First things first, before you fly into New Zealand for your epic road trip, you’re going to need to do at least some planning. Luckily, unless you’re visiting in peak season, the benefits of exploring in a campervan are that you can stay very flexible and plan the specifics of your route as you’re travelling. To help you out, we’ve prepared a handy list of our top New Zealand road trip tips to get your started.
However, you’re still going to need to know how much money you should take and where you should be looking to get the best deals.
For a quick overview of our top super simple tips for life in a van start here – with Rob’s list of advice. This guide covers the following areas with prices in NZD.
- Campervan Hire
- Fuel Costs
- Food & Drink
- Extra Costs
1- Campervan Hire
There are tons of companies offering camper hire in New Zealand and you can find anything from a tiny two berth to an enormous RV depending on what you’re looking for. Top New Zealand road trip tip here is to make sure you read plenty of reviews and understand exactly what you’re getting when it comes to choosing your camper so you have what you need for your journey. While we were on the road, the most commonly encountered vans for 2 people travelling on a budget included:
- Jucy – these guys are at top end of low budget. Their fleet looks modern, vans are well kitted out and they seem to get great customer feedback.
- Escape – our van company of choice as recommended by STA travel were great for our needs. The van we had was cheap and fairly basic but had all the essentials, making it a really comfortable way to travel for the 5.5 weeks we were on the road in NZ.
- Wicked – very much the budget choice and notorious for some controversial exterior designs, these guys are very popular with younger travellers and those on a shoestring budget. The vans themselves seem similar to the Escape vans.
Once you’ve got your van and you’re on the road you’ll need to work out where you’re going to park up for the night. Our number one top New Zealand road trip tip is to make sure you download the Campermate App to help you out. There are 3 main options for camping with their own pros and cons.
- Freedom Camping: if you’re self contained this is a great option is it’s free! Disadvantages include limited facilities – try and find a spot near public toilets, and needing to arrive early to bag a spot in most locations. You’re also unlikely to have wifi, and won’t have power. However, you’ll save a fortune, can often stay in some great locations and can be really flexible with where you choose to stay with no advance booking possible or necessary. We freedom camped a lot – including 4 nights in Wellington and 3 in Napier where we stayed right on the beach.
- DOC / Department of Conservation sites: these are another good budget option, often costing just $10-15 a night. They tend to be pretty well maintained with reasonable facilities – usually toilets but often no showers and are typically in some great scenic locations. These sites can be a little off the beaten path, making wifi access unlikely and again, you’ll need to arrive reasonably early to get a spare at many of these camps.
- Holiday Parks and Campsites: a pricier option, these tend to cost between $40 and $55 for 2 people per night for a powered site on average. However, once you get towards Wanaka / Queenstown way you’ll be looking at more like $50 – $60 minimum. The benefits are good central locations, power, kitchens, showers and well maintained facilities on the whole. Many also offer tours and local travel advice. Despite promises of free wifi this is typically 50-100MB and you’ll need to pay an additional $5-10 for a bigger allowance.
Top tip – NZ is set up really well for campers so if you’re using one of the top 2 options and don’t have showers, we found local leisure centres, swimming pools and iSites offer good shower facilities for just a couple of dollars each.
3- Fuel Costs
Expect to pay an additional small daily tax for a diesel vehicle, but you’ll make big savings on fuel. Find your nearest gas station on Campermate and expect to pay roughly the following:
Diesel – $0.95 – $1.10 per litre
Petrol – $1.73 – $2.00 per litre
As you’d expect fuel is more expensive in the big cities as well as more remote areas such as Tongariro. It also gets far more expensive to refuel the further south you go – the most expensive places we’ve seen were as we travelled down the west coast of South Island so be prepared for the price hike if you’re coming from North Island! Some places you’ll want to visit are quite isolated so don’t get caught out.
4- Food & Drink
When it comes to food and drink, our New Zealand road trip tips are to shop at supermarkets as much as possible and stock up on drinks and snacks here to avoid eating out too much. We found 3 main common options for supermarkets:
- Pak n Save – definitely the cheapest, aligned with something like Aldi in the U.K., but a really wide range.
- Countdown – mid range, more similar to Tesco perhaps, it stocks everything you’d expect but is a little more expensive than Pak n Save.
- New World – for those on a bigger budget this is great, lovely delicatessen items, lots of variety, but pricier than other options.
This is obviously completely down to personal diets and preferences but based on our experience prepare to budget around $100-130 per week if you’re mainly cooking in the van and eating things like toast / cereal for breakfast, sandwiches / noodles for lunch and pasta / chilli / bolognese / soup for dinner.
We didn’t eat out often and stuck to mid range to cheap places mainly. Our experience with pricing for eating out is as follows:
- Coffee – $4-5
- House Wine / Pint of Beer – $8-10 ($6 on happy hour)
- Breakfast / Brunch – $18-$20
- Dinner – $20-$30
Couple of specific examples from us would be 2 Sunday roast dinners and a bottle of wine for $64 in Wellington, or $45 for 2 full breakfasts and coffees in Napier.
If you’re backpacking you probably won’t be doing too much of this but by the time we reached New Zealand I was ready for some new clothes. Most high streets are much like anywhere in the U.K. or US with a range of clothes shops from mid range to high end budgets. Good brands with the same sort of prices and ranges as Primark / H&M are KMart or Farmers. These both have decent beauty sections as well with brands such as Rimmel/Maybelline/L’Oréal at decent prices and loads of choice with showergels / shampoos etc. We paid $160 for a bunch of new toiletries, basic tops and new underwear.
You can get a lot of practical bits – stationery/cooking utensils etc from Pak n Save – but also try Brisco which has lots of items on special offer and is great for cooking items.
6- Extra Costs & New Zealand Road Trip Tips
Most trips will take in both the North and South Islands which mean you’ll need to take a trip on the ferry over the Cook Strait – this cost us $226 using Bluebridge as Escape offer a discount for these guys.
One Way Fees:
You may also find that you’re taking a linear route, from Auckland to Christchurch for example, rather than starting and finishing in the same place. Expect to pay $200-$300 for the privilege of dropping off your van in a different location to where you picked it up.
When it comes to our New Zealand road trip tips on budgeting, activities are the really expensive part to budget for – there’ll be more detail on the costs of these in our upcoming itinerary posts, but make sure you’re prepared for the prices for these, especially if you fancy some of the more extreme adventures like sky diving / bungee jumping. The one real big expense we budgeted for was heli hiking Fox Glacier, which was an incredible experience but very pricy! We did a lot of hiking, as you get to see awesome places and it’s free! Finally, make sure you pick up a couple of copies of the free magazine on offer in the airport when you arrive – it contains loads of handy discount vouchers for activities on both islands.