In October 2018, my husband Andrew and I rented a campervan and took a 2 week long road trip through both the North and South islands of New Zealand. Before we went, we did a LOT of research on freedom camping in New Zealand, the best route to take when visiting both islands in two weeks, and what the best places to see were. Sooooo many of you asked about our trip while we were on it, so I wanted to create a comprehensive blog post with all of the details we wish we had known before our trip. Because there are SO MANY details I wanted to share with you, this is just Part One of a two-part series on our excursions! If you are planning a trip to New Zealand of your own, this post is a must-read!! I hope it helps you on your own trip there, or maybe even inspires you to put New Zealand on your travel bucket list. It is seriously the most beautiful country! Let’s dive in!
The first thing to decide when going to New Zealand is what mode of transportation you’ll be using to get around. While it’s absolutely possible to rent a normal car and stay in hotels, hostels, or airbnbs, my personal opinion is that freedom camping in a campervan is the BEST way to experience New Zealand life to the fullest. If you don’t know what freedom camping is, it’s basically camping in a tent, campervan, or motor vehicle with minimal to no facilities on public land. It’s mega-popular in New Zealand, and it’s the main method of travel the majority of visitors choose when visiting. Literally everywhere you turn, there’s no shortage of incredible views to see in New Zealand, and freedom camping allows you the opportunity to always be on the move and stay in different incredible locations each night.
There are thousands of freedom camping spots all over New Zealand. Some are free, some have a small nightly fee, and some are more expensive campsites with restroom, laundry, and kitchen facilities. There are multiple apps you can download to your phone that help with freedom camping, but we specifically used the app CamperMate. It’s free and shows you all the campgrounds for both self-contained and non-self-contained vehicles (I’ll explain the difference between those in a bit) all throughout New Zealand. In CamperMate, the green pins mean free campgrounds, blue are low-cost campgrounds, and purple are paid campgrounds (typically with more facilities available). We rented a self-contained campervan and mostly stayed in the green free campground spots. Most free campgrounds still had a toilet (granted, make sure you read the reviews to see how nasty or nice they are haha!), and for us most nights that was all we needed.
Self-Contained vs. Non-Self-Contained
When first researching our trip and trying to figure out what type of campervan we wanted, I was super confused by all the self-contained talk. Lemme break it down super easy for you guys. Both types of campervans, whether or not they are self-contained, still have most the facilities you would need to live in a vehicle- think cooking equipment, stove, fridge/cooler, seats that convert into a bed, etc.. The difference between a self-contained campervan and a non-self-contained camper van is that a non-self-contained campervan has NO toilet or containers for greywater (from the sink and shower).
Certified self-contained campervans do have a toilet and a water container for greywater and septic waste. We rented a self-contained campervan which DID have all those things. We never used our campervan’s toilet because even though we stayed in free campsites we always stayed somewhere that had a public toilet and every 3-4 days we splurged for a nicer campground with showers and laundry facilities. However, it was convenient for us to choose a self-contained campervan because it enabled us to do our own dishes and store the dirty greywater we used to clean.
When choosing between getting a self-contained or non-self-contained campervan, make sure to think about your budget for the trip (non-self contained are cheaper for obvious reasons), what type of campsites you want to stay in, how you want to eat - cooking or eating out, etc..
For our trip we used the company Euro Campers for our campervan. We specifically chose their 2 Berth Euro Sleeper, which is one of their smaller campervans. It looks like any typical minivan out there and was perfect for just Andrew and I. If you want a bit more space or you have more than 2 people in your party, I would definitely recommend going with a bigger sized campervan that has sleeping space up top in addition to the seating space that converts into a bed. We didn’t need much space and wanted to keep it simple, which is why we went with the 2 Berth Euro Sleeper.
Our campervan had a cooler in between the two front seats that plugged into the cigarette lighter. It’s where we kept food that needed to stay cold. In the back of the van, there was a sink, dishes, cooking utensils, one burner, and containers for fresh and grey water. When we first got to New Zealand, we went grocery shopping and got meals that would be easy to cook. We got canned soups, ramen, potatoes, chicken, and rice. But what we found out was that with one burner, we rarely wanted to cook anything that required multiple things on the burner like chicken and rice. We were on vacation after all!! What we ended up doing was mostly cooking simple, one-pot meals like soup and then eating out for other meals when we felt like it. So just know if you plan to cook anything that requires more than one thing to be cooked, you’ll have to cook them one at a time slowly.
During the day, the setup in the van allowed for a table and two padded benches on either side in the space behind the two front seats. That way we had somewhere to sit for meals. We also could take the table outside, and two folded chairs were included if we wanted to eat outside the van.
At night, we broke the table down by removing the support pole, laying it in the storage area below, and lowering the flat table top to fill the gap between the two benches, creating one long flat surface that started behind the two front seats and went all the way to the back where the kitchen was. There were multiple pads that fit together to create one long mattress for sleeping at night. Our campervan also had blinds we could pull across the windows for privacy at night. We then used headlamps in order to see at night before we went to bed.
Because we knew we would be in a campervan, we strategically packed for this trip in a large duffle bag that could be compressed down instead of a hard suitcase that would take up a ton of space. When we got our campervan upon arriving in New Zealand, Andrew went into a grocery store to ask for any extra cardboard boxes. We then unpacked our duffle bag and used two separate cardboard boxes as makeshift dressers for each of us. Both boxes fit under the benches in the storage space below. Then we rolled up our duffle bag so it wouldn’t take up any extra space. This made it super simple to get our clothes each morning and not have to dig through a huge suitcase that took up the majority of the campervan.
As a photographer, I wanted the opportunity to charge my gear, computer, and be able to edit while on the road. Something we brought with us that was life-changing for being able to charge everything while we were driving was a car power inverter charger. I specifically use THIS one. And it allowed me to charge my camera batteries and computer while also plugging our phones in through the USB cords. Everything can then charge through the cigarette lighter. LIFE CHANGER. YOU’RE WELCOME.
OTHER CAMPERVAN COMPANIES
While we LOVED our Euro Camper and highly recommend them, there are a TON of campervan companies you can rent from in New Zealand. Here are a bunch we saw while driving throughout New Zealand that you can look into and see which company fits best for you!
Escape Campervan Rentals
That’s campervan life!! I hope this helps give a little perspective on what living in a van for 10 days looks like- it’s not as bad as it sounds! Andrew and I had soooo many great adventures in our campervan, and we hope to do it again one day. Stay tuned for Part Two, where I share alllll the details about the AMAZING locations we visited. Also, the food-YUM!!!
Have you adventured across the United States, Canada, or another country in a campervan or something similar? Share you adventures below!! I need inspiration for our first road trip with Baby Roman!
Lindsey Roman is an adventurous destination wedding and intimate elopement photographer based out of Oahu, Hawaii, but she travels worldwide. She lives for outdoor adventures, intimate moments, and candid images. Her style is raw, passionate, and authentic. She believes in chasing sunsets, laughing too hard, and most importantly: capturing genuine moments that evoke feeling over perfectly posed photographs.