Everything You Need to Know About Buying, Renting and Road Tripping in a Campervan in New Zealand
So you’ve decided you want ultimate freedom to travel the country at your own leisure by campervanning in New Zealand. That’s awesome! This guide will tell you all you need to know about travelling by campervan in New Zealand, from what sort of license you need to what costs to expect and more.
This ultimate guide to travel by campervan in New Zealand is for both those who want to rent a campervan in New Zealand and those who prefer to buy their own. We’ll go over where to rent or buy a campervan from, important road rules to know for driving on New Zealand’s roads, what costs to expect, and where you can legally sleep in your campervan.
So get ready to hit the road with this ultimate guide to travelling New Zealand by campervan!
Should You Buy or Rent a Campervan in New Zealand?
The main factor that determines whether you should buy or rent a campervan in New Zealand is time. How much time do you have in New Zealand? Although buying a campervan works out to be the most cost-effective solution in the long term, if you are on a short-term trip, you will waste a lot of your limited time on the buying and selling process.
For those of you planning to be in New Zealand for less than a month, then renting a campervan will get you on the road as quickly as possible. For those of you with more time in New Zealand, for instance by being on a working holiday, buying your own campervan in New Zealand will be the best value for money considering it is likely that you can sell the vehicle at the end of your trip.
Check out more pros and cons between the two in our complete guide, Should You Rent or Buy a Vehicle to Travel New Zealand?
Can You Legally Drive a Campervan in New Zealand?
If you can drive a car, you can drive a campervan in New Zealand – you will just need to have a valid license.
What Driving License Do You Need to Drive a Campervan in New Zealand?
To drive any vehicle up to a motorhome you need to have a full valid driving license written in English. If yours is not written in English then you will need to also carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a translation approved by the New Zealand Transport Agency. The former is easier to get and organise before arriving in New Zealand. Find out more in our complete guides on the subjects:
- Why You Need an International Driving Permit for New Zealand
- How to Translate an Overseas Driving License for New Zealand
How Old Do You Need to Be to Drive a Campervan in New Zealand?
The legal driving age in New Zealand is 16 years old. You usually need to be at least 18 to hire a campervan in New Zealand but most rental companies will not accept drivers less than 21 years old. What’s more, many rental companies have a young driver’s fee for drivers under 25 years old. Read up on the restrictions in Age Restrictions When Renting a Vehicle in New Zealand. Or, simply choose a rental company from The Best New Zealand Car & Campervan Rentals for Ages 18 to 25.
What Type of Campervan to Buy or Hire in New Zealand
Now you need to decide what type of campervan to buy or rent in New Zealand. There are so many options from small campercars to large motorhomes that it’s really worth thinking about this thoroughly. For a full comparison, check out Which Campervan Rental Vehicle is Right for You? and What Model of Car or Campervan to Buy for Travelling New Zealand. Plus, if budget is important, you might want to look at our campervan vs. car rental cost comparison.
The most popular type of campervan available to buy at a cheap price in New Zealand is usually an SUV or people-mover with the back seats removed and fitted with a bed and other accessories. These are also the types of camping vehicles that you can rent without an age restriction as they are the easiest to drive. On the downside, expect it to get quite cramped once your luggage is inside and to have limited amenities. These types of vehicles are not likely to be certified self-contained, so you can only camp in campsites, holiday parks and hostels. In other words, you’ll need our guide, Where Can You Camp in New Zealand if Your Campervan is Not Self-Contained?
The second most popular camping vehicle to buy is a campervan – simply a small van or minibus that has been converted into a camping vehicle. Although more expensive to buy and rent than campercars, they offer more room for amenities, perhaps even water storage, wastewater storage and a toilet which would allow you to have a self-contained sticker – something you will need if you want to be able to freedom camp. More on that below.
The most spacious campervans that you can legally drive with a normal driving license is a motorhome. They range from 2 to 6-berth (i.e. sleeping 2 to 6 people) and usually have the full-works in terms of amenities: bedding, dining area, kitchen, shower, toilet and more. However, these are the most expensive camping vehicles to rent, not to mention buying a motorhome is a pretty large investment taking you into the tens of thousands of dollars. Plus, buying and selling a motorhome is much more likely to be a lengthier process than with a smaller and more affordable camper.
The major advantage of motorhomes is that they are almost guaranteed to be self-contained meaning you can camp anywhere except where there are camping restrictions. For tips on travelling in a motorhome, check out Step-by-Step Guide to Renting Your First Motorhome.
How to Park a Motorhome (or Camping Vehicle)
We get it, driving a campervan and especially a motorhome can be intimidating for first-timers. If you need tips on parking these bad boys, head to The Best Tips for Parking a Campervan or Motorhome in New Zealand.
How to Get a Campervan for a Road Trip in New Zealand
Once you know that you have the right driving license and have an idea of the best type of camping vehicle for your road trip, it’s time to start putting the wheels in motion; it’s time to get a campervan!
How to Rent a Campervan in New Zealand (and Save Money)
When renting a campervan you need to compare the campervan rental companies out there and see which one suits your needs. This is pretty straightforward, as once you have found the right type of vehicle, you just need to book directly with the company. Follow our advice on How to Compare Car and Campervan Rental Companies in New Zealand and save money on your booking with 20 Ways To Save Money on Car Rental in New Zealand.
Paying for a New Zealand Campervan Rental
When booking a campervan to rent you will either need to pay in full or pay a non-refundable deposit. You do not pay after you have rented the vehicle. Many campervan rental companies in New Zealand require you to have a credit card on pick-up. There are some companies, however, that will accept the security bond via other payment methods. Find out who in How to Hire a Car in New Zealand Without a Credit Card.
The Best Campervan Rental Companies in New Zealand
While we’re here, we might as well share with you some of the best campervan rental companies in New Zealand. Check out the links to rental company comparisons based on pick-up locations:
- The Best Campervan Rental Companies in Auckland
- The Best Campervan Rental Companies in Christchurch
- The Best Campervan Rental Companies in Queenstown
- The Best Campervan Rental Companies in Wellington
And check out our comparisons of the best campervan rental companies based on budget:
- The Best Budget Campervan Rentals in New Zealand
- The Best Affordable Campervan Rentals in New Zealand
- The Best Premium Campervan Rentals in New Zealand
You might be more interested in comparisons of different “flavours” of campervans:
- The Best Budget RV Rentals in New Zealand
- The Best Family Campervan Rentals in New Zealand
- The Best Backpacker Campervan Rentals in New Zealand
And finally, our top picks are in The Best Campervan Rental Companies in New Zealand!
Private Campervan Rental
You don’t have to go with a campervan rental company at all! You can also hire a campervan privately by using website platforms similar to Airbnb (but, ya know, for camping vehicles). Find out more about hiring a private campervan in Private Campervan Rental: Should You Rent a Peer-to-Peer Motorhome?
It’s also worth mentioning campervan relocation, which can actually be the cheapest type of campervan rental in New Zealand! This is when rental companies need to relocate vehicles from one depot to another, often offering the rental for free! The downside is that usually the relocation is required to be completed within just a few days. Find if it’s the right option for you by checking out our full campervan relocation guide, How to Get the Cheapest Campervan Rental in New Zealand.
How to Buy a Campervan in New Zealand
While there are plenty of campervans on the market, you need to follow the necessary steps to avoid buying a lemon. Find campervans for sale on backpacker Facebook groups, the New Zealand auction site TradeMe, on hostel notice boards, backpacker car markets and more. Get ideas from Where to Buy a Backpacker Vehicle in New Zealand.
Always inspect campervans in person before buying. Arrange a viewing with the seller and inspect the vehicle for any faults, including all the amenities inside the campervan. Does everything fold up correctly? Does the fridge/toilet/wastewater all work, for example? You will also want to make sure that the vehicle has all the necessary certificates like a WOF (Warrant of Fitness), electrical certificates and self-containment certificates if your van has power and a toilet.
Once you are ready to go through with the sale, complete the change of ownership form with the seller. There’s a lot to go through but don’t worry, we go through it all in Buying a Car in New Zealand Step by Step with tips that also apply to campervans.
Wilderness Motorhome Sales
To ensure the purchase of a high-quality motorhome for your extended trip around New Zealand, take a look at Wilderness Motorhome Sales. All of their motorhomes for sale are late models of Germany’s leading motorhome manufacturer, Erwin Hymer Group, boasting clever designs for ultimate comfort. Choose from a range of compact and functional 2-berth campers to more spacious vehicles for the whole family. Their whole offering is available at Motorhomesforsale.com.
What to Pack for a Campervan Trip in New Zealand
If you’re renting a campervan, you’re going to have most of the essentials already included, while buying a campervan might mean that you’ll have to purchase some. For a full guide on what it’s like to live in a campervan, check out Vanlife in NZ: The Guide to Living in a Campervan in New Zealand.
What’s Included in Your Campervan Rental
You will have the opportunity to choose some optional extras with your campervan rental, such as a GPS and picnic sets, however, you often have all you need already included in the rental from bedding to cooking utensils. Inclusions are often:
- Basic insurance
- Roadside assistance
- Kitchen amenities: gas stove, fridge and sink
- Beds and bedding
- Shower amenities (sometimes)
Consumables, like toilet paper and dishwashing liquid, aren’t usually included in your rental, but you can purchase these at New Zealand’s supermarkets, along with the food you’ll need for cooking meals in your campervan. By the way, check out The Best Camping Meals, Inc. Camping Food List for easy meals to cook.
What’s Not Included in Your Campervan Rental (and What You’ll Need to Pack)
Most of what you’ll need to pack are your personal items, such as clothing and toiletries. All of this we cover in our New Zealand Packing List: What to Pack for New Zealand.
If you’re travelling in winter, there are some extra things you’ll need to pack in order to keep warm, all of which we cover in How to Stay Warm When Camping in New Zealand, as well as in our Packing List for Winter in New Zealand.
For any extra camping gear you might want to consider, like extra sleeping bags or laundry lines, take a look at our Camping Essentials Checklist for New Zealand.
That just leaves a few miscellaneous essentials like a torch/flashlight and playing cards! All of this and more we cover in the 12 Essentials to Pack for a New Zealand Campervan Trip.
Other Things to Pack if Buying Your Own Campervan: WiFi and Power!
As mentioned, those buying their own camping vehicle might want a few more amenities, like the internet and a power source (if your camping vehicle doesn’t already have one). Check out our guides on How to Get WiFi in Your Campervan in New Zealand and How to Choose a Generator for Your Motorhome, Campervan or Tent.
How to Drive a Campervan in New Zealand
Now you are ready to hit the New Zealand roads! However, there are likely to be a few road rules that you might not be used to on New Zealand’s roads, so make sure you wise up before driving.
Although we go much more in-depth in How to Drive in New Zealand, here are the basic points:
- Take it easy when driving a campervan, slow down on corners and let other drivers pass you where safe
- Keep left! In New Zealand, we drive on the left side of the road
- When at a traffic light and the light turns green, give way to pedestrians first before turning
- It is illegal to use your phone while driving, you must use a hand-free set
- There is an alcohol limit for driving (so don’t drink and drive)
- Do not overtake when the road has solid yellow lines
- Only overtake when it is safe to do so, such as when on a passing lane
- Keep left on passing lanes when you are not overtaking so other vehicles can pass you
- You can only park on the side of the road in the same direction as the traffic flow
- Stick to the speed limits
- In winter, have snow chains if you intend to drive anywhere with snow (see Renting a Campervan in Winter: New Zealand Road Trip Tips)
- Slow down for animals on the road and wait for the farmer’s instructions
- Slow down on gravel roads
- Respect the priority markers on one-way bridges (which there are a lot of in New Zealand).
How Easy is it to Drive a Campervan in New Zealand?
Camping vehicles are more difficult to drive the bigger they are. You’ll need to be more spacially aware when parking and will need to drive slower in windy conditions (and in general) but there are ways to make driving a campervan easier. See our driving advice in The Best Tips for Parking a Campervan or Motorhome in New Zealand.
A Note About Travel Times and Using a GPS
One extra thing to note is the New Zealand travel times and using a GPS. Expect travel times to take longer per km than what you would expect on straight roads and motorways. New Zealand’s road networks consist of winding roads, gravel roads, narrow roads, as well as some motorways and straight roads.
Always prepare for journeys to take a little longer than the estimated time given on your GPS. If you are going somewhere a little off the beaten track, it is best to compare the directions of your GPS to another map or satellite view. Your GPS is likely to find the fastest route, which can sometimes be old gravel roads and sometimes dangerous tracks. What’s more, some GPS data may be wrong or not updated so always double-check the route.
The Cost of Travelling by Campervan in New Zealand
There are quite a few costs to take into account when planning your campervan trip budget for New Zealand. Both buyers and renters will need to budget for fuel and the ferry if crossing between islands, while some costs differ between renters and buyers. See How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in New Zealand? which might be about rental cars but the information still applies to campervan rentals.
Cost of Fuel
Of course, fuel costs vary throughout the country, but the average cost for petrol is usually NZ$2 per litre (approximately NZ$7.60 per gallon). For diesel, it’s NZ$1.35 (approximately NZ$5.10 per gallon) but you also have to pay a road user charge (RUC) which is around NZ$76-$82 per 1,000km (621 miles) and depending on the size of the vehicle. Check out weekly fuel price data on the MBIE website and RUC costs on the NZ Transport Agency website.
Another cost to put into your budget is the cost of the ferry between the North Island and the South Island. For example, it’s around NZ$420 each way for a full campervan with four passengers. Find out more in Ferry Between the North Island and South Island.
The three toll roads in New Zealand are all on the North Island: the Northern Gateway Toll Road, the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road and the Takitimu Drive Toll Road. Find out more in our guide, Toll Roads in New Zealand.
If renting a campervan, there is the obvious daily cost of the rental itself, which range from NZ$29/day for a small campervan in the low season to NZ$450/day for a motorhome in the high season.
Other rental fees may include a young drivers fee if you are under 25 years old, a one-way fee if dropping off the vehicle in a different location to where you picked it up, and an extra driver’s fee. There may also be optional extras liking hiring a GPS or snow chains. If there is any damage to the campervan that you cause, it is likely you will have to pay for damages unless you have paid for the top insurance. We’ll go through more of that below.
We kind of take budgeting for a campervan road trip very seriously here on NZ Pocket Guide, so we also advise you to take a look at How to Get the Cheapest Campervan Rental in New Zealand and Which is Cheaper: Campervan Rental or Car Rental + Stay in Hotel/Hostel/Airbnb?
Campervan Maintenance Costs
When having your own campervan, there is the risk of it breaking down or having some sort of engine problems. It’s up to you to get these fixed, as most insurance companies don’t cover major expenses past the basic breakdown cover. To reduce the chances of this happening, make sure you really check the campervan before buying it, plus keep the campervan well-maintained while it is in your care. Follow the tips in How to Maintain Your Car for Travelling New Zealand.
Be aware that you also may need to update the WOF certificate of vehicle registration too. On top of that, because your campervan is going to be your home for so many months, keep it clean to reduce the chance of attracting insects. Keep food in containers, for example, and wash bed sheets regularly.
Insuring Your Own Campervan
While campervan insurance is not mandatory in New Zealand, some people do prefer to pay for insurance in case the worst should happen and the expenses are too much for them to afford. For your own campervan, we suggest you look at How Car Insurance Works in New Zealand to help decide whether campervan insurance is right for you.
Campervan Rental Insurance
When renting a vehicle, insurance is included in the price. You have the option to drop the excess to a lower price by paying a daily fee. For example, a high excess that might be included in your rental could be NZ$1,500-$3,000, but you may have the option to reduce this excess to, for example, NZ$250 excess or NZ$0 excess/no excess at an extra cost. For more information, check out New Zealand Rental Car Insurance: Explained!
Where to Stay in Your Campervan
In order to keep New Zealand beautiful, there are some restrictions on where you can camp. Campervans can camp in designated campsites, holiday parks, park over properties and sometimes even hostel car parks. Most of the rules on where you can and cannot camp surround whether your campervan is certified self-contained or not.
What is a Self-Contained Vehicle?
A self-contained vehicle is a vehicle that is able to store at least three days’ worth of fresh water and wastewater and has a toilet on board. These must meet a particular standard to be given a Self-Containment NZS 5465 as the certification. A vehicle that is self-contained must display a blue self-contained sticker in order to freedom camp. Only self-contained campervans can park up somewhere for free and stay the night, except for zones that don’t allow camping. Find out more about Self-Contained Campervans in New Zealand.
Campervan rental companies should state whether their vehicles are certified self-contained. If you’re buying a camping vehicle, make sure to look for vehicles that are certified to be able to freedom camp. Otherwise, you can apply for the self-contained certification yourself by following How to Get Your Campervan Certified Self-Contained. Or modify your van yourself using How to Convert Your Van into a Self-Contained Campervan.
Parking Your Campervan in Holiday Parks
To recharge the power in your camper, dump your waste and get some quick comforts, you’re likely to use a holiday park at least once on your campervan road trip in New Zealand. Holiday parks have powered sites and non-powered sites to park up your vehicle and make use of their facilities, including dump stations, kitchens, laundry, showers and sometimes more. To see what a holiday park is like in New Zealand, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Holiday Parks in New Zealand.
Parking Your Campervan in Campsites/Campgrounds
Campsites are a little more basic than holiday park, offering much fewer facilities. For this reason, they are cheaper (sometimes even free) and have the bare essentials to keep the environment tidy. Most of the campsites are run by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Find out more in What is the Difference Between a Campsite and a Holiday Park? Plus, see if it’s worth getting a campsite pass in DOC Campsite Pass: How it Works & is it Worth it?
Parking in a Park Over Property (POP)
Some landowners allow self-contained vehicles to stay on their property overnight for a small fee.
Freedom Camping (Parking Your Campervan for Free)
There are very few areas around New Zealand where you can camp for free without a self-contained vehicle. Otherwise, camping with a self-contained vehicle is usually permitted on public land where there are no restrictions. Each district council in New Zealand have their own laws on freedom camping, so make sure you research before arriving in an area – you can use Freedom Camping Rules in New Zealand: Region by Region which links to all of the regional council websites concerning freedom camping. Finally, learn more about free camping in What it’s Really Like to Freedom Camp in New Zealand.
The End of Your Trip: Selling or Returning Your Campervan
On that sad day when your campervan road trip in New Zealand comes to an end, what do you do?
Returning Your Rental Campervan
On the date, time and location agreed with the rental company, return your campervan. There is usually an inspection to see whether there are any damages to the vehicle. If there is any damage, the cost will be taken from your card if you have supplied the details or the damages will be taken from your deposit. Otherwise, your deposit will be returned to you and you are free to go. Make sure you don’t leave anything behind in the campervan!
Selling Your Campervan
Because campervans usually take longer to sell than cars, we recommend giving yourself at least two weeks to sell your van at the end of your trip. Use the tips we give in How to Sell Your Car in New Zealand, which, yes, also apply to campervans.
New Zealand Campervan Itineraries
Now that you know everything about travelling by campervan in New Zealand, do you need some road trip ideas? Check out the following itineraries for the best campervan routes:
- North Island in One Week: Road Trip Itinerary
- South Island in One Week: Road Trip Itinerary
- South Island Campervan Itinerary: 10 Days
- North Island in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary
- South Island in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary
- New Zealand in Three Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary
- New Zealand in a Month: Road Trip Itinerary.
Finally, get some last quick tips from our 10 Things You Need to Know About Camper Van Rental in New Zealand.