New Zealand is a dream destination for many people. It’s so far away, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and has a mystical aura about it, all contributing to it being near the top of many traveler’s wish lists. It costs a lot of time and money to get there, so taking a simple 1 week vacation there, particularly for Americans, makes it nearly impossible.
When planning our RTW trip, New Zealand was on the radar, but we never made it a must-see destination because of the cost it would take to get there. Our budget determined most of where we went, which is why we stuck to cheaper to travel in regions like South America, Southeast Asia, and India. So when we were in the middle of the South American leg of our trip and found a cheap flight to New Zealand, we jumped on it. We knew we just had to go.
We had read about traveling in New Zealand via campervan, a very popular method for exploring this beautiful country. One blog we read during our planning stages had done just that in a SpaceShip, a popular budget camper van company. We have a strong love of road trips and have road-tripped it around the US countless times, so once we booked our flights to New Zealand, we knew that a SpaceShip was going to be our method of transport.
The Need For Change
After nearly 6 months in South America taking nothing but buses and a few flights, we were ready for our own transportation. Our hometown of St. Louis is a car city. We have both had cars since 16, and we have always relied on cars to get around, both at home and while traveling in the United States. So not driving a car for nearly 6 months was a bit weird and disconcerting. We were all too happy to pick up our SpaceShip in Christchurch during our second day in New Zealand and be able to go where we want, when we wanted, stop whenever the need arose, and move at our own pace.
What the Hell is a SpaceShip?
A SpaceShip isn’t the most luxurious campervan out there, but for two people traveling New Zealand on a budget, it’s the perfect way to get around. A SpaceShip is essentially a pimped-out minivan with a bed, storage underneath the bed, a TV and DVD player, small fridge, and pull out propane stove. We paid $35US/day for it, making it well, well worth the cost. Keep in mind we were traveling in shoulder season (April) in 2009, when the US dollar was very strong against the NZ dollar. The SpaceShip was very easy to drive on the windy New Zealand roads, it wasn’t too big, it didn’t guzzle gas nearly as much as some of its larger counterparts, and with the quality of camp sites all around the country, the fact that our cooking amenities were limited wasn’t really a big deal. The massive kitchens at most New Zealand campgrounds were amazing, and getting out of our little campervan provided us the opportunity to meet tons of other travelers.
Other Campervan Options In New Zealand
There are a few other companies that have budget campervans that are similar to the SpaceShip, and there are countless places that rent large campervans for those with experience driving RV’s or families and groups needing more space. Obviously the bigger you go, the more expensive they are, both in rate and the amount of gas you’ll need. The narrow, winding roads might be a challenge for some, but if you have driven something like this before, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Having your own bathroom on board and good cooking facilities also negates the need to always use a nice, expensive campground. It’s much easier to utilize the free campgrounds scattered about the country when you don’t need an external bathroom or kitchen, so what you decide on depends on your situation.
Where to Stay When Traveling NZ by Campervan
If you have a little extra money to spend, then there are campgrounds all over New Zealand that put ones in other countries to shame. While you can get around on the cheap if you need to, staying in free or really cheap campgrounds, you won’t get much but a place to park your car/campervan, a spot to pitch a tent if necessary, and pit toilets. But if you’re willing to spend a bit more, you will be rewarded in kind.
The Top 10 Holiday Parks campgrounds in particular were amazing. While they are a bit expensive, the amenities you receive are second to none. The Top 10 Holiday Parks all had a combination of the following: massive kitchens amongst the equally massive grounds, Wi-Fi (for a fee), common areas, pools and jumping pillows, playgrounds for the kids, and immaculately clean grounds and bathrooms. (not all had every single amenity). There is no shortage of camp grounds around New Zealand, and all come at a different price and offer different amenities. You can go as basic or fancy as your budget allows.
What to Focus on When Road-Tripping Around New Zealand
The only downfall of driving a campervan around New Zealand is that unless you have an unlimited amount of time, you simply won’t be able to see everything you desire. We spent 5 weeks in our SpaceShip driving around both the South and North Islands, and while we saw a lot of both islands, we easily could have spend the entire time in one island or the other. Prioritizing in a country as beautiful and diverse as New Zealand can be a challenge.
Here is just a small sampling of all that is possible in New Zealand:
- Beautiful rivers, lakes, beaches, bays, and the sea.
- Wineries and vineyards dotting the lands on both islands.
- Mountains, skiing, snowboarding, and skydiving.
- Glaciers and fjords.
- Kayaking, catching your own mussels, staying on houseboats.
- Hiking and trekking (or tramping as the Kiwis call it) for all levels.
- Climbing and mountain biking.
- Pies and beer.
- Zorbing, bungee jumping, and luging.
- Rugby, haka, and geothermal wonderlands.
- The best drive in the world.
There is so much to do and see in New Zealand that it’s impossible to do it all. And because of the uniqueness of traveling around New Zealand, World Travel for Couples is going to change the format just for this country. In all other regions, we offer specific, detailed city guides. Because of the nature of travel in New Zealand and the fact that travel here is all about getting out and exploring instead of staying in cities, we thought it would be more helpful to offer itineraries by region and activity. That way we can help travelers interested in all different types of activities. Like to hike and bike? We’ll tell you the best places to do so in New Zealand. Like to drink wine and eat good food? We’ll let you know where to go. How about extreme sports? We got that covered, too.
So stay tuned as we ramp up our coverage of one of the world’s most beautiful countries.
If you have any specific questions, suggestions, or requests about what you want covered in this section, please comment below or send us a message.