New Zealand is an ideal destination for a campervan adventure! After years of dreaming about doing one, we finally decided to plan a NZ campervan road trip of our own. We spent 11 days exploring the South Island in winter, taking advantage of the stunning mountains, snowfields and great food along the way. We had an amazing time and wanted to share with you some of the things we did right and some of the things we wish we’d done differently! Hopefully, our tips help you plan and prepare for an amazing New Zealand campervan road trip of your own. You may also like to read: This is how much a New Zealand motorhome road trip actually costs.
1. Hardshell suitcases aren’t ideal
When we picked up our motorhome we quickly realised it wasn’t practical to open and close a suitcase each time we needed something. So, we unpacked our luggage into the motorhome’s storage areas. That left us with three hardshell suitcases to store! During the day we’d store them in the sleeping area above the driver’s cabin and at night we’d put them in the kitchen nook. But life would’ve been a lot easier if we’d packed soft luggage that could be rolled up and stashed away. Long story short, hardshell suitcases aren’t ideal for an NZ motorhome road trip!
2. Bring a shower kit
We stayed in RV/Holiday Parks for the duration of our trip and opted to use the on-site showers rather than the motorhome’s shower. I would recommend packing a pair of shoes you can wear in the shower and to/from the shower blocks (this is where crocs really shine!) I would also recommend bringing a reusable bag you can put your clothes and shower products in. It’ll reduce the risk of dropping something en route to the shower, make it easier to carry everything and, most importantly, you’ll have somewhere to put your clothes when you take them off, ensuring nothing touches the ground!
3. Familiarise yourself with road rules and driving conditions
If you aren’t a New Zealand local it’s really important you familiarise yourself with the road rules. This is easily done by google search and there are some good videos on YouTube too if you’re more of a visual learner. If you aren’t from a cold climate, it’s also important you learn about the unique winter driving conditions in New Zealand, particularly around black ice and fitting snow chains. Again, there are some great YouTube videos you should watch to help you prepare! Always drive to conditions and ask questions if you are unsure – Kiwi locals are particularly lovely and will be happy to answer questions, I’m sure.
4. Take advantage of having everything with you
One unexpectedly awesome part of our trip was the freedom of having everything with you at all times! When we felt like a coffee break all we had to do was pull over in a safe, scenic spot where we could boil the kettle and set up our picnic chairs. The same went for meals! We would make delicious salad and vegetable wraps for lunch, sit out in the sunshine, gaze at the mountains, talking and laughing while we ate. It made us feel like we were making the most of our time in New Zealand and gave us a huge sense of freedom.
5. Slippers are essential
After a few days getting used to our motorhome, we realised we needed slippers and had to go to the store to buy some because we hadn’t packed any. We found our outdoor shoes were making an absolute mess of the inside of the motorhome. In a bid to keep things clean, we started taking our shoes off when we got inside but quickly worked out that the floor was far too cold to get around in just socks. Hence, slippers! They feel especially cosy when you put them on after a big day on the ski fields.
6. New Zealand is made for motorhomes
None of us had ever driven a real motorhome before and we were all a little bit nervous about how we’d go manoeuvring such a large vehicle. Turns out, we had nothing to worry about because New Zealand is made for motorhomes! Everywhere we went we noticed motorhome-friendly things like designated parking bays, great places to turn around and dumpsites. Not only that but navigating was really easy too. There was never a time we felt we were out of our depth or incapable of handling the situation. If you have the same fears we did, you needn’t worry!
There are a few different options when it comes to parking your motorhome overnight. These include Freedom Camping, Campable and Holiday Parks. We visited in late June, which is winter in New Zealand, and really enjoyed staying at Holiday Parks. It meant we could rely on the on-site facilities like showers, toilets laundry and wifi. It also ensured we had power hook up each night and didn’t need to worry about the 12-volt battery being run down. If you have the budget, I’d definitely recommend staying at the Holiday Parks as they’re really well priced and make things easier.
8. There’s a lot to remember, but you’ll get the hang of it!
Matt and I felt a bit overwhelmed when we picked up our motorhome because there’s a lot to remember and we didn’t want to make a mistake and break something! When we collected the motorhome the lovely staff took us through everything twice and they also gave us a TomTom/GPS with all the information in it so, regardless of whether we had wifi access or not, we could find the answers to any questions that arose. The first two days were spent trying to remember everything and worrying we’d forgotten to turn the gas off or lock the toilet hatch. After two days, we were a well-oiled machine! We each had our jobs and before we set off would do a little check, “Hey, did you lock the toilet?” “Yep! Did you turn the gas off?” If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information when you first collect your motorhome, don’t worry! You’ll get the hang of it and be a total boss in a day or two.
9. BYO entertainment
At the very last minute, I decided to throw a pack of Uno cards in my carry-on, just in case! Those cards ended up being one of our favourite things about our trip. Each evening, after dinner, we’d sit around and talk about the day while playing Uno. It was really fun and an unexpectedly joyous part of our trip. I’d recommend packing a deck of cards, Uno or other games you might like to play. I’d also recommend devising some great playlists you can listen to during the long drives. We have Spotify premium so I just downloaded a whole bunch before we left for New Zealand. It was really nice having good music we could listen to and sing along with on the road.
10. You need more time than you think
While that heading may sound a little vague, you really do need more time than you think for everything. In the morning we always needed an extra 15 minutes before hitting the road so we could dump the waste and greywater then refill with fresh water. As we couldn’t drive faster than 90km/hr we also needed a bit of extra time when calculating drive times. Not only that but we needed to add extra time for fuel and sightseeing stops too as we’d often come across a beautiful spot and want to pull up for photos or just to explore a bit more. In everything you do, allow a bit of extra time in your itinerary!
11. Be aware of peak times
When I started planning our trip, I opted to visit outside of New Zealand school holidays. We visited a few years ago during the peak snow season which perfectly coincides with school holidays (that cannot be a coincidence, NZ!) By visiting before the start of those peak school holiday times we were able to avoid a lot of the crowds, especially on the snowfields like Cardrona, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. Being the start of the season, the powder wasn’t as good as it is at can be but that didn’t bother us one bit. We still had an amazing time and much preferred the smaller crowds. For us, it was a good trade-off.
12. Don’t forget the essentials
The day we collected our motorhome in Christchurch, we went straight to the local supermarket (Countdown). If you’re planning on doing the same thing, I’d just recommend bearing in mind you’ll need a whole bunch of essentials! These include oil, salt, pepper and garlic as well as clingwrap, dishwashing liquid, air freshener, bin liners, rubber gloves and hand sanitiser gel. The hand sanitiser and gloves were particularly important! Our winter visit meant the water was really cold and sometimes washing your hands seemed a bit rough, hand sanitiser made this easier. We also used the rubber gloves when dumping the waste and greywater for the van, keeping things sanitary. Before you set off, just be sure to think about all the essentials you might need and jot down a list so you don’t forget them.
Hiring a motorhome
Our trip was made possible thanks to the amazing team at Motorhome Republic, who I approached about working together after finding them online. Think of them as the Skyscanner, Booking.com or Agoda of motorhome rentals! What I like about Motorhome Republic is they pull together a large range of vehicles from different brands, which makes it easier to find one that suits your needs and budget. They list a huge amount of information on their website, which gives you everything you need to know upfront and helps the planning/decision-making process easier too. When I was scouring their website planning our trip, the rates I saw were lower than what I’d seen elsewhere. Not only that, their customer service team speak multiple languages so if English isn’t your first language, you can connect with someone that can help you and answer all your questions. If you haven’t booked a motorhome yet and are still in the research phase, I recommend checking out Motorhome Republic as we had a great experience with them. We had a 6-berth Maui Platinum River Home and loved it!
Best travel resources for your trip!
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