The A-B-C of Driving a Campervan in New Zealand

Driving a Campervan in New Zealand 2

Covering around 166,540 miles, New Zealand (NZ) consists of 2 major land masses and a whopping 600 islands, offering the best of all worlds in terms of metropolitan cities, golden beaches, untamed wildernesses, fjords and more culture than you can shake a stick at.

With this in mind, there’s way more to do in this country than to simply spend a week or 2 in one of NZ’s biggest cities such as Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch!

To be frank, you haven’t lived NZ to the full until you have experienced the ultimate road trip through some of the country’s stunning scenery. The following is our guide to travelling safely through NZ by campervan and making the most of your trip.

Don’t forget to take care of your travel authorisation before you go. You can apply for your New Zealand tourist visa here.

All About Driving in New Zealand for Tourists

First things first, you will need to decide how you are going to get your hands on a campervan. Here, you have 2 options – buying a van or renting one. So which should you choose?

Renting

If you are going to be in NZ for a month or less, renting is almost certainly the best and most cost-effective option. Renting a campervan tends to be quick and easy and you can usually find some good deals through major agencies. So it is worth taking the time to do some research.

Buying

If you are taking a sabbatical of over a couple of months, or you are trying the country out for size as a possible new home, then buying a campervan will be your best bet.

To do this, allow at least 2 or 3 weeks before your trip to find your vehicle. As with any online purchase, research the seller thoroughly and never hand over money before you have seen the vehicle to confirm that it really suits your needs.

Remember that the campervan is going to be your home during your stay in NZ and so you will need to make sure that you take the time to find the right one for you.

Car, van or home?

Your second decision is to figure out what kind of vehicle you are going to need for your trip. When it comes to your “home from home” on your trip to NZ, you have 3 main options to choose from:

Campervan

These are, essentially, small vans or minibuses which have been converted into a vehicle made for camping. These usually offer plenty of room for storage and will have some basic facilities such as a toilet and water storage facility.

Campercar

Extremely popular with travellers, a camper car is an SUV or people mover from which the back seats have been removed to fit a bed.

Although campercars do not feature facilities such as toilets or showers, they are a popular choice since there is no age limit (typically of 18+ or 21+) to drive them, unlike with campervans. You are also able to buy ones that have a tent or canopy fitted on the back.

Motorhome

The most luxurious – and most expensive – option is a motorhome. These are spacious vehicles with plenty of room inside and all your home comforts including a toilet, shower, kitchen and dining area.

Motorhomes are a great choice if you are planning on spending a considerable amount of time in NZ, as they are certainly a more comfortable option than a campervan or campercar.

About Driving in New Zealand With an Overseas Licence

Before driving in NZ, you need to make sure that you are entitled to do so. As such, there are a few things you need to know:

  • The legal driving age in NZ is 16 (although, when renting a campervan, many agencies impose an age restriction of 18+ or 21+).
  • You will need a full valid driving licence written in English.
  • If your licence is not written in English, you’ll need to either gain an International Driving Permit or pay for a translation approved by the New Zealand Transport Agency which will set you back 58 NZD (around 40 USD).

Tourist Driving in New Zealand Tips

Although you will, of course, be able to buy food and other essentials when you arrive in the country, it’s a good idea to put together a packing list and to check NZ prices before you go. Your essential packing list should include:

  • Sleeping bags and mats.
  • A kettle or billy.
  • Batteries and plugins for charging mobile phones and flashlights at campsites.
  • A cooler box.
  • Lighters or matches.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Sandfly repellent.
  • Medication – do not forget to bring any medication that you take regularly or occasionally. This is because you may not be able to get hold of the same brands while you’re away. Also, it is useful to have a copy of any important medication prescriptions in case you run out, as the chemist will be able to look them up and potentially supply the equivalent.

Depending on what you are planning to do on your trip, you may also want to consider items such as insulated underwear or swimwear.

More Driving Holidays in New Zealand Advice

The last thing you want is to run out of cash during your adventure, so the following is a guide to how much you are likely to spend on your travels:

  • The average cost for petrol is 2 NZD per litre (1.40 USD) and 1.35 NZD for diesel (0.95 USD).
  • You will be required to pay a Road User Charge (RUC) of 62 NZD (43 USD) per 1000km.
  • If you’re planning to travel between the North Island and the South Island during your trip, you’ll need to budget for the ferry ride which costs 420 NZD (292 USD) each way for a campervan with up to 4 passengers.
  • The North Island has 3 toll roads: The Northern Gateway Toll Road (2.40 NZD – 1.70 USD), The Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road (2.10 NZD – 1.50 USD), and The Takitimu Drive Toll Road (1.90 USD – 1.30 USD).

Depending on whether you are buying or renting your campervan, you may also need to bear in mind any insurance and maintenance costs for your trip.

Driving in New Zealand – Left or Right?

Next, you will want to familiarise yourself with the rules of the road in NZ, as these are likely to be different from your home country. The following are some things to look out for:

  • Driving is on the left.
  • You must always give way to pedestrians on all roads – even when the lights are green.
  • It is illegal to use your phone without a hands-free set whilst driving.
  • You should only park on the side of the road in the same direction as the traffic flow.
  • You must slow down for farm animals and await the farmer’s instructions.
  • The alcohol limit for drivers above the age of 20 is 250 mcg per litre of breath (and the blood alcohol limit is 50 mg per 100 ml of blood). The limit for under 20s is a straightforward zero!
  • The national speed limit is100 km/h (around 60 mph), although this varies in urban areas.
  • Speed cameras are in operation everywhere. They automatically issue fines by mail.
  • It is illegal to travel in any vehicle without wearing a seat-belt – and penalties can be high.

Driving in New Zealand in June Tips

June and July are, of course, the middle winter months in NZ and, if you are planning a winter trip, there are a few things you need to be aware of:

Snow and Frost

When driving in any part of the country in the winter months, particularly on the South Island, you should always make sure that your campervan is equipped with snow chains. This is because, during this time, the island is prone to heavy snow and frosts.

If your trip to NZ involves skiing, you should always follow the advice of the ski resort or agent.

If you are not planning to ski, you need to take extra care when driving on NZ’s roads. Winters do, of course, vary but there are times when roads and passes will be snowed in.

In this case, the safest option is to tour along the east coast and to keep a close eye on the weather reports. When making a journey during inclement weather, always make sure that you have a backup plan for your return, should you not be able to go back the way that you came.

Driving in New Zealand in Winter Guidance

The overall guidance is that you should not ever attempt to make long or complex journeys during this time unless you are experienced in driving in these conditions.

When driving through the country in winter, you’ll experience some extreme weather. So, in case of breakdown, you’ll need to ensure that you have plenty of winter weather gear with you.

This includes thick socks, walking boots and a good quality coat or jacket. It also includes torches, emergency food supplies such as basic meals or snacks and water, should you get stuck and have to wait for assistance.

What’s Different About Driving in New Zealand?

While in your campervan here, you should never assume that the driving rules in New Zealand – or the etiquette – will be the same as in your home country. The following tips will help you to stay on the right side of the law – and your fellow road users – during your stay in NZ:

Round the bend

NZ’s South Island very much prefers roundabouts to traffic lights, so you will come across plenty of these during your travels.

When navigating roundabouts, you are required to give way to all traffic which will cross your path from the right as you enter the roundabout. You will then signal left as you pass the exit prior to the one that you intend to take.

With multi-lane roundabouts, you must approach and enter the roundabout in the correct lane for your exit.

A bridge too far

The traffic guys here are keen on 1 lane bridges and these can often take you by surprise as you come around a bend.

These bridges do sometimes warn people in advance with signs featuring big arrows but, either way, get into the habit of slowing right down as you approach these bridges. This is to make sure that you don’t collide with oncoming vehicles which are already on the bridge.

Highs and lows

When driving a campervan, you need to remain aware that the vehicle will likely be taller than your usual car. For this reason, you will need to be extra vigilant when it comes to tunnels, bridges and car parks as well as look out for low hanging branches.

Most campervans will have a sticker in the top right-hand corner of the windscreen advising you of the height of the vehicle.

A backward move

If you are not used to driving a campervan, reversing can take a little getting used to. Always take care when reversing and, if possible, have your passenger stand at the rear to guide you as you manoeuvre.

Off the grid

Make no mistake – this country is big – we mean REALLY big! Not only that but your journey will often take you across vast chunks of landscape with no discernible landmarks or signs.

For this reason, we highly recommend that you equip your campervan with a GPS before you head out. Not only will this save you a fortune in phone data, but it will also save you a huge amount of time (and warn you about speed limits!)

Having said that, it’s a good idea to always add some extra time to your journey, no matter what the GPS says. A lot of NZ roads are one lane and the going can often be slow.

Manners matter

The population are known for their friendly, laid-back attitude and they are also extremely courteous drivers. When driving in NZ, always be aware of other drivers and show courtesy at all times.

For example, if you’re driving along and come along a vista that you absolutely, positively have to photograph, then pull over. Don’t hold up other drivers by slowing down so that your passenger can get the perfect selfie!

See the signs

It is worth noting that the road and traffic signs and symbols of the country may be different from those of your own.

Therefore, it is very much worth investing some time studying NZ’s road signs – particularly the emergency ones – before you start your engines. If there is not a Highway Code in your vehicle, it will be useful to purchase their equivalent.

Parking up in NZ

After a long day on the road, you will be looking to park up your van, fire up the barbie and open a couple of cold ones. When it comes to choosing where to spend the night in NZ, you have 4 main options which are as follows:

Traditional camping

Simple and straightforward, this option involves booking a slot per night at a campsite. Here you will have access to some basic amenities such as charging facilities, water and waste disposal.

DoC campgrounds

These sites are managed by the Department of Conservation and, as such, are in areas of extraordinary beauty close to lakes, rivers, forests or beaches. As with traditional campsites, the facilities can be kind of basic but are sufficient for most visitors.

Freedom camping

If your campervan is self-contained with its own toilet and shower, you can spend the night in any public area of the countryside in NZ. However, you must always follow the rules of the area and the motto that you should leave absolutely no trace of your visit when you leave.

Okay2Stay

This is a membership scheme which is worth joining if you fancy staying off the beaten track while in NZ. The deal is that your 59 NZD (41 USD) gives you access to a private network of farms, vineyards and orchards across both islands.

These sites are hosted by producers of local food and wine. They provide a safe and legal place to stay with the advantage of being able to get off on your way with lots of home-produced goodies!

Safety Tips for Campervanning in NZ

During your campervan capers you will, of course, want to explore on foot at times. While NZ is famously a safe country, keep the following security tips in mind to ensure that you do not end up coming a cropper during your trip:

Avoid walking alone at night

This one makes good common sense as there’s safety in numbers. You will also have an extra set of map-reading eyes should you get lost.

Stick to well-lit areas

While NZ’s crime figures are admirably low, crime does, of course, still exist. So where possible, avoid dimly lit or unpopulated areas.

When visiting a new town or area, do a little bit of research to help you figure out where to avoid. If your campsite is hosted, your host will usually be able to give you the lowdown on the local surroundings.

Stranger danger

Kiwis are friendly folk and, when travelling, it is great fun to get to know the locals. While there is nothing wrong with chatting with somebody in a bar or cafe, always stay aware of your surroundings and never go anywhere alone with a stranger.

Lock up

When leaving your campervan, always make sure that it is securely locked and that all the windows are closed.

Bring the bling

Where possible, take any valuables and essential items with you when leaving your campervan. After all, losing your passport or other vital items can lead to some time-consuming headaches. If you are a victim of theft, report this immediately to the nearest police station.

Hiding space

Establish a hiding place in your campervan for any valuable items that you need to leave there, such as laptops and other electrical equipment.

Perfect parking

Always park in a safe and secure designated camping area if you can, to minimise the risk of running into trouble.

Emergency contact numbers for NZ

When travelling around NZ, you should make sure that your phone is always charged and that you always keep it with you. Should you need the emergency services whilst in situ, the number to call is 111.

For less serious issues, the NZ police can give you information regarding non-emergency procedures and local police stations.

Good habits

If you are new to campervan living, you will undoubtedly encounter the odd bump in the road. Try to get into some good habits right from the start of your trip to minimise issues and irritations:

Lock the fridge door

Facilities in campervans can be temperamental. The last thing you want is the fridge door suddenly swinging open when you are doing 60 on the motorway!

Secure loose items

Things can occasionally get bumpy when driving around the country. As such, you will want to make sure that all your bits and bobs are secured while you are in transit.

Cooking with gas

If your campervan has a gas stove, always double check that the gas is off. Check out the nearest petrol station or shop that supplies gas if you run out.

Eyes on the dial

It is a good idea to make sure that your petrol is topped up as much as possible. This is because you may find yourself travelling long stretches without so much as a whiff of a petrol station.

Emergency cash

Hopefully, your trip to NZ will be problem-free. That said, just in case, try to keep a stash of emergency cash as this can prove invaluable when unforeseen circumstances arise.

Finding the Perfect Campsite in NZ

NZ has some of the most idyllic places to park up in a campervan in the entire world. When planning your trip, it can be difficult to narrow down your list. The following is our guide to some of the country’s most stunning camping spots for campervans:

Beach Camping

The Catlins, Otago

Entering this site in Porpoise Bay, you would be forgiven for thinking you have gone back in time to a much simpler way of life. The bay boasts an array of incredible beaches with some amazing local wildlife including rare dolphins, sea lions and penguins.

While the site is low on amenities (for example, ATMs are few and far between and Wi-Fi is tricky to find), it is worth it for the breath-taking views.

Fletcher Campsite, Northern Coromandel

The Coromandel peninsula is a treasure trove of coastal scenery.

This includes the small and picturesque town of Thames and sites such as Hot Water Beach, where visitors can dig their own hot pool which fills from springs underneath the sand.

The Fletcher Campsite offers showers, toilets and running water, while swimming spots are plentiful for those who are feeling energetic.

Mountain Camping

If mountain views are your thing, you will be spoilt for choice in NZ. Our favourites are:

White Horse Hill, Mount Cook National Park

Surrounded by views of glaciers, Mount Cook and Hooker Valley, campsites do not come much more scenic than this.

There are some great facilities, incredibly accessible hikes and possibly the best view from a toilet in the world. All-in-all, you’ve got a recipe for an unbelievable NZ camping experience.

Whakapapa Holiday Park, Tongariro National Park

Do you fancy falling asleep to the sound of native birds and waking up to the spectacular view of the 3 peaks of Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu? If so, make sure that you put Whakapapa Holiday Park on your list.

With stunning scenery and surprisingly low prices, the park has some great facilities including a nearby amenities block for use by the campsite’s residents.

Forest Camping

If fresh air and lush greenery are your thing, bookmark our top choices of forest camp sites in NZ:

Peel Forest Campsite, Canterbury

Set in the stunning remnant of the Podocarp Forest which once covered the entire area, Peel Forest is the perfect combination of incredible scenery and pretty comprehensive facilities. These include toilets, showers, communal kitchens and laundry services (and, yes, the Wi-Fi is pretty darn good too!).

PiroPiro Campsite, Waitomo

The facilities at PiroPiro are basic, but what it lacks in amenities, it makes up for in its breath-taking views. Enjoy the scenery from the campsite or explore the forest roads by car or bicycle.

Conclusion

Driving around New Zealand in a campervan is an experience which will make memories to last a lifetime. The key to making the most of driving a campervan around this wonderful destination is to pay close attention to your planning.

Due to its vast size, it can be tricky to see more than a fraction of the country, even if you have a month or 2 to play with! Take the time to put together your list of must-sees and then build your itinerary around these.

As with any form of travel, get to know the local rules and customs and apply a rule of safety first. On top of that, using a healthy dollop of common sense will make your Kiwi adventure go without a hitch – or, as the Kiwis would say, ‘She’ll be right mate!’

To plan your flight to this country, check out our guide to NZ’s airports. If once you’ve driven here you want to stay, here’s how to immigrate to New Zealand too!