The prospect of living in a campervan for 6 months was a bit unnerving but really exciting. We decided to go with a camper, as transport and accommodation are quite expensive in New Zealand and we knew we wouldn’t have the freedom to explore as we would like to. Before we set off, we loosely researched tips for living in a campervan and the costs associated with it. So we have put together a post to put into perspective our experience of getting a camper, what it is like living in a van, and things we would have liked to have known before hitting the road.
Our camper is called a Toyota ‘Kuga’ 3-berth and can sleep up to three people. It comes with a gas stove, microwave, sink, fridge, kitchen utilities and appliances, bedding, camping chairs and table, and a portable toilet. There is ample amounts of storage under the seating area, which also transforms into a double bed. The camper is also equipped with a solar panel which means we can keep the fridge running 24/7, turn on indoor lights, and charge our appliances without having to be plugged in at a paid campervan park. Like most campervans in New Zealand, it is automatic transmission. Neither of us had driven automatic before but it is quite easy to get the hang of.
Getting a Campervan- Book Early!
We booked our camper in July 2018, 15 months before our New Zealand trip started. As we were still working and got an amazing deal, it made sense for us to book this far in advance. We went with Travellers Autobarn through STA Travel but there are endless amounts of campervan companies in New Zealand. We know it is not possible for everyone to book so far in advance, but the earlier you book the cheaper it will be. There is no last minute deals like flights or hotels; the closer you book to the date, the more expensive it will be. High season for campers in New Zealand is between October to March. Low season will be cheaper, but that comes during New Zealand’s winter months.
When we got to ‘Travellers Autobarn’to pick up our van, we were advised that rental for our van model for October and November usually start at $150 per day, and from December to April was $250 per day. Because we booked so ridiculously early, we didn’t pay anywhere near this. We have seen so many different types of campervan on our journey so far with Jucy, Britz, Maui, and Apollo being the main branded vans we have seen so if you shop around you might be able to find a better deal. Also, we were advised when picking up the van that starting in Christchurch is cheaper than starting in Auckland. If you are planning an extended stay in New Zealand, another popular option is to buy a campervan and sell it off when you leave.
Self-Contained .vs. Non-Self contained
For a vehicle to be certified as self-contained, it must have a fresh water tank, a sink, a waste water tank, and a toilet. We opted to pay an extra $50 to include a portable toilet in the van to make it ‘self-contained’. This gave us the advantage of ‘freedom camping’ i.e. parking for free in designated ‘self-contained’ sites. If we opted for ‘non-self contained’, options for camping are significantly more limited and usually you have to pay a minimum of $15 pp per night in a campsite. Facilities in New Zealand for campers are second to none, with toilets at almost every freedom parking site so we don’t intend on using the toilet. We worked out that by having the self-contained option, we are saving $900 per month. We had made our $50 back in two days of freedom parking, so we would definitely recommend choosing the self-contained option as it will save you a lot of money.
We use two main apps; Campermate and Rankers. Both have similar layouts but differ in some features. Having both apps gives you every bit of information you need for a stress free time in your camper. Information on camp sites, water, dump stations, gas refills, showers, and shops are all on the apps. Another useful feature is that you can download maps to use when you are offline and in remote areas with no coverage.
Where to camp
You can use the apps to see freedom camping and non-self contained camping spots. If you camp in a place you shouldn’t, you’ll be hit with a $200 fine and told to move. Most of the popular free campsites are filled by 7pm, so try and get in before this time.
Water Tank Refilling
Most campervans will have a fresh water tank that needs to be refilled every 1-2 days. It is a bit of a nuisance at first, but once you get into the swing of it, it becomes part of the daily routine. The apps mentioned above are really useful in locating drinking water stations.
Sounds worse than what they are! These are drains to get rid of waste water from the sink/ toilet. You’re not legally allowed to dump any waste water outside of these offical spots. You will usually find them beside a drinking water station so you can empty and refill at the same time.
Gas cylinders are kept in a small hatch at the side of the van. We expect to have to change the gas cylinder every six weeks but using the aforementioned apps it is easy to locate where to get this refilled.
Petrol is expensive in New Zealand, but as it is a necessity for road tripping we have had to budget around it. There are petrol stations offering deals everywhere with loyalty cards. We opted for an ‘AA Smartfuel’ card which gives you 6c off per litre every time you buy petrol at a BP service station. These can be accumulated for up to two months. Just to note, the cheapest place in New Zealand is Rotorua, so plan ahead if you are going here.
Showers are surprisingly easy to come by. The most convenient way to get a hot shower is at a leisure centre, which is usually no more than $3pp. There are some cold showers at freedom camping sites if you are brave enough. There are also ‘iSite’ centres dotted across New Zealand which normally have shower access for a small fee.
New Zealand can be expensive depending on how much you want to do and see. We have been using the budgeting app ‘Trail Wallet’ throughout our travels which has helped us control our spending. Luckily most outdoor activities and parking are free in New Zealand. We have highlighted any paid activities we know we want to do in advance, and built this into our budget across our 14 weeks in New Zealand. Pak ‘n’ Save has been our go to for grocery shopping. It is New Zealand’s version of Aldi and Lidl. If you are looking for cheap clothes then head to K-Mart.
And that’s our tips so far for van-living. We will continue updating this as we travel around and add any additional information that we find useful.
Róisin & Bernard