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Hiring a campervan and road tripping around New Zealand is one of the most classic traveller things to do. From gap year adventurers to retirees and digital nomads, it’s something that appeals across the board. Steve and I spent two months in New Zealand and around five weeks of that time was spent in a campervan. It’s one of the most beautiful trips we’ve ever taken, filled with breathtaking nature at every turn and the thrilling freedom of having a home on wheels. You can read a full-itinerary of our trip, including everything we did, where we attend and how much it all cost – this post is for the South Island, and this one for the North Island.
But this post is all about campervans and how we chose ours. We tried three different types while we were out there – a Britz Hi-Top, a Britz Action Pod and a Spaceships Dream Sleeper Mini. All were different sizes and styles, so here’s a review of all three, plus some pointers on what to look out for when choosing a New Zealand campervan.
Things to consider when choosing a New Zealand campervan
1. Where will you be sleeping?
Campervans come with different numbers of sleeping spaces, a 2-berth sleeping two people and so on. However, not all beds are created equal, so while you might have one comfy double bed, the other two sleeping spaces might be in a little area in the roof that wouldn’t suit someone of six foot. Consider the size and space requirements of the people who’ll be sleeping in each bed.
2. How many seat or beds do you need?
Although you might decide that some of you are happy to sleep in a tent alongside the campervan, don’t forget to make sure there are enough seats with seat belts to hold the amount of people who’ll be travelling. This is required by law in New Zealand, so don’t try and cram in more people than is safe.
3. What’s the power set-up?
The electrics in campervans tend to run off a battery supply or can be connected to the mains. Vans that can be connected to the mains will provide more power, so if you have laptops and camera batteries to charge, or you plan to use a hairdryer, you might prefer to get a camper van with mains power. However, to use this, you need to stay at campsites with power supplies, ad bear in mind that pitches with power supplies tend to be more expensive. If you go battery powered, the battery recharges whenever you drive and tends to be separate to the car battery, so you can rest assured you won’t run down the car battery overnight. Also see what power outlets are available in the campervan. Some come with plug and usb sockets while the very budget versions only rely on the lighter socket like a car.
4. What will the weather be like?
Think about the weather and how your camper van is set up: for example some vans have everything you need inside, while others have kitchens that pop out from the back and mean you’re cooking outside. If it’s cold and rainy all the time, you might prefer one where you can stay warm inside. There are also some campers where the sleeping space is partially covered by a tent, would will be slightly colder than if everything was inside.
5. What’s the toilet situation?
Bigger camper vans often come with a toilet while most of the smaller or cheaper options don’t. And for a half-way option, you could get one with a little porta potty. One of the camper vans we hired had a porta potty but we didn’t use it as everywhere we stayed had toilet facilities.
6. What facilities does it have?
Think about what you want from your camper van. There are really high-end campers that come with everything from DVD players to showers, or basic models that have little more than a bed. One of the key things to consider is the cooking facilities. Is there a built-in stove, or does it just come with a basic camping stove? And is there any refrigeration? Some campervans have a built-in fridge, some have nothing, and others have a cool box. Consider the types of meals you want to cook and make sure it’s possible with what’s on offer.
7. Is it self-contained?
Freedom camping in New Zealand is often misunderstood to mean that you can camp wherever the hell you want, but there are actually quite a few restrictions on where you can and can’t camp. This article is useful for explaining the rules. One of the key things is that your camper van tends to need to be certified self-contained, which means it stores waste water in the vehicle rather than dumping it on the floor. Self-contained caravans come with a sticker to show they’re certified.
8. Who’s driving?
Campervans come in many sizes and you need to think about whether the driver/s will feel comfortable handling it. It’s not just about the length, but also the height. For example, our Britz Hi-Top was tall and therefore harder to drive in windy weather. Whereas the Spaceship is like a big car, so much simpler to drive and park.
9. Book in advance
Road tripping around New Zealand is popular, so try to book you van in advance especially if planning to travel during the high season. We had to change a few of our dates because the vans we wanted were all booked up.
10. Check out transfer deals
If you’re flexible on dates then it’s worth looking into transfer offers – this is when rental companies need to return a van to a different location and offer you the chance to do it for free. These offers are advertised on the hirer’s websites or on dedicated transfer car websites like this one, and are usually for a set period of time. For example, driving from Auckland to Christchurch in 10 days. It’s a brilliant way to save money.
Our New Zealand campervan reviews
Here’s a review of all three of the campervans we rented. All three are classed as self-contained.
The Britz HiTop
The Britz HiTop was our favourite campervan, but also the most expensive. The reason we loved it so much was because of it’s extreme comfort and spaciousness. The campervan is tall enough to stand up in and has plenty of room for two people to move around easily. The lounge area in the back, with two sofa seats and a table, converts into a comfy double bed, and a particularly great feature is that the bed backs onto the boot, so you can lift the door and stare out to whichever view you’ve parked next to.
The cooking facilities are excellent, including a gas stove, microwave, pressurised water, fridge/freezer, and all the cooking equipment you need. A bonus with this campervan is that you can cook inside, so it’s great whatever the weather. It can also be connected to the mains.
The only downside with this campervan is that it is quite tall, so therefore more difficult to handle than some of the smaller ones. This is especially notable in windy weather when the driver needs to be very careful not to swerve.
Price for seven days: NZ$2,100
Lots of space and tall enough to stand up in
Can connect it to the mains
Can cook inside
Tall, so more difficult to handle than smaller campervans
The most expensive option we tried
Spaceships Dream Sleeper Mini
Spaceships specialise in small campers branded as the “swiss army knife of camper vans”. They are more like large cars than vans, meaning they’re much easier to handle than a bigger van. There are a variety of different sizes and styles on offer, and we opted for the Dream Sleeper Mini, a luxury model that sleeps two and comes with added touches such as high-end bedding and linen. The vehicle (a Toyota Estima) is deceptively big with a large area in the back, which has two sofas and a table, which can be converted into a bed at night. The lounge area is comfortable and more spacious than we expected, and we both found the bed comfortable, even Steve who is over six foot. The cooking facilities are in the boot of the van and include a two-hob gas cooker, a fridge/freezer and a sink and tap. It’s all easy to use and a very nifty use of space. The only thing to bear in mind is that you need to stand outside while cooking; you’re sheltered by the roof of the boot but that won’t protect you from cold weather. The storage on offer is also good as you can put your bags under the seats of one sofa, and all the bedding is stored under the other. And the power is supplied by a smart 12V battery system and 4 USB ports. The battery is separate to the car battery, meaning you can charge phones without worrying about running the car down over night.
Price for seven days: NZD$1,320
Small, so easy to drive and park
Has all you need for two people
Attractive, sleek design
Although surprisingly spacious, it is still much smaller than most campervans. You can’t stand up inside, which may make you feel cramped.
No mains electricity
Cooking area is outside
Britz Action Pod
Whereas the Spaceship and Hi Top felt like fully converted camper vans, the Britz Action Pod felt more like an standard van (a Mercedes Sprinter) with a modular bed and kitchen inside. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just felt more sparse than the other two, but this also made it very spacious. Like the Spaceship, it has a smart design whereby the kitchen area pulls out from the back of the van, including a hob, sink, fridge/freezer and all the kitchen equipment you need. Again, like the Spaceship, this means you have to cook outside – lovely in the warm weather, not so good in the rain.
The back area of the van includes the modular kitchen as well as two bench seats and a table that convert into a bed, and a porta potty hidden behind a hatch under the table. There’s a also quite a lot of floor space directly behind the front seats that includes a bean bag sofa seat, perfect for lounging. The van does not connect to the mains, but has a separate battery for the domestic parts of the camper including the fridge. And there is plenty of storage underneath the benches and on the floor behind the seats. And like the HiTop, you bed backs up to the boot door, so you can open the doors to enjoy the view from bed.
The best thing about this van is the price; it costs around the same as the Spaceship Dream Sleeper.
Price for seven days: NZ$1,300
Spacious, smart design
Bean bag sofa is a comfy place to lounge
Comes with a porta potty
Really good price for the size
Cooking area is outside
No mains electricity
Do let me know if there’s anything I haven’t covered and I’ll try my best to answer your questions.