New Zealand Campervanning : The Ultimate Prep Guide

If you love immersing yourself in the beauty of the outdoors like crystal clear lakes, rolling green hills, and bustling wildlife, New Zealand is the place for you. And if you don’t mind sleeping in a van or having a lax personal hygiene routine, then campervanning through it could be your ticket to the best holiday of your entire existence.

Planning is essential for this holiday as finding campsites, renting a campervan, and routing out your adventure takes some time and it’s better to be over-prepared than under. Especially when wifi in New Zealand is limited and not free. Shocking, I know.

Here are the steps to take when planning your campervan trip through New Zealand:

1. Budget everything out

This is the most important and the least fun. When it comes to any trip, you know you’re going to have to budget. In addition to the obvious expenses:

  • Plane tickets
  • Public transportation – chances are your rental company won’t meet you at the airport
  • Excursions – kayaking, dolphin swimming, paragliding…
  • Transportation – rent or buy?
  • Traveller’s insurance – piece of mind is priceless
  • Food – How much will you eat out? Will you cook at all?

You’re going to need to think about these expenses as well:

  • Gas/petrol/fuel – Campervans are going to use more gas than cars.
  • Insurance – Often, the rental car company will have this, but only up to a certain excess.
  • Campsites – Instead of hostels/hotels/HomeAways/Airbnbs, you’re going to want to look into campsites! We will get to that in a bit.
  • Simcard/phone- When on the road, you need a way to communicate in case of emergency (and update your Instagram with those killer pictures).

Lupines at Lake Tekapo

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Two fur seal pups scuttling about

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Will brake for alpacas

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2.Plan your route

While you may deviate from what you’ve mapped out, at least a little, you need a guide. Decide what island you’re going to do, if you’re doing both, you need to decide if you want to take your campervan with you between Islands by taking the ferry. We scanned blogs, Pinterest, guides, books, everything we could to plot points on a Google map of where we wanted to go and then made a route that best matched it. There are also tons of sites where you can find pre-planned roadtrips including how long they will take. We used NewZealand.com to get some ideas and figure out how long we would stay at each stop.

3. Rent your campervan

There are so many companies and options when it comes to the campervan market in New Zealand, it can be a bit overwhelming. One website that was made to combat this problem is Rankers, a site with over 70,000 traveller reviews of campervan companies, campsites, and activities. Through Rankers, we found Camperco, the least expensive option with the most extras (it includes all the goodies: camp stove with gas, chairs, table, linen, pillows…) and was not disappointed in our decision.

Camperco dropped off the rental where we were staying in Christchurch (on the other side of town from their office) and were available to provide assistance every step of the way. Our camp stove stopped working so when we contacted them, they told us to buy a new one under $100 and we would be reimbursed.  Seriously could not recommend these guys enough. Their customer service was the best I’ve ever experienced!

Enough with me gushing over Camperco (I wasn’t paid to write this stuff), some other things to keep in mind about your rental dates are how long your journey will take (there’s usually some leeway with companies- we changed ours a few times and Camperco was very accommodating!), the flight prices for your dates, and accommodation prices if you have to stay in a city a day or two to wait on your rental.

Cruisin' in the camper
Cruisin’ in the camper

4. Plan out campsites

When it comes to campsites, you can stay at holiday parks or DOC sites. If you have have a self-contained campervan (you have a toilet) you can camp for free on public land. We did not have a self-contained unit, so we used holiday parks and DOC sites.

  • Holiday parks are going to be your luxury campsites with things like kitchens and showers and are often in a scenic location. The only experience we had staying at a holiday park was at Lake Tekapo when it was our only option. It was definitely worth it as the views were incredible and we were right on the lake, but it was expensive.
  • DOC (Department of Conservation) are campsites run by the NZ Department of Conservation and are more basic. Most have a toilet and sink but be sure to bring your own water or boil the water from these sites because it usually isn’t treated. Some have hot showers but you will have to pay for them. Others have cold showers and you don’t have to pay but some don’t have any. Do yourself a favor and buy a DOC campsite pass! It will save you so much money and only costs $20 per person per week. We mostly stayed at DOC sites and with the usual price of $10 per person per night, you can see how much money is saved. We did go without showering for some time, but, you just have to embrace the outdoors and be alright with it. Also, go swimming as much as possible!

The two apps we seriously depended on were Campermate and CampingNZ (there’s also WikiCamps but we didn’t use it).The lovely thing about them is that they don’t need wifi. Just make sure to download them while you do have wifi to get the maps loaded onto your phone.

doc campsite
A view from one of our DOC campsites.

5. Go offline

Now that you’ve planned everything, you’re going to want a way to access your information offline. Don’t overlook the old “printing-things-out” or even save your Google doc offline. Data is expensive and you’ll only find wifi (paid and free) in the cities, towns and holiday parks.

6. After you arrive [wifi tip]

Don’t mean to be a parent, but you need to have a working phone with you on the road. If you have an unlocked phone (which is the best thing to have when you’re travelling abroad- if it’s not unlocked, ask your carrier or find someone on eBay to unlock it for you) go to a Pak’nSave and get a Spark simcard. It costs $5 plus top-up (I went with a $20 plan which included talk, text, and data).
The best part about Spark the free wifi in cities and towns. Look out for these magical pink boxes that give Spark users free wifi. A Spark simcard is an incredible investment to make.

When planning your journey of a lifetime campervanning through New Zealand, remember: budget, plan your route, use Camperco , buy a DOC campsite pass, bring hard copies of plans, and have a way of communicating.

Most importantly, have an incredible time!
Lake Tekapo

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