After road tripping around South Island NZ, I thought I’d share some tips and pieces of advice that we found useful along the way. Hope this helps in making your travels an easier and stress free one!

1. Rent a camper that fits more people than you have

If you’re big on space and want to travel comfortably, then I’d recommend renting a camper that’s suited for more people than your travel group. So by that I mean – if you’re travelling as a couple or pair, then I’d recommend renting a camper that fits 3-4 people. This is what we did when we decided to choose the Jucy Condo (for 4 people) instead of the Jucy Cabana (for 2 people, but damn it even looked small in the picture)! This way, you’ll get two double beds so that you can use one of these for storing your luggage. This was singlehandedly the smartest and best move we made during our holiday. It saves you from moving your stuff off your bed and to somewhere else every night before you sleep and just makes the trip so much more comfortable and stress free.

2. Get a sim with data and calls

We rarely buy sim cards with local calls alongside data but this time we did and it proved to be so useful. When you’re renting a camper, the last thing you want is to be stuck on the road for some reason or needing to call the rental company for help, or to make a booking or check your accommodation. So it was great to have the local calls and even if you don’t need to call anyone, you might just want to call Fergburger – to skip the line and make that sneaky phone order!

But… there’s not much reception on the road. So know that you won’t be able to use the data as entertainment as a passenger on the road.

3. Pack in backpacks and duffles, rather than suitcases

If you’re travelling by camper, it’s much easier to pack items in backpacks and duffles, as it is easier to store these when they’re empty as they can compact. These backpacks can then double up as day packs when you’re going on long hikes and the like. Hardcased suitcases are just not that fun as they take up so much space. But if you do hire a larger camper, then that’s ok.

4. Despite it being a camper van ‘road trip’, it’s still an expensive method of travel in NZ 

You might think you’re saving heaps of money for travelling via camper van rather than staying in hotels and whilst it probably is a little cheaper than the alternative, know that it is still expensive. Petrol is expensive (when we were there, it was $2.06 – $2.33 a litre, almost double the cost of petrol in Melbourne), you’ll have to arrange additional insurance that covers rental vehicle hire and holiday parks cost an additional fee, etc.

5. Petrol stations are sparse, so fill up whenever you can. 

Petrol stations seem to be quite sparse in NZ and there were a couple of times during our trip where we were literally running close to zero petrol but so, so, SO luckily made it to the next petrol station. We thought our camper would have a big tank, but it actually had a pretty small one – 50L. With that, we needed to fill up every day if we were driving, basically. And petrol stations in NZ come by infrequently. You’ll only find them in the main towns, but there will never be any random ones in between towns or in small towns. For example, from Fox Glacier to Haast, there are no petrol stations in between!

6. Save offline maps and the like, cause not much net on the road.

I always forget to do this but Google Maps’ offline maps feature is super useful when you’re on the road. You can save certain areas of the map so that you can always have access to the data wherever you are. I highly recommend it as as I’ve said before, reception is not always available.

7. Hire camping chairs.

Camping chair hire is normally pretty cheap, so hire them and you won’t regret it! They’re so great for plonking down at your campsite to eat dinner and basically wherever you want to turn any location or stop off into a picnic destination.

8. Allocate more time than expected for driving

Despite what Google Maps says, we found that we always took longer on the road than expected. There were many reasons for this. Sometimes we’d encounter gravel and want to drive super slow to avoid damaging our vehicle. Other times we’d be busy hunting for food, a toilet or petrol. And then there were times where we were stuck behind a really slow vehicle. If you want to plan a stress-free itinerary, keep your drive times generous. That way, no matter what you come across, you’ll still be on schedule.

The same goes to allocating time for hikes, activities and the like, as well as allocating time in the evening to set up your camper at the campsite, or pack up your camper in the morning. Refilling water, plugging in power, cleaning and dishes always takes time.

Lastly, the camper van vs motorhome debate

I think this is probably the hardest thing to settle on when you’re booking your vehicle. I think it really does come down to your personal preference however a few things to note:

  • Campervan PROS:
    • They’re smaller so easier to manoeuvre, drive and park.
    • They’re cheaper than motorhomes to hire.
  • Campervan CONS:
    • Most camper vans aren’t fully self contained, so you cannot freedom camp and must park in a holiday park or similar campsite (that said, some camper vans are certified self contained – and ours was – so you can still freedom camp).
    • The facilities are basic and small, so it can feel cramped especially if you like space.
  • Motorhome PROS:
    • They’re fully equipped with showers and toilets and everything is much more spacious.
    • You can freedom camp (which is free) or you can choose to park at a holiday park. This gives you extra flexibility for places to stay over night.
  • Motorhome CONS:
    • Having a shower and toilet does come with the drawback of having to empty the ‘black’ water yourself at dump stations on the daily.
    • They’re larger so parking and driving could be a bit more difficult, especially on narrow roads. Some narrow roads don’t allow motorhomes on them.
    • They’re more expensive to hire.
    • Because they’re larger, it’s likely these accelerate slower too (we encountered lots of slow motorhomes struggling to gain acceleration on our trip).

In the end, whatever you choose will end up being a good choice in its own unique way, so don’t fret too much over this.

Hope this post helps you with planning your trip!