In my opinion this is the way to travel around New Zealand. If you are unfamiliar with a campervan, it is a van, obviously, that is outfitted for camping (also pretty obvious). These vehicles come in multiple sizes with a range of amenities – from a no frills soccer mom van outfitted with a bed, storage and cooking gear to a deluxe RV with bedrooms, full kitchen and full bath. My preference is the basic no frills van. Although you won’t be able to freedom camp without a self-contained unit (i.e., has a toilet), you will have more access to camp sites (many don’t allow large RVs). They really have everything you need and who wants to be sitting in an RV watching tv when you can be outside walking alongside glaciers?
Vs. Car and Tent Camping
The campervan gives you the freedom of camping in a nice neat package. You don’t have to deal with putting up a tent in the dark, sleeping on the cold hard ground, packing, and unpacking loads of gear every night and morning. Oh and you have electricity, mostly needed for charging phones (so that you have a GPS).
Vs. Car and Hotel Stays
Location, location, location. Sure you will have your own bathroom, WiFi (albeit pretty much useless in NZ), and other modern conveniences, but you won’t be staying in gorgeous remote locations where you can wake up to beautiful sunrises over glacial lakes surrounded by towering snow capped mountains. Oh and it’s a shitload cheaper to stay at a campsite than a hotel (assuming your camper van rental didn’t break your budget).
Just pull into a campsite, pay your fee, and crash. It is that easy.
Assuming you didn’t opt for a monster RV, you have access to some of the most beautiful sites in New Zealand.
This only applies if you get a good deal. If you do get a good deal, it will be cheaper than renting a car and staying at hotels or lodges. If you get a really good deal, it could be cheaper than renting a car and tent camping. Read below for details on how to score a good deal. Keep in mind that hotels are about $100/night on average.
Campervans are fucking expensive (base price of around $75 a day in the high season for a cheap one) and unless you find a good deal, they really aren’t worth the cost. However, it is very possible and somewhat easy to score a good price on one.
This is really part of cost, but keep in mind that these are large, older vehicles and fuel efficiency is not always great. In fact, it can be terrible, so make sure to keep this in mind when choosing a vehicle.
Researching all of your options can be very annoying and finding the right deal can take time and effort, but it’s worth it. It took me over a month of off and on research to find the right deal and the right company.
Be Aware: Insurance Coverage
With all rental car agreements, you can waive additional insurance or purchase some through the rental company. With campervans this is especially important to take note of because of the high cost (about $15-25 additional per day). Many credit cards, especially travel related ones, offer rental insurance, check the fine print if you have one. When it comes to insurance for the rental:
Look at the Fine Print
We found that some campervan companies, with the exception of Spaceships, did not cover damages caused by “unsealed” roads, even with the excess insurance. This is huge if you plan to use the DoC campsites (the ones in beautiful locations) since most of them are down dirt roads. Many of the companies use unclear language in their Terms of Service, so check with them first to make sure you are covered. Additionally, note that most of these companies prohibit use of a handful of roads in New Zealand including 90 Mile Beach.
Check Your Credit Card Coverage
Although many credit cards will provide coverage for rental vehicles, most will NOT cover campervans. Check with your credit card company to verify that the vehicle that you are planning to rent will be covered. Additionally, get confirmation in writing (have them email you a letter) to avoid any conflicts later on.
What we found, with our Chase United MileagePlus card was that it wouldn’t cover vehicles that hold 8 or more people (most vans used fall into this category). They didn’t make special considerations for campers or RVs. So even though most of the vans don’t actually fit 8 people after being retrofit for camping, they still wouldn’t cover them. They simply check the vehicle model against their coverage and said “Yea or “Nay”. Thankfully, Spaceship offers a models that were covered, keeping us from having to purchase extra insurance.
Even if You Get the Excess Insurance…
chips in the windscreen and tire damage are never covered, so be careful on the dirt roads and driving behind large trucks. We got a flat, but were a block away from a garage so we got lucky.
Ways to Save
All of the campervan companies have special offers throughout the year, but won’t offer much during the peak season (December through March). Without the special deals, renting a campervan can destroy your budget. It might be cheaper to rent a car and stay in hotels or at holiday parks, or buy a tent and camp in that (weather permitting).
Opt Out of Insurance
As stated above, use a credit card that covers rental insurance (on a vehicle that is covered), so you can waive excess insurance. Additionally, you can opt out of excess insurance all together, but that isn’t recommended, due to the variety of driving conditions you will encounter throughout New Zealand.
Early Bird Specials
Most rental companies will offer 5-10% off the cost of a rental if you book far enough in advance. It’s not a lot, but it helps.
Have a flexible schedule? This could be the best way to go. A few companies seem to do this and depending upon your timing this is a great way to save lots of money. The offers vary based on vehicle type, relocation destination and time of year, but this will most likely be the cheapest option.
Note: each relocation special is different and each has a maximum number of days you can have the car and a date by which the relocation has to be completed. Additionally, some include free fuel or free ferry transfer. Lastly, try to find out why the vehicle is being relocated. We read about people getting vehicles that were in bad shape only to have issues with them during the trip. Most of the time the cars are being relocated due to damage. In the case of Spaceships, they had vans that were being relocated to their workshop to have the camper bed, fridge and other amenities installed, meaning they were just a big empty van, without any of the amenities. Some companies will inform you of this upfront. Others will not.
There are always specials available on the sites of the rental companies. Constantly check their sites frequently, or follow them on Twitter, to find out about any additional deals they might have. This also applies to standard car rentals.
Additional Things to Look For (These are usually standard but not always so double check)
Unlimited Mileage – Make sure your rental comes with unlimited mileage. Otherwise you could be bent over a barrel for going over.
Roadside Assistance – You will be driving in the middle of nowhere, so this is important to have, but make sure you don’t have to pay extra for it.
Additional Drivers – With the exception of Spaceships, most companies seem to charge for additional drivers. If you plan to share the driving, find a company that doesn’t charge extra. It can cost an additional $10/day if you don’t.
GPS – Skip the GPS unit if you have a smart phone with data. Use Google Maps in concert with printed maps you can pick up at all iSites and you will be totally fine. In 3 weeks of traveling around the country we used less than 2GB of data.
Do Your Research
Use Rankers to learn more about all of your campervan options. There you will find customer reviews and even be able to receive quotes from multiple companies.
What We Rented
We rented a Spaceship Beta 2S campervan for 2 weeks. The camper and the staff at Spaceships were awesome. We had no issues at all with anything and they were very helpful with great tips and information. I highly recommend them.
We took a relocation special from Christchurch to Auckland over 5 days. It was a car, not a camper. Unfortunately, things with Jucy weren’t as simple as with Spaceships. The people in Christchurch were shady as hell. When we picked up the car they told us there was no damage. When I looked over the car there was a bunch of damage including an issue with the bumper which was the reason it was being relocated. The woman at the counter just signed the waiver and never looked at the car. We asked her to come out and inspect the car and sign our copy of the waiver form (to cover our ass). Additionally, the tank was supposed to be full of fuel and it wasn’t. So the free tank of gas was actually 3/4 of a tank, which was not a huge deal, but we would have had to wait 30 minutes for it to be filled.
When we dropped off the car in Auckland we found out the woman in Christchurch never signed the top copy of the waiver form which, when scanned into the computer, appeared as though the car had no damage. We showed our copy with the woman’s signature and ended up having no issues, but the whole thing was a bit shady.
All in all, we had a great time traveling throughout New Zealand in both our camper and our car. If you can get a campervan at a reasonable price like we did, it is the way to go. If you can’t, opt for a car and either tent camp or stay in hotels or holiday park lodges.
Regardless of how you travel and where you stay throughout your trip in New Zealand, it will be incredible. We can’t wait to go back.