Renting a motorhome in New Zealand
Campervans in New Zealand are available with either automatic or manual transmission, with diesel or petrol engines. They will accommodate 2-6 people, and are a great way to travel New Zealand. Some models are as small as a car, while other are fully loaded with a full sized fridge, shower and toilet.
The minimum rental period is generally 5 days. In high season (especially over Christmas/New Year) the minimum is general 10 days.
A normal driver's licence is sufficient, provided it is accepted within New Zealand. A heavy-duty licence is not required. The minimum driver's age is normally 25, but some companies specialise in renting to younger travellers.
Driving a campervan/RV/motorhome in New Zealand is not difficult but it helps to learn a few things before you arrive jet-lagged. Did you know overseas drivers are twice as likely to be 'at-fault' in an injury or fatal accident in New Zealand?
The major locations for Rental Depots are Auckland and Christchurch, often near the airports. Some companies also have depots in Wellington, Coromandel Peninsula, Picton, Queenstown and Nelson. One way trips are general permitted (e.g. pick up in Auckland and drop-off in Christchurch), however a fee may apply.
Most of the suppliers have depots near the airports and will pick you up. If arriving by car, cars can normally be left at the depot. Before taking the motorhome, you will be given a half hour instruction / introduction so that you know how everything works.
The fuel tank should be full and the toilet should be empty. The vehicle must be returned in this state otherwise extra charges will be levied.
If travelling between the North and South Island, you will need to book the three hour Cook Strait ferry trip . The ferries charge per vehicle, plus a fee for each passenger. The ferries are set up to keep you entertained with plenty of shops, cafes, and even a movie theatre! Check with your motorhome rental company, as they may have a partnership with a ferry company to get a better rate.
Some suppliers and brokers:
The rates are approximate guides in New Zealand dollars. Low season is May to September and the high season is December to February. Booking is advised over the high season as most suppliers will rent out their entire stock.
The first figure will normally include unlimited km, GST (local tax), insurance, nationwide road side service, free phone helpline and a "Travel Wallet" including road maps. The second figure in brackets is the full cover insurance (assuming no excess) and includes diesel tax recovery fee, 1 camping table and 2 chairs and baby or booster seat(s).
If not using full coverage, a bond will be required. This is generally equal to the excess on the insurance option chosen. The standard insurance excess is around $2500 (The standard full coverage insurance costs around $15-35 per day). The bond is fully refundable if the vehicle has not been involved in an accident / break-in and is returned in a clean and undamaged condition.
IMPORTANT - You are advised to check your credit card company's insurance or to include the bond on your travel insurance. Many travel insurance companies cover rental vehicle bond but motorhomes are often excluded. Good Travel Insurance company to include motorhomes is Comprehensive
Most motorhomes will include stove, fridge, sink and bedding (often sleeping bags). The stove is gas-powered while the fridge normally has a battery/mains option. The motorhome has an outside power lead to plug into the mains in camping grounds. In this mode, everything (except the stove) will be mains powered. Hot water is mains/gas heated. Some motorhomes also include a shower and/or toilet.
Ask for a fully-serviced (powered) motorhome site. This will normally have a plug-in power point, drain and water. A number of camping grounds have dump points to dump the toilet cassette. Remember to fill up the water tank. Most will have a communal kitchen, laundering and bathing facilities if you find that the motorhome facilities are a bit cramped. Most also have a TV / games room. The cost is around $10 - $17 per person per day. Over school holidays and especially during the high season, it is a good idea to book before hand.
Some motor camps only allow use for overnighting travellers, others will charge for the service. Grey waste (shower / sink) should also be poured into these or down a drain in the motor camp. Do not empty grey water into any watercourse, stormwater drain, swampy ground, sea foreshore etc. as this is environmentally damaging.
Most local authorities now forbid freedom camping (with a few alibi exemptions). A new law allows local councils to charge an infringement fee of 200 dollars per freedom camp. If you left your credit card details with the renting company, the fine could be automatically deducted. Local accommodation providers often lobby against free camping and this is another reason for the reduction in free camping locations. Councils employ private security firms to drive around at 5 in the morning to gather revenue. The Coromandel is a no-go area for freedom camping.
There is some risk in camping in isolated places although physical attacks are few and far between.
There have been some reports of thefts from motorhomes. Ensure that valuables are secure and hidden from view. Thefts occur in the cities as well as in the country.
Roads in New Zealand twist and turn and passing lanes are not always present. Remember that you are driving a truck and so will not be able to travel that fast anyway. Allow for a normal speed of 80 km per hour. Please be courteous and pull over where possible to allow the queue of traffic behind to pass. Being self-contained, you can stretch your legs and brew a cuppa at the same time while admiring the view.
Many rental companies include clauses in the rental agreement that the campers can not be taken on Skippers Road (Queenstown), Ninety Mile Beach (Northland), Ball Hut Road (Mt. Cook) and North of Colville Township (Coromandel Peninsula).
The larger the motorhome, the less chance it will fit into a standard parking place. You may need to find two adjoining ones or else walk to the supermarket. Be aware of the vertical height of your motorhome if parking other than in an open space.