Hiring a motorhome and travelling around New Zealand is a popular and relaxing way of seeing the country. A motorhome is a type of self-propelled recreational vehicle (RV) which offers mobile living accommodation. Motorhomes usually have sleeping spaces for 2–8 people. Each sleeping space is either fixed or converts from another part of the motorhome’s interior, usually a fold-out sofa. A kitchenette area contains cooking equipment. The type of equipment included differs depending on the motorhome make and model, but generally a kitchenette has a stovetop, oven, refrigerator, and sink. More luxury models may also provide a microwave. A small bathroom with a shower, sink and toilet is usually also located in the motorhome. On smaller motorhomes, the toilet may be of the “cassette toilet” type, which is a kind of portable toilet or container-based toilet. The toilet sometimes swivels to provide extra room and can be accessed from outside the motorhome for easy emptying. Larger motorhomes usually have a separate shower cubicle.
A motorhome also has a cab area with a driver and passenger seat. These seats often swivel to become part of the living space. A dinette area provides a table and seating space typically used for eating meals. A lounge may also be included, consisting of either a U-shaped sofa located in the rear of the motorhome or a side lounge. In Australia and New Zealand, the term campervan is frequently used for smaller vans, either with a low top or high top that don’t have a toilet and shower. In New Zealand you may also hear the term housebus that is frequently used for larger motorhomes.
Campervans in New Zealand are available with either automatic or manual transmissions and with diesel or petrol engines. They will accommodate 2-6 people and are a great way to travel New Zealand. Some models are as small as a car, while others are fully loaded with a full sized fridge, shower and toilet.
The minimum rental period is generally 5 days. In high season (especially over Christmas/New Year) the minimum is generally 10 days.
A driving licence with car entitlement is usually sufficient, provided it is accepted within New Zealand; except for a few very large campervans, a heavy vehicle licence is not needed. The minimum age for the driver is usually 25, but some companies specialize in renting to younger travellers.
The major locations for rental depots are Auckland and Christchurch, often near the airports. Some companies also have depots in Wellington, Coromandel Peninsula, Picton, Queenstown and Nelson. One-way trips are generally permitted but a fee may be levied.
Most of the suppliers have depots near the airports and will pick you up. If arriving by car, cars can normally be left at the depot. Before taking the motorhome, you will be given a half hour instruction / introduction so that you know how everything works.
The fuel tank should be full and the toilet should be empty. The vehicle must be returned in this state otherwise extra charges will be levied.
If travelling between the North and South Island, you will need to book the three hour Cook Strait ferry trip with either The Interislander or Bluebridge. The ferries charge per vehicle, plus a fee for each passenger. The ferries are set up to keep you entertained with plenty of shops, cafes, and even a movie theatre! Check with your motorhome rental company, as they may have a partnership with a ferry company to get a better rate.
The most common configurations are:
The rates are approximate guides in New Zealand dollars. Low season is May to September and the high season is December to February. Booking is advised over the high season as most suppliers will rent out their entire stock.
The first figure will normally include unlimited kilometres, GST (local tax), insurance, nationwide road side service, free phone helpline and a “Travel Wallet” including road maps. The second figure in brackets is the full cover insurance (assuming no excess) and includes road user charges if the vehicle is diesel powered, 1 camping table and 2 chairs and baby or booster seat(s).
Motorhomes can be roughly categorized into three categories:
Class A (also known as integrated)
A Class A motorhome often has a reputation for being the most luxurious and expensive of vehicles. It has a solid body with the driving area integrated into the standard living accommodation. This style of motorhome will have a large and expansive front window which offers a good view of the road and surrounding landscape. Berths convert from lounge or dinette areas.
Class B (also known as semi-integrated)
A Class B motorhome is also referred to as a low profile or semi-integrated motorhome. It is built in the same way as a Class C motorhome, except no berths are provided over the cab area. As a result, the overall height of this motorhome is lower than a Class C. There is usually a fixed double bed in rear of the vehicle.
Class C (also known as alcove)
A Class C motorhome may also be known as coach built. It has a trailer- or caravan-style body which is mounted onto a van or truck chassis. There is usually a double berth over the driving cab. Ford and Fiat manufacture the majority of these motorhome chasses in Europe.
There are many different motorhome layouts available with each manufacturer offering a range of options. One layout innovation that started in 1999, was the development of a slide out or slide room. As seen on the floor plan of the Thor Motor Coach, a slide out is an area that increases the square footage living space of the motorhome. These slide out(s) extend to allow for more living space while parked and retract while driving. As with most innovations, the original slide outs were considered a luxury item, where as they are now standard on most of today’s motorhomes.
If not using full coverage, a bond will be required. This is generally equal to the excess on the insurance option chosen. The standard insurance excess is around $2500 (The standard full coverage insurance costs around $15-35 per day). The bond is fully refundable if the vehicle has not been involved in an accident / break-in and is returned in a clean and undamaged condition.
IMPORTANT – You are advised to check your credit card company’s insurance or to include the bond on your travel insurance. Many travel insurance companies cover rental vehicle bond but motorhomes are often excluded.
Most motorhomes will include stove, fridge, sink and bedding (often sleeping bags). The stove is gas-powered while the fridge normally has a gas/ mains option. The motorhome has an outside power lead to plug into the mains in camping grounds. In this mode, everything (except the stove) will be mains powered. Hot water is mains heated. Some motorhomes also include a shower and/or toilet.
Driving a campervan
Driving a campervan or motorhome in New Zealand is not difficult, but it helps to learn a few things before you arrive jet-lagged. Overseas drivers are twice as likely to be ‘at-fault’ in an injury or fatal accident in New Zealand. Many rental vehicle companies request that hirers take a short tourist Road Code quiz.
Roads in New Zealand twist and turn and passing lanes are not always present. Remember that you are driving a truck and so will not be able to travel that fast anyway. Allow for a normal speed of 80 km per hour. Please be courteous and pull over where possible to allow the queue of traffic behind to pass. Being self-contained, you can stretch your legs and brew a cuppa at the same time while admiring the view.
Many rental companies include clauses in the rental agreement that the campers can not be taken on Skippers Road (Queenstown), Ninety Mile Beach (Northland), Ball Hut Road (Mt. Cook) and North of Colville Township (Coromandel Peninsula).
The larger the motorhome, the less chance it will fit into a standard parking place. You may need to find two adjoining ones or else walk to the supermarket. Be aware of the vertical height of your motorhome if parking in a parkade or multi-storey car park.
Ask for a fully-serviced (powered) motorhome site. This will normally have a plug-in power point, drain and water. A number of camping grounds have dump points to dump the toilet cassette. Remember to fill up the water tank. Most will have a communal kitchen, laundering and bathing facilities if you find that the motorhome facilities are a bit cramped. Most also have a TV / games room. The cost is around $10-17 per person per day. Over school holidays and especially during the high season, it is a good idea to book beforehand.
I Respect NZ Camping Map
Top 10 Camping Grounds
DOC Conservation Campgrounds
Some motor camps only allow use for overnighting travellers, others will charge for the service. Grey waste (shower / sink) should also be poured into these or down a drain in the motor camp. Do not empty grey water into any watercourse, stormwater drain, swampy ground, sea foreshore etc. as this is environmentally damaging.
Most local authorities now forbid freedom camping (with a few alibi exemptions). Local councils can charge an infringement fee of 200 dollars per freedom camp. If you left your credit card details with the renting company, the fine could be automatic deducted. Local accommodation providers often lobby against free camping and this is another reason for the reduction in free camping locations. Councils employ private security firms to monitor known freedom camping spots. The Thames Coast Road from Thames to Coromandel offers many such promising freedom camping areas, but it is strictly prohibited on the Coromandel Peninsula.
There is some risk in camping in isolated places although physical attacks are few and far between. Always ensure your doors are locked and windows are up.
Campervans are at risk in secluded car parks in low-traffic areas. Most car parks have warning signs that thieves could operate in the area. Ensure that valuables are secure and hidden from view. Thefts occur in the cities as well as in the country. Take important documents with you if possible.