Campervan – what a great innovation for traveling in New Zealand. See the sunset and sunrise in the mountains, rainforest, beach, city… you name it. Explore the country the way you want and on a budget. Here are our tips to smooth and budget friendly campervaning in New Zealand. We rented a campervan in April 2017 for two weeks in the South Island and for one week in the North Island and learned these tricks on the road.
1. Be Early for Renting a Campervan
The earlier you are the cheaper deal you get when renting a campervan. Also check the local holidays as prices go up on those days. You can easily compare the campervans online and make a request to rent one. The sites are not usually accurate about the availability of the campervans. We thought there are several options available, but in the end they were all booked and we had only couple of more expensive ones to choose from. After making the booking online everything went smoothly. We used VroomVroomVroom and Campervan Finder and booked with Happy Camper and Jucy. We were happy with both cars and paid around 60-70 NZ dollars a day when booking last minute. Some fellow travelers got their cars 50 % cheaper, so be early!
If you are staying for longer, you might also consider buying a campervan, but prepare to have time for selling it at the end of your travel. And remember the travel season at that time, it affects the prices.
2. Buy your Insurance Separately
Car dealers always offer insurances to go together with your car. For many companies, this is the service they make money with. However, there are many cheaper options with similar coverage offering insurances online. We used Rental Cover, but luckily we didn’t have any accidents so we didn’t have to use their services any further.
3. Arrange International Driving License Beforehand
This is something we didn’t do in advance and needed to apply for translation for our driving licenses when picking up the car from the rental. The quick translation costed a lot and took some extra time at the rental shop, when we just wanted to hit the road. So if possible, get an international driving license or English translation for your driving license before your trip.
Not all rental agencies check this, but we heard that if police stops you, you might get a nasty bill and they might even confiscate your car. We didn’t see any police though 😉
4. Consider Self-Contained
New Zealand has probably hundreds of free camp sites, where you can park your car for the night and in many sites you can also find simple toilet facilities and drinking water. Lately, many of the free camp sites are restricted to self-contained vehicles only. This means that you need to have a toilet or a portable toilet (porta potty) and a sertificate in your window / car for being self-composed. You don’t need to use the toilet. Many free campers who didn’t have this got 200 NZ fines as the rangers checked the cars early in the morning.
There are of course few free camping options and cheap paid camps for non-self contained vans also.
For your comfort, you might also want cooking facilities and fridge / cooler inside your car, if you are traveling on a colder season. In the summer the trunk option is just fine.
5. Plan your Stops – Wikicamps and Campermate
Usually, when going to explore a new country, we have checked Lonely Planet or some local recommendations beforehand. In New Zealand, we didn’t plan much beforehand as we found these two apps very handy on the road. Wikicamps and Campermate apps show you maps with all the campsites, activities, supermarkets, public showers, water taps etc. with the latest comments and reviews. You can also filter the results, e.g. when searching for free campsites for self-composed vehicles. Without these apps we would have been totally lost. Remember to download them on your phone before your travel and remember to download all the offline versions as well, as the internet connection in NZ countryside is super poor or inexisted. Also Maps.Me is very handy offline map tool for checking the distances and for using the navigator. We also used a gas app Gaspy to check the cheapest gas at some locations, but you will need an internet connection.
6. Buy food and gas together in PAK’nSAVE
When traveling on isolated South Island, we didn’t come across the idea that it is possible that there are no shops or gas stations available near the camp sites. Or if there are, the prices are triple of the already high prices at bigger supermarkets. The cheapest option to make your shopping is to stop at PAK’nSAVE supermarkets and shop for few days in advance. The more you buy, the bigger discount you also get in their own gas station. Buying food and gas together is a big save in your budget. Check the shop locations beforehand, as in the South Island there are only few PAK’nSAVE stores in the bigger cities.
7. Prepare for the Lack of Electricity, Wifi and Shower Facilities
These necessities that we find so normal at home, may be difficult at van travel.
As you are mostly spending your time in the car, you are limited to the electricity of the car’s power supply. Bring a car charger with few USB ports, audio cable for music, external power bank and extra batteries for camera etc. Many free or cheaper camp sites do not have power supplies available for the cars. Few times I asked to charge my camera battery in swimming halls, restaurants or shops while we went for a swim or a hike.
We were traveling for three weeks in NZ and decided to buy a local sim card with data package. We paid around 30 NZ dollars for 1 GB of data with Spark. It was expensive compared to the prices in Finland, but made the journey a lot nicer. The connection was super poor or nonexistent outside the bigger cities, e.g. at the camp sites, but at least in the cities we were able to check some stuff online. Prepare for this, for example by downloading some movies offline in Netflix or your laptop / pad and by bringing some books or an e-book reader with books with you.
As we were traveling on winter season, we found it sometimes difficult to find hot showers as many showers at free camp sites were ice cold. Soon, we figured that public swimming halls were excellent options and you could also have a swim, so bring your goggles with you. And you could also charge your batteries 🙂