Campervan Hire NZ

Hobbit house New Zealand

There’s nowhere else in the world that’s quite like New Zealand. Bigger than the UK with just one fourteenth of the population, this sovereign island boasts some of the most awe-inspiring mountains, forests and fiords in the world, not to mention a fascinating Māori culture. Not only is New Zealand a diverse and exciting country to explore, but it is also very well set up for campervans, with clear, open roads and an extensive network of campsites. Here is everything you need to know about campervan hire NZ.

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New Zealand by Campervan: The Essentials

As long as you have a valid driving license and are over the age of 18, it is possible to rent a campervan in New Zealand. It will be much more difficult if you are under 21, though there are some companies that specialise in renting to young drivers. If you are under 25, bear in mind that you may be charged a young drivers surcharge and will likely pay more for insurance.

A unique quirk of campervan rental in New Zealand is that there are certain roads that almost all rental companies will prohibit you from due to their dangerous conditions. These include Ninety Mile Beach, Ball Hutt Road and Skippers Canyon. However, don’t let that put you off. As a tourist you’d generally have no reason to use them, and most of the country’s scenic roads are an absolute joy to drive.

Finally, if you plan on parking up for the night in public spaces (see ‘Freedom Camping’ below) you must make sure your campervan is self contained, otherwise you risk a hefty fine.

Best Time of the Year to Explore New Zealand by Campervan

New Zealand is made up of two main islands, and each of these has slightly different climates. The North Island tends to be warmer, with the South Island’s mountainous areas the coldest part of the country. But whatever the season, the weather on either island can be highly unpredictable. It’s important to be prepared with clothes for every eventuality to make sure a bit of bad weather won’t put a dampener on your trip.

As it’s in the southern hemisphere, summer in New Zealand is from December to February, while the winter months are June through to August. As with most countries, the summer months see the most crowds with winter being much quieter. But winter, particularly in the South Island, can get very cold, making it great for skiing and winter sports but not so good for a road trip.

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that the time of year you rent a campervan in New Zealand is likely to have a huge impact on the price, with summer rates sometimes double those of the off-peak seasons. Taking that into consideration, you might prefer to visit during the shoulder seasons of spring (September to November) or autumn (March to May). You’ll still have a fairly good chance of pleasant weather for your trip while also saving a significant amount of money.

Where To Park a Campervan in New Zealand

In New Zealand, you won’t find yourself short of places to spend the night. As well as private campgrounds and holiday parks, there is also a large network of DOC (Department of Conservation) campgrounds. Not sure which is right for you? Here is an overview of what you can expect from each.

Private Campgrounds

Campgrounds run by private landowners are a good budget option, though they can vary significantly in the quality and range of facilities. While some may have kitchens and shower blocks, others may only have outhouses.

DOC Campgrounds

There are over 200 campgrounds across New Zealand that are run by the Department of Conservation. These are split into different categories like basic, scenic and backcountry. You can find more information and prices here. As with private campgrounds facilities vary, but they tend to be in excellent locations, with many standard and scenic campgrounds based in or around New Zealand’s national parks. If you plan on staying in a lot of DOC campgrounds, it may be worth getting a campsite pass so you can save 50% on your fees.

Holiday Parks

Holiday parks are a pricer option, but have the benefit of a range of amenities, from washing machines and rubbish facilities to even pools and playgrounds at some locations. Another perk of holiday parks is that they can normally be booked ahead of time.

There are a couple of handy apps you can use to check out the options on your route. Rankers and CamperMate offer a comprehensive look at all of the campgrounds and freedom camping spots in New Zealand, along with photos and reviews from other campers. Both come with offline maps, an invaluable feature for the vast stretches of New Zealand where you’ll likely have no signal.

Freedom Camping

Freedom camping is when you park overnight on land that is not specifically designated as a campground. While it’s possible to take part in freedom camping in New Zealand, there is a strict set of restrictions that you need to follow.

Rules surrounding freedom camping may vary slightly depending on the area where you’re staying. It’s important that you are sure of the rules before you set up camp for the night – doing so where you’re not allowed may result in a fine of $200 NZD. To find out the rules in a particular part of New Zealand, it’s best to check the council website.

Almost all areas will require that your campervan be self-contained. You can find full guidelines for self-containment here, but the gist is that your vehicle must be able to contain water waste for up to three days. This makes your camperan not only safer for public health, but also much more environmentally friendly.

Other than that, the basic rules for freedom camping are all about keeping New Zealand clean by disposing of your rubbish and leaving no trace behind.

Best Campervan Destinations in New Zealand

If you only have a couple of weeks to spare, you might prefer to choose just one of the islands to explore. While both have their merits, the South Island tends to be more popular with tourists thanks to its dramatic landscapes and rugged mountain vistas. However, as with what time of year you’d like to visit, the island best suited to you is largely down to your personal preferences.

South Island by Campervan

The larger of the two, the South Island has only a third of the population of its northern counterpart. Thanks to its large stretches of untouched land, you are never too far away from adventure, whether that be hiking, white water rafting or simply exploring.

Here, you’ll find Aoraki, New Zealand’s highest peak, along with the UNESCO-protected Fiordland National Park. If you’re visiting in November, you can’t miss a trip to Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, where flowering lupins transform the surrounding land, covering it in a coat of pink and purple hues.

With soaring mountains, deep blue lakes and secluded bays, you can see why the South Island features on so many travel bucket-lists. While both islands are beautiful, the landscapes in the south are undoubtedly more impressive. Plus, with fewer cities and less traffic, it is potentially more suited to campervan travel.

North Island by Campervan

The northernmost part of the island has a subtropical climate and is known for its warm, white sandy beaches, arguably home to the world’s best coastline. If you’re looking to spend your time out of your campervan kicking back and enjoying the sun, then the North Island might be the best choice for you. That’s not to say there isn’t the chance to explore. The North Island also has giant geysers, hot water springs, Jurassic-like rainforests and even volcanoes.

There is a higher population of Māoris in the north, allowing you to immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine of the indiginous people of New Zealand. Stop off in Rotorua (Central North Island) or Waitangi (Bay of Islands) and take in a cultural performance at a Māori meeting place, or sample the delights of traditional hangi food.

Lord of the Rings fans won’t want to miss some time in the north, where the Hobbiton Movie Set sits below the Kaimai mountains. Here you can take a guided tour through the heart of the Shire and catch a glimpse of more than 44 unique hobbit holes.

Useful Resources

North Island New Zealand | Ultimate 14-Day Itinerary

South Island New Zealand | Ultimate 14-Day Itinerary

New Zealand Tourism Website – Official tourism website for New Zealand. A great resource for anyone thinking of travelling to New Zealand.

Department of conservation – DOC manages more than 200 campsites throughout New Zealand.

Buy A DOC Campsite pass – This can save you quite a bit of money. DOC campsites are run by the government and are generally pretty nice. Not every site is covered by the pass so it’s worth checking in advance.

NZ Police – Should you need them

Conclusion

Whether you choose the North or South island, there’s no doubt that your campervan trip in New Zealand will be a journey unlike anything you’ve experienced before. There are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind, but stick to the rules and you’ll be richly rewarded. Travelling by campervan gives you great flexibility, allowing you to follow your nose and experience all that this incredible country has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions:

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About the Author

Karl O'Brien Editor Travel by CamperKarl O’Brien is a writer and adventure traveller from Dublin, Ireland. He has been travelling the world since his late teens. His adventures have taken him to the far reaches of the globe including most of Europe, North & South America, New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia and the Middle East. When he is not planning his next adventure Karl can be found building and renovating campervans.

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