Campervans, or motorhomes, are absolutely everywhere in New Zealand. Camping is a favourite past time for Kiwis so the great news is the facilities are very good for people planning on motor homing around the country.
We hired our van through Mighty. It appears the hiring companies have a "hand me down" system with the vans. New ones start life as Maui vans, not so new ones end up hiring out through Hertz, and when they are old and tired Mighty provide them to people like us at a very reasonable price. As with most things, you get what you pay for. Our VW diesel had very little in the way of enthusiastic effort, and a death rattle that had even the locals worried, and some of the features you would expect were either missing or not working - such as the auto folding step, 12 volt heater and most annoyingly, no reversing sensors or camera. Overall the van was clean, tidy and had everything we needed, so the missing parts and amusing engine/gearbox characteristics were definitely worth the $4,000 we saved for the 4 week period we hired it.
The van we hired was a 4 seater sleeper, although the idea of spending 4 weeks in close quarters with two other people would probably drive me insane. I am sure there are some people that do it. Our van was definitely not the biggest available, but having two sets of wheels at the back was a huge advantage with this sized vehicle, as it was surprisingly stable on the road.
It pays to be aware that these 3 tonne beasts are required to drive at 90km/h only, and although they are happy to go faster, the local police disagree, although our brief meeting with the constabulary revealed despite their keen knowledge on speed limits, their knowledge of laws regarding passengers sitting in the back lounge area whilst moving (where there are no seat belts) is a little sketchy. Regardless of law, only an idiot would sit in the back of a moving vehicle with no seat belt on. Apparently many idiots visit New Zealand also.
The camping laws are very relaxed in New Zealand compared to Australia. If you are self contained (toilet and shower on board), there are almost endless places you can camp, and the Department of Conversation (NZ Parks & Wildlife) are kind enough to list many camp spots in a handy free brochure that you can get from any i-Site (information centre), or, if you actually look at the paperwork your hire company gives you *cough* you should be given them when you hire the van - one for each island. There are also plenty of caravan parks, which cost an average of $50 for two people overnight at a powered site, and we found many campers taking advantage of pretty well anywhere out of the way. Although its not recommended to "free camp" wherever you please, chances are if you pull up late at night and take off early in the morning without causing a fuss no-one will mind. Common sense prevails here, and you will see many other people doing the same thing.
There are a few towns that don't allow free camping, and this is signed very clearly on the road entering these places. Do the right thing and obey the signs - you probably will be keen to enjoy some luxurious caravan park facilities by this stage anyway.
New Zealand roads are, overall, very well maintained. This is lucky because they are the most intricate, windy, hilly and precarious roads I've ever experienced in a first world country. Tasmania is known for its roads - New Zealand roads are like Tasmanian roads on steroids. The lumbering, heavy campervan performed very well, but that didn't mean we weren't wishing to be behind the wheel of a V8 Commodore instead, or perhaps something more agile and luxurious. You will see many beautiful classic and performance cars in New Zealand, and while behind the wheel of your campervan you will wish you were driving every single one of them instead. At least the slow pace allows plenty of time to take in the beautiful landscape.
Do you ever find tourists in your local area extremely annoying on the roads? Try your best not to be one of these people in New Zealand. There are plenty of opportunities to pull over and let faster vehicles go past, so it pays to do so as soon as you can so those going about their every day lives don't sit behind you and curse your big white camper-whale. Most of the time, doing so will earn you a friendly toot toot of the horn.
Some places are kind enough to provide camper van parking in their towns and car parks, so keep an eye out for the signs. You will also find dump sites extremely easy to find, they are literally everywhere which makes life very easy.
Also, never believe the GPS or Google Maps when it comes to driving times. If Lonely Planet says it will take 5 hours to do 250km, they mean it. As I mentioned, the roads are beautiful and insane.
Overall I would definitely recommend visiting New Zealand via camper van. It's great to have snacks and facilities onboard, you don't have to drag a suitcase into a hotel every night and when it's pouring with rain in the middle of nowhere you have somewhere warm and dry to be.
|The van was a bit long for standard parks, but most places were easy to park at anyway|