New Zealand Campervan Road Trip Tips

New Zealand Campervan Road Trip Tips

Traveling through the North Island of New Zealand with a campervan is my favorite trip that I’ve been on with Kyle. So much so, we are hoping to do it again in the near future. This time through the South Island. Here are some of the reasons why we loved campervaning:

  • It provided us with both transportation and a place to sleep.
  • Our campervan simplified traveling with a baby because we were able to give Rosalie a familiar and stable “home” environment while still getting to explore.
  • You can easily make all of your meals, thus saving money and allowing you to eat healthy!
  • If you are wanting to hit up multiple locations, it saves you the time of packing and unpacking for each new hotel.
  • Freedom camping! I’ll explain below.

What is Freedom Camping?

Freedom camping is the ability to park and stay the night in select parking lots, parks, and more secluded areas throughout the country of New Zealand, most of which are free of charge or a low fee. While not all areas are up for use, there are hundreds of places that do allow you to stay. It allows for flexibility in your schedule, less of a strain on your wallet, and a flair for the unknown and adventure! Knowing that New Zealand had ample opportunities for adventure through made the decision for us to get a campervan quite easy.

There are a couple apps that are available which can help you find campsites, as well as facilities with restrooms, showers, kitchens, dump stations, etc. We used the Britz Roadtrip app. We loved that it could filter for price or needs, showed us pictures of the area, and that we could read up on the comments from people who had stayed there previously. Some of our favorite campsites were found from just a few taps on our phone.

We loved waking up in secluded areas like in the Horahora Domain, where we were greeted by black swans floating on the lake just behind our campervan. We were able to get away from the cities to see some of the most amazing starry views we’ve ever seen. There were several times we need a break from a long, late drive and were able to stop and stay somewhere peaceful and secluded. Am I selling you on the idea of a campervan adventure yet?

Choosing Your Campervan

In New Zealand, there are many companies that you could use to rent a campervan. Each has their own style and brand, which can make it fun to travel around with that flair. Some of the big companies are Britz, Mighty Campers, Jucy, and Maui. Prices vary between companies, which model you get, and the time of year you are traveling. Before booking, ask yourself these questions:

How many people will I be traveling with?

This will determine how many seats you need in the campervan. This will also dictate the size of campervan. There will always be two front seats in each camper, but if you need room for more people, a bigger camper may be necessary.

What is your budget?

Just like many other things, the prices for the campervans goes up during the high tourist season. November through March is the summer in New Zealand, and this is when the prices rise. If you are wanting to save money, prices from June to August drop. Once you determine when you are going, it can help

Self contained vs. not self contained?

If you are planning on staying in holiday parks where there are restrooms and showers, you can get a non-self contained vehicle. These usually contain a bed and a pull out kitchen stove, and usually look very similar to a normal van. With these vehicles, you are not allowed in all freedom camping areas. If you would like to be able to spend time driving through and camping in areas that don’t have access to restrooms and showers, you must have a bathroom, shower, and kitchenette in your camper. Self contained or Non-Self Contained campsites will be noted in the Britz Roadtrip app on information on the site.

Once you have answered these questions, and know what kind of camper to look for and for how long, head over to one of the rental company’s websites and pick out the camper that fits your criteria.

Our Campervan

A little about our campervan… We decided to use the Explorer model from Britz. It was a four person vehicle with a toilet, shower, kitchenette, fridge, microwave, tv, and speaker system. We came to this decision because we wanted to stay in several remote locations where we would not have access to power, water, kitchen, or bathroom facilities. We also needed a campervan that would seat three of us, and while there are vans with three seats in front or in the very back of the campervan, we needed one near the driver so we could have access to Rosalie’s car seat. As I ended up sitting next to her on our longer drives, we were grateful we chose this model.

Campervan Tricks

Depending on your campervan, you will have to ration how many days you stay away from a power source. Our campervan was equipped with a system which allowed us one day (two if we really conserved) of electric power between charging stations. Driving the campervan will charge the electricity, but if you are wanting to save your spot, to stay an extra night, you probably won’t want to move the van. While the lights would still work, we couldn’t use the outlets or the microwave unless connected to a power source. This meant we had to arrange what we were cooking or charging (cell phones, computers) based on what days we were hooked up to power. We learned this the hard way our first night when had settled into a freedom camping site and realized that we couldn’t charge our phones for the next day. Thank goodness we had packed a power bank that allowed us to charge.

Our stove and heat system (including heating water) was run via gas (propane – not the same as what you put in the campervan). This worked all the time but is another thing to keep track of, as it could lead to a half cooked dinner, or a very cold night (I write from experience).

To save our gas, our campervan came with an plug-in electric heater. We would use this instead of the gas heat when we had access to power. It may not have been as thourough, but it still worked and saved us the cost of refilling our gas tank.

Your campervan will have a couple different water tanks. One for fresh water to supply the sinks, toilet, and shower, and the other as the waste water. This is yet another thing that you will need to monitor if you are planning on hooking up to a water source. We could usually go three days without running out of water, but this is because we took very short showers. If you are a long, relaxing shower person, you will need to hook up to a water source. On that same note, unless you like cold showers, your water will need to be pre-heated, using your gas, before you getting in.

You should not drink the water that comes from your sink! Instead, invest in a large water container and refill as often as the opportunity presents itself. Remember to also use this water while brushing your teeth.

At some point, you are going to have to dump your toilet tank. I know it’s disgusting, but it has to be done. We were supplied with rubber gloves but if you don’t get some with your campervan, I would stop into a store and get some. For the most part the sewage stays contained, but there can be some splashing. Yuck. We chose to be selective on when we used our toilet so we didn’t have to empty it as often. If we were camping in a place with toilets, we would use those instead of our campervan. We ended up only dumping twice during almost two weeks.

There are several places to store your luggage, strollers, etc, but space is still limited. Be careful and selective with what you pack. We chose to keep all of our luggage (2 backpacks, a carryon sized roller bag, and a stroller) on the bed above the driver compartment for easy access, but had that been occupied, it would have been very tight in the outdoor storage area.

Because we wanted to limit our international data usage, we opted to get the wifi package. It was an extra 10 NZD a day, but was worth it as we were able to do research for our next destination via that. Some campgrounds do have free wifi with your stay, others make you pay for a small amount, and others don’t have it at all. We felt it was worth it for us.

We didn’t realize it before we got to New Zealand, but our campervan came with a navigational system. We would have gotten completely lost without it! If yours doesn’t come with one, and you are unfamiliar with where you are traveling, I highly recommend getting it.

Campervan Cooking

We ate better and healthier on this trip than we had on most trips. And that is because we could make our own food! We were limited to a stove and a microwave (though the campervan needed to be plugged in to run), but there were plenty of things we could still make. Our meals were always paired with New Zealand’s amazing produce! Which was probably what made it all so good! Below you will find a couple of our favorite stovetop recipies.

Lemon Broccoli Penne Pasta

1 box pasta

2 heads of broccoli

6 Tbsp olive oil

5 cloves garlic

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 pound parmesean cheese

1 lemon, juiced and zested

In extra large pot, boil penne 6 minutes less than al dente; add broccoli florets, and cook until penne is al dente. Drain; return to the pot, and toss with a couple of crushed garlic cloves, some olive oil, the zest and juice of a lemon, salt and pepper, and plenty of parmesan.

Fajitas

3 lbs. Flank steak or chicken 

1 cup lime juice

1 Tbsp. fresh ground pepper (or less) 

2 Tbsp garlic, minced

¼ cup olive oil

Red, yellow, and green peppers

1 medium onion

Flour tortillas, grated cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream

Make marinade with lime juice, pepper, garlic, and olive oil. Marinate thin sliced meat for 4-24 hours.

Heat oil then add meat. Cook through and remove. Meanwhile, slice a big bowl of peppers and onions (red, yellow, and green peppers).  Sauté’ in olive oil until tender.

Cut meat in thin strips cross-grain and add to vegetables.  Stir over heat until sizzling hot.  Roll in warm flour tortillas with grated cheese guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and Pico de Gallo.