Arthurs Pass, Southern Alps
Road tripping is some of the most fun you’ll ever have but there are certain things you need to know before hiring a campervan in New Zealand. Whizzing off on a roadie with your backpack full and your playlist ready is a slightly different experience in every country. My New Zealand road trip followed several months living the van life in Australia but there was still plenty to learn along the way!
Below are things you need to know before hiring a campervan in New Zealand from my experience driving the North and South Islands. Sometimes, I learnt the hard way so hopefully I can save you from making a few mistakes too!
You’ll find the itinerary I followed here.
Things You Need to Know Before Hiring a Campervan in New Zealand
Milford Sound Lodge, South Island
1. If a van is really cheap, there’s a reason for that
Trust me, spend a bit extra. You do not want to be in the arse end of the mountains and realise your doors don’t lock and your fridge doesn’t fridge (read as: do not hire a Lucky)
2. New Zealand is awesome for freedom camping
You could easily go for months without paying even a nights accommodation
DOC Campsite Queen Charlotte Drive, nr Picton, South Island
3. You’ll get a lot more choice if you hire a self-contained campervan
Pretty quickly, I regretted not paying extra to hire self-contained. Not only would the facilities have been handy at times, but certified self-contained vehicles get a lot more freedom camping privileges. I’m talking awesome sites! Rangers and local police do come and check.
4. A lot of people fake their self-contained sticker, which is really annoying when you don’t have one
Yeah, sure you’ve got a toilet, fresh water and a waste tank mysteriously hidden in your Tardis of a Toyota people carrier mate. Good one. Side note: you could fake it yourself but you could also get caught and fined.
5. Always choose a van you can stand up in
Thankfully this is one I learnt when road tripping around Australia. It’s so much more pleasant to be able to stand when you’re cooking, making the bed up, getting changed or just playing a really enthusiastic round of UNO.
Prepare to fall in love with L&P
6. Pick up in Auckland and drop off in Christchurch
Or vice versa. New Zealand is not conducive to a looped road trip and you’ll waste a lot of time and money (on fuel and a second ferry crossing) driving your van all the way back to your start point.
7. You will get fined if you park against the direction of the traffic
Really! Thankfully a kind stranger let me know before my supermarket shop accidentally cost me a few hundred dollars extra. If you’re parking on the road, always face the direction of the traffic flow (there are no signs, you’re just expected to know this).
8. Milford Sound only has one campsite
Which means its expensive! However, Milford Sound is definitely worth a trip and the camp facilities are pretty good. I recommend staying for a night and taking the early morning Jucy Cruise.
The swing at Milford Sound, South Island
9. Get a Countdown loyalty card and save on fuel
Countdown is the New Zealand equivalent of Australia’s Woolworths or Britains Tesco. You can pick up a loyalty card in store and you don’t have to register it or live at an NZ address. You’ll access in store savings on your groceries and accumulate points that can be used for fuel discounts
10. Diesel is really cheap but you’ll have to pay a separate tax
When you return your hire van, you’ll be charged a diesel tax based on the number of miles you’ve travelled. As diesel is so cheap it still works out relatively economically but comes as a nasty shock if you don’t know (hi!)
11.Climates vary a lot across the islands
Even in the balmy late summer I found myself tanning by day and shivering like a leaf by night, particularly in the Southern Alps (go figure). Make sure you’ve got layers and something extra warm for at night.
Hooker Valley Trail, Mount Cook, South Island
12. You need your passport to buy alcohol, whatever age you are or look
NZ is really strict on alcohol sales, particularly to tourists. Your foreign driving license won’t cut it so remember to take your passport when you’re on a booze run (handy that your entire home is parked just outside, right?)
13. Take out your own vehicle insurance
Rental companies notoriously charge a fortune for insurance but it’ll be just your luck that as soon as you decline it, you’ll run into some trouble and wind up with a hefty bill. I found it harder to find an independent rental insurers in New Zealand than in Australia (there’s a lot more choice if you’re actually from NZ) but I got there in the end and it cost less than a fifth what I would’ve paid the hire company.
Sunrise breakfast at Lake Tarawera, North Island
14. Plan, and plan for your plan to fail
There’s so much to see in New Zealand that it’s wise to have some kind of plan unless your time is unlimited. However, do so knowing that you’ll often need to wing it. A road closure forced me on a 14 hour diversion all the way to the other side of the South Island. There were a few tears, then it became an adventure.
15. On New Zealand roads, anything can happen
You’ll drive along for 4 hours without seeing another soul and then suddenly you’ll be stuck behind 1000 sheep for another 2.
Baaaaa-lockage, South Island
16. Dedicate at least 75% of your time to the South Island
There are cool things to see up north but as soon as you hit the south you’ll never want to leave.
17. And if you’ve got less than 3 weeks, only do the South Island
Sorry North Island.
18. You’ll get pretty used to bathing in freezing lakes
And rivers, and creeks and whatever body of fresh water you can get your smelly mitts on. In case the title isn’t clue enough for you, glacial lakes are cold.
Lake Tekapo, South Island
19. Sandflies are the devils work. Prepare to be bitten.
If you think mosquitos are bad, just wait until you meet these beasts.
20. Take a USB charger and an AUX cable
A roadie playlist is as essential as fuel…Almost.
21. It’s the law that you must eat at least two Fergburgers in Queenstown
You’ll thank me later.
Fergberger, Queenstown, South Island
Where to Hire Your New Zealand Campervan From: RatPack Travel
I hired four different campervans in Australia and, the majority of the time, it was a ballache. Expensive calls on my international SIM, putting down a deposit on a van online only to find out it’s not even actually available, no clue which model to choose or why…you name it.
Just before I left Australia I was introduced to Sammy, the brains behind RatPack Travel. God, I wish I’d found him sooner! RatPack Travel are essentially camper van brokers; they’ve got shit-hot relationships with all the major rental companies as well as some cool, family-run versions. Better still, Sammy is working really hard to change the face of the (often scammy) rental and tourism market. Having spent time working in high street travel and tour agencies, he saw the way customers were being extorted in exchange for impersonal service.
The way RatPack works is this: you let them know what you’re after, they’ll advise you on what would be best suited, compare rates for you and then forward you suitable options. They do all the work involved in booking (so no sitting on hold to a premium line or trying to get a straight answer out of a bored sales agent) too and ultimately you will always get a better rate and better service than if you go direct to the rental company.
If you run into any problems on the road or just want some advice from someone who’s been there and done that – Sammy was totally invaluable to the planning of my NZ trip – then the team are just a quick message away.
No stuffy phone calls or awkward emails, it’s as easy as WhatsApp-ing Sammy’s crew (they operate out of a bus in Byron Bay, they’re that rad) on +61450381801 to get things started. Already booked your flights? Hit this link and send over your dates! Sammy will get comparing all the best rates and styles immediately. Mention me to access amazing discounts and let Sammy know I sent you!
It goes without saying guys that you should always choose to support a small biz, like Ratpack, over a huge corporation any day.
Mount Cook, South Island
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Rotorua Redwood Forest, North Island
View of Lake Tekapo from St John’s Observatory, South Island