Campervanning in New Zealand is the most flexible way to see the country's spectacular landscape, while combining your wheels, bedroom and dining room in one nifty package!
Once you've selected New Zealand as your travel destination, now comes the time to decide where to stay and what form of transport you will need when you're there. Why not combine the two? Go for the campervan option, and you can drive the route of your choice, dine in your own select surroundings, and have a room with a view every night! Several hire companies in New Zealand cater to all needs, whether you're on a budget or seeking luxury on wheels. Single backpackers, honeymoon couples, families with four children, groups of friends... we met them all on our campervan travels.
Don't make the mistake of thinking campervans are only suitable for warmer weather; while you may need some extra blankets and a hot water bottle for the middle of the winter season, some of the best bargains can be found in the off-peak months from June to September. In fact, August (known as one of the coldest months) was our favourite travel period - we loved the crisp, sunny days with clear blue skies and frosty, starry nights.
One of our favourite things about campervanning is the freedom it provides, from choosing the most spectacular bedroom window views to finding the ultimate picnic stops en route from one destination to the next. New Zealand is an absolute pleasure for drivers, as each step of the way the scenery and attractions are simply breathtaking. If, like us, you prefer to self-cater and save your money for activities rather than dining out, campervanning is ideal. Campsite kitchens are superb throughout New Zealand, offering all mod cons and providing the perfect social gathering point to trade travel secrets and meet friends along the way.
Choosing your sites
In terms of where to stop, we would strongly recommend the Top 10 campsite chain, which has sites across North and South Island, and provides excellent facilities. While the nightly rates may be above average, buying a membership card on arrival at the site reception gives worthwhile discounts, and sites such as Christchurch Top 10 even have TV rooms, swimming pools and play areas to keep the little ones entertained. One of the best sites for us would be the Top 10 at Ohakune, where the heated shower cubicles were a welcome luxury after a day on the ski slopes at Mt Ruapehu. Many smaller independent campsites, however, are quieter and have hidden perks - like the Waiwera Holiday Park, which offers the most stunning coastal view, very reasonable site rates and discounts for the neighbouring thermal spa. What more can you ask?
Other campsites we would recommend include:
ON NORTH ISLAND
Taupo De Bretts Spa Resort & Campsite. Ideal location near the town, with stunning views of Lake Taupo and the Tongariro Park volcanoes. Also adjacent to the beautiful spa resort, best visited on an evening in our opinion, especially in the winter months.
Haruru Falls Resort, Paihia. A perfect, peaceful, family campsite overlooking the falls, with kayaking, swimming pools and boat hire; the ideal base for trips to the Bay of Islands.
ON SOUTH ISLAND
Te Anau Top 10. Fabulous catering facilities, a public Jacuzzi and the perfect stopover location before a trip to Milford Sound.
Kaikoura Top 10. Close to the town and the launch point for whale-watching (and the fish and chip shop across the road), this is a well-maintained site with good facilities.
Shining Star Campsite, Hokitika. Stunning beachside location on the west coast, excellent amenities, and nearby glow-worm dells that are absolutely free!
Aspiring Caravan Park, Wanaka. Luxury facilities in a popular summer and winter destination. We found it ideal for snowboarding days at Cardrona ski-field.
Akaroa Top 10. Perched on the hillside overlooking the bay and the picturesque French settlement, this site is ideal as a base for the local nature cruises and swimming with dolphins in the harbour.
Hanmer Springs Top 10. Alpine park setting close to the famous hot springs resort, and ideally placed for outdoor activities such as Back Trax quad biking, which provided one of our most memorable days in New Zealand - we would recommend it to anyone!
Choosing your campervan
So how do you choose between one campervan company and the next? A lot depends on your budget, the length of your stay and what type of campervan you require. If you're at the tighter end of the budget scale, try Backpacker for the student-style option. While their vans often have the same equipment you'll find elsewhere, they tend to be a little older or have more miles on the clock. For a mid-range budget and a newer model of van, try Britz. And for the top-of-the-range, newest models, and the more luxurious vehicles, go for Maui, which we must admit was our favourite. All three form part of the same tourism group, so, combined, they are able to offer great discounts (especially for long-hire periods) and off-peak rates.They also provide discounts for key attractions in their welcome books. We hired a two-berth Maui and a four-berth Maui on two separate occasions, and found them absolutely brilliant. The company provides free shuttles to and from Christchurch and Auckland airport during office hours.
We had a fabulous time campervanning in New Zealand and really can't wait to return, so hopefully we can add to these recommendations in the not too distant future.