So, if you’ve been enjoying our odyssey so far, you’re likely aware that our school holiday plans went through a very significant and quick change when we discovered that Julija had chickenpox. Instead of driving around in our car and staying in hotels that we might contaminate (we’re still working on our camping gear), we found a good deal on a camper van and hit the road.
There are only a few locations in NZ where you can readily rent camper vans, and fortunately one of them is only a couple of hours from us in Queenstown. The other common places to rent camper vans are Auckland and Christchurch. At the end of this blog, I’ve included a list of many of the NZ camper van rental firms.
On the whole, kiwi camper vans are smaller than American camper vans. The largest NZ camper van might be a medium-sized camper van in the States. The more common “land yachts” that you see in the States are very rare here – the roads are smaller and the turns tighter. Additionally, fuel is more expensive! Besides, if you’re coming from the States or elsewhere besides NZ, you’re not going to be carrying a whole lot of gear with you.
Also be aware that these smaller campers might be “tight” for four people to enjoy, even if the rental site suggests that four people will fit. For example, our camper van had a bed just barely big enough for Asta & me, and a second “berth” above the main area that was fine for Aras & Julija. But, two more adults would not have made it happily in the upper berth. If you have the means, I’d encourage you to consider renting a slightly larger van than you think that you might need.
Driving a camper van, at least in the mountains of the Southern Island, is not difficult, but you do need to slow down in several different ways. The posted speed limit on many rural roads is 100 km/hr. However, it takes a little effort to get the camper van up to 100. And, about the time that you get up to the speed limit, then a curve appears on the road, or rain (sometimes horizontal), or wind. Accelerating, decelerating and fighting a top-heavy van in the wind and rain takes a toll on your arms, shoulders and nerves. (I consider driving a camper van akin to driving a vertical mattress – soft, springy and not very responsive.) Even more common, there’ll be a magnificent sight out the window and you’ll be drooling on the steering wheel! So, the best way to enjoy NZ, whether in a camper van or your car, is to slow down to ~ 80. The distances in NZ aren’t as far as in the States, so driving about 50 mph/80 kph is rather pleasant and will delightfully fill your day.
And, when you’re driving on those NZ roads, when you approach a corner you’ll often see a “recommended speed” for the corner. When you’re driving in a camper van, those recommended speeds are pretty good for enjoying the corners.
You can rent either a gas (petrol) diesel camper van. Currently, diesel fuel costs about three-fourths of the price of petrol, so that might be an advantage. You’ll also have to pay a government road-user charge with a diesel vehicle equal to about $0.05/kilometer, so there’s another expense to consider. I have no idea of the “mileage” that we achieved with our camper van, so I can’t recommend what might be more efficient and how the fuel and road-use costs might compare. Just be aware…
Here’s another “plus” about enjoying a camper van in NZ – the “holiday parks.” A “holiday park” in NZ is about the same as a campground in the States, but BETTER! The Americans could learn a thing or two about campgrounds from the Kiwis. The holiday parks are frequently smaller and more compact than their American cousins, which is part of the reason that a smaller camper van is more appropriate. All of the holiday parks had electrical (240 V) hookups, and water and wastewater disposal readily available. One of the big differences that set an NZ holiday park apart from an American campground is the community facilities that you’ll find in these parks. Every (?) holiday park that we enjoyed had a laundry and communal kitchen facility. You’ll find campers cooking their meals in the same kitchen, cleaning their dishes and conversing. Since there’s so much rain in NZ, there are also communal eating spaces at many holiday parks, both indoors and outdoors.
Along with these kitchen facilities, you’ll frequently (but not always) find a BBQ area on the grounds. This BBQ area is essentially an outdoor kitchen and eating/picnic area that’s under a roof. We’ve seen BBQ areas with basic grills where you might need to supply your own wood, all the way up to BBQ areas that include gas grills (with the propane!), sinks, small refrigerators, toasters and electric kettles. Again, with all of the rain, it’s very nice to be able to make camp someplace and then to NOT be confined to your camper van while you prepare a meal or relax.
Finally, the holiday parks have often had some type of a communal room that includes a television and maybe internet service. In some parks, the internet service was included with our camping fee, whilst in other parks the internet service was an additional charge (and, not necessarily cheap). “Roughing it” does not seem to be a term that the holiday parks know. For all of this camping luxury, you can expect to pay NZ$40/night to >NZ$60/night. There are a couple of major holiday park chains – Top Ten Holiday Parks and Kiwi Holiday Parks – from which to choose, as well as many other smaller, local holiday parks. Also at the end of this piece, I’ve included a list of the holiday parks at which we stayed.
If you really feel more like roughing it in your camper van, you might always consider “freedom camping” – pulling over and camping wherever you might land. To legally do this, your camper van needs to be “fully self contained.” This means that you’re able to collect all of your waste water and human wastes for delivery to a proper disposal facility. With NZ’s popularity as a tourism destination for outdoor lovers, there have been many instances of abuse of freedom camping, so various levels of government have started to institute more rules governing where you might freedom camp. The best thing to do is to assume that you may NOT freedom camp in a particular spot until you officially learn that you may. If you’re caught freedom camping in a place where it’s not permitted, then the fine might be $200 or so. There are many NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) sites where you might camp with basic/minimal services, so that’s a good place to start. Each local/regional government has its own rules, so ask or look for the signs before setting up home.
Here’s another little tidbit that I learned only after we made this trip and this makes a LOT of sense and might even meet your needs. Or, you might consider changing your trip plans around to make it meet your needs. With all of these campervans running around New Zealand, especially during the austral summer months (December through February), these campervans are not always in the places that the campervan rental companies want them to be located. For example, a lot of visitors to New Zealand fly into Auckland, since that’s the main international airport, and then possibly they fly on down to Wellington or Christchurch. Those three locations are the main ones from where many folks will rent their campers. And, many people will then drive their campers to a different airport such as the Queenstown airport in southern New Zealand, drop them off (and, pay the extra drop-off fee) and then fly on home.
But, that campervan is still not in the location where the campervan company wants. These rental agencies then “hire” people to “relocate” their campervans. These rental agencies will basically “loan” you the campervan for next to nothing as long as you drive it back to the designated airport. 🙂 Yes, there are certain fees that you’ll still have to pay, so check this idea out carefully. These rental agencies also want their campers to get from Airport B to Airport A very quickly, so you won’t be able to enjoy a leisurely pace through New Zealand. But, might it be possible for you to configure your trip to New Zealand so that you really start your trip in Queenstown, maybe rent a real campervan from the Queenstown airport and drive around the South Island some, return it to the Queenstown airport, and then “rent” a camper that needs to be relocated to Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland and then dash north? Hmmm… It might work (let me know if it does!). To further consider this idea, try this link to TransferCar, RentalCarRelocation or simply google “campervan relocation new zealand” for a lot of other options.
Any other questions? Likely, yes. The best way to answer your questions about camper vans and camping in NZ is to experience it for yourself! Get up and go, mate!
46 S EnZed signing off…
List of camper van rentals:
List of some of the holiday parks we’ve visited: