Travelling New Zealand in a Campervan
Most people cannot just take off and spend life on the road, however much they want to. Real life gets in the way! I wanted to try a 2-week campervan trip to New Zealand just to see if it could be done. Indeed, can you get a feel for the place in just two weeks? And is it worth going to the other side of the world, travelling New Zealand in a Campervan for just 2 weeks? It seemed an impossibly short time for an adventure so big.
So to demonstrate, here is how we made it happen!
The 7 P’s
Undoubtedly, we knew planning would be the key as 2 weeks is a pretty tight schedule. With this in mind, employing the 7 P’s would be a must. I was taught the 7 P’s in my days as a soldier – Proper preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance! To be sure, it’s one of those lessons that stuck with me. The first thing to remember is, we needed a plan!
To have a plan, we had to have a mission. The mission was to see what WE considered the best bits of New Zealand. Now, I had visited New Zealand before – I’d worked there on my gap year but Tam hadn’t. I knew of a couple of places I’d love to go back to but to Tam, this was all new. First thing? Break out the guidebooks!
This book was our go-to guide, we found it frequently useful in our planning. Furthermore, if you are thinking of a similar trip I’d thoroughly recommend it. If you want it, click on the book to get it from Amazon.
Planning a Camper Van Trip to New Zealand
We made a big list of all the places in the book we wanted to see. Equally important, we carried out the obligatory Internet searches on the Lonely Planet and the like, looking for the best things to do and see.
We counted up the list and then winnowed it down a bit! Of course, everything we wanted to see would just take too long. This involved many discussions over wine and tea about what we should see and what not. Once we had our list, we worked on our route.
This is where we came unstuck! It quickly became clear that the route we wanted to take would be out. In this case, it was due to an earthquake closing Southern Highway 1. The road would, in fact, be closed for the entire time we were there. Indeed, the diversion would be pretty much a whole day driving! Another day lost! The fact we only had 2 weeks and that also included air travelling time was proving tricky! Now we had lost another day by diversion. But, turn a negative into a positive! We would still be driving through some lovely scenery! In fact, the picture of the Tarn at the top was on our diversion route, so we wouldn’t have got to see it otherwise! See, think positive – glass half full, coffin half empty and all that!
Another top tip, always check road closures if you are planning a camper van trip to New Zealand.
The route specifically needed to include stops to catch up with old friends in Christchurch in the South and Auckland in the North. In particular, we took our own sat-nav GPS with us. If you don’t, my recommendation would be to hire one. Once the route was sorted, we looked at a campervan hire.
In general, the choice was huge. We decided to go with MotorhomeRepublic.com. They are like a comparison site. Fill in your trip details and they show you companies with suitable vehicles in the area. We used a company not far from Auckland Airport, I won’t name them though. We decided to go cheap and I went for the cheapest I could find! Yeah, that’ll all be good – I thought! More of that later…..
Indeed, if you are going to go for a camping option I’d advise you to download the Campermate App for your smartphone. The app, for example, tells you lots of great information about free – yes, free campsites and paid for ones. Also what facilities they have and all the information you need to make some good choices. In fact, in New Zealand, you are allowed to do something called freedom camping. See here and here for the lowdown on it. Surprisingly, it’s all perfectly legal to freedom camp in the right places. Just make sure they are the right places!
If you are used to driving in the UK, you’ll generally have no problems. If you are used to driving on the right, things may be a little trickier. The roads are narrow, twisty and winding. There is only a small bit of freeway around the major cities. For the rest of the time, it is single lane in each direction. There are some great resources to be found here to help prepare you for driving. Travelling New Zealand in a Campervan is rewarding but can be challenging!
When driving on our New Zealand Camper Van Trip I regularly used the little lay-bys and pull off spots to allow other cars to pass. It’s just good manners as while you may be having the time of your life looking at the lovely scenery, other people are using the roads and the locals see it every day and just want to get past you and your slow moving campervan. Use your mirrors and be considerate!
Flights would be extremely important on this trip. We only had 11 days with the camper van so we couldn’t afford to spend our time jet lagged. As luck would have it Qatar Airways had a sale on from Berlin to Auckland. With a plane change at Doha. Furthermore, the prices in Business Class were ridiculously cheap. It also involved going on the longest flight in the world, which was something I was keen to do! Check here for more on that.
Then all we had to do is book a London to Berlin flight to pick up our connection. In fact, it is substantially cheaper to do it this way. To clarify, the reason why it is cheaper is that the UK taxes and charges are horrendous. If you have a short haul flight to the continent and pick up your connection there you will save a lot of money. Of course, we used British Airways for our London to Berlin connection.
The Weather while Travelling New Zealand in a Campervan
Ok, here we got unlucky. Cyclone Debbie and Cyclone Cook were ‘in town’ while we were there. I think we had 3 days of sunshine. Despite driving a high-sided vehicle, with a dodgy clutch, through very strong winds we had the time of our lives. Being British, we are used to a bit of rain and indeed, we had waterproofs and umbrellas.
If you have never been, please do try. In some places, in particular, you need to set your watch back 50 years, in others, it’s modern and vibrant. The scenery is stunning. There is so much crammed into one country. I left a little bit of my heart in New Zealand, it’s worthy of it. Was it the volcanoes? The rolling grassy hills? Was it the towering mountains? All of the above and more! It’s a beautiful country crammed full of stark contrasts.
Travelling New Zealand in a Campervan – the conclusions
We learnt many things travelling New Zealand in a Campervan, but the most important one is – You can do it! If southern Highway 1 was open we would have got to Queenstown and such in the south but we couldn’t do much about the roads. If you are planning a campervan trip to New Zealand, I hope our experiences help!
- Have a plan
- Work out a rough itinerary
- Work out a route
- Book your camper van
- Take a video or many pictures of the camper van before you drive it away
- Take it on a test drive
- Bring your own or hire a GPS Sat Nav
- Have an offline or paper map
- Get your ferry crossing sorted in advance
- Plan for any weather
- Always check for road closures
- Download the Campermate app
Check out our other New Zealand highlights.
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