Travelling around New Zealand in a Campervan

On the road we go! My better half and me decided to spend our New Years travelling around South Island New Zealand. We enjoyed this untouched land that feels a bit like nature’s playground for 22 days. We discovered a few gems on our travels that not many others seemed to know about; that I thought it would be good to share (and as I don’t get millions of visitors to my site I think they will remain pretty secret!).

We picked our campervan in Christchurch and ended our journey there as well. While I always suggest spending a few days at least in the North Island… allow extra time for your South Island holiday, as it is just too much to do and see there. If you have limited time for your holidays in New Zealand and have to choose just one island I would definitely recommend the South Island. To really do justice to the South Island, you need 3-5 weeks. If you have more time I would definitely suggest doing at least one of the 10 Great New Zealand walks. 

So lets start with our ride. The best way to explore New Zealand is by renting or buying a campervan. Beware of the peak season (Dec-March) as we really had a struggle finding something cheap and available. I hate going straight to the big companies so I tried to find something small, accessible and reliable. Finally after weeks of research I found an incredibly kind couple that owns a campervan renting business called Campa South. They offered us a sleeper van which was perfect for us two and very good value for 22 days. Our Standard Sleepervan was a converted Nissan Vanette van. It was certified self contained, which means you can just park your van right next to the beach and sleep there (unless strictly stated “no camping”).There was generous space under the bed base to store equipment and baggage. 
A bench area for cooking was located at the rear of the van (access via rear door). Because it was self-contained we even had a portable potti! Never used it though; public toilets in New Zealand are just amazing!

The campervan worked perfectly, it was small, but enough and it had everything we needed to travel comfortably (gas stove, chilly bin, lots of space, CD player, the entire cutlery and a converter to charge our electronic devices.) For a couple on a budget it was a perfect way to get around. We mostly cooked ourselves and slept in the cheaper camps. If you have a little extra money to spend, then there are campgrounds all over New Zealand that put ones in other countries to shame.  While you can get around on the cheap if you need to, staying in free or really cheap campgrounds, you won’t get much but a place to park your car/campervan, a spot to pitch a tent if necessary, and pit toilets, but be amazed at the location you will sleep at. But if you’re willing to spend a bit more, you will be rewarded in kind. I would highly recommend the Rankers app that has all campgrounds around New Zealand.

This app is the most comprehensive database of available camping information. You pay a small amount and get information of all available campgrounds, activities and much more. You can scroll through it without WIFI and even check out reviews for each camp. There is no shortage of campgrounds around New Zealand, and all come at a different price and offer different amenities.  You can go as basic or fancy as your budget allows.

Our usual breakfast; organic yoghurt, fruit, raw granola and manuka honey

We nearly never used our stove once in our van. Instead we took our cookware into the impeccable kitchens at the campgrounds to cook our meals. We used their stoves and spread our food out on the large countertops. We bought our groceries at the local markets or Countdown supermarkets and chose a nice bottle of New Zealand wine to go with our dinner. We cooked in warmth and comfort each night and then sat down in the common area to relax, talk to fellow caravaners or catch up on a little T.V.

Our usual healthy dinner; mish mash salad (all organic)

Typical facilities at New Zealand Campgrounds

  • Hot Showers – some resorts had a $2 NZ fee to shower but most were free.
  • Laundry facilities – $2 per wash $2 per dry
  • Satellite TV
  • Internet – $10 for 100 mb
  • Kitchen equipped with refrigerator, stove, sinks, tables, chairs
  • picnic tables

We also stayed in more remote campgrounds run by the department of conservation. These locations were some of the most pristine and beautiful settings we have ever witnessed. Even these more basic campsites had clean toilets, but mostly long drops. We were in awe of New Zealand’s toilet. Nowhere else on earth have we seen such pristine public restrooms. Unlike anywhere else we have travelled, the toilets are not only clean, they are free! We never had to worry about being stuck without facilities. Every town had well stocked and very clean public restrooms that we took full advantage of during our epic road trip.

You don’t need to have a full size motorhome to travel New Zealand. A basic campervan will do just fine. That is because the campsites have everything you need. Even if it rained, we could cuddle up in our bed and had dinner on our counter. Besides, with the high price of gasoline in New Zealand, you don’t want to be driving a giant motorhome around the country watching your adventure budget be guzzled up by every kilometre you travel.

 In the next few posts I will describe must see spots, activities and our favourite drives and camps. So stay tuned as we ramp up our coverage of one of the world’s most beautiful countries!