and the friendly folk working there can help you find:


  • Authentic New Zealand experiences — involving culture, nature or wildlife
  • Arts and craft studios — from carving to weaving to ceramics, the staff will know about the best locally-made creations
  • The right campsites — to suit your tastes and itinerary.


Authentic New Zealand experience involving culture


With approximately 60 isite visitor centres, you can get access to comprehensive, up-to-date information as well as booking services for activities and attractions. You can also call or email individual i-sites before you leave or while you’re on the road. 


Find the isites where you plan to travel.



Explore the great outdoors 

If there’s one place where you can easily break away from the crowds, it’s the outdoors. New Zealand is world famous for its scenery — from native bush to rolling farmland and from the mountains to the sea.


Exploring outdoor of New Zealand


As a campervan hire holidaymaker, you’ll find it easy to access walking tracks, bike trails, rivers and beaches in New Zealand’s natural environment. Spend some of your vacation time kayaking, swimming, hiking or fishing and you’ll avoid most tourist traps.


Check out New Zealand’s best hikes and walks.


Tourist trap tip #4: Smaller places see fewer people

The main destinations on your road trip itinerary are often where the crowds build up, especially in summer. Consider parking up for the evening in smaller towns or off the main state highways.




Plan any visits to the busy spots

It can still be rewarding to visit a few tourist traps in moderation. Highlights like Hobbiton and Hanmer Springs are often packed with tourists yet still demand to be seen.


Hobbiton - TNZ (Miles Holden)


Lake Wakatipu is home to the country’s most hectic resort town. It’s rare to find a quiet Queenstown these days so consider a visit for lunch and stay outside the town itself — perhaps in tranquil Glenorchy, relaxing Kingston or beautiful Arrowtown.


Rotorua bustles with visitors year-round but you can still usually find serenity somewhere in the thermal wonderland. Hiring a boat or kayak to get out on Lake Rotorua or organising a private geothermal hot pool will take you away from other tourists.


Cape Reinga at the very top of the North Island tends to become crowded around the base of its famous lighthouse. However, the many nearby beaches have sand for miles dispersing any feelings of being around too many people.


See our blog about planning your first New Zealand campervan trip.


Tourist trap tip #5: Head to lesser-explored regions

Queenstown and Rotorua get lots of the headlines and plenty of tourists too. If you want to avoid these popular cities, drive to where most motorhome travellers don’t go.

In the North Island, the East Cape is magical yet rarely visited. On the South Island, The Catlins offers rugged scenery and wildlife that’s hard to match.




Travel to hidden gems without the crowds

A couple enjoying their quiet time at The Catlins


To find your authentic, uncrowded New Zealand motorhome holiday experience, consider driving to a few of these spectacularly remote destinations:


  • Mangakino — a heavenly place to pull over for a few nights just north of Lake Taupō to enjoy bush walks, trail rides, river swims and natural hot pools
  • The West Coast — the entire west coast region of the South Island is a secluded paradise for many, with near-sea glaciers, temperate rainforests, heritage experiences, limestone caves and bush trails
  • The Forgotten World Highway — this is one of the country’s most isolated and scenic highways which runs through the self-proclaimed Republic of Whangamomona
  • The Catlins — the epitome of unspoiled coastline teeming with wildlife, waterfalls and big waves, and very few people.

To plan your route, and avoid some of the country’s tourist traps, check out our wide variety of road trip itineraries.


motorhoming in NZ planning your trip