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STA Travel Blog

New Zealand Campervan Dos and Don’ts

Today’s blog comes from our resident road tripper Hannah “Jeffers” Jeffery who isn’t actually that keen on Dire Straits. Honestly. 

If you have a secret thing for trailer trash, questionable driving skills (more sheep than people = empty roads) and musical tastes that shouldn’t be inflicted on coach loads of other travellers, then you’re the perfect candidate for a campervan trip! Kidding, it’s quite clearly all about the epic driving routes, mind-blowing landscapes and wilderness campgrounds and only a tiny bit about the Dire Straits playlist and roadside pie shops. However, before you scream “roadtrip” and bundle your motley crew of travel buddies into a van, there are a few things you need to know about campervanning in NZ.

With the help of our lovely friends at Mighty, Britz and Maui – the purveyors and experts of all things campervan –  we’ve come up with some not altogether unhelpful dos and don’ts.

Campervan dos and don’ts

1. PICK

Your campervan type: Mighty (easy as, fancy a ride?), Britz (fancy, got my own dunny ain’t I) or Maui (fancier, check out my leather driving gloves and my wife’s beehive).

2. DO

Get lost. This is the joy of a campervan roadtrip. You get to metaphorically throw your guidebook out of the passenger window, drive where you want and stop where you want. And then when you actually do (and quite by accident) get lost, you can say it was all part of the ‘unplan’ of unbridled freedom and independence.

Let your hair down, roll the windows down, stick your tongue out and pretend you’re a dog.

Freedom camp. Freedom camping in NZ is the bomb! Essentially, it’s parking up in your PJs anywhere that’s not a designated campsite – riversides, beach reserves, down the local car park …

Only self-contained campers are allowed to freedom camp (so some Britz and Maui vans) and rules around freedom camping do vary between regions, with some banning it altogether, so don’t assume it’s legal – always ask a passing local or check at an i-SITE.

Drive on the left-hand side of the road because well, that’s the law.

Change your mind. Make a plan – and then break it. You get to be you at your most flaky and indecisive.

Drive by an i-SITE for advice and free stuff. You’ll find i-SITE visitor information centres all over NZ, so swing by on Day 1 to pick up maps, campsite info and booklets full of discounts.

Pre-book any campground accommodation if you’re travelling during peak holiday periods.

DOC it. Stay at as many Department of Conservation (DOC) sites as you can. Why? Because waking up beside wild beaches, at the foot of snow-capped mountains and beside turquoise glacial lakes is JUST PLAIN AWESOME. Ranging from free to $15, and from a drop hole dunny to shower blocks, there are 200 DOC sites around NZ.

Steal as many packets of free condiments from servos and roadside dining establishments as you can get your grubby little mitts on.

Look in the mirror. Driving a campervan isn’t like borrowing your nan’s Nissan Micra, you’re practically a truckie now (ten-four rubber ducky, where are the doughnuts, over) so use your mirrors and be extra careful when reversing.

Take a friend along to empty the chemical toilet.

3. DON’T

Attempt to drive into undercover car parks, you’ll probably damage the roof which will cost you (or your long-suffering parents) $$ to fix.

Drive a 2WD on dirt roads. You wouldn’t take your grandpop’s Nissan Bluebird off-roading, so don’t take the campers!

Forget to pull your curtains at business time.

Drive on the beach.

Even if you see other cars doing it, campervans and motorhomes are HEAVY man. You’ll most likely sink, get stuck and then have to make an awkward phone call admitting how stupid you’ve been / watch in horror as the tide comes in and a family of cackling dolphins ride away in your camper.

Shower. Wild swim instead. Yeh, we’re talking to you princess! Forgo a powered site and a fancy shower block once in a while for a bracing morning swim or a bare-chested strip wash in a lake or river.

Leave your licence at home. Should be obvious. For some reason, it isn’t. National Drivers’ Licences should do, but check when you book.

Underestimate distances. Especially in winter when it starts to get dark at 4pm, make sure you leave enough time to get to your site, particularly if you’re wanting to stay in remote DOC sites.

Forget to download all your best driving music. Think 1980s family holiday, power ballads and anything with a dirty bandana and an epic guitar solo. Plus, it’s obligatory to download all 22 episodes of the Flight of the Conchords – for those nights in on your bed-come-kitchen-bench when only a bar or Whittakers chocolate and the deadpan monotones of Bret and Jemaine will do.

All this talk of roving homes from homes and New Zealand open roads got you craving adventure of the four wheeled kind? Check out the vans and get ready to hit the road.
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