I and a good friend spent close to three months driving through New Zealand. We started in Auckland, went wherever our fancy took us, and ended up in Christchurch in the other end of the country. This has to be the best trip I have ever been on – I loved moving to a new place every day, and no matter where you go a new beautiful scenery will show before you. This is meant as a rough guide to the basics of a road trip with camping in New Zealand.
On choice of vehicle
We wanted as much freedom as possible, so we were after a vehicle that we could sleep in, rather than having to find accommodation each night. This was partly achieved. We had read a lot about self contained and non self contained vehicles beforehand – the difference being that with self contained you can sleep absolutely anywhere. We ended up not going for that option because self contained vans were a lot more expensive than non SC, it would be expensive to make a van SC, and according to whatever we were reading the possibilities for actually doing the freedom camping thing (which is only legal in self contained vehicles) were actually pretty limited.
Because of that we instead opted to buy a car – we found a Honda Odyssey station wagon at a backpacker place in Auckland, and had them build a custom bed in the back of the car for us. We were very happy with that car – easy to get around with as it was smaller than an RV, but big enough to hold all our stuff and for us to sleep comfortably. BUT! Self contained had probably been optimal. We definitely had times where it would have been easier and cheaper (free campsite) if we had been self contained.
The other thing about buying the car – we wanted to buy because we reasoned that renting, especially for such a long time, would be throwing money out of the window. If we bought the car we thought we could sell for almost, if not exactly, the same price. In the end we probably did save a bit on buying, but not nearly as much as we would have liked. We bought the car in Auckland in the beginning of the summer for 4000 dollars – this was including the installation of the bed and curtains. We sold it in Christchurch with a net profit of 1500 dollars (we had agreed with the buyers that we would pay for the necessary repairs). In hindsight it would probably have been better to have started in Christchurch and ended in Auckland because of the inherent price differences.
- If you’re buying the car: start in Christchurch and end in Auckland, where you’ll be able to get a higher price for your car.
- If you’re renting: Self contained campervan gives the ultimate freedom!
- A stationcar is more fun to drive, and you can stay in a tent instead.
So, transportation down, now what about accommodation? We found that when we were camping, we could keep it on a very low price level. I kept a diary and wrote down what we paid for sleeping quarters each night – I think the average over 3 months came to something like 16 dollars, excluding our two longer stays in hotels in Auckland and Wellington. We lived close to Queenstown for about a month, working, and the campsite we found outside the city (12 Mile Delta) cost 10 dollars a night, with multi night discounts. Near Wanaka we always stayed in Luggate, which cost 5 dollars and even had a shower. If we went for something slightly more luxurious (meaning showers and a kitchen) prices would be around 20-22 dollars.
Availability wise we almost never had any problems. There would always be room somewhere, even though it was high season. The only time we were in trouble was around Christmas when we were staying in Nelson (free overnight parking in city center) and wanted to drive into the Abel Tasman National Park. There was a campsite with 850 spots that was full. When we arrived in Picton (sailing from Wellington) late at night, we had to drive until 1AM before we could find a place with room for us. As soon as we left the area and headed south, it went back to normal, with plenty of room for travelers.
- Basic campsite are 0-10 dollars
- Nicer campsites with showers and kitchen are 20-25 dollars
- Even in high season you should be able to find a spot at a campsite if you don’t arrive too late
- Download the app Campermate for locations, prices and more on any campsite in New Zealand
As soon as we arrived we got ourselves a sim card from Spark – they had great reception and spots all over the country with free wi-fi (look for the purple Spark telephone boxes). I can’t count how many times we’ve been parked close to a purple telephone box for extended periods of time because one of us had to download a new book or upload photos to Facebook.. With the Spark subscription I had 1,5 GB of data each month which was more than enough for my usage – obviously cutting out all things Netflix and Youtube. Many cafés offered free wifi (although I would always buy something), and McDonalds was an absolute godsend in terms of wi-fi – I don’t know how much data you’re allotted in there, but it’s a lot. And they make a very good cup of mochaccino to go with it.
- Get a simcard from Spark – they have their own wifi hotspots pretty much everywhere
- McDonald’s has free wifi with lots of data
- Many cafés also have free wifi
We ate out a lot. My partner is an excellent cook and he made a lot of very good food on his little camping stove, but it was very often that it was just easier, more convenient, and definitely more tempting, to eat out. Also because it really isn’t too expensive, at least not seen through the eyes of Scandinavians. I think the cheapest Fergburger in Queenstown cost maybe 11 dollars – I may have eaten a few of those during my time there.. I gave myself a spending limit of maximum 250 dollars pr week for the last month which I actually kept – this was including gas for the car, food, accommodation and whatever else I could come up with.
- Food in New Zealand is neither very expensive or super cheap
- Eat out or cook your own – whatever suits your budget
- Don’t cheat yourself of a Fergburger in Queenstown or a hot stone meal
On flying from the other side of the world
Flying to New Zealand from Denmark – yowza that’s not cheap. We spent hours searching on Momondo for the very best dates for each destination (we didn’t go directly to New Zealand, flew to Singapore first, then to New Zealand and then to Australia). We bought our tickets through a Danish travel agency, which probably also made it slightly cheaper.
- Traveling from Northern Europe, flight time alone will be 24 hours. Then add layovers
- Use multiple planning sites like Momondo and Skyscanner and experiement with dates for the best prices
- Travel agencies might be cheaper, though be aware of cancellation/change terms
That’s all I have on the basics of a long camping trip in New Zealand. Have you been to New Zealand, or do you have any questions on camping life down stairs down under (get it?)? Comment below!
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