We had done our first campervan trip earlier this year, when we travelled from Auckland to Rotorua over four days. I had written about the pros and cons of campervan travel from our experience when I still wasn’t convinced it was the best way to travel around New Zealand. We decided to give it another shot and did 2 weeks travel from Auckland, North Island all the way to Wanaka, South Island and back again – a journey of 3300 kilometres plus ferry crossing.
I already wrote about all the amazing places we visited in South island, the highlights being the stunning scenery from our scenic flight from Lake Tekapo and the marine wildlife we were lucky to see in Kaikoura!
In this post I want to highlight the specific reasons – practical, financial and aesthetic – why travelling by campervan is such a great way to see New Zealand, plus recommendations from the many sites we had stayed at. Thanks to the wide range options to choose from -freedom camping to DOC sites for $20 per night to glamping sites, you can fit in different travel styles. We stayed in several free sites with basic portable toilets, sites with hot showers, kitchen and laundry facilities to luxury campervan sites with play areas, swimming pools and spas (we made very good use of these!)
If you have ever considered travelling by campervan but wasn’t sure where to start, read this post. By the end of it, you might want to give it a try 🙂
So why is campervan travel in New Zealand so popular?
Locations with stunning views – a fraction of what you pay for hotels with such views!
We like to travel often and whilst I wouldn’t say our travel style is completely budget – we like to eat well and we do visit paid attractions time to time- when it comes to accommodation, we keep it simple which helps to keep costs down. As long as room is clean, we are not fussed about ammenities. Let’s just say we wouldn’t be paying extra to have sea or mountain views. So it comes as a bonus when we are travelling in a campervan, to be able to have the best views one only dreams about and have the opportunity to see marine wildlife outside your window (we only saw a seal, but I know others who have seen dolphins.)
It’s one thing to step outside the car, admire the view for a brief moment, snap a few pictures. It’s a completely different experience to be part of that spectacular landscape or seascape, to wake up to such views every morning and the night sky…I have no pictures to do night time justice..it’s a just a surreal experience seeing the billions of stars and the milky way. Many campervan sites are right next to water bodies – be it a lake, river or sea and here some of the free ones we stayed at enjoying the view from our ‘room.’
Freedom and flexibility to take detours, stop at lesser known places and travel anywhere and everywhere!
There is no lack of spectacular natural scenery wherever you travel in New Zealand 🙂 Blessed with blue seas, majestic mountains, lush rainforests, glaciers, waterfalls, hot springs and abundance of marine and bird wildlife, there is always something to make you stop at different spots, admire the views and take lots of pictures. Whilst this is possible with any kind of road trip or journey, being in a campervan just allows you that much more freedom to go off track, find lesser known off the beaten track places that you would not really get to see if you are stationary in one place. Being in a campervan allows you to stay at any of these spots as long as you would like to without worrying about getting to the next booked accommodation or it getting dark and having to get somewhere for a meal. Your food and accommodation travels with you, allowing you the freedom to roam and stop wherever you are.
Wide range of choice from freedom camping to glamping sites
The variety of campsites you can stay at allows for so much flexibility and enables you to combine ‘roughing it’ and sitting in a mineral rich water spa (whilst paying $20 a night!) Every 2-3 days we stay at one of these fancy one – Top 10 Holiday Park – kind of campervan sites. We enjoyed hot showers, large kitchen and dining area, did laundry, play area for the kids, and in some of the places, hot pools and spa 🙂
One of the first things people mention to me about why they couldn’t do campervan travel is the lack of space. You are having to share a very limited amount of space with other people, be it family or friends, all the time! Whilst this can be challenging and even we were in doubt when we started on the 2 week trip, thinking this might be make or break!
Happy to say, other than mornings which is a bit difficult as the kids are up much earlier than us, rest of the time, the close proximity and lack of digital entertainment, did not cause any stress when it came to family dynamics. Normally in the mornings the kids just entertain themselves without waking us up. But in the campervan it wasn’t possible so it would always be an early start to the day (which is not necessarily a bad thing 🙂 We played board games, chatted during cooking and meal times, read together, shared the chores, and had a great time bonding as a family. And this is of course, just within the campervan. Outside the world was our playground!
Budget friendly gourmet meals with excellent views
Eating out in New Zealand can be very expensive and outside the bigger towns, options are limited. Being in a campervan allowed us to have a variety of meals – Italian, Thai, Bengali and good old canned spaghetti hoops and crisps when we didn’t feel like eating well! Having a fridge, stove and a microwave and all the utensils you might possibly need, enabled us to eat really well and cheap during our travels. It was great to be able to have a picnic, a BBQ or just sit around our dining table inside the campervan or picnic table outside when we wanted to. And can I just add the views again during our meals were more than spectacular!
Meeting People – Kiwis are some of the friendliest people we have met!
One of the best things of travelling around in a campervan is all the interesting people we have met during the road trip. The kids made friends with other camper kids, collected wood and made a fire together. We chatted to different people, all with their own stories and experiences of travelling and recommended places to visit. At one point, one family gave us their spare tickets to a popular spa in Taupo as they were heading back home!
Some useful bits of information
Having the CamperMate App on our phone was very useful. You can see all the campsites coded in green (free), blue (small fee e.g. $15-20 total) and purple ($20 per person) and description of the facilities available in each site. You can also find the information on the website. Best part was you can see other’s reviews which helped us to decide on which sites to stay at.
We used Motorhome Republic to find the best deal on which company to go with. So far both times we had used Britz and it had been good. There are different packages available but it roughly costs about $60 a day to rent for campervan with two double beds and being self contained (toilet included.) Plus there is fuel costs and whatever each site cost, unless you only use the free sites.
You need to book way in advance for the summer months, prices go up and they have limited availability of vans, so they tend to get sold out over the peak months of December and January.
Any other questions or enquiries, give me a shout out!
We are now preparing to do a campervan trip in summer (finally!) We are headed back to South Island over Christmas with friends visiting from Thailand. After that we are headed on a two month campervan trip around Australia, driving from Melbourne to Cairns.
Watch this space for lots of exciting travels ahead 🙂