A Guide for Motorhome Rental Newbies
Compromise is a given. But how can you get the best motorhome holiday for you?
Our Wilderness motorhomes are different from most other rental fleets. We only have European designed and manufactured motorhomes that are less than three years old. We also have a different pricing structure and a unique focus on customer satisfaction. There's a lot of choice in the rental market so we've designed this guide to help demystify the offerings.
When deciding which motorhome rental is best for you, there are a few key things to consider. Because New Zealand rental motorhomes are typically less than 7.5 metres (24ft) long, you have to compromise. So think about what's important to you. Is it the bed configuration, living space, separate shower and toilet, or overall size of the motorhome for easy driving and parking? Then there's the extras - which do you want and which are you happy to forego. And then there's budget? Everyone wants value but what are the pitfalls for going with the cheapest? And last, what about customer service? Is it really going make that much of a difference to your holiday?
Our family-size motorhomes come in a range of lengths. The shorter ones are more manoeuvrable in tight spaces and easier to park and the longer ones have more internal space. Remember all passengers are required to wear a seatbelt under NZ law so only models with enough seat belts for everyone in your group are suitable.
If there are just two of you travelling, then you can choose any from our vehicle range. For two people who want to maximise your motorhome living space (if you’re travelling for more than a few days, you'll probably want to), it’s easy to assume that a longer motorhome has more room. That’s not always the case. Again, use our Motorhome Selector Tool so you take into account everything that's important before deciding on a motorhome.
Tip: Think about what's most important to you on your dream holiday before choosing a motorhome. Is it space, manoeuvrability, permanent bed for the adults, or separate beds for the kids?
- Lounge converts to double bed. Most locally designed and built motorhomes use this floor plan. During the day you can enjoy a spacious lounge and dining area. When you are ready for bed, you lower the table so it becomes part of the bed base and arrange the seat cushions to fill the void. The main disadvantages of this set up are comfort and convenience. You sleep on the lounge cushions which are designed for seating and you have to spend time every night piecing the bed together and putting on the sheets and blankets.
- Permanent double bed. This is the most popular floor plan in European motorhomes because the bed doesn't double as a lounge. It has a slatted base and a high quality mattress which makes for a good night's sleep. Plus you don't have to muck about converting the lounge into a bed at night.
- Permanent single beds. This layout is perfect for couples who prefer their own space. If the motorhome also has a permanent drop down up front, it can be a great option for families since the kids can sleep in the single beds.
- Cab over or luton bed. In most NZ designed four and six motorhomes the second double bed sits over the cab. You get into the bed by climbing the ladder. In order to accommodate the cab over bed, the body of the motorhome has a large section over the cab. This makes the motorhome top heavy, causes drag, and reduces fuel efficiency.
- Drop down bed. Many modern European motorhomes have replaced the cab over bed with a drop down bed upfront. Because the bed drops down when you need it at night and disappears into the ceiling cavity during the day you can maximise your living space and still have a low profile, fuel efficient motorhome. The only bed in the Freedom 2 is the drop down bed above the dining area. This makes it the most spacious motorhome in the up-to-six metres range.
- Combined or separate shower and toilet. A bathroom that combines the shower and toilet will take up less floor space than a separate shower and toilet although it may be less convenient.
- Swivel front seats. Motorhomes that have swivel front seats make much better use of the living space because the driver and passenger seats become part of dining area when you're parked up.
- Walk-through cab. Most modern motorhomes have a semi-integrated cab which means you can walk through to the living area without going outside. This is a must in New Zealand as wet and windy weather is not uncommom.
Tip: For maximum convenience and comfort, go for a permanent bed rather than a lounge that makes up into a bed.
On first glance, pricing between motorhome rental companies varies wildly. So why shouldn't you just go for the least expensive?
You don't have to look hard to find stories of tourists who unwittingly chose the cheapest motorhome rental and then their dream holiday turned into a nightmare. There's quite a few factors influence the price you will pay for a motorhome rental including vehicle age, size, specifications, amenities (e.g. built in bathroom), season, and direction of travel. But if you're not familiar with motorhome rentals, you may find a few surprises.
New doesn't always mean top quality
You can usually expect to pay more to rent a motorhome that is less than three years old. However, age doesn’t always equate to quality. Some brand new rental motorhomes have a basic, poorly designed, and poorly constructed living area. That’s because the motorhome rental company saved money by cutting corners.
Here are some common examples of poorly designed and built motorhome rentals: making the upholstery thin and flat; putting all the pots and pans in one big cupboard (rather than fitting carefully into purpose-built compartments); placing the microwave in the middle of the bench thereby significantly reducing the usable kitchen space and giving little thought to storage.
The thrill of a new motorhome rental is going to wear thin if the bed is uncomfortable, the kitchen equipment rattles around so much that you can’t hold a conversation, and there’s nowhere to prepare your meal or store your gear.
Mutton dressed up as lamb
Other companies build a new living compartment in an older base vehicle. They save money by buying vehicles that may be five or more years old. Be sure to check vehicle mileage and reliability because no matter how new the living compartment is, you won’t enjoy the motorhome rental if you’re broken down on the side of the road.
Tip: Don't assume new means well designed and built. Check the customer satisfaction ratings (see below) to make sure previous hirers have been happy with the motorhome.
SPECIFICATIONS: What to Look ForThe specifications of each type of motorhome rental can vary widely. You can expect to pay more for a European built base vehicle such as a Fiat or Mercedes Benz than for a Toyota or Mazda. That’s because the European vehicles usually have a bigger (often turbo) engine, use diesel (much less expensive than petrol), perform better on the road, and come with more driving and safety features such as ABS brakes, air bags, and engine immobiliser.
A motorhome rental with an in-built bathroom with shower and toilet will often cost more but are far more convenient than one with a portable camping toilet and camping shower. If you're planning on wild camping, you'll definitely want your own bathroom. Be sure there’s sufficient water storage on board to allow more than one person to take a shower (assume you’ll use 10 litres of water per minute).
Some rental motorhomes come with extra fixtures and appliances such as a microwave oven or air conditioning in the living compartment (not just the cab). Don’t assume that more equipment means it a better motorhome. Microwave ovens can only be used when you're hooked into mains power at a holiday park so most Wilderness guests prefer to use the gas cooker instead. Most motorhomes with an air conditioning unit have been designed for Australia. New Zealand's climate is much milder so they're not necessary here. Too many extra fixtures and appliances take up valuable space in your motorhome rental.
Tip: If you don't need it or want it, don't pay for it.
EXTRAS: What to look out for
Many motorhome rental companies advertise a lower daily hire rate to get your attention then charge you for all the extras. In fact, some go as far as charging extra for motorhome cleaning, compulsory insurance, additional drivers, a full gas bottle, linen and bedding, motorhome registration, travelling one way plus many other creative ways of extracting money from you. If you’re not prepared for the extra fees you may be charged when you pick up your motorhome rental, you can start your holiday feeling ripped off.
An all-inclusive rate includes many of the extras that are otherwise add-ons such as zero insurance excess (deductible), camping table and chairs, child seats and snow chains. It may also include a full gas bottle, and one-way fee. This may be a really good deal but it pays to do the maths to be sure. Add up the cost of purchasing separately the items included in the all inclusive rate and divide by the total number of days you are on hire. Then add this to the daily rate of the zero excess insurance cover. If the total is more than the all inclusive rate then you're the winner.
Tip: When comparing motorhome rental companies, be sure to check all hidden costs first.
The summer months from December to March are by far the most popular with visitors to New Zealand - not just those who rent a motorhome. Not surprisingly, the crowds are the heaviest in summer and you can expect to pay top dollar for most items including airfares, motorhome rentals, campsites and attractions.
From about December 26 until January 10, most New Zealanders take their annual vacation so the popular seaside destinations will be overrun with throngs of Kiwis dressed in shorts and jandals (thongs).
If you visit during the shoulder seasons (October, November, and April), you'll avoid the crowds, feel a lot less like a tourist, your motorhome rental will cost you less, and your holiday cash will go further which means you can stay longer. South Island weather is usually no better or worse than in summer and North Island weather is mild and normally fine (though that can never be guaranteed - it's the rain that makes the grass so green!).
If you want a really inexpensive motorhome rental holiday, tour New Zealand in the winter (between May and September). Because demand for motorhome rentals is lower, off-season rates are drastically lower. But beware, you could be very cold as most rental motorhomes are built for three season touring. Make sure the motorhome rental you choose for winter touring is insulated and has carpet on the floor as well as a diesel or gas heater that you can operate when you’re not hooked up to mains power. A rental motorhome with a drying room for wet towels and clothes is a real bonus in the winter.
Tip: If you prefer to take your New Zealand vacation in the summer, book early. If you can travel off-season, you can save up to 75% of the cost of motorhome rental. But make sure your rental motorhome can cope with the cooler weather.
LOCATION AND DIRECTION OF TRAVELMost of us are used to thinking about doing a return trip if we want to see an entire country or most of it. You head off in one direction then loop back to your starting point. While that’s sometimes a good idea, it’s not necessarily so for touring New Zealand. The best way to see New Zealand if you plan to visit both the North and South Islands is to travel one way. New Zealand’s geography is perfectly suited to one way travel as the country is long and relatively narrow. You don’t need to back track and therefore you spend less time driving your rental motorhome and have more time to stop, experience the wonders of our country and meet a few Kiwis. Also, you’ll only need to pay for a one way rather than a return ferry ticket between the North and South Islands for you and your rental motorhome saving you up to NZ$500.
Many motorhome rental companies charge extra for one way hires but we don’t. In fact, we often have cheaper rates for a one way hire if we have too many motorhome rentals in a certain location. Make sure you check rates for both Auckland and Christchurch motorhome rental pickups so you can take advantage of any specials. If you can get a good deal for a Christchurch to Auckland motorhome rental but your international flight arrives in Auckland, you can transfer onto a flight to Christchurch after you land in Auckland and pick up your motorhome rental from there. The airfares on this route are fairly inexpensive if you book far enough in advance and on a New Zealand website - as little as NZ$50 per person. Check out House of Travel or Webjet for the best fares. You can use what you have saved for a bungy jump and cruise on Milford Sound!
Tip: Always check the motorhome rental rates for travelling northbound or southbound.
After you’ve carefully weighed up the options based on size and price of the motorhome rental, make sure you also factor in quality, customer satisfaction, and freedom.
The website that has collected the most reviews from New Zealand visitors is Rankers. With tens of thousands of reviews both collected by the Rankers team and submitted by visitors, Rankers has gained the reputation of being New Zealand’s most trusted source of information about visitor satisfaction. You can also read customer reviews on Facebook and Google Plus.
So you don’t need to take the motorhome rental company’s word for it – check what their previous customers said instead.
Tip: Read the reviews posted on independent travel review websites such as Rankers before selecting a motorhome rental provider.
The best way to ascertain whether the company you intend to trust with your hard earned cash is legitimate is to check if it is Qualmark Endorsed. Qualmark is New Zealand tourism’s official quality agency. Qualmark licenses professional and trustworthy New Zealand tourism businesses. These businesses earn the right to use the Qualmark 'tourism's official quality mark'. The quality mark helps international and domestic travellers select places to stay, things to do and ways to get around. A business displaying the official quality mark has undergone a rigorous assessment of its systems and processes and has demonstrated that it can deliver only the best visitor experiences.
Qualmark endorses visitor transport providers using three different grades: Enviro-Bronze, Enviro-Silver, and Enviro-Gold. A business displaying the Enviro-Gold endorsement exceeds the highest levels of environment and social responsibility. Wilderness was one of the first motorhome rental operators to reach this lofty standard.
Tip: When selecting a motorhome rental provider or any other tourist service, always choose those that have a Qualmark endorsement.
A self-contained rental motorhome is designed to meet the ablutionary and sanitary needs of the occupants for a minimum of three days, without requiring any external services or discharging any waste. Fresh water for drinking and cooking is stored in tanks. Waste water is collected in the motorhome's waste water tanks and disposed of via motorhome dump station facilities, connected to a proper sewerage scheme. A self-contained motorhome rental used properly, will have no adverse effects on the environment and present no risk to public health.
If you would like to get up-close-and-personal with New Zealand’s wilderness and make the most of our wonderful remote camping locations then you need a motorhome rental that is certified for freedom camping. Even if you’d just like to have the occasional night away from the urban holiday park environment, it’s worth going for a motorhome rental that’s freedom camping certified.
All motorhome rentals that are freedom camping certified have a green sticker attached so that enforcement authorities can verify the vehicle is compliant. All Wilderness motorhome rentals are freedom camping certified.
Tip: Choose a motorhome rental that is certified for freedom camping even if you only plan to try freedom camping once or twice.