Tips for travelling in a camper van around New Zealand

alice in wonderland escape camper van in new zealand

Tips for travelling in a camper van around New Zealand

Hello and welcome back to my blog. Todays post is all about tips for travelling in a camper van around New Zealand. My boyfriend and I travelled around the North and South island of New Zealand in our hired camper van for 5 weeks. So I feel like we might have some knowledge to pass on.

Hiring a Camper van vs making your own

We opted to hire our camper van over buying a van doing it up, travelling around in it and then selling it. This was because a.) We know nothing about mechanics b.) We were only in New Zealand for 5 weeks and quite frankly didn’t want to waste any our time. However, for you, buying a van and doing it up might be a preferable option for you. This is because you can save an awful lot of money. Or in some cases actually make a profit! It also might be a rewarding process if you are out in New Zealand for a while and have the time to dedicate to it.

Escape camper van hire

We used Escape camper van rentals as our camper van provider. We used them as we had friends who travelled around New Zealand a few years before us and highly recommended them.

Escape camper vans are known for their graffiti like art on the side. We

view of the sea from a campervan in new zealand
fairy lights inside campervan

were lucky enough, in my opinion, to get Alice in Wonderland. We loved it. We got an awful lot of stares and people asking to take pictures with our van but, this was okay by us. Now unfortunately you don’t get to choose which design you want so it is pot luck. I have to admit some are better than others… However you do get to chose the type of van.

Standard vs self contained camper vans

Originally we went for a self standard over a self contained as honestly we weren’t planning on using the toilet on board! However, there was a bit of a cock up and we ended up getting upgraded to a self contained van for no extra charge! A self contained camper van is great if you want to camp in D.O.C (department of conservation) campsites over traditional campsites. This is because you need a self contained sticker on the back of your van to be able to do camp in these places as a ranger does come around and checks. We only stayed in a few D.O.C campsites as they are slightly cheaper than traditional campsites but, did find that most of them had drop toilets which you could use anyway. We didn’t use our self contained toilet once, there was no way one of us was going to clean it, haha. 

Saving money on your camper van

If you want to save some money then I would go for a standard camper van over a self contained. This is because mentioned previously most D.O.C campsites have drop toilets anyway. We also found that 

there were public toilets everywhere. Every town we drove through there was one that was sign posted as well as at most of the attractions. I would however, invest in the best type of insurance. You never know what may happen.

You will also save yourself money by asking for a quote from Escape rentals before you go. We actually ended up getting a pretty good deal as they wanted some of their vans to be brought down to their depo in the south island, which is where we were heading.

Another way to save a bit of money is to go not in peak season. We went at the start of Autumn (New Zealand’s start of spring.) This saved us a lot of money and everything was open and the weather was okay.


The best way to find campsites is through the app campermate. You can download this app easily to you phone and don’t need wifi to use it. However, I would recommend downloading the apps in a place with good free wifi before you set off, as this can take a while.

All of the campsites we used, we found on campermate. I would highly recommend looking at reviews and pictures before you decide which 1 to go for. We didn’t really have 1 bad site (of course however, some were better than others.)

We also only maybe planned our campsites a day or 2 in advanced. This 

playing dobble in a cmapervan in new zealand
escape rental campervan in new zelaland
inside of an escape rental campervan

was because we wanted to go with the flow of our trip. Some places you may like more than others and might want to stay a bit longer. We were lucky in the fact that we could do this because we didn’t go in high season. I’m not sure how that would work out if you were going in peak season. 1 weekend it was a bank holiday for New Zealander’s and we did have a little bit of difficulty in finding a place to stay.

save MONEY on campsites

If you want to save money then camp at D.O.C campsites rather than standard campsites. Like mentioned we only did that a few nights in D.O.C campsites as quite honestly I couldn’t stand the drop toilets with all of the flies. We opted for standard campsites that came with use of the toilets, showers, kitchen and laundry facilities. As for us spending a few pounds more each night made that worth it.

Unfortunately freedom camping is no longer allowed in New Zealand but, I do think that is for the best as people were abusing nature and New Zealand’s fragile ecosystem.

save money on Fuel

Another huge way to save money is to fuel up your camper van when  

you go somewhere where it is cheap. Unlike in the UK the prices of fuel can vary drastically depending on where you are in New Zealand so fuel up when you see the price is good.

Save money at supermarkets

Also shopping at the supermarket PackN’Save’s could save you  little bit of money, as this is the cheapest supermarket in New Zealand. It is still way more expensive than the UK though. Again like fuel we found that PackN’Save’s were few and far between so stock up there. Also some of them do fuel as well so, might as well hit 2 birds with 1 stone.

Save money on the ferry

Booking the ferry from the North island to the South island should be done a few weeks in advanced. As in the peak season it can get booked up and you don’t want to waste your time or money waiting around for the ferry. We went with the company Bluebridge as we got given a discount through escape rentals. However, there are many providers to chose from so, I would shop around.

alice in wonderlnad camperva in new zealand
ferry from wellington to picton in new zealand


One last thing that I only found out through my brother, who recently visited New Zealand. Is to use the site for your activities and trips. Sam and I didn’t use or had even heard of this website but, apparently it is where companies advertise trips at a cheaper price as they have 1 or 2 spots left that they want to use up. Some of the activities advertised on this website also may take place at more unusual times of the day as again, they want to fill up the trip. I think my brother ended up getting quite a few things half price! He also mentioned that Domino’s is super cheap, so might be worth getting a few pizzas to save some money.

Lighting your van

Buy some battery powered fairy lights. Not only do these look cute but, also provide vital light for when it’s night time and you’re fumbling around in the dark. You can attached them to your vans internal support, like we did. Or buy some strong tape to attach it around the ceiling of your van.

How to deal with sandflies

Spring boarding from that tip, be wary of insects and the devils that are sandflies. Sandflies are very common on the south island and give you a nasty bite. If you are not careful they could end up in your van and be biting you all night. So make sure to turn off your lights when getting in and out of the van. Luckily sandflies are very slow so, it is easy to kill them.


Organisation is key when living in a van or any small space. Make sure the things that you need on a regular basis are easily accessible. Our bed was on top of the compartments that stored most of our belongings. Meaning you weren’t going to be able to get in there in the middle of the night for something. We both used a tote bag each which we kept our everyday items in and placed it somewhere we could access easily.

What to buy or bring with you

Sliders, sandals or flip flops are your new best friend. You want shoes that you can slip on and off easily. You never know if you may need a midnight dash to the toilet. Also you don’t want to bringing all the grass and dirt back into the van with you.

Buy some rope and pegs to make a portable washing line wherever you go. We always ended up hanging ours on nearby trees, picnic benches or even the wing mirror of our van. This should also save you some money with the laundry bill.

Bring or buy a cigarette USB charger. You want to be charging your technology items while on the move. Luckily our van had USB ports but you never know. 

Also another great tip is to bring a UK (or whatever country you are from) extension cable. This means you don’t have to have an adapter for every single item. Also if you do pay for electricity at a campsite (most of the time we did as it was like a pound more.) Make sure you charge everything up overnight while you sleep.

Bring games. A pack of cards or small games are great as the weather in New Zealand does vary. Also we found that the wifi in a lot of the campsites we stayed in was awful or you had to pay for it.


I know this post was rather long but, once I got in the zone I kept thinking of more and more things. I know some of the tips for travelling in a campervan around New Zealand may sound like common sense. But when planning a big trip like this it does take a lot of time and energy so it easy to forget the little things that can hopefully make your road trip that little bit better.

Other posts

If you haven’t seen already and would like a break down of all of the places we visited in New Zealand, please check out the following blog posts: Akaroa, Hokitika and Pancake Rocks,  Wanaka, Haast Pass and Glaciers, Queenstown and Glenorchy, Doubtful Sound, Moeraki boulders and Nugget Point, Mount Sunday, Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook, Kaikoura, Wellington, Cape Palliser, Tongarriro, Craters of the Moon, Rotorua, Hobbiton, Piha, Coromandel, Waitomo Caves and Auckland.

Lots of love, Melissa x

Video credit – Sam Gill


campervans parked in franz josef campsite in new zealand

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