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Road Trip to NI and SI on a Campervan versus Motels and BB in August


Jul 12th, 2012, 12:44 PM
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Road Trip to NI and SI on a Campervan versus Motels and BB in August

We are planning 16 days trip to NI and SI in August and since my dad has always wanted to do a road trip on a campervan, we think that this will be the perfect opportunity to make his dream come true.
After reading various of trip reports and itineraries, I started to worry if that would be a good idea considering that August is still winter, the road can get really slippery and the temperature can get really low at night.
Would anyone able to help on this since we have never been to NZ before and have never rented a campervan before.
We will be arriving in Auckland, visit Rotorua and drive to Wellington, cross by the ferry and continue on from Picton down to Queenstown and Milford Sound , Te Anau, Arrowtown, Fox Glazier and fly back from Christchurch.
Where are the camp sites mostly located? Are there plenty of them available in NI and SI along the route between Picton to Queenstown to Christchurch?
Can we park the campervan overnight such as next to the lake, river or beach or do we have to find camp sites or DOC sites?
Since it would be really cold in winter, would hire a people mover car and stay in Motels/BB a better idea? It would be really uncomfortable for my family and i would feel real awful if they cant have a good sleep at night.
Can we take shower while the van is moving?
Will the campervan with a 2lt engine (6berth) powerfull enough to drive up Mt Cook / Fox Glazier?
Would it be easy to drive the campervan to town to buy groceries and food?
Any suggestion and advise would be really appreciated.
Thank you
bottlenose is offline  
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Jul 12th, 2012, 08:00 PM
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A few things to consider:

Freedom camping, meaning camping where there is no camp ground and facilities, is very much discouraged in NZ due to the enviromental impact of careless campers.

More info here:


Here is a list of camp sites, I'm sure there are many more:


I've never done the campervan thing in NZ, but I have seen many visitors struggle with their campervans. The roads are narrow and winding, presenting quite a challenge for inexperienced campervan drivers, particularly those who're not familiar with driving on the left.

August will be very cold, and I can't help but think that a motel would trump a campervan. We were in NZ last month, and we nearly froze one night IN our accommodation. I don't know what campers offer heat-wise, but I can't imagine crawling out of bed in a camper in August in NZ w/o some mightly good heat (and I LIKE the cold).

Keep in mind that petrol is expensive - it was $2.13-2.20 a LITER last month. Gassing up our Corolla was bad enough, I'd imagine a camper van would cause some serious sticker shock.

There's also the issue of camping fees - if cost is a consideration, you might want to do the math, comparing the cost of a campervan, petrol and camping fees to the cost of a rental car, petrol and motels. You might be surprised.

I suggest you also read the fine print of the campervan rental contract. I've recently heard a lot of complaints from renters who were surprised by large fees charged up front which caused them to lose money due to conversion fees, etc.

The drives to Mt Cook and the glaciers are easy...the road to Mt Cook Village is through a valley, so it's basically flat. The glaciers are accessed via a side road off the main highway, so no big issues there, BUT the highway is very curvy and winding. NZ is full of curvy roads, hairpin turns, etc. Driving into and out of parking lots (which tend to be small and cramped by US standards) could well be an issue.
Melnq8 is offline  
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Jul 13th, 2012, 12:20 AM
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I seem to recall a detailed trip report not long ago where the poster discussed the pros and cons of their campervan rental, but I can't find it.

I did however, find these old threads which might help:

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Jul 13th, 2012, 12:20 AM
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Thank you so much Melnq for your advise here and for the links, very much appreciated...we still need to consider a lot things and will need to sit down and do the math ..
Thanks again Mel and cant wait for our trip!
bottlenose is offline  
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Jul 13th, 2012, 02:06 AM
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we are also planning to campervan round the south island but in early november so it will be a bit warmer

we have never campervan-ed but im pretty sure that you cant travel loose in any vehicle...caravan or trailer...
seems like fun to be lying on a bed reading a book while daddy-o is driving but it is dangerous... i would imagine that just like in oz all passengers have to wear seatbelts just like in a normal car and so showering in a moving vehicle would be out of the question...probably a very good law lol
we are looking at getting a two berth ...it will be cramped no doubt but id rather have the ease of moving around the roads and carparks than the space in the end
i just wonder if the awnings are an extra...would really like something like that especially if it is going to be a rainy spring
good luck with your planning and safe trip
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Jul 14th, 2012, 02:50 AM
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There is no shortage of campinggrounds in New Zealand, every town would have one or more, although they can be expensive. Anything from $15-$45 a night could be expected. There are also a lot of DOC run ones which offer few if any services, they are typically $6 a night per person.

Freedom camping is fine unless these a sign saying "no camping", of course use common sense in choosing a camping site. I freedom camp all of the time and it is great, although the accommodation providers have been running a rather successful smear campaign against it, although the government has recently written a new law which made it harder for local councils to ban freedom camping in broad areas. They can now only ban it in localized areas if they have signs erected.

Autumn can be quite a mild month, although can still be bitterly cold if the wind blows from the wrong direction. This winter has been a cold one so its anyones guess what August would bring.

and yes, you need to wear a seat belt while the camper van is moving, or at least remember to pull the curtains.

Keep in mind that thousands of tourists go on camper-van holidays around New Zealand every year and seem to survive the roads.
ThomasW is offline  
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Jul 14th, 2012, 11:06 PM
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We did freedom camping albeit 10 years ago. If you camp in less obvious spots (out of town and tucked away out of sight)you should have no troubles. Also as it is winter fewer law enforcement officers will be out as it is not worth the trouble to have people on overtime to catch a few campers.

We have just returned from two weeks in South Australia.Two nights were in a National Park, the rest were all freedom camping. We have never stayed in a commercial caravan park.
peterSale is offline  
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Jul 16th, 2012, 06:09 PM
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You don't say how many of you there are - but you refer to your Dad and 'my family' it sounds like there will be at least 3 of you.

Some thoughts:

1. Per lanejohann - NO do not try to shower or anything else while someone is driving. Strap on that seat belt. It's the law in NZ, and it's a good one.

2. Have you ever traveled in very close quarters in this group before? After touring all day, you might find that everyone needs to have a bit more space, the luxury of separate rooms, so that you are not so much on top of each other all the time. Travel in a group is fun and stressful at the same time, so think carefully.

3. It's the middle of the night and the toilet has stopped working. (I have read of this complaint on these forums.) Can you cope with this? (If you're freedom camping, you could be a long way from anything other than the most primitive alternative......)

4. I would try to mock up something at home, say sleeping bags/air mattresses all arranged in a common room, and see how well everyone manages to sleep in such an arrangement. This way you have a chance to experiment before making an expensive commitment.
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Jul 16th, 2012, 07:17 PM
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Echoing Melnq8 and others, I would not make unknown, narrow, windy and possibly icy roads my initiation into driving with a caravan or motor home.

At the very least, rent the same type of vehicle for a weekend and take everyone who's going to NZ away in it - and take the narrowest roads you can find in your vicinity towards the end of the weekend. Get into some small towns & park, too. That can be an adventure in a much larger vehicle than the driver is used to driving - and unfortunately, many town car park spaces have not caught up with the increasing size & number of SUVs.

It could be a great adventure and a good practice run for the NZ trip, so make sure you use all the facilities, and empty the sewer etc. If your Dad handles it well and likes it, great - if not, he's saved himself from some expensive stress.

Do you normally drive on the left hand side? If not, that is an added challenge to be factored in.

I'm not trying to frighten you out of the idea - but to give you a reality check.


Lastly, of course you can't shower or do anything else without a seat belt while the campervan is in motion - you'd be an untethered missile bouncing around - but you were just joking, weren't you?
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Jul 16th, 2012, 07:23 PM
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Just another thought - if it's $$ that is encouraging your family to take the campervan; many NZ caravan parks have on-site cabins that offer very good value accommodation. You still have the advantage of self-catering, with more flexibility in accessibility & easier driving than a campervan.

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Jul 17th, 2012, 03:12 AM
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bottlenose - DD and her GF hired a motorhome in NZ for a week this last April, and though they had fun, after a week of it they were glad to get out of the van!

if you still fancy doing it, think about limiting it to part of your trip, not the whole time.

PS - I've reported the interloper!
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