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.
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.
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.
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!
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 🙂
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!
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!
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 🙂
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!