If ever there was a destination perfect for a road trip, it would be New Zealand. The sheer, overwhelming natural beauty that surrounds you is reason enough but add to that a wealth of amazing experiences, great food and friendly locals and you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’ve had the pleasure of visiting New Zealand a few times and on this trip, we wanted to do something different! As a group of three, the idea of a motorhome road trip and the accompanying sense of freedom and adventure instantly appealed to us. As soon as we arrived, we knew we’d done the right thing and the following days were nothing short of wonderful, chock full of laughter, fun and excitement.
If you’re considering doing a motorhome road trip in New Zealand or just trying to figure out if it’s a viable option, this post is for you! I want to share all our expenses with you so you can find out just how much a New Zealand motorhome road trip actually costs. I also want to share with you a whole lot of insight and information, including our itinerary, where to stay and more to help you plan your very own adventure too. We loved our trip and would highly recommend the experience to others as it’s probably my favourite way I’ve ever experienced New Zealand.
But first, watch this…
We spent a total of ten nights and eleven days exploring New Zealand’s South Island by motorhome. Our trip was focused on visiting snowfields, seeing some of New Zealand’s most beautiful spots and having a road trip adventure. I would recommend devising your itinerary around your main interests, whether that’s adventure activities, hiking, food and wine or ALL of the above. You’re most welcome to use our itinerary as a starting or reference point and tweak it to better meet your needs.
Note: We flew into Christchurch, arriving just after midnight, stayed the night at Jucy Snooze then collected our motorhome the next day. We returned the motorhome around midday on the last day of our trip, flying out of Christchurch in the afternoon. This timing worked really well for us. One other thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to start and end your trip in Christchurch as we did. There are motorhome collection points dotted all over New Zealand and you may prefer to collect yours from somewhere like Queenstown instead. We really wanted to visit Aoraki/Mt Cook and love the big drives, so starting and ending in Christchurch made sense for us but it may not be best suited to your needs.
- Day 1 – Christchurch
- Day 2 – Twizel
- Day 3 – Wanaka
- Day 4 – Wanaka
- Day 5 – Queenstown
- Day 6 – Queenstown
- Day 7 – Milford Sound
- Day 8 – Queenstown
- Day 9 – Queenstown
- Day 10 – Lake Tekapo
- Day 11 – Christchurch
Last year when I was researching our Canadian Rockies Road Trip, I looked at a lot of different motorhome rental sites but one stood out from the rest – Motorhome Republic. So when it came time to find a motorhome for our trip to New Zealand, that’s where I started. What I like about them is the website is easy to use with LOTS of information (seriously, I didn’t find any other company that offered as much detail/info so clearly organised and upfront), they compare multiple hire companies so you’ve got a big range to choose from and the rates are the lowest I saw.
We went with a Maui Platinum River Motorhome and loved it! A 6-berth motorhome, it was the perfect size for 3 adults to spread out and have plenty of space. It was equipped with everything we needed including a kitchen with a cooktop, pots and pans, utensils, cups and so on, a fridge, microwave and more. Of course, there’s also a toilet, shower, three sleeping areas (we only used two), a dining area and a chill-out space at the back as well as a picnic table and chairs for al fresco dining. Again, we loved it and found the size perfect for the three of us.
The motorhome you choose will depend on your budget and the number of people travelling with you so the price can be less if you’re on a tighter budget. As I said, you’ll find all the options on Motorhome Republic so finding the right one isn’t hard. If you do have the budget, I recommend the Maui Platinum River Motorhome, it was excellent! One note about the price for our rental (below) is it includes the ‘Maui Inclusive Pack,’ an optional cost totalling NZD$550 (for 10 days), which reduced our liability reduction to nil and gave us a whole bunch of extras, like snow chains, picnic chairs, wifi etc.
Cost: NZD $1,601 for 10 days hire
Additional motorhome expenses
Of course, you’ll also need to factor in a few additional costs for your motorhome like fuel (diesel), gas (propane) and government-imposed taxes/levies. We drove approximately 2,000kms from Christchurch down to Milford Sound and back, so our costs are based on that distance. When collecting our motorhome we were taken through the New Zealand Government’s ‘Road User Charge Recovery Fee’ and invited to purchase an ‘Express Return Package.’ The Road User Charge Recovery Fee is a government-imposed tax, payable on diesel vehicles.
As the team at Maui explained, the tax for our vehicle is calculated at NZD$7.64 (per 100 kilometres). The ‘Express Return Package’ capped the amount payable to NZD$329 which also allowed us to bring the motorhome back without a full tank of diesel or propane gas and didn’t require us to empty the wastewater either. For us, it made sense as we would’ve had to pay around NZD$150 in tax, NZD$40 for a full gas tank and NZD$140 for a full tank of fuel (total $330). Prepaying the capped amount took the guesswork out of it as we weren’t worried about the number of kilometres we were driving and it made our last day less stressful.
Here’s a breakdown of our additional expenses:
- Fuel/diesel: NZD$391
- Express Return Package: NZD$329
Cost: NZD $720
There are a few different options when it comes to parking your motorhome or RV overnight in New Zealand:
Freedom Camping: You can camp, free of charge, on public land that isn’t a recognised camping ground. You aren’t allowed to camp wherever you like and if you camp in the wrong place, you could face a significant fine. If you’re planning on freedom camping, it’s a great money saver but you’ll definitely need to download the CamperMate app so you can pre-plan the spots you’re going to camp to ensure you avoid any fines. It’s also important to note you can only camp in some places if you are certified self-contained (i.e. a motorhome). One other thing to consider with this option is the motorhome runs on a 12-volt battery when not hooked up to power and needs to be hooked up to re-charge after one or two days. Find the Freedom Camping website here.
Campable: One step up from Freedom Camping is Campable, which is the Airbnb of New Zealand’s camping and motorhome sites! You use the website to find private properties offering camping and motorhome sites in the area you want to stay, then you book and just show up on the date. The booking process is easy and, in my experience, Campable sites are cheaper than holiday parks. There are sites on vineyards, working farms, private properties and more. We booked two but after trying it out, decided to stay at holiday parks instead. While the location was gorgeous and our host was lovely, it was very cold and we were craving a powered RV site at a holiday park close to the centre of town so we could have a long, hot shower, blast the heater all night and not worry about our 12-volt battery. I think Campable is a great idea but, for us, better suited to warmer months.
Holiday Parks: New Zealand is a destination made for motorhomes so it’s no surprise the holiday parks are well planned! We ended up staying at a holiday park every night of our trip, always at a powered site, and we loved it. Staying at holiday parks gave us access to wifi of an evening, so we could check-in with our loved ones. It also meant we could do our laundry, go our separate ways at shower time (ensuring we got some time apart), could fill-up our water and dump wastewater easily and keep the onboard toilet as a number one zone only (important!!) We really liked staying at holiday parks and if I had my time again, I’d do it the same way. It was just easy and enjoyable. Maybe if I was a more experienced motorhome traveller I’d feel more confident testing out the 12-volt battery but we had the budget to stay at holiday parks and it just meant we could do whatever we wanted and not worry about it. Just bear in mind when you read the total cost that there were three of us in the motorhome so the cost for your stay may go up or down depending on how many people are with you.
Here’s a list of all the holiday parks we stayed at:
- Twizel Holiday Park (Twizel – 1 night)
- Glendhu Bay Motor Camp (Wanaka – 2 nights)
- Milford Sound Lodge (Milford Sound / Fiordlands – 1 night)
- Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park (Queenstown – 4 nights)
- Lake Tekapo Holiday Park (Lake Tekapo – 1 night)
Cost: NZD$676 total, powered-sites only, 3 people per night
We had a pretty even split between dining out and preparing meals in our motorhome, with the exception of breakfast which we had at the motorhome each day. We treated ourselves with a couple of really nice dinners out but found dining at the motorhome convenient because we had a really busy itinerary and seemed to always be on the move somewhere. I have to say, having your whole house with you wherever you go is pretty awesome! One of the unexpected things we loved was finding a beautiful spot along the way to pull over for lunch and coffee in the sunshine. It always felt like we were making the most of the beautiful outdoors, rather than being inside a restaurant.
Here’s a breakdown of our food costs:
- Restaurants/dining out: NZD $611
- Grocery stores: NZD $422
Cost: NZD $1,033 for 3 people over 10 nights
The cost of activities will depend entirely on your budget and what you want to see and do in New Zealand. We were very focused on snow-based activities and making the most of the beautiful scenery, with a few once-in-a-lifetime experiences peppered in for good measure. This is definitely the part of your trip where you can save money or go all out!
Here’s a breakdown of our activity costs:
- Snow day at Cardona, Wanaka: 1-day lift pass and ski/snowboard rental NZD$160 per person
- Skydiving with Skydive Wanaka: 15,000 feet jump NZD $459 per person
- Snow day at Coronet Peak, Queenstown: 1-day lift pass and ski/snowboard rental NZD$179 per person
- Night ski at Coronet Peak, Queenstown: Night Ski pass NZD $65 per person
- Snow day at The Remarkables, Queenstown: 1-day lift pass and ski/snowboard rental NZD$179 per person
- Nevis Catapult, Queenstown: NZD $255 per person
Cost: NZD $1,297 per person
The cost of flights is going to be one of your biggest expenses, depending on where you’re flying from. We flew directly from Brisbane to Christchurch with Air New Zealand, a reputable and well-respected airline. We had a great experience and would recommend them to our family and friends. We didn’t realise it at the time but we booked ‘Seat + Bag’ fares, which meant they were cheaper but we got one piece of checked baggage up to 23kg and only tea, coffee and water on board (no meal/snack and limited onboard entertainment). It was a short flight for us, less than 4 hours, so it wasn’t an issue but just something to keep in mind when booking.
In the past, we’ve flown with budget airlines and even done our trip with carry-on only! This was back when the 7kg carry-on wasn’t quite so strictly enforced so we were able to get away with it, though it was very tough packing so light. It’s definitely my preference now to bring a piece of checked luggage with me as I’ve found you really do need to bring a lot more clothes for a winter trip (snow gear, layers, gloves, boots etc).
In my experience living in Australia, there are often sale fares to New Zealand which can help cut down on costs. You may like to sign up to airline sale fare emails or use an app like Hopper (it’s free!), where you put a ‘watch’ on flights to a destination during a certain period and it notifies you when a sale comes up. Brilliant!
Cost: NZD $1,274 return for two passengers
So, how much does a New Zealand Motorhome Road Trip actually cost?
With all the detail out of the way, here’s a look at what you could reasonably expect to pay for a New Zealand Motorhome Road Trip. Again, just a reminder that this is the total price for three people over ten nights. This cost does not include flights or activities.
- Motorhome Rental: $1,601
- Additional Motorhome Expenses: $720
- Holiday Parks: $676
- Food: $1,033
Total Cost: $4,030
Prices may be estimates or are based entirely on our trip. There are so many variables, including things like the type of vehicle you hire, the time of year you visit, where you’re flying from, how many people are with you, how much food you eat and so on. Be sure to use these prices as a rough guide only and factor in your own unique circumstances.
Watch the second part of our trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound:
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