Everything You Need to Know Before Renting a Campervan in New Zealand
This guide includes everything you need to know about New Zealand campervan rental. It includes the hidden costs of renting a campervan in NewZealand, the issue with portable toilets, some great companies to book with, and more!
Everything You Need to Know Before Renting a
Campervan in New Zealand
Renting a campervan in New Zealand can be a confusing process especially for those who have not rented one before. However, if you pick the right campervan that suits your travel style and budget it can really make your trip that much more amazing.
That being said, it’s not just picking the right campervan that’s important but also understanding the hidden fees of renting a campervan in New Zealand, what type of license you need, who you should book through, and when is the best time to go. In this post, I want to answer all this and more to give you the best and most in-depth guide to renting a campervan in New Zealand.
This guide comes from my personal experience as well as tips from my family (who visit New Zealand every year and rent a campervan or motorhome.)
Driver’s Licenses/ International Driving Permit
First off, you’re going to need a valid driver’s license to drive a campervan or motorhome in New Zealand. Most companies state that if you have a driver’s license in English then you will be fine to rent and drive a campervan or motorhome in New Zealand providing that license allows you to drive the same vehicle in your home country. They will also accept an international driver’s license in this case.
Non- English License
If your license in your home country is not in English you will need to have it translated to English and bring BOTH licenses when you pick up the vehicle. This translation MUST be done by an NZ Transport agency authorized translator, consulate or embassy, or by the organization that authorized your license in your home country.
Rental companies MAY also accept an international driver’s license that has been translated into English. For a list of authorized translators click here.
Some rental companies can also offer a translation service at the time of picking up your vehicle. This does cost around $70 NZD and needs to be organized in advance.
The best way to make sure you have the correct license is to contact the company before you arrive. That way you can let them know what license you have and find out what you need to do to get on the road in New Zealand!
Insurances and Excesses of New Zealand Campervan Rental
Hiring a campervan in New Zealand can mean complicated and expensive insurance packages or a huge excess. There are many options offered by campervan companies, however, by far the best way is through a third party insurer.
Third party excess insurer
When you get insurance for your campervan you have a couple of options – you either get the most basic insurance that comes with a high excess, or you pay a lot more for insurance up front and reduce the excess. Going with a third party excess insurer means that you get the standard insurance from the rental company and instead of paying huge fees to have the excess reduced, you take out a policy with another insurance company to cover the excess.
Simply put, if your excess is $10,000, you take out a policy to insure the $10,000 in case you have an accident.
This works out much cheaper than the cost of reducing the excess. For example, to reduce an excess from $8000 to $0 for a 4 birth motorhome last year cost my mum $2000 extra!
If you don’t want to go with this option then I highly suggest reducing the excess and paying more upfront costs. This is because these massive excesses could really ruin your trip and make your New Zealand campervan rental experience a nightmare.
Another option is to get travel insurance that includes rental car insurance. These can work out cheaper than taking out two policies. A great company for travelers is World Nomads travel insurance.
Toll roads in New Zealand
There are a few toll roads in New Zealand. These tolls are not expensive and only cost around $2. These can be paid online just by entering in the number plate on this website. Please only pay tolls from the dates you had or have the vehicle.
Another thing worth noting is included toll fees. These are common in some companies and they will try to sell you a $20 toll limit. It’s very unlikely you will use the $20 so just pay as you go if you have the option.
New Zealand Campervan Rental Age Restrictions
To rent a campervan in New Zealand you must be at least 18 years of age. This age limit is for smaller and more basic campervans. If you wish to rent a larger motorhome you must be over the age of 21.
When it comes to renting a campervan, generally speaking, you will need to pay an extra fee or have a higher excess if you are under 25. This is because you are considered a high-risk driver. For more information contact your chosen rental company directly.
If you are planning on renting a self-contained vehicle for your NZ holiday, consider booking with the company Mad Campers, they are a local company offering affordable one and two person self-contained vehicles. If you use our discount code, DEST5, you’ll get 5% off your campervan rental!
The Different Types of Vehicles to Rent
There are 3 main types of New Zealand campervan rental vehicles and motorhomes. Each has the own pros and cons and all vary in price range. The decision on which one to rent will depend on your budget, how many people you travel with, and your confidence driving on the roads.
Camp car (1 to 2 people)
A camp car is the most basic campervan available. It is generally a small sized van or just a car with a fold out bed. The pros of renting camp cars include being easy to drive, cheap to rent and inexpensive to run. The downside to camp cars is a small living space, generally uncomfortable to live in, use of a portable toilet, and limited storage space.
I would only recommend renting a camp car for shorter trips where you plan on spending some nights at holiday parks. Many camp cars are NOT self-contained certified which makes freedom camping more challenging, and in some cases, impossible.
If you want more information on “freedom camping” and “self-contained vehicles” check out our blog: Freedom Camping in New Zealand !
Campervan (1 to 4 people)
Campervans are the happy medium between liveability and driveability. The pros of renting a campervan in New Zealand is that they are more comfortable than camp cars, easier to drive than motorhomes, lots of living space, and have the option to share between up to 4 people. The downside to a campervan is they are still not big enough to walk around in, involve folding away beds and tables every day, and they only have a portable toilet.
Campervans can be used for both long and short trips and are still great for freedom camping. Not all campervans are self-contained certified. You will pay more for renting a self-contained certified campervan but this will allow you freedom camp almost anywhere (that means not paying for campsites!)
Motorhome (up to 6 people)
Motorhomes are large vehicles made for living in and are very comfortable. The pros of a motorhome are that they have a comfortable living space, feels like a home, can fit up to 6 people, great for families, have a fixed flush toilet, and have plenty of storage space. However, the downsides are that motorhomes are very large to drive, expensive, high fuels costs, and limits places you can visit.
Motorhomes are perfect for long and short trips and really comfortable for freedom camping.
Some Things to Think About Before Renting a Campervan in New Zealand
Will you freedom camp?
Freedom camping means camping for FREE! In New Zealand, there are various car parks and areas allocated for those who want to freedom camp. The downside to these places is that they are very limited in terms of facilities. Oftentimes, there will only be a pit toilet, no showers, and no other facilites at all. Alternatively, in certain regions, you can just drive off the beaten track and park wherever you want to camp. For both of these options, you will almost always need to be in a self-contained certified vehicle which is a certification that basically means you can live in your vehicle without littering (or going to the toilet in the bush.)
If you plan on freedom camping then picking a campervan or motorhome with some extra luxuries is a good idea. Having things like a second battery for power, a high roof and inside kitchen will help a lot when you’re not in a holiday park.
If you don’t plan on freedom camping and plan to use holiday park facilities then you don’t need to spend the money on the extra features you likely won’t use that often. Almost every holiday park will have large common areas including kitchen facilities, bathrooms with showers, and some even have bars or restaurants.
Do you need a proper toilet?
If you rent a campervan and not a motorhome the toilet in the vehicle will be a small, portable, chemical toilet. These toilets are required in order for the vehicle to get self- contained certified, however, they are not very practical and most people avoid using them.
Going to the toilet in the bush is frowned upon in New Zealand (and illegal and you could find yourself getting a hefty fine), so you must either make use of this tiny toilet or be prepared to use public toilets. This isn’t a huge problem in New Zealand as there are plenty of public toilets around.
In a motorhome, the toilet is fixed and flushes into a fixed tank below the vehicle. This means its fine to use. However, most people limit it to liquid waste. This is because you need to empty this tank before returning it and this can be a challenge with solids in the tank. If you really don’t want to empty the tank, you can have it done by the rental company but this does cost money.
If you’re not sure what toilet your rental comes with then ask. It’s important to have the right expectation!
Too big to drive?
If you are not a confident driver then getting the largest motorhome on offer isn’t a great idea. It’s important to know before you go that many of the roads you will travel on will be very windy and narrow. Driving a large motorhome on these roads can be difficult so it’s definitely something to think about before renting a campervan in New Zealand.
Renting a campervan in New Zealand during winter
New Zealand’s winters are very cold (to me). In the South Island, temperatures can drop to -10 degrees Celsius. In the north, it can get below 0. If you plan on doing a winter road trip through New Zealand renting a motorhome or campervan with a heater is necessary.
That being said, please be aware that you cannot run an electric heater off a second battery and will need to be plugged in at a holiday park. This is because heaters use far more electricity than your vehicle can handle.
The upside to renting a campervan in New Zealand in winter is that it will be much cheaper. The rental fees for the campervan will be cheaper as well as the fees for staying in holiday parks. Not to mention that most tourist attractions will be less busy and booking holiday parks and activities in advance is not necessary.
Reading the Fine Print Before Renting a Campervan in New Zealand
When renting a campervan in New Zealand, it’s important to read the fine print of any contract before you sign it! Some of the most common details included in fine prints are
- Restrictions driving on certain roads
- Driving restrictions to ski fields
- Driving restrictions on gravel roads
- Driving restrictions on beaches (like Ninety Mile Beach)
Keep reading for information on hidden fees for campervan rental in New Zealand!
Picking the right company
To be completely honest, most of the campervan rental companies or motor home rental companies in New Zealand are reliable. The standard in New Zealand is so high because of the competitive market.
However, there are two companies we personally recommend are;
Maui rentals (for larger motorhomes)
Maui Rentals offers more comfortable and luxury campervans and motorhomes. They are perfect for those who like their creature comforts and have a larger budget for their holiday. They also offer unlimited kilometers on all their vehicles.
Mad Campers (for campervans and camp-cars)
Mad Campers offer options perfect for those on a small budget who don’t mind sacrificing some comfort to have more money for experiences on their trip. They also offer a 1-birth camper! This is really cool as it gives solo travelers the option to rent a campervan at a discounted rate for 1 person. At Mad Campers, you can get camp-cars as well as campervans.
We like Mad Campers so much that we have partnered with them and are able to offer our readers a 5% discount on any rental using the discount code DEST5!
Book Cheap Flights to New Zealand!
Pick up and drop off location fees
When you rent a campervan you must select a pickup and drop off location. If you choose to drop your campervan or motorhome off in another city you will likely be charged a relocation fee. These fees can exceed $300. For this reason, it’s important to know exactly what you want to see and if you can see those things and end up back in the city you started.
Check out our blog on 10 New Zealand road trip itineary ideas to help you pick the perfect New Zealand road trip itinerary.
These fees are not hidden as such, but more unknown to most and can be missed when calculating your budget.
The fuel tax is a tax on diesel vehicles that is paid per 1000km. This is paid for by the rental company in advance but is passed onto you depending on how many kilometers you do on your trip. This tax is paid on diesel vehicles only.
This fee is around $7 NZD per 100km depending on the size of the vehicle. It is worth noting that with this tax, fueling up a diesel vehicle is about the same cost as a petrol vehicle (petrol is more expensive at the pump but does not get taxed afterward.)
Gas bottle refill
If you use a gas bottle (which all campers do) then you need to make sure it’s full when you return it. This cost depends on how much you use.
My advice is NOT to go to a “swap and go.” These places basically just swap your bottle for a full one and while it is more convenient it is more expensive. They will charge almost $40 compared to $3.30 a liter at a refill station. In three weeks you will be lucky to use a third of a 9-liter bottle meaning it should only cost $10 to refill.
You can find these refill stations at certain fuel stations or at specific gas businesses. If you are unsure where there is one in your area, just call up the nearest visitor center (i-site) and ask, they will be able to tell you where to go!
Some campervans come with limits on the number of kilometers you’re allowed to do on your trip without incurring an extra fee. Please check this with your rental company to ensure you have all of the costs worked out.
If you don’t clean your camper sufficiently they can charge you cleaning fees. Most rental companies only require the floor to be swept, tanks emptied and benches wiped down. However, please check with your rental company on these requirements.
Rental vehicles change hands regularly and small damage can get missed by one inspector and picked up by another. For this reason, it’s important to note down all damage you notice when you pick up your rental. Do not let the rental company tell you what’s wrong. DO YOUR OWN INSPECTION and make sure every item that has even the smallest amount of damage is in the pre-rental report. Also, it’s a great idea to take your own photos for your record.
Depending on the company you book with your included extras will differ. For example, a table and chairs is not always included, neither is a fan. Some extras to ask for included in your quote when deciding on a company are:
- Fold out table and chairs
- Fan (for summer)
- Heater (for winter)
- Pots pans and utensils
If you are picking up your campervan on one island and dropping it off on another it is your job to book the ferry between the islands. Booking the ferry in advance can save you money and make your road trip in New Zealand hassle free. You can book your ferry tickets here.
Make sure the campervan you rented is the one you get!
Not all campervans or motorhomes are created equal. The same models of a 4 birth by the same company only a year apart can differ hugely. I found this out on my mum’s last trip and thought I would pass on this warning. This is what happened…
My mum ordered the same style of 4 birth motorhome that she did the year before, except the company offered to upgrade her for free to the same campervan just a year newer. Once she arrived she found out that this “newer” model was actually much smaller! Instead of having one bed above the driver’s cab it was below the bed in the back. This greatly reduced storage and all round comfort.
Despite asking for the original one she ordered she was told she would have to pay $117 to get the older one. Which makes me wonder if she had even received an upgrade at all?
Third party bookings
Renting a campervan in New Zealand through a third party booking agency does have its pro’s and cons. On one hand the booking process is made easier, however, it means that there are more companies to deal with if you have a problem.
In my mum’s case there where three companies involved in her booking, they were Flight Centre, Drive Away and Mighty. This made sorting out the issues she had impossible during her trip.
Renting a campervan in New Zealand is the first step to having an amazing time on your road trip. For this reason, it’s one of the most important things to get right! This guide is not here to just help you plan your trip, but help you prepare for van-life and have realistic expectations so you can hit the road and love every minute!
There are a few amazing places in New Zealand that you will definitely want to check out along your road trip! They are:
- Mount Cook National Park
- Milford Sound
- The Catlins
- Tongariro National Park
- Northland and the Bay or Islands
…and many more. Check out the rest of our blogs about New Zealand!
Don’t forget travel insurance!
Travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years. World Nomads is a great company to use because they are affordable and cover many adventure activities that other companies don’t!
February 18, 2019