The ultimate guide to Campervan travel in New Zealand
Year after year travellers keep listing New Zealand as one of the best countries to visit. Locals call its God’s own country, and a visit will show you why. The Kiwi countryside got plenty of press thanks to the Lord of the Rings films, and it is truly beautiful. Forests, rugged coastlines, dramatic mountain ranges with snow-capped peaks – New Zealand has it all.
New Zealand also has plenty of urban attractions in cities such as Wellington and Auckland, and there are all kinds activities to try out on the country’s north and south islands.
A popular way to see this amazing part of the world is by campervan. It gives you the freedom to go where you like when you like, and of course you can travel at your own pace, as well as pull over and camp in just about any spot you fancy (within reason). But where should you go, what should do and what do you need to know for a motorhome adventure in New Zealand? Here’s the ultimate guide for your epic Kiwi road trip.
Although it is not the capital Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand. It’s not the prettiest town in the country but is a good spot for food, drink and nightlife. There are numerous activities you can have a go at in Auckland too, such as…
1. Bungee jump at one of the world’s first jumps – AJ Hackett invented bungee jumping and the jump in Auckland – from a bridge into the harbour – is one of the first ever set up.
2. Scuba dive the Hauraki Reef – You can scuba dive, boat, sail and fish at the Hauraki Reef, where there is a fantastic array of sea life.
3. Ascend the Sky Tower – This tower is 1000 feet tall and the highest in the southern hemisphere. At the top you can enjoy panoramic views over the entire city.
4. Visit the Waitakere Ranges – This is a great trip to make in a campervan, as Waitakere Ranges offers beaches, greenery and gorgeous waterfalls.
5. Check out the north shore – This is the main beach area in Auckland, so a top spot to bask in the sun and enjoy the buzzing nightlife.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a well frequented tourist region on the North Island and well worth a visit in your motorhome. The best things to do and see here are as follows…
1. Go horse riding – If you’re a fan of horse riding this is the place to do it. You can ride through the surf as it laps onto the golden sands for an experience to remember.
2. Bask on the beach – The Bay of Islands has some of the most amazing coastline and weather in the world, so take some time to lie back and relax in the sun.
3. Go dolphin watching – Boat tours take you out to see dolphins leaping from the ocean, and for an extra charge you can swim with them.
4. Visit Rainbow Falls – A three mile hike will take you from Kerikeri to the impressive Rainbow Falls, so-called because often you can see a rainbow formed at the pool below the falls.
The Garden City, as it is known, has been likened to a Victorian English town, thanks to its sculpted parks and gardens. If you cruise up to Christchurch you can do any of the following…
1. Check out a festival – Christchurch is a festival centre, with something going on just about every month.
2. Visit Cathedral Square – The city’s central square is home to markets, fairs and locals and tourists alike milling around. The cathedral itself is currently closed due to damage sustained in an earthquake.
3. Go on the gondola – Explore Christchurch in a Venetian fashion on the gondola rides which cruise through the suburbs giving you a unique view of what’s going on.
4. Discover Canterbury Museum – This is a great place to find out about Kiwi history, with exhibitions of Maori and natural history artefacts, as well as an Antarctic exploration display.
Franz Josef is a town and glacier with the same name, which was first explored in the 19th century and which draws lots of travellers still today. If you pull up at Franz Josef in your campervan, here is what you can get up to…
1. Try heli-hiking – Get dropped in remote parts of the glacier to experience hiking that is not available to those who start at the bottom.
2. Go white water rafting on the Whataroa and Perth Rivers – This is a great day out in the summer, on which you can tackle the rapids and watch the verdant forest float by.
3. Bathe in the glacier hot pools – There are several outdoor thermals pools that you can dip in, which is a real luxury after a day’s hard hiking.
Nelson is known as the sunniest place in New Zealand, so it is understandably popular. This is great news for campers, but what can you do once you arrive?
1. Go to Abel Tasman National Park – Full of fern trees, hidden coves, beaches and azure blue waters, Abel Tasman Park is an ideal day out in Nelson. You can stay at The Barn a great camping ground with a variety of accommodation right at the start of the Abel Tasman Track.
2. Visit the Miyazu Japanese Garden – Nelson is twinned with Miyazu in Japan, hence this gorgeous, serene space which is ideal for contemplation.
3. Enjoy a wine tour – There are over 20 wineries near Nelson, so why not park up and tour them, trying the best local wines.
Queenstown is on the South Island and is a stunning city, surrounded by mountains with a vast lake. It has lots for travellers to do as well, such as…
1. Take in the sights on a helicopter – The best way to see what Queenstown has to offer is on a helicopter tour, on which you can see The Remarkables Mountains, the rainforest and alpine lakes.
2. Ski or snowboard – In winter Queenstown is a popular spot for skiing and snowboarding (the Kiwi winter is during the UK summer).
3. Ride on the Shotover Jet – This is an ultra fast speedboat which takes you around the local lakes at high speed -a great activity for adrenaline junkies.
There are of course lots more places that are well worth visiting in New Zealand, such as Rotorua, Taupo, Waitomo and Wellington. Your best bet is to hit the road and see where it takes you.
There are a few things that you will need to pack for a motorhome road trip around New Zealand, and these are the absolute essentials. Most of these items are fairly inexpensive so it might be better to pick them up when you touch down on Kiwi soil.
1) Bedding – You will need sleeping bags that are suitable for the temperature of the places you are visiting. In winter especially it can get quite cold at night.
2) Gas canisters – Being able to cook your own food is important when you’re out o the road, so take some spare gas canisters for your cooker. Obviously you will have to buy these in New Zealand.
3) Torch – A torch and batteries is always a good idea if you are planning to camp anywhere.
4) Insect repellent – There are plenty of bugs in New Zealand; black flies especially, so you should definitely pack some insect spray.
5) Sunglasses – If you are going to be outside a lot then you will certainly need some good quality shades in New Zealand.
6) Good walking shoes – There is so much amazing countryside in New Zealand that you have to do some walking. This means good walking shoes or boots to protect your feet.
7) Lightweight waterproof jacket – New Zealand does get some rain so a lightweight waterproof is a great idea to keep you dry in any downpours.
There are countless beautiful camping grounds in New Zealand, which would make excellent bases to explore the surrounding areas. Here are six quality Kiwi campsites that won’t disappoint.
1) Jacksons Retreat Campervan Holiday Park – Surrounded by scenic mountains and rivers Jacksons Retreat campsite is a stunning place to park up the camper, in order to explore the Greymouth area on the west coast of the South Island.
2) Smiths Farm Holiday Park – This is a more boutique style holiday park located in Marlborough on the South Island. It is centrally placed on the Marlborough Sounds with a backdrop of rugged mountains.
3) Aroha Island – Aroha Island on the North Island is a place where you might see an actual kiwi – the famous flightless bird in the country’s emblem. Aroha is a serene island and a remote place to enjoy the country’s natural wonders and wildlife.
4) Waiteti Trout Stream Holiday Park – Waiteti is a powered campsite in the Rotorua region of the North Island. It is right on the river so a great place to try canoeing and kayaking.
5) Waitaki Waters Holiday Park – In the Oamaru region of the South Island Waitaki Waters Holiday Park is surrounded by stunning countryside but is just a few minutes from the local town. It is a lovely coastal site which is perfect for a bit of relaxation.
6) Moeraki Boulders Kiwi Holiday Park – If you fancy camping by the sea, where you can see dolphins and even penguins, Moeraki Boulders campsite is a good choice. This site is also located in the Oamaru area on New Zealand’s South Island.
1) Embrace minimalism – Campervans don’t give you much space for unnecessary items, so get used to living with less and take only what you need.
2) Practise tolerance – Living in close quarters with family and friends can be a real test of a relationship, so to survive and make the most of your trip, it is essential to be patient and tolerant, because others will annoy you at some point and vice versa.
3) Take advantage of the better camping grounds – Some campsites are better than others and offer very different facilities. You should therefore take advantage of the better ones, because you never know what the next one will offer.
Here are a few things you need to know before you start travelling across New Zealand in a campervan.
Driving license – A normal driving license is adequate to drive a campervan in New Zealand, provided that your license is accepted in the country.
Beware jet lag – If you plan to drive away in a motorhome as soon as you arrive, consider whether you need a sleep first. Driving with jet lag can be dangerous so think about staying in a hostel or hotel for a night on arrival.
Choosing campsites in New Zealand – Camping grounds, as they are called over there, are plentiful, and scattered across the North and South Islands. It is wise to find fully services motorhome sites, which have plug in power, dumping points for toilet waste and water to fill up your tank.
Travelling with kids – If you take children away with you make sure you plan in plenty of breaks in your drives. It’s a good idea to take plenty of in-vehicle entertainment too, to keep the kids quiet. Some campervans will be kitted out with DVD players and computer games, and these vans are definitely helpful when it comes to keeping children happy on the road.
You should now have plenty of information to be able to plan an epic road trip around New Zealand. It is a beautiful country full of natural attractions and vibrant towns and cities, so start planning your Kiwi campervan tour now.