campervansite
Destinations, New Zealand, Planning and Experiences, Rotorua 27

Is campervan travel the best way to see New Zealand?


Everyone we had spoken to and most blog posts I had read prior to our arrival in New Zealand highlighted how campervan travel is the best way to explore New Zealand. We knew we were going to be doing a LOT of travelling during our ‘working holiday’ for a year in this beautiful country and we were convinced a campervan will be the first thing  we buy once we got here! Ashique started doing the research and to make a long story short – it was too expensive to buy, did not make sense whilst paying rent and having a campervan (with nowhere to park it) and only being able to use it for 3 months of the year. Not to mention we would have to take out a hefty loan to have that kind of money ($30,000)! Renting a campervan seemed a more feasable option.

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Our first campervan rental!

 

So what exactly is a campervan?

Sorry if this is redundant information for many of you travellers reading this, but back when we used to live in England and travel and camp around UK and Europe, we have had friends ask – ‘I thought people only camp in Enid Blyton Books?!’ Here in NZ, we have had – ‘how quaint, but that’s what only the kiwis do!’  Not to stereotype but we personally don’t know many (any) Asians who camp in tents or go on campervan trips, especially with small children. (Please feel free to comment on post if you do!) So for my readers who are not too familiar – a brief description of what a campervan holiday entails.

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Kids ever so excited to be going on their first campervan trip!

Called different names in different countries – motorhome, recreational vehicle (RV), campervan – all are some variation of a type of self-propelled recreational vehicle or RV which offers living accommodation combined with a vehicle engine. Below are pictures of the one we rented. The backseats fold down in a double bed. There is another double bed on top. The back seats also pulls down the dining table and there is fully equpped ‘kitchen’ – stove, pots, pans, plates, wine glasses, everything you could need. Plus microawave, fridge and freezer. LOTS of storage space, in the back, on the sides and then on top where the second bed is. There is a portable ‘toilet’ but we don’t use it. We just use the public ones at campsites we stay at. We find most of them clean and kids are used to all sorts of public toilets from a very early age.

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We did a fair bit of travelling once we arrived in New Zealand 3 months ago.  But we did it by car mostly and booking cottages and motels. End May we went on our first 5 day campervan trip around the Rotorua region of the North Island.

Useful information to know

How to go about finding which rental company to book with?
We used motorhomerepublic which is like a comparison website. You can put in your criteria and find the best/cheapest deal around. At that point in time when we booked for end April, Britz gave the best deal for a self contained 4 berth campavan. It took us a while to figure out the whole process, but we eventually got there! So for example, you can’t park at the free sites unless you are ‘self contained’ and have your own toilet unit. Other things we didn’t know about were insurance and deposits. Each company seemed to have different requirements. We have now booked two more campervan trips around South Island, one in September and one in December.  As you might guess, it means we had a very positive experience from our first trip 🙂 But I must say there were pros and cons of doing this type of travel vacation and I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone.

Pros of travelling in a campervan

The freedom to travel! This was by far the best thing of having your accommodation be the same as your mode of travel 🙂 you can go as far or as near as you want to drive in a day, you can go off track and not worry about time as once you get tired of travelling, just can pull over (at the nearest campervan site) and go to sleep! In New Zealand there are several free campervan sites and others where you pay a fee, but they are all over the country and easy to find. Many of these free sites are set in such stunning outdoors location. Here is the first one we stayed at Little Waipa Reserve. There was one other van here besides us! Waking up to view of the river and countryside the star gazing at night here was a magical experience.  Free to stay at and the public toilets were basic but clean. More pros after I vent about the cons!

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Cons of going on a campervan trip

It is not as cheap as people say it is! Most people we know who have done it were couples with no children and didn’t need a four berth campervan. Also the notion of staying in free campsites – you need to have self contained campervans with toilets in the van. Include both these criteria and the rental price goes up – for us it was roughly $50 (NZ dollar) a day. The costs of staying at most of the paying campervan sites ranged from $20-22 an adult and $10-12 a child. For us that comes to $70 per night. Add the $50 per day for renting, it comes to nearly $120. We can stay at a motel for that price. What really didn’t work out costwise is the hefty deposit you have to pay upfront which we didn’t have. The alternative is to take out insurance per day and then the costs REALLY don’t make sense.

Not a good idea to do it in cold weather. We had frost on the ground our first morning, after the coldest night ever! It got warmer during the day but part of the fun of travelling in the campervan is so we can be outside. This trip even when we were at a beautiful outdoor location, we couldn’t hang outside for long as it got cold by evening. Haven’t done a trip in the summer yet so can’t speak about the heat. But that never really bothers me 🙂

 

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More Pros

Having a fridge and microwave helped loads with storing and eating most of our meals at the campervan. The freedom of being in a campervan allowed us to explore places not on the radar at all. We stopped to have lunch at a rest stop and found this scenic ‘rainbow mountain’ walk. We also came across this long suspension bridge and saw colourful parrots whilst walking on the bridge. Cooking in the campervan, hanging out, enjoying the new experience was great fun too!

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scenic rainbow mountain reserve

scenic rainbow mountain reserve

after our short hike at rainbow mountain reserve

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The second night we couldn’t bear to deal with the cold so we stayed at a powered campervan site, at Waikite Valley Thermal Pool and Spa. It cost $70 but we got to use all the spa facilities during our stay for free, plus you get to be in it a good few hours before day guests arrive. Hard to take good pictures with all the steam in the air, but it was a lovely relaxing experience here and we were toasty and warm that night!

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campervan site at Waikite Valley Thermal Pool

Do we think campervan is the best way to see New Zealand? From our one experience it definitely was a great way to explore a lot more lesser known places. We will decide whether it is the BEST way once we have done it a few more times! For now it was a new adventure and fun experience for all of us 🙂

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Check out our other post on Rotorua – our favourite – steamy waterfalls at Kerosene Creek, Luge Fun with Skyline Rotorua, enjoying geysers and Maori culture at Te Puia and Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland!

 

The Selim Family Raasta


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27 Comments

  • Jolanta | Casual Traveler says: June 29, 2015 at 1:39 am

    Campervan could be a good option if where you’re going there are no good places to stay, and yes, having the food with you right there, in the fridge sounds convenient. On another hand, it’s not the best thing to visit the cities. We’ve never done a campervan, probably because as you pointed out, all in all it comes down to similar price between hotels (or rentals) and the campervan, and you get much more room at a rental. Good to know it’s a good option for New Zealand, though!

    Reply
    • selimsraasta@gmail.com says: June 29, 2015 at 6:09 am

      Yeah, we definitely wouldn’t be using it for city travel and the costs don’t really add up when you compare comforts of a bed and bathroom in a bnb/motel…but I guess for exploring the great outdoors, it doesn’t seem like a bad option. I guess what you ‘pay’ for is the experience rather than practicality and of course, my favourite part – exploring off the beaten track places, little gems hard to come by on a fixed itinerary! I think once we do South island which is more remote and rugged, will have better idea whether it’s the ‘best’ option for NZ travels!

      Reply
  • Laura says: June 29, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Wow I have to say I was shocked at how much it actually cost for an average day with travelling around by camper van yet I love the idea of travelling around by camper van. Your kids look so excited in that first photo and it looks like you saw some great places 🙂

    Reply
    • selimsraasta@gmail.com says: June 29, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      Yeah it was a learning curve for us finding out about all the costs and range of places one can stay at, that can cost nothing to more than $70! Good thing is there are several of the free ones and they are quite good, I think in the summer we won’t have the issue of needing power for heating at night so won’t have to stay at the paying ones. The freedom and the places we got to see made it worth it and the kids really enjoyed it 🙂

      Reply
  • Photo Cache says: June 29, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    Must be good for families, but for couples a regular car would do with a icebox in the trunk.

    Reply
  • Petra @ The Global Couple says: June 30, 2015 at 2:02 am

    Glad to see you enjoyed your first campervan trip! Agree that it can get expensive if you’re not self contained, but I would argue that even though you could have stayed in a motel for $120, you would have had to rent a car (or have your own car) to get around in. But that’s just my personal opinion – as you know from reading my articles, I’m a campervan advocate! 🙂 Hope your future trips convince you that campervanning is the best way to see NZ!

    Reply
    • selimsraasta@gmail.com says: June 30, 2015 at 2:31 am

      Oh yeah if didn’t have our own car, motel and renting car doesn’t work out cost wise…I guess for us it was all new and finding out first about self contained vans only for the free campsites and the high deposit, these are things we didn’t expect when we calculated costs of renting one. I think overall the freedom to go anywhere and experience all the off the beaten track places makes it worthwhile being in the campervan, so far from our experience 🙂 and I am sure in the South Island we will appreciate it even more!

      Reply
  • Eileen says: June 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    I think the campervan option is a fun way to travel and see the sights. I would have to check in to a hotel just feel a good bed at night and for the hot showers. I love all your scenic shots, the thermal pool and spa look wonderful. Awesome post and photos.

    Enjoy your day and have a happy new week!

    Reply
  • Kimberley says: June 30, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    Wow! What an adventure, I bet the kids loved it. 🙂

    Reply
  • Packing my Suitcase says: July 1, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Woww this is sooo cool! I would love to travel in a campervan!!
    No doubt it gives you a lot of freedom when traveling!

    Ps: I love the Brazilian t-shirt 😀

    It’s great to see you once again on #MondayEscapes

    Reply
  • Elaine J. Masters says: July 1, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    I envy your camping adventure. When my family rode through South Island it was a quick trip by car. Would’ve loved to pull over at some of the remote campsites and make discoveries as you did. The cold is definitely a factor though.

    Reply
  • Alouise says: July 2, 2015 at 12:31 am

    Thanks for sharing your tips about campervaning. It seems like a pretty cool way to see New Zealand.

    Reply
  • We Travel Together says: July 4, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    We’ve never been to NZ but we rented a RV in Australia, and it was a great way to explore and experience the part between Sydney and Cairns. Thinking about going back to see some more there someday, but maybe NZ instead?

    Reply
    • selimsraasta@gmail.com says: July 5, 2015 at 12:03 am

      I would highly recommend New Zealand, it is such a beautiful country!

      Reply
  • Ruth - Tanama Tales says: July 4, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    A lot of people talk about this mode of travel but they do not write details about the cost. I find it a little bit expensive but not sure what are the other options (what additional costs are related to gas?). Anyway, it is something I have always wanted to do. Campervans are gaining popularity in the Western United States. A company called Jucy (I think they are in Australia and New Zealand) is operating from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. They do not look that expensive but, for what I have learned about your post, I am not sure what the real price would be including insurance and deposits.

    Reply
    • selimsraasta@gmail.com says: July 5, 2015 at 12:07 am

      Yes we have Juicy here too, it seems like it is one the most popular ones. It is expensive but I guess you are paying for the perks – freedom, experience, able to get to places not always possible with staying at cottages/bnB/motels etc but as someone else pointed out here on the comments – if you had to rent the motel and rent the car, it would be more than campervan (in NZ atleast). We would recommend it for sure, but just knowing and adding that it is not necessarily the budget way to travel, just a really fun way!

      Reply
  • Donna Janke says: July 4, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    The idea of exploring by campervan appeals to me, but as you’ve pointed out it isn’t always as cheap an option as some may think. years ago, we rented a motorhome to travel through southeast England with our three young daughters. It was one of the best trips we’ve ever made. And it was interesting that in the campgrounds we meet mostly Brits, a few Europeans but no one else from North America.

    Reply
  • Donna Janke says: July 4, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    The idea of exploring by campervan appeals to me, but as you’ve pointed out it isn’t always as cheap an option as some may think. years ago, we rented a motorhome to travel through southeast England with our three young daughters. It was one of the best trips we’ve ever made. And it was interesting that in the campgrounds we meet mostly Brits, a few Europeans but no one else from North America.

    Reply
  • Melissa Wiringi says: July 5, 2015 at 8:22 am

    I’m so glad you saw Waikite Valley Hot Springs! I love that place! Great to see you are enjoying your travel across beautiful NZ. I can’t wait to go back home and show my kids home. 🙂

    Reply
  • Sally@Toddlers on Tour says: July 5, 2015 at 10:21 am

    I can definitely see many positives about a campervan but the thought of having to pack up everytime we wanted to head out for a day trip puts me off. How did you find this?

    Reply
  • Anda says: July 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I’m sure this is a fun way to travel when you have kids. However, I think is very tiring to drive for so long and campgrounds are not as comfortable as hotel rooms, so I’ll stick with the latter.

    Reply
  • Vlad says: July 5, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Never been in one, but I think an RV is a great way to travel! 😀 It’s a dream of mine (and my parents’ too) that when I’ll retire, I’ll buy one and slow travel around the continent 😀

    Reply
  • Connie Reed says: July 6, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    I love camping, being able to step out your door into nature. The downside, like you said, is the cost. We’ve owned travel trailers a couple of times, and by the time you add up the cost of a monthly payment, insurance and storage when you’re not using it. plus the cost of staying in campgrounds, which in the U.S. are not free and some quite costly, you can stay in a hotel for less. You didn’t mention fuel prices, with very low miles per gallon, so it adds up quickly. We vacillate all the time on whether to get another one after our last was destroyed by a hail storm.

    Reply
  • Victoria@celebratetheweekend says: July 7, 2015 at 2:39 am

    I think campervans are a very suitable way to travel around vast nature areas (not for cities!). you may have to research your campsites in advance if you are picky like myself, but if you love camping and nature wonders, campervan would be an excellent choice to explore on a roadtrip. Not having to unpack every day would be a draw; and- there are actually luxury vehicle choice which I am sure costs more per day than a hotel room- so you have to LOVE the idea and experience.

    Reply
  • Lisa Woood says: July 10, 2015 at 9:38 am

    We live in a Motorhome {here in Australia} and have a campervan as our smaller vehicle and love travelling that way.
    Seeing New Zealand in a Campervan would be ideal but like you say the cost of staying at caravan parks are per adult and per child so it can get a bit pricey. We find staying for longer times brings down the cost because they can give you weekly discounted prices. Love the idea of using the Spa facilities for free {in Waikite Valley Thermal Pool and Spa caravan park} – Hope your upcoming trips are just as fun.

    Reply
    • selimsraasta@gmail.com says: July 10, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks Lisa 🙂 I loved reading going through your blog, so happy to have discovered your story, adventures and travels! Amazing that you guys have been doing it for so long now, very inspiring 🙂

      Reply
  • Gail Tossell says: August 4, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Great memories in your pics from our trip to New Zealand more than 10 years ago! My you all look so well and enjoying the trip I can see. We did the luge n cable car and can still remember the panic as we rode up and I could see discarded safety helmets in the nets below. Surely they were attached to someone’s head when they fell? Anyway suffice to say I beat both Dave and Sam on the downward strait, twice and we had our share of those spas as well. But. And there’s a big but. Dave decided to put bubble bath in ours and we lost our 13 year old son in a raft of bubbles and blocked the drain! Oh and my New Zealand Sauvignon was totally ruined with soap! Still the best experience ever

    Reply
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