Road tripping around New Zealand in a campervan is just about the best way to see the country. After all, getting up close and personal with nature is what New Zealand is all about, and what could be closer to nature than waking up to a breath-taking view through the window from the bed of your campervan?
While the travel part is fun, choosing a campervan rental company that fits your requirements can be daunting. What’s more, it’s likely that your campervan hire will be a big part of your holiday budget, so you will want to choose wisely. We’ve prepared a thorough step-by-step guide which explains what you need to know in order to find the best campervan hire for you, what to look out for and what pitfalls to avoid. We’ve packed this article with insider tips which we know you’ll appreciate.
Your motorhome will comprise a large portion of your holiday budget because your motorhome will be both your transport and accommodation. Just how much money you need to allocate to your motorhome rental will depend primarily on two factors: the time of year you will be travelling and the quality and size of the motorhome you choose.
Tourism in New Zealand, like many countries, is highly seasonal. Since most people want to travel in the warmer months when the weather is more predictable, you can expect to pay more for rentals during this time. If you’re willing to travel outside the peak period, you can make big savings on your motorhome rental.
The peak season is during New Zealand’s summertime from mid December until the end of February. Within the peak season, the busiest period is the Christmas and New Year period when the locals are also usually on their summer break. Most motorhome rental operators have significantly more demand than they have available motorhomes for this period so they can command a premium.
INSIDER TIP 💡 You can often get good deals for the second half of January. That’s the period after Kiwis have gone back to work and before the influx of international visitors.
The shoulder season has traditionally been the autumn months of March and April and then the spring months from September through until early summer - around mid December. In recent years, more international visitors have arrived in March than previously which has pushed up demand and therefore rates in late summer.
While April rates are typically lower than March, they are highly dependent on the timing of Easter as a lot of Kiwis and Australians travel over the Easter holiday.
You can expect fairly settled weather in spring and autumn and the chances of balmy weather are still pretty high so the shoulder season can mean great value for motorhome rentals.
Winter, from May through August, is the time you’ll pick up the best deals. In fact, motorhome rental rates over the quietest months of May and June can be as little as 25% of what you’ll expect to pay over the peak Christmas / New Year period. It’s true that winter weather can be more unsettled than in the summer and the days are shorter but if you choose a motorhome designed for winter travel you can have an enjoyable holiday with no crowds.
The key is choosing a motorhome designed for winter travel. No matter how good the deal is, if you’re freezing cold your holiday it will be memorable for all the wrong reasons! Most motorhome rentals are designed for summer travel as that’s when they’re usually rented. However, a couple of motorhome rental operators run fleets of European motorhomes fitted with high quality insulation, double glazing, and powerful onboard heaters. They even have frost control systems to prevent the pipes from freezing if you find yourself in sub zero temperatures. The insulation and double glazing alone in a well built European motorhome is enough to keep you warm in most parts of New Zealand without even needing to turn the heater on.
INSIDER TIP 💡 You can make huge savings if you travel in the low season between May and September. However, be sure to choose a motorhome that’s designed for winter travel.
Because rental rates are much lower in winter, you can take a longer holiday and see much more of the country. It’s important to remember that since there are fewer tourists around in the winter, you may find that some tourist attractions, holiday parks and even conservation parks are closed especially those in the more remote parts of the country. So it pays to check ahead of time. However, you’ll find that there’s still so much to do and no need to wait in line!
Learn more about New Zealand seasons and travel here, where we’ve set out some guidelines to help you decide what time of year works best for you.
If you’re visiting New Zealand, chances are you’ll arrive in either Auckland or Christchurch. Most international travellers use Auckland on the North Island and Christchurch on the South Island as their gateway to New Zealand as these are where our two main airports are. This means these cities are where most of the campervan rental companies operate from. Starting your motorhome holiday in Auckland or Christchurch not only gives you the biggest choice of operators but also campervan or motorhome types.
Most international visitors start their motorhome road trip in Auckland and end in Christchurch. While uncommon in other countries, one-way hires are the most common way to see New Zealand. Since New Zealand has two main islands which are long and narrow, a one-way trip means avoiding travelling the same road both ways.
INSIDER TIP 💡 If you’re planning to cover both the North Island and South Island on your trip, you may be able to get a better deal starting in Christchurch and doing a northbound trip as you’ll be heading in the opposite direction to other travellers.
Just like with hotels, the quality and comfort of the motorhomes available for rent varies greatly so the type of motorhome you choose will be the biggest single factor in determining the cost of your motorhome rental. And just like with hotels, you get what you pay for.
With an abundance of campervan rental companies in New Zealand to choose from, there’s something for every budget. However, the more price sensitive you are the more compromises you will need to make - not just on the campervan itself but also the level of customer service you can expect during the booking process and on the road.
We’ve organised New Zealand campervan rental market into three budget categories: premium, mid-range and low budget and explained what you can expect at each level. You can also take our Quiz: Which RV Rental is Right for You, to quickly help you determine the right fit for your budget, personality, and needs.
While many motorhome rental companies in New Zealand offer new motorhomes (less than 3.5 years old), what sets the premium operators apart is their focus on customer service. The premium operators know that the difference between an enjoyable motorhome road trip and a truly memorable one is the attention that each customer receives. They will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and to help you. When you send an email, you’ll get a prompt and thoughtful reply. They’ll offer you helpful advice in planning your trip. If you’ve never used a motorhome before, you may be anxious about learning how to drive the motorhome and operate it’s equipment. They’ll do their best to ensure you are a confident user. And if you have any issues while on hire, they’ll be at the end of the phone to get it sorted for you with the least amount of disruption to your holiday. This might not sound like a biggie now, but you’ll want to know your rental company is there if and when you need them.
The premium operators are more likely to have more comfortable motorhomes designed to be owned rather than rented. Their modern stylish motorhomes will have a luxury feel and loads of features that normally only motorhome owners get to experience.
The most compelling feature in a premium motorhome is the beds. In a premium motorhome, the beds are designed for sleeping in. In a mid range or budget motorhome, at least some of the beds are converted from the lounge cushions at the end of the day. Guess which one will give you a better night’s sleep? What’s more, a premium motorhome is usually fully insulated, double-glazed and has a powerful inbuilt heater so you can tour comfortably all year round.
When you rent a motorhome from a premium rental operator you can expect to have most products and services that others will charge you extra for included in the base rental price. This includes airport shuttles, extra drivers, one-way rentals, pick ups on public holidays - the list goes on. With a premium operator, there should be no nasty surprises at the end of your trip.
Motorhome rental operators in the midrange segment offer new motorhomes and those up to seven years old. The motorhomes are designed and built for rentals so you won’t find any bells and whistles. You can expect your motorhome to be durable, workable and functional. This part of the market focuses on quantity over quality so you’re less likely to get attentive service.
Since there are plenty of operators in the mid range section, there’s lots of competition so look for short term discounts and sales and other deals, mostly outside high season and school holidays.
As the mid range campervan rental companies target the biggest market, you can usually expect a massive fleet of same looking vehicles and you may experience long lines if you pick up your motorhome on a busy day.
Budget campervans are usually aimed at young travelers plus couples and families who don’t mind an older vehicle if they can get a cheaper price. Often, these campervans are small converted cars or vans but you can also find bigger campervans for families. The bigger motorhomes are usually motorhomes that have been retired from the mid range rental segment.
The quality of the campervan or motorhome varies widely in this segment. A smaller campervan that has been recently converted may be in top condition with lots of extra features that you’ll appreciate. However, the motorhomes that have been retired are usually quite tired by the time they reach the budget range. They may show lots of wear and tear and be less reliable.
The level of service also varies in the budget segment. Some smaller operators who have lovingly converted a number of vans to campers may offer good service. The larger operators tend to be less concerned about service in the budget segment of the market.
INSIDER TIP 💡 Look for campervans that may be a bit older but have been recently converted from a van. That way you’ll get a newish interior and newer equipment in an older van.
Be aware that fuel consumption will be higher in an older campervan. In fact, you can expect to pay up to 40% more than a similar model that’s five years or more older. Since fuel
is expensive in New Zealand, having to fill up more often can be tougher on your budget and on the environment as well.
It’s not easy to see the differences in campervan budget categories, especially between a premium and mid-range rental as the distinctions are often blurred. If you want to learn more about comparing and contrasting campervan rental categories, read our article: Choosing the Right RV Rental in New Zealand.
After thinking about your price range and destination, you can then branch out to things like sleeping arrangement, toilet and shower options, and your ideal campervan trip. Once you have a good grasp on what you’re looking for, the tips below can help determine which type of campervan fits your exact wish list.
If you’re travelling solo or as a couple, you can choose from a huge range of rental campervans as almost all campervans and motorhomes sleep two people. What size campervan do you feel comfortable in? The smallest campervans (under 5 metres) have room for little more than a bed inside. You will be cooking and lounging outside, and you’ll need to find a campsite with a toilet and shower. A compact motorhome at around 6 metres long will usually have a small bathroom, living area and kitchen as well as a bed but still be more agile to drive than a big motorhome at 7 or 7.5 metres long. In fact, they don’t feel much different from driving a car. A compact motorhome can drive at the open road speed and use less fuel than a bigger motorhome. However, bigger motorhomes are the most spacious.
Next, consider sleeping. Would you be comfortable enough with converting a sofa or backseat into a bed or is a good night’s sleep in a permanent bed really important to you? How much time do you think you’ll spend inside the campervan on rainy days or in winter? If you preferred to relax indoors when there’s a little wind or showers, then you’ll want a bigger motorhome.
If there’s just two of you travelling and space is important to you, you don’t need to opt for a 4 or 6 berth motorhome. Some rental operators offer larger motorhomes with just one double bed. Usually, these will have a more spacious lounge, a bigger bathroom and more storage than a 4 or 6 berth motorhome of the same length which just has more beds.
If you’re travelling as a family, you’ll need more beds. You can choose from a super compact van (under 5 metres) which sleeps up to four up to a bigger motorhome (over 7 metres) that sleeps up to six. In between these two sizes are a multitude of layouts for three, four or five people. These vary in bed configurations, kitchen and bathroom options, and lounge space.
Some of the smallest campervans have a double bed down below and a second double bed in the roof. The super compact vans have no interior living space, so they’re not too comfortable in bad weather.
If you prefer to have more inside space for the family, you’ll need a bigger motorhome (7 metres or longer). The typical configuration of a larger rental motorhome with four or six berths is two or three double beds. Most have an over cab bed (sometimes called a luton) plus the rear lounge converts to another double bed using the lounge cushions. The third double bed (in a six berth) is made up from the seat cushions in the dinette. Converting the lounge and dinette to beds is a flexible use of a confined space but as mentioned above these beds are a lot less comfortable than motorhomes with permanent beds.
If the idea of your children sharing a double bed on holiday gives you anxiety, look for a bed configuration with permanent single beds. The children get a single bed each in the rear and the parents get to sleep in a permanent double bed upfront. If you’re travelling with a baby and don’t mind co-sleeping, the permanent single beds convert to a king-sized bed big enough for the three of you.
Some modern European motorhomes make the most of the available space in a motorhome by having one double or two single fixed beds in the rear and the other bed is stowed away into the ceiling during the day at the push of a button. The top end models have even more space as both beds are tucked into the ceiling during the day, maximising your moving space when you need it.
If you're traveling with a baby, this article covers some great tips on choosing a baby friendly motorhome.
Many budget campervans don’t come with self-containment certification. Self-contained campervans are able to fully self-sufficient for up to three days. That means they can carry sufficient fresh water but also store the waste water, have an onboard toilet in a separate room, and a rubbish bin. While campervans which are not certified self contained tend to have much lower daily rental rates, they have a lot fewer options when it comes to finding a place to stay. Freedom camping on public land has become much more regulated in recent years and in most areas, there are few freedom camping sites where non-self-contained campervans are permitted.
Not all self-contained campervans are created equally however. The most basic campers have a small porta-potty stored away that you can pull out whenever needed. If you don’t mind the reduced privacy, this might be for you.
Renting a self-contained campervan or motorhome with an onboard toilet and bathroom is more convenient, comfortable and better for the environment.
This article is a great resource to learn more about freedom camping in New Zealand and choosing the right campervan for freedom camping.
Now you know what to look for, it’s time to do the leg work - that is reviewing the rental operator websites. The best place to start is the Tourism New Zealand’s motorhome and campervan rental operator directory. You’ll find an extensive list of operators from all over New Zealand. We recommend you select about five operators that supply the type of campervans that will suit you and which are within your budget. Then it’s time to dig a little deeper into customer service and the level of care you can expect from each operator.
While tourism operators love to wax lyrical about their products and services, it’s only through reviewing independent ratings and customer reviews that you’ll get a real sense of what their customer experience is. Qualmark is Tourism New Zealand’s official quality assurance organisation. It’s similar to the star rating for hotels but covers all parts in the New Zealand tourism industry. A Qualmark rating means you can book with confidence knowing that the experience has been quality-assured to the highest standards. Qualmark endorsed service and transport providers have been assessed against a stringent framework. Qualmark recognises the best sustainable tourism businesses in New Zealand that deliver exceptional experiences as an integral part of everything they do. A Qualmark Gold rating is awarded to the best sustainable tourism businesses in New Zealand.
The Qualmark ratings for RV rental companies are included in their listing on Tourism New Zealand’s motorhome and campervan rental operator directory. You will notice that most companies don’t have a Qualmark rating at all. That’s because they haven’t applied to undergo the quality assurance process. Because a rental operator doesn’t have a Qualmark rating, it doesn’t mean that they don’t provide a high level of customer service. It’s just that no one has independently verified it.
Once you understand who the quality-assured rental operators are, take a look at what their customers have said about them. Many tourism businesses show some of their customer reviews on their website. While reading these will give you an indication of the experience of some of their customers, it’s a good idea to read an unfiltered list of reviews on the review websites to get a full picture.
The best places to find reviews for New Zealand motorhome rental operators are on Google business listings and on Facebook. TripAdvisor doesn’t currently list motorhome rental companies so while you may find forums that mention some operators, you won’t find reviews.
Look for the About Us page on the company’s website or any information that tells you about the rental operator’s brand values and aspirations. Then compare this with actual customer experiences described in online reviews. If the rental operator claims to provide a motorhome with quality furnishings and appliances check if their reviews back this up. If their focus is on service, and they promise to give you the best possible experience then make sure that’s what their customers are saying they actually experienced.
Joining a few New Zealand travel related Facebook groups before your holiday is a good way to learn about other travellers’ experiences of motorhome rental companies. A couple of good ones are the New Zealand Travel Tips and Travel Locally New Zealand. The members of these groups usually love to share their knowledge and experience. And on top of having your questions answered, you’ll get heaps of itinerary inspiration for your upcoming holiday.
When you search for motorhome rentals online, the search results will include both rental operators as well as online travel agents (OTAs). Just like with flights and hotels, there’s a whole industry of third party resellers in the motorhome rental industry who earn a commission on every sale. They aggregate products and services from a number of rental operators and present the results in easy to read tables which allow you to compare prices for the various types of campervans available. They target time poor travellers who prefer someone else to do the research.
Making a motorhome rental booking through an OTA has its pros and cons. While you get to easily compare multiple New Zealand campervan rental companies, you won’t see all them all especially not the premium brands. That’s because many rental operators only sell direct as they prefer to maintain personal contact with their customers.
The service OTAs provide is largely around providing easily comparable pricing. So it’s more difficult to learn about customer service from an OTA. Should you have any issues once you are on hire, it’s the rental operator you will be dealing with not the OTA so learning about the operator’s approach to customer care by dealing with them directly throughout the booking process reduces the chances you’ll get a surprise later.
A word of warning. It pays to be careful about confirming availability when dealing with OTAs. Some agents have been known to take payment and confirm a booking then later tell the customer that the campervan they booked isn’t available. The customer may then be sold an inferior model due to limited availability.
If you want to learn more about booking through an OTA, read our article Campervan Industry Secrets: Direct booking vs online travel agents.
While the vast majority of motorhome rentals in New Zealand are through a rental operator, another option is to rent a campervan directly from a private owner. Many private owners make their campervan available to renters through peer-to-peer platforms just like AirBnB does for homeowners. As with the homes on AirBnB, every motorhome on a peer-to-peer campervan rental platform is unique. The role of the peer-to-peer platform is to put travellers in touch with private campervan owners, so you usually communicate directly with the owner rather than a customer service agent.
To learn more about peer-to-peer campervan rentals, read this article about private campervan hire.
Renting from a private owner can make sense if you’d like to rent from outside the major cities where most rental companies operate (Auckland and Christchurch) as there are private campervan owners all over the country. It’s harder to find newer and more modern campervans on these platforms and the level of vehicle maintenance varies depending on the care taken by the individual owner. If you live outside New Zealand, the time difference can make communication with the owner difficult.
If you're unsure whether to go private or company, use our infographic Private vs Rental company decision guide.
By now you should have a few motorhome rental operators which tick at least some of the boxes for you. Now it’s time to compile a final shortlist of two or three rental companies then drill down on each company’s offering. Here we will cover the points we recommend you look for in your final analysis.
If price is your main driver for selecting a motorhome rental, you’ll probably not bother spending too much time checking the specifications of the various models. However, even if you get a real bargain, you’ll want to know that the campervan is fit for purpose and will be reliable, so you don’t spend your precious holiday time dealing with breakdowns.
If comfort is important to you, you’ll want to dig deeper into the quality of the motorhome design and build. As discussed above, most motorhome rentals are built to a basic rental specification. They are designed for short trips in summer. The beds are functional (often made up from the lounge cushions) and the equipment is practical. The most comfortable motorhomes have permanent beds with memory foam mattresses that feel much like your bed at home. The motorhome will be warm if you’re travelling down south in summer (where temperatures can go below zero at any time of year) as it will be fully insulated and have double glazing as well as a grunty heater. Further, the drive will be a lot more comfortable. That’s because they have a special chassis designed for motorhome conversion and attention has been paid to ensuring that everything is securely fastened, so you won’t hear rattles and loud noises while driving.
Some companies focus on bringing the best deals to market and others focus on the best product and service. If you want to ensure your motorhome rental holiday is memorable, you’ll want to be confident that the operator is committed to looking after you from day one. You can assess attention to customer service by taking a more in-depth look at the customer reviews and testing out their frontline staff by making contact with them.
Go back to the online review platforms and check the reviews for the companies on your shortlist. Make sure you check both the average review score and also how many reviews have been posted. The more reviews, the more reliable the information as it’s much harder to sustain a good average score if there are hundreds of reviews rather than a few.
Take a look at the overall score then read the most recent reviews. Then go back over the reviews posted over the previous months to get an overall picture of their customers’ experiences.
No matter how good a motorhome rental operator is, there will always be times when things go wrong. Unlike a hotel, a motorhome is not just a place to sleep. All motorhomes have at least an engine and many have loads of more onboard equipment as well including a fridge, stove, toilet, and heater plus furniture. Put all this equipment in a box that is continually on the move, going over bumps and starting and stopping, and you’ll find ideal conditions for issues. Whether it’s a drawer that’s hard to open or a heater that’s showing an error message, chances are you’ll have at least one or two small hiccups on your motorhome road trip.
You can learn as much about a motorhome rental operator from the bad reviews as you can from the good ones. Now look at the bad reviews. First, look for patterns in the things that customers are unhappy about. It’s reasonable to expect a few small issues on hire but consider how you would feel about long wait times at pickup, cleanliness issues, or important equipment not supplied or not working. If the reviews repeat the same issues over many months it may suggest that the operator has not taken the feedback onboard and made improvements to the business.
Second, look for the reviews that describe an issue and the customer’s experience with the company in resolving the issue - or not. If the reviews show a pattern of the rental operator resolving the issue with the least amount of disruption to the customer’s holiday you can expect that any issues you experience will be handled similarly.
It’s only natural that you will have questions. Getting in touch with the motorhome rental operator via chat on their website, Facebook, email or a phone call will give you an indication for the level of their customer service. The response of front line staff will suggest whether customer service is important to the company. How quickly do they respond? How knowledgeable are the staff? Are they happy to find the answer for you if they don’t know?
Understanding the total cost of your motorhome rental will reduce nasty surprises and ensure that you have budgeted adequately for your road trip. Some motorhome rental operators lure customers with low headline rates then sting them with lots of extras. Rental operators in the budget segment are more likely to have lots of add-ons and those in the premium will include most of these items in the daily rental rate. These include linen and towels, plates and cutlery, heater, as well airport transfers and one-way fees.
All New Zealand campervan rentals include comprehensive vehicle insurance. The excess amount varies depending on the value of the motorhome. You can expect an insurance excess of up to NZ $4000 for a budget campervan and up to NZ$8000 for a premium motorhome. All rental companies offer liability reduction options which help you reduce the risk of having to pay a large bill if the motorhome is damaged on hire. You should factor in the cost of a liability reduction option to your total rental cost.
The best way to check most of the extras and add-ons you can expect is to go through the online booking process right up until a payment is required. Most companies charge credit card fees so be sure to compare these between operators. You may also be able to reduce fees by using an online bank transfer so check if this service is available.
If you want to learn more about campervan rental inclusions in New Zealand, our article: What Should Be Included in Your Motorhome Rental? drills down on this topic and inclusions-related stumbling blocks pre-booking. Our handy Comparison Worksheet can also help you compare inclusions, fees and add-ons charged by New Zealand's campervan rental companies.
Reading terms and conditions is a tedious task that most travellers skip. However, understanding your rights and obligations before you book can save you money and headaches in the long term. Once you’ve narrowed down your preferred rental operators, it’s important to take the time to understand what you can expect from the operator, what happens if things go wrong, and what you need to do to ensure you don’t get any nasty surprises at the end of your holiday. The campervan rental operator’s terms and conditions go into detail about insurances and liability, what you need to do should you have a breakdown or simply want to change your travel dates. Check how the rental operator will handle your booking should travel be limited by the pandemic.
You can learn more about understanding New Zealand campervan rental terms and conditions here.
By now, you should have a good understanding of your options and be ready to commit. If you’ve followed this step by step guide, you can be confident that your research has been thorough and that you know exactly which is the best campervan hire company in New Zealand for you. As you have learned, there’s much more to a great motorhome road trip than a cheap deal.
If you’re travelling in the peak season or other busy periods like on long weekends and school holidays, make sure to book ahead.
While there are many who want to travel with us, we recognize that we're not right for everyone. Every campervan rental company has a different story, strength, and 'flavour', and these are qualities we are happy to embrace and celebrate as an industry. So even if you end up travelling with another operator, we hope our guide has helped you find the right campervan hire for your New Zealand road trip.