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Ten Tips for Exploring New Zealand in a Motorhome

Traversing the land of the long white cloud in a motorhome is magic! Here are ten tips for setting out in your holiday home on wheels.
Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome
Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome

There’s probably nowhere on the planet more synonymous with RV (recreational vehicle) travel than Aotearoa New Zealand.

For generations, Kiwis and overseas visitors alike have been hitting the open road to explore this incredibly beautiful country. And doing it in a motorhome offers the freedom to go where you want, when you want — without being constrained by the availability and cost of traditional accommodation options.

If you’ve decided to join NZ’s road-holidaying cohort, planning is the key to a successful experience. Start by nailing down the type of RV that will suit you best. They come in all shapes and sizes, but a certified self-contained vehicle with an onboard toilet will give you the greatest flexibility in terms of where you can stay. More on that shortly.

You’ll also want to work out whether hiring or buying a vehicle makes the best fiscal sense. The former should be arranged well in advance, particularly if you plan to travel during key holiday periods. For longer trips the latter may prove better value, and there are new and used motorhomes for sale across the country.

Here are ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome.

New Zealand tours

New Zealand Tours, Activities & Attractions

1. Choose the right time to travel

New Zealand is a year-round self-drive vacation proposition, but it is important to give consideration to the season you’ll feel most comfortable travelling in. Winter is regarded by many hardy local holidaymakers as the bee’s knees; roads are less congested, popular campsites are often deserted, and fees for paid stays drop. That said, average temperatures max at between 10 and 15 degrees, road conditions can be dicey, and some tourist attractions close across the cold months.

Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome
Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome: Travel during the milder seasons.

Summer is peak season and you can expect pretty much the exact opposite of everything listed above. Spring and autumn bridge the divide and are our picks for the best times to travel; you’ll enjoy milder conditions and moderate congestion while on the move.

2. Plan a basic itinerary

Going where the wind takes you is fine in theory, but getting blown from pillar to post isn’t so great. In order to get the most from your trip, have a basic itinerary in place — one that will get you from A to B in the time you have available and covers all the must-sees along the way. There are endless suggested routes available online, and you can pick the eyes from them to create your ideal adventure. Incorporate flexibility in the schedule so that when you do spot an interesting detour, you have the time to take it!

Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome
Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome: Loosely plan your trip.

3. Prepare a budget

Travelling in an RV is relatively cost-effective, but your spend will creep up if left unchecked. Prepare a basic budget that factors in the initial outlay for your vehicle, fuel, insurance, paid campsite fees, food, internet access and phone usage, and the cost of ticketed attractions and sightseeing experiences. You can save money travelling in a motorhome by ‘freedom camping’ (which we’ll cover in more detail shortly) and self-catering in your onboard kitchen.

4. Get overly familiar with your vehicle

When picking up your motorhome, insist on a detailed handover to ensure you understand all aspects of its operation. Pay special attention to monitoring your house batteries and keeping them charged, levelling your vehicle, the location of jack points, which appliances can be used off-grid (when you’re not plugged into an external power source), heating and cooling your vehicle, how to manage and dispose of black and grey water, and what to do in the event of a system failure.

Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome
Take the time to do a thorough handover when picking up your motorhome.

5. Take it slow and steady at the start

If you’re used to driving a standard car, getting behind the wheel of a bulky RV can be daunting — even more so if you hail from a country that drives on the opposite side of the road! Take it easy while you get your spacial awareness in order. Anything that involves going backwards can be extra tricky; when reversing into a tight spot, ask someone to walk beside the vehicle and lend an extra set of eyes.

6. Know where you can camp

There are basically four types of campsites in New Zealand, and you’ll almost certainly end up using a mix of them. The first are commercial holiday parks, which, like caravan parks in Australia, provide a range of amenities for the use of paying guests. Location, security, and the availability of power, water, and laundry facilities are all reasons you may choose to stay in a holiday park from time to time.

The second category are campsites operated by the New Zealand Government’s Department of Conservation (DOC). There are more than 200 of them — often located in superb natural settings. They’re reasonably priced, but the level of amenity will vary. Most have toilets of some description, along with public BBQs and picnic tables.

Third, you’ll often come across regional campgrounds operated by local authorities. Some are free to use, while others attract a modest nightly fee. Toilets are usually provided.

Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome
Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome: Stay in regional campgrounds.

Fourth, if you’re travelling in a certified self-contained vehicle with a toilet, you have the option to ‘freedom camp’ — which essentially means staying overnight on public land that has no facilities for campers. It’s a New Zealand tradition enshrined by legislation, but you do need to follow certain rules (see below).

7. Learn the dos and don’ts of freedom camping

New Zealand’s popularity as a road holiday destination came about largely as a result of the freedom camping concept. However, over the past two decades, concerns about the impact of the practice on communities and the environment — largely over the disposal of human waste — have seen laws change. You can still freedom camp, but you must be travelling in a certified self-contained vehicle and adhere to local bylaws. If a council sign says no camping, it means it (and a fine will probably apply!). There may not even be a sign, so do your research before pulling up. Personal safety is another obvious consideration.

Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome
Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome: Go freedom camping.

If you choose to freedom camp, do the right thing and take all your waste with you — including what’s in your loo. It should only be dumped at a designated facility (referred to locally as a ‘dump station’).

8. Stay connected

Finding great campsites on the move in New Zealand means being able to summon Google or use your camping app of choice. And that means being able to access the net — often in remote areas with patchy-at-best mobile coverage. Spend some time before the trip working out your strategy for staying connected, and ensure you download the offline version of Google Maps for when all else fails.

9. Carry less and save

Travel is generally more enjoyable the less luggage you have to cart around. And in the case of an RV holiday, there’s also a monetary advantage to packing light. The more luggage you bring, the higher your fuel costs will be to transport it!

Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome
Ten tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome: Be bound by the Tiaki Promise.

10. Honour the Tiaki Promise

And finally, every person who lives or travels in New Zealand is bound by the Tiaki Promise — a commitment to care for the country and preserve it for future generations. Based on the Māori tradition of kaitiakitanga, meaning ‘to honour place’, the promise requires travellers to respect others, be aware of their impact on the environment, and leave no trace of their stay. There’s something in that for travellers everywhere.

This post was published thanks to Wilderness Motorhome Sales.

Browse our range of New Zealand tours and experiences here.

Do you have any tips for exploring New Zealand in a motorhome? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Depositphotos, Bigstock, and Envato

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.





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