Camping New Zealand: Why You Should Rent a Campervan

After a few weeks of traipsing around the country, I learned two things about camping New Zealand: it doesn’t exist and you should rent a campervan.

Now that I’ve thrown that down on the table!

While planning our trip to the land of the Kiwis, our group waffled on how to handle our transportation. We knew we would be doing a ton of hiking, especially since we’d already booked both the Mueller Hut and the Kepler Track. Both of those famous hikes required overnight stays in huts {although Kepler did allow cheaper tent camping in designated areas}, but we assumed that other backpacking trails would allow for the traditional tent camping you find in the States.

Camping New Zealand

Since we were planning on spending most of our time on trail, we debated renting a campervan versus the occasional hotel stay in between all of our hiking and dispersed camping adventures. In the end, we found a screaming deal on a campervan that made it a no brainer. And y’all, I’m psyched that it happened– because there is seriously no better way to travel New Zealand than a campervan!

Because here is the deal: dispersed camping in New Zealand is a rarity. NZ is quite cautious with their local flora and fauna, and for good reason. Since it is such a small island, rampant destruction and/or animals can be tough to control. As such, they strongly prefer to protect their natural resources. The way the Kiwis see it, dispersed camping {and tent camping in general} is just one more way to aid in the destruction of their environment.

Camping New Zealand

Photos: Will Rochfort

We stumbled on a few dispersed camping locations but most of them were so full that they weren’t even remotely appealing. Will and I did see some beautiful dispersed sites way out in the far reaches of Marlborough Sound, but that was about it.

As it turns out, that tent that barely made it through quarantine in customs? We didn’t use it a single time during our entire trip. We stayed in a hut during every single overnight trek and lived in our campervan for the rest of the trip.

Camping New Zealand: Why You Should Rent a Campervan

So why is renting a campervan the way to go? Oh, my friends. I shall tell you!  You see, I’m no outdoors dirtbag that aims to move out of my house and straight into a van. While I understand a bit of the appeal, I am quite content in our home and my current lifestyle.

That said, Will and I fell in love with campervans for travel back when we honeymooned in Canada, and we’ll never look back. In fact, I daresay NZ is the most campervan-friendly country I’ve visited yet!

Camping New Zealand

Mobile Living

This is easily one of the best aspects of campervan camping in New Zealand: you have your home with you wherever you go!

For example, there were a few days where our travel partners headed into Wellington to log a bit of city time while Will and I opted to stay in the countryside. We took the van and headed out into Marlborough Sound, driving the campervan as far out as we could make it in a day.

At one point, we stumbled on this beautiful grassy knoll, covered in what I think were Pohutukawa trees, known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree thanks to its beautiful red blooms around the holiday. We abruptly pulled the van into the space between two trees, facing the shimmering water in the Sound. Right then and there, he announced were going to have a picnic and set about pouring me some wine and making sandwiches in our kitchen. We threw the van door open to hear the chirping birds and simply relaxed for an hour or two.

Y’all, it was idyllic!

Camping New Zealand

Affordability

Here’s the thing: I’m not going to tell you that travel to New Zealand is cheap. The airfare to/from NZ alone is pricey: our roundtrip tickets cost us $1800 USD per person. That said, our tickets were more-than-usual expensive because we booked a three-legged flight: LAX to Sydney, Sydney to Christchurch, and Auckland to LAX. {Plus we flew between Christmas and NYE which is notoriously expensive. I’d wager a usual RT flight from LAX to Auckland is just under $1000.}

But if you are excluding those plane tickets, a campervan truly makes NZ travel affordable! First of all, the van itself was much cheaper than we expected. We found a four-sleeper campervan by Motorhome Republic that cost $1600 for two weeks. Basically, each person paid $400 for 14 nights of accommodations; that’s ridiculously affordable when you think about how much a hotel costs every night! Plus, it eliminates the need for an additional rental car cost.

As for gas? It wasn’t too bad. We drove all over both islands and the grand total was $300 for fuel.

Camping New Zealand

Food

If you’re anything like us, food is a daily priority! And while Will and I both enjoy splurging on nice dinners occasionally, we strongly dislike eating out every day while we travel. Not only is it usually unhealthy, but I start to feel gross and bloated with the heavier foods. If you multiply all of that eating times three meals a day times a few weeks of travel, you’ve got a heck of a lot of restaurant time!

But not so in a campervan. Once we picked up our van, we headed straight to a grocery store and grabbed the essentials. The van had a fridge, a stove, a microwave, and a sink, so you pretty much had everything you would need to cook any meal. I’d wake up in the morning, drink coffee, and make some eggs or oatmeal….just like I do at home.

My point is this: not only does having an accessible kitchen make things easier and healthier, but it cuts down on cost. We spent the absolute same amount of money we would’ve spent on food had we been back in the States. Honestly? We probably spent less since we tend to meet friends at home for dinner fairly frequently!

Camping New Zealand

Holiday Parks

Holiday parks were the last component of camping New Zealand and truthfully, it was one aspect I questioned at first. We only found one trailhead we were allowed to park in overnight, so the rest of our campervan evenings were spent at holiday parks.

If you are from the States, these parks appear very similar to KOAs here in the USA. They have a few {VERY few!} spots for tents but the majority of sites go to campervans. They’re relatively cheap– $20 NZ per night– and come with a hookup for power and water to recharge your battery, empty your tanks, etc. They also have showers and laundry facilities which is nice since we had neither in our van.

Finally, the parks typically had grounds-wide WiFi. Usually, I’m not big on internet while traveling, but I will admit there was one rainy night where it POURED all evening. Will and I nestled up with our iPad and popped on Gilmore Girls on Netflix. At first I felt silly that we were watching Gilmore Girls while in NZ, but after a long day of hiking, it was just the ticket!

********************

5 Comments

  • Reply Danielle March 13, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    So jealous! Did you guys opt out of the te aurora trail for any particular reason? I’m a huge Lord of the rings nerd, this is a bucket list country for sure!

    • Reply Heather March 13, 2017 at 8:09 pm

      Time! There is so much to see so we had to prioritize. We chose Mueller immediately and then Kepler when we realized we could get permits still. We really wanted to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing but weather didn’t cooperate. We also had the Cascade Saddle in Mt. Aspiring National Park on the list but that’s where the wicked rainy night came in that I mentioned. The dirt road to the park flooded and we had to get out of there so we didn’t get stuck on the wrong side of high river crossings! Truly, you can’t go wrong with any NZ hikes; they’re all beautiful! I do know some people that thru-hiked Te Araroa though. If you’re interested, you should check out their blog: http://wanderinglavignes.blogspot.com

  • Reply Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog March 15, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    It never would have occurred to me that NZ didn’t allow tent camping. This sounds like such a fun trip!

    • Reply Heather March 15, 2017 at 3:27 pm

      Hahah we didn’t realize it either! We easily could’ve left our tent at home 🙂 To be fair, it’s allowed in a few places (like on Kepler) but for just a little more money, you can stay in the hut with a bed and kitchen and bathrooms.

  • Reply Rachel @ Better LIVIN March 21, 2017 at 6:34 am

    I would love to explore NZ in a camper van like that!

  • Leave a Reply