“Campervanning New Zealand” has become a quintessential bucket list item for every person who dreams of travel. The freedom of living like a turtle with your home on your back while exploring perhaps the most beautiful country in the world is an experience no one could possibly forget.
There is much to consider before setting off to travel New Zealand by campervan, however. The locals (known as kiwis), hospitable as they are, have grown quite tired of gap-year students treating their home like a hotel with maid service. Excessive litter, overflowing toilets, and inundated parking lots have forced the country to respond to the unrelenting surge of “freedom campers”.
This travel guide will explain EVERYTHING you need to know and consider for your New Zealand campervan road trip. In addition to providing options and insights for trips of all lengths and varieties, we will also focus on vacationing respectfully.
If you are dreaming of 4 wheels on the ground and 1 in your hand as you cruise around Middle Earth, bookmark this guide and study it closely.
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Choosing a vehicle for Campervanning New Zealand
New Zealand has a special designation called “self-contained”, which is awarded to campervans that can serve as a legitimate home for 3 days. The specific requirements your vehicle must meet continue to evolve, but it primarily comes down to water and waste storage.
The absolute most important decision you will make for campervanning New Zealand is what vehicle you will road trip in. Having something that is self-contained will open up a “heap” of options for parking overnight.
New Zealand by Self-Contained Campervan
Pros: Most liberating option, budget-friendly, fairly comfortable.
Cons: More expensive up-front.
Recommended for: Most people.
This is easily the best option for campervanning New Zealand.
Having a campervan that is certified self-contained allows you to “freedom camp”, which means that you may legally park overnight on public land unless local restrictions have been implemented. Having this ability will save you a lot of money in camping fees, and will also allow you the most flexible itinerary. With that said, this is not a ticket to parking anywhere. You must still be proactive in finding places where you can park for the night.
Strong consideration should be given to something that has the self-contained sticker regardless of whether you are buying or renting your campervan. Most rental companies will sub-categorize these options for you. If you are considering buying a campervan for an extended trip, however, you may want to review the most recent guidelines for self-containment designation.
New Zealand by NON Self-Contained Campvervan
Pros: Cheapest option, fairly liberating.
Cons: Limited freedom camping options, small space for long trips.
Recommended for: Budget travelers.
Whether you are renting or buying your campervan for New Zealand, you will discover the cheapest options are non self-contained vehicles. When deciding whether to upgrade or not, your decision should weigh the additional up-front expense with the increased cost in having to pay for most campsites. You will not be allowed to camp overnight on public land if you do not have the self-contained sticker.
While not always the case, non-self contained campervans tend to be physically smaller models of vehicle. New Zealand gets a LOT of rain and inclement weather; having space for laundry and to dry out should be another massive consideration for extended travel.
We will discuss this more in-depth in the next section on acquiring a campervan. In short, anyone planning on traveling for more than a month should definitely look for something self-contained. Short term travelers with a rigid itinerary have the option of saving some money on a non-self contained vehicle and just planning more carefully.
New Zealand by Motorhome
Pros: Most comfortable option, allows self-contained freedom camping.
Cons: Most expensive and least accessible option.
Recommended for: Extended trips and/or comfort-minded travelers.
We did want to mention the option of traveling New Zealand by motorhome as well. The benefit is, of course, comfort. The downsides are going to be accessibility, expense, and lost time.
Any motorhome you get will be self-contained. However, this does not mean you can park anywhere! In fact, you may find it difficult to locate overnight parking for oversized vehicles.
Beyond that, motorhomes require frequent hookups to recharge power, dump waste, refill water, etc. Choosing to road trip NZ by RV will force you to seek proper campsites with hookups at least every few days.
We only recommend choosing a motorhome for your visit to New Zealand if you have specific, physical needs that a campervan cannot fulfill.
READ MORE: South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Acquiring a Campervan
There are many options for campervanning New Zealand beyond simply renting a vehicle (though that may be the best option for many).
The factors you should consider are the length of your trip, your budget, the expected weather, and physical comfort.
Pros: Fastest, easiest option.
Cons: Most expensive option (usually).
Recommended for: Short visits (less than a month).
Renting a campervan is the most popular and easiest option for most visitors. This allows you to pick up right at the airport, sign some paperwork, and hit the road. What’s more, these vans tend to be designed efficiently for this exact type of journey. Your insurance and maintenance is also taken care of, so there’s a lot less to worry about!
There are plenty of companies to choose from, but Jucy is the most popular, and usually the most budget-friendly. We traveled with them in both New Zealand and Australia and will always recommend them. Their prices are the most competitive and they offer a variety of sizes and options. They also always provided us with incredible customer service.
Buy & Sell
Pros: Potentially cheapest option, unlimited choices.
Cons: Risky, time-consuming.
Recommended for: Extended visits (1.5 – 3+ months).
This is an interesting option that many do not consider. If you are planning on campervanning New Zealand for much longer than a month, buying a campervan and selling it when you are done could save you a lot of money!
Of course, this will be a more complicated option than renting as you will have to broker the deals and figure out insurance. You are also on your own for maintenance! Most backpackers have no intention of keeping nor caring for their campervan, so buy with caution!
There are many Facebook groups and other resources available for those looking to buy or sell a vehicle. Even if you take a small loss on the resale, it will likely be a lot cheaper than renting a campervan.
As this option is only recommended for long term-visitors, we strongly urge you to seek a certified self-contained campervan for your road trip. Additionally, you would be wise to insist the vehicle is inspected prior to purchase. Your trip will be seriously impaired if you end up with a lemon!
Self-contained vehicles will cost slightly more up-front, but will also have more resale value. You will also save a lot of money in camping fees. The main reason to go self-contained, though, is that a lot more options are available for overnight stays with that “certified” sticker.
Bottom line- having something self-contained during your time in New Zealand will greatly improve your experience!
Pros: Cheap & Easy; potential to make a lifelong friend(s).
Cons: Forced to compromise; potential for an unfavorable travel partner.
Recommended for: Backpackers.
This is another intriguing option that many do not consider or are unaware of. Because there are so many people just like you looking for that once-in-a-lifetime road trip campervanning New Zealand, there are a lot of opportunities for “ridesharing”.
Essentially, ridesharing means that you will split expenses and travel together. This is generally only an option for two solo travelers to pair up and split costs, though I have heard of groups or couples loading up a motorhome that sleeps 4+ and minimizing fuel costs.
Beyond the obvious benefit of saving money on food, petrol, and maintenance by dividing costs, there is also a lot more adventure in pursuing this option. You may well make a lifelong friend or friends, and will have someone to share the experience with.
It should be noted that in New Zealand, your camping fees are usually per person, not per vehicle, so you will not save money in groups for this expense.
The downside, of course, is that you do not know much about the person you are traveling with. Perhaps you do not resolve conflict together well, or maybe they are a slob! For this reason, we would only recommend agreeing to a rideshare for a week at first. If you find you love each others’ company, then you can continue, but you’ll want to have an out!
Planning & Prep for Traveling New Zealand by Campervan
There are a lot of things you can (and should) do before ever arriving in New Zealand. This section will explain what pre-considerations you should look into, while providing helpful guidance for each topic.
Visa Requirements for Visiting New Zealand
Unless you are an Australian citizen, you will need to apply for a visa or visa waiver prior to arriving in New Zealand. Not to worry; the process is cheap and easy, and is all done online. If you are Aussie, you can skip this section altogether.
Which visa or waiver you need to apply for will vary based on duration of stay and which country you are a citizen of. As the majority of our foreign readers are from the US, UK, and Canada, we will describe those options below. If you are not a citizen of one of these countries, visit the New Zealand government website for information specific to your home country.
Visa Waiver (less than 90 day visit)
All you will need to do is apply for the NZeTA visa waiver here. It is all done online and approval can take as little as 10 minutes, or as long as 72 hours. The total cost is $44 – $47 NZD (about $30 USD), broken down below:
- An NZeTA REQUEST costs NZD $9 if you use their free app, or NZD $12 if complete it online using their website.
- You pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) at the same time as your NZeTA. This costs NZD $35.
You will also need to have an exit ticket in order to enter New Zealand on the NZeTA Visa Waiver.
Visitor Visa (up to 9 month visit)
The New Zealand visitor visa allows you up to 9 months to enjoy the country. Among other considerations, you must be able to prove that you can financially support yourself without working during this time. You must also have an exit ticket pre-booked for entry.
The application cost is only $35 NZD ($22.50 USD) online, and approval typically occurs within 36 days.
1-Year Work/Holiday Visa
If you are considering living and working in New Zealand for an extended period and are 30-years-old or younger, you can apply for a one-year work/holiday visa. Visit the New Zealand immigration website for specific information.
Useful Apps & Guides for Campervanning New Zealand
Even with a cell phone plan, service can be very spotty in New Zealand. You will want to download the following apps and have offline access to these resources prior to arrival.
Offline Google Maps
Be sure to download Offline Google Maps for any regions you will be campervanning. It is free and easy, and will save you from using up your data, not to mention it will provide access to GPS even when you have lost service.
If you have never done this before, a quick Google search will walk you through the process.
Also not an app, but worth bookmarking and studying is our ultimate map to the New Zealand South Island. We have created this custom map to include every point of interest on the island and attached photos we have personally taken at each.
Be sure to bookmark and consult this map while planning so that you do not miss anything along the way!
Wikicamps New Zealand
This is the singular most necessary app you will need for campervanning New Zealand. Wikicamps is a crowd-sourced app that provides information on campsites (including costs, types, and restrictions), as well as general points of interest.
The cost is only $3 NZD ($2 USD) for a one-time purchase; money well spent! The only thing to be aware of is that because it is crowd-sourced, the information is often outdated. Be sure you check recent reviews and the time of posting while making plans.
This is a free alternative to Wikicamps. Because it is free, you may as well download it as every now and then an option was listed on Campermate that we had not seen on Wikicamps. Think of Campermate as the “Plan B” for finding campsites.
Gaspy – NZ Fuel Prices
Road tripping New Zealand by campervan means you are going to be spending a lot of money on fuel. Be warned that it is very expensive in New Zealand, costing roughly the same for a liter as you would spend on a gallon in the US. Use the Gaspy app to scout where you will find the cheapest pumps and plan your fill-ups accordingly!
Tip for Americans: “Gas” is referred to as “petrol” in New Zealand… and pretty much everywhere in the world besides the US.
Other Useful New Zealand Guides
We have amassed a lot of valuable guides to exploring New Zealand based on our numerous trips there. You may want to queue up the following South Island guides if any apply to the type of trip you will be taking:
NZ South Island 7 Day Itinerary: A thorough run down of options and expectations for exploring the South Island in one week.
The Best Time to Visit New Zealand: A breakdown of the pros and cons to visiting New Zealand by month and season.
NZ Landscape Photography & Hidden Gems: A guide to our favorite South Island landscapes and hidden gems for photography enthusiasts.
Queenstown to Milford Sound Guide: The journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound will greatly impact your trip; read why and explore options in this guide.
Useful Facebook Groups for Campervanning New Zealand
Facebook is an underrated resource when it comes to campervanning New Zealand. There are many useful groups and communities that can offer everything from advice to alerts to rideshares and more.
The following is a list of Facebook groups to consider joining that will undoubtedly provide wisdom and value for planning your trip.
This is one of the largest, most active communities. You can browse the group for photos and wisdom or ask a specific question and expect results almost instantly.
If you are hoping to catch the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) while you are there, make sure you not only follow this group, but have your alerts on! The SHAG administrators are extremely dedicated to tracking aurora and they do an amazing job providing real-time updates when the aurora australis may be visible.
This group has a lot of people (like ourselves) providing travel guides and wisdom, and is also a great place to ask questions specific to your trip.
The most active online community for campervanning New Zealand via rideshare.
If you plan on buying a campervan and selling it at the end of your visit, this group has the largest market and most options.
Traveling New Zealand by Campervan
Now that we’ve covered everything you will need to consider prior to arriving, we need to discuss what to expect once you have arrived and are actually traveling around New Zealand by campervan.
This section will explain the rules and regulations surrounding campervans, as well as budgetary considerations and itineraries.
Finding Campsites in New Zealand
Honestly, the absolute best and easiest way to find campsites in New Zealand is by using the Wikicamps App we have mentioned (with Campermate as a Plan B.) This one app includes all DOC sites, holiday parks, serviced campgrounds, and even unofficial sites! It also includes reviews, pricing, and information.
We have relied on Wikicamps for our numerous campervan adventures around New Zealand and have not found a better resource. The only thing to keep in mind is that this is a crowd-sourced app, meaning some of the information could be outdated or inaccurate. This only came up one time for us, where we searched for a campsite that no longer existed. Had we read the recent reviews before losing cell service, we would have known this!
Short-term visitors (2 weeks or less) should decide where they will camp prior to ever arriving based on their hopeful New Zealand itinerary. During peak seasons especially, you may run into full campsites and your time will already be limited. It is best to have that part pre-arranged so you can focus your time on enjoying your road trip!
Long-term visitors won’t be able to plan for their entire vacation, but we do recommend knowing where you intend to stay at least 24 hours in advance. Study Wikicamps or other resources so you don’t end up in the middle of nowhere facing freedom camping fines and/or lack of necessary facilities.
Freedom Camping in New Zealand
We briefly discussed freedom camping earlier, but it is a very important thing to understand when campervanning New Zealand. This section breaks down the general rules and enforcement.
What is freedom camping?
The government of New Zealand defines freedom camping as sleeping overnight on public land that is not a recognized camping ground or holiday park.
Is freedom camping legal?
It is illegal to freedom camp except on DOC (Department of Conservation) and local council land. Even these regions will usually have bylaws forbidding freedom camping if you are not in a registered self-contained vehicle.
You also must understand that even if your campervan qualifies by rule for being self-contained, you will be fined if you do not have the certification sticker visible.
Without that self-contained sticker, finding areas where you can park and camp overnight is extremely difficult. However, the Wikicamps New Zealand app we suggested will show all camping options, including costs and requirements.
Freedom camping enforcement
If you are caught camping in an area where freedom camping is not permitted, or if you are in a section designated for self-contained vehicles only without the verified sticker, you will be fined $200 NZD.
This law is heavily enforced in much of New Zealand, including remote regions where it might not be expected. In addition, irritated locals have been known to call in enforcement if they see you parked after hours.
By the way, do not expect the officer to wake you up and give you warning! They will literally come by and write up tickets for anyone illegally parked, going windshield to windshield while you sleep. We know this first-hand.
What to do if you receive a fine for freedom camping
If you have been cited for freedom camping, you will find a ticket on your windshield in the morning. Do not expect the officer to wake you up or debate the issue. You will have 28 days to send payment before fines increase.
There is the option to write in a dispute, but it is a pretty black and white law and difficult to explain away.
Regions of greatest enforcement
Areas that have the most backpacker traffic tend to also have the greatest freedom camping enforcement.
On the South Island, the places that are most heavily patrolled include Queenstown, Milford Sound, and Mt Cook.
There is also a freedom camping “trap” at Brighton Beach outside of Dunedin. There is a parking lot that is listed as permitting overnight camping on most apps, but only a few spaces are actually open for doing so. Each night, campers fill up the non-designated spaces and wake up with $200 tickets on their windshields!
On the North Island, the Coromandel Peninsula, Raglan, and the peninsula north of Auckland are known to be more alert to freedom campers.
New Zealand by Campervan: Where to Go
If you are reading this guide for campervanning New Zealand looking for itineraries or suggestions on where to go, we recommend browsing our other New Zealand guides. We have dedicated entire travel guides that outline itineraries, points of interest, and destinations for landscape photography.
New Zealand by Campervan: When To Go
While we have our favorite months and suggestions for when to travel New Zealand by campervan, the best time to visit is ultimately a subjective decision.
If your travel plans are flexible, queue up our full guide on choosing the best time to visit New Zealand. This comprehensive resource breaks down the most important factors that will influence your visit by month and by season.
Budget and Costs for Campervanning New Zealand
Those of you opting to travel New Zealand by campervan rather than stay in hotels are likely doing so at least in-part for budgetary reasons. Of course, some of you may just like the freedom that campervans provide! If budget is of no concern to you, then you can skip this section.
While we would love to simply declare a solid estimated budget, this is simply too subjective. Considerations that will play a major role in budgeting correctly include:
- Size of party
- Vehicle costs (Rental Fees vs Buy/Sell vs Rideshare)
- Expected camping fees (freedom camping vs DOC vs Holiday Parks)
- Dietary preferences
- Length of journey (fuel costs)
- Interest in additional tours/activities
Rather than suggesting a specific budget, we have outlined general costs to expect below. These prices are accurate as of June 2020. Using these prices will provide insight into how much you should expect to spend exploring New Zealand by campervan.
The average price of petrol in New Zealand is currently $4.80 USD per gallon, or $1.30 per liter. Most campervans get about 20mpg. Obviously, the amount to budget varies wildly based on expected travel distance and the number of people in your party, but you should be able to calculate it fairly easily:
(Total trip distance / Fuel Efficiency) x Price of Petrol = Cost
For example, our suggested one week New Zealand South Island Itinerary is 1250 miles, or 2000km. Assuming the average campervan gets 20 miles per gallon (12.5km per gallon), we would expect to spend $300 USD on petrol:
(1250 miles / 20 miles per gallon) = 62.5 gallons x $4.80 per gallon = $300
Converted to liters: 62.5 gallons = 236 liters x $1.30 per liter = $306
We could not possibly set a food budget for you as everyone is so unique. One person may be content living on bread and peanut butter, while another needs avocado and organic food!
For reference, our average weekly grocery bill was about $100 USD for food. This provided a steady diet of Domino’s $5 pizzas, lots of bread, and too much rice.
To be safe, we suggest budgeting $150 USD for the average campervanner who is not eating out.
If you are self-contained, you might be able to avoid fees on most nights for camping. Non self-contained vehicles will have more difficulty finding freedom camping available, though it is possible.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) is the equivalent of the NPS in the US, or the National Trust in the UK. They offer a variety of serviced campgrounds that range based on facilities and location. Prices are as follows;
- Unpowered, Basic Sites (self-contained required): $8+ ($5+ USD)
- Scenic campgrounds: $15-$18 NZD ($10-12 USD)
- Serviced campgrounds: $20-23 NZD ($13-15 USD)
Note: these prices are PER PERSON, not per campervan!
If you are buying and selling your campervan or participating in a rideshare, then your budgetary considerations for vehicle costs will be mostly negated. That is, assuming you can sell your vehicle back for what you paid!
Most of you reading this, however, will be campervanning New Zealand in a rental vehicle. Factoring this into your budget is fairly straightforward and will be calculated automatically when you make your reservation.
We have found Jucy to be the best option in terms of being economic, well-designed, and providing service. Prices vary by season and model of campervan, but expect to pay about $25-$50 NZD ($16-$32 USD) per day.
Final Thoughts on Campervanning New Zealand
The more we have traveled, the more we have come to love and appreciate the freedom that campervanning provides. Being able to cook up dinner on a campstove while the colors of sunset come to life and knowing we can stay right here until it rises again is a unique type of joy.
If you are reading this section of the guide, it is because you understand this joy and have decided to explore New Zealand by campervan as well. We hope you were able to find significant value from our experience!
If you see anything that is no longer accurate or feel that we have omitted information that you would have found useful, please let us know in the comments below!