Tips for a campervan or motorhome holiday in New Zealand with a family
I decided that I, my husband and our two boys (12 and 13) should experience a motorhome holiday down the South Island this summer holiday. My Mum and Dad had taken me on such a holiday around Europe when I was growing up and it was very memorable and something me and my siblings have all wanted to do with our own children.
We did an alternative route to many who come here ie we went down the Christchurch side of the South Island right around to Invercargill and up to Te Anau to go to Milford Sound and then on to Queenstown before heading back to Christchurch to get a flight back to Wellington. We only had 10 days which is the bare minimum to see a portion of the South Island. One of the things I wanted to do was to visit my great great grandmother’s 1896 grave in the little historic gold mining town of Lawrence in Otago.
We hired a 4 berth gem motorhome off Pacific Horizon. It was a van with no overhead sleeping cab, instead you made the front seats up at night into a bed. I found this compromised the amount of space in the van and also was timeconsuming to make the bed up all the time. Also the back seats were uncomfortable to travel on for those passengers. Just mentioning this as something to watch out for. We didn’t consider freedom camping this time round, maybe next time!
Here are my tips for taking a family on a campervan trip:
Motorhome review website
There is a bewildering array of campervan companies, a minefield in fact for first timers. Many options and configurations.
Consult the Rankers website, it seems to be the only website with reviews of the companies, similar to tripadvisor. After our holiday I would not deal with any company getting less than a 85% rating on the website. You are coming a long way and spending a lot of money and the motorhome and the service you receive from your hire company can make or break your holiday.
Check out a website like Kiwiholiday parks, there is a motorhome hire tab whereby you can book a motorhome from several different companies and they seem to get passed on specials from those companies from time to time.
Also there is a good function on that website where you can compare motorhomes eg length, automatic etc.
Overhead sleeping cab
Check out the configuration carefully, I talked to someone with a campervan with the overhead cab who said it was awful for two adults to sleep up there especially if one of them needed to get down at night. It was claustrophobic and hot as well.
Consider 6 berth for 4 people
Consider hiring a 6 berth van instead of 4, for 4 people, it may be the same length but have more sleeping options. Once you get going on your holiday someone might not like their bed but will have no choice if there are not many options.
Will you use the toilet really??!!
Consider whether you are the type of people that want to empty the toilet out. We went around campgrounds for all our stops so in hindsight the toilet was a nice idea but took up valuable real estate in the van and it was not what we wanted to use on our holiday. There seemed to be some cool vans in the campgrounds for two people that had no toilet but were well equipped. Maybe they were cheaper.
Cheaper rates off peak
Avoid NZ school holidays if you don’t want to pay top dollar for rental
Try and avoid the New Zealand school holidays, especially the December/ January one. That is peak season and you will pay top dollar. I would consider either before Christmas (early Dec) or in February to get cheaper rates next time. There seem to be an awful lot discounts for motorhome hire popping up on New Zealand websites now that schools have gone back.
Ring the company and see if any discounts available
I found that if you just generate a quote off the motorhome company website you quite often just get the standard offering, if you ring you might strike a company with some surplus vans prepared to discount for your dates, however beware of being told you are getting a discount off a high published rate that no one pays anyway. Also remember taking the all inclusive package, nil insurance excess package can add another 20% on to your hire cost over and above the headline advertised rates.
I noticed a couple of campervan companies have discount vouchers in the entertainment book (www.entertainmentbook.co.nz) for hire that can save you several hundred dollars. This is a book of discount vouchers sold through schools for $60. I think the book runs from July to June each year. There are a lot of private member travel savings for accommodation and restaurants in this book.
Join Holiday park frequent user programmes
You will get 10% discount off camp ground fees from the following programmes:
Top 10 Holiday Park (we found these pretty good, a certain standard and some well located). This costs $40 to join for 2 years, you also get 10% off the Interislander ferry with this card.
Kiwi Holiday Parks – costs $20 to join for 2 years. Also some good parks of a certain standard.
Some recent New Zealand publications I found useful were:
The Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide (2011 publication) by Jill Malcolm and Bill Savidan
Let’s Go Camping (2009 publication) by Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater
The New Zealand Camping Guide, South Island (updated every year, I found it in the library) by Gay Kerr – this lists every single campsite in the South Island – is small to carry around
The Insider’s Guide to New Zealand – a collector’s annual 2012 by NZ Life and Leisure magazine (google New Zealand Life and Leisure). You can probably pick this up at any bookshop. Good for foodies and people into the finer things in life.
These books are all probably available at our main bookshop chain Whitcoulls.
Do homework on the costs
We found that traveling in the high season, getting a less than two year old motorhome and staying at camping grounds every night was very expensive. Ie $333 (with nil excess insurance) motor home hire, $60-70 per night campground fees, $50 per day diesel. That is $450 a day. New Zealand has some beautiful accommodation and motels and we probably could have stayed at some of them for that money!!
Consider pick up one town, drop off another
You may be able to pick the van up at one town and drop off at another to save time. When sorting out the itinerary you may want to register with seeya website www.seeya.co.nz which will send you low price fare alerts on flights from all the airlines operating in New Zealand or Jetstar (like Ryanair) which has really cheap flights to Queenstown sometimes, like today they are advertising $49 Wellington to Queenstown..
Catlins scenery of Otago is fantastic
Lastly- consider taking the route past the Catlins rather than down the West Coast, the sights there are absolutely spectacular like Nugget Point and Cannibal and Curio Bay. Less crowded than the West Coast I suspect, some gravel roads you have to drive but nothing not doable. Dunedin also has a lot of eco tourism tours which I would like to go on and also the Taieri Gorge Railway trip is apparently one of the great scenic train rides in the world. That’s on my list of things to do next time…
For anyone interested our itinerary was:
Day 1 Wellington to Picton
Picton to Kaikoura (crayfish – was pricey)
Kaikoura to Christchurch
Day 2 Christchurch to Oamaru (see historic buildings)
Oamaru to Moeraki (boulders and Fleurs Place restaurant)
Day 3 Moeraki to Dunedin – Lanarch Castle
Dunedin to Lawrence (visit ancester’s grave)
Day 4 Lawrence to Nugget Point, Catlins
Nugget Point to Purakaunui Falls
Say at McLean’s Falls motor park, Catlins – Whistling Frog Café good
Day 5 McLean’s Falls – Curio Bay at low tide
Curio Bay to Invercargill
Invercargill to Te Anau via Riverton
Day 6 Te Anau – go on Jucy Cruize Milford Sound trip
Day 7 Te Anau – Queenstown
Arrowtown visit Chinese goldmining settlement and museum visit
Day 8 Queenstown (gondola and luge)
Were going to go on the Million Dollar Cruise but too windy on lake
Day 9 Queenstown to Tekapo (the ‘most beautiful drive on the planet’)
Tekapo to Christchurch
Day 10 Catch flight back to Wellington
In summarizing, I think campervan/motorhome is a great way to see isolated parts of New Zealand, the roads are very open and not a lot of traffic most of the times. I saw many young couples and older couples having a great time in their campervans. Adding more than two people into the mix means more work for the adults! It’s intense living, takes getting used to.
I would like to go again but just with my husband next time, then we can keep the bed up at the back. The time saved in not packing up clothes etc can be taken up with packing up the van if you have kids and a hectic schedule.
Lastly if you made it through this report, my public photos are on
Have a great trip which ever way you go ie motorhome or car and motel!!!!
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Tips for a campervan or motorhome holiday in New Zealand with a family