If you’re thinking of RVing in New Zealand, you should get your advice from a kiwi. More specifically, a New Zealander who lives in a caravan and travels around the country.
That person is me.
After all, I’m quietly proud of my small country, tucked away at the bottom of the world…
It’s a great place to explore. And with a population of just 4.7 million you really can get away from it all.
But for all its glories, newbies can and really do get in trouble when RVing in New Zealand.
Here are some of things you need to know to keep you safe and legal on your trip.
It’s not called RVing in New Zealand.
We just don’t seem to have a single word to group together all the campers, motorhomers, caravaners…
It really does become quite a mouthful.
A camper or campervan is generally a converted van and are popular with the younger crowd. If hired, they are usually in an eye-watering colour that can be seen for miles.
Motorhomes are crazy popular with the retirees wanting to explore their own back yard or visitors wanting more comfort than a van can provide. Motorhomes are the perfect way to quickly explore the country.
Caravaners tend to be a mixture of retirees, families… and me.
There are rules to freedom camping.
There is a misconception that you can pull over anywhere and stay the night – it’s actually annoyingly strict!
To avoid getting woken up at the crack of dawn to a man handing me a $200 fine, I’m overly cautious and find out where I can stay through an app.
I have stayed at some amazing freedom camping spots. Like Lake Matekuri or Whakamaru (pronounced fuck-a-ma-ru… I’m not kidding) both on the edge of a lake.
But there are some freedom camping spots that are basically a carpark with no chance I’d squeeze my homely caravan in.
Get self containment certificate for more freedom.
RVing in New Zealand isn’t like America. We are so strict about being self contained. And to be honest, I haven’t heard of any other country this careful.
To stay at most freedom camping sites, you need a little blue self containment sticker on your RV.
To be self contained means you are self sufficient for 3 days. That means you have your own toilet, fresh water tanks, grey water tanks and a rubbish bin.
The strict part is about the grey water, or waste water. There is no way that water is allowed to touch the ground – it’s dirty!
Luckily we have plenty of dump stations for this ‘dirty’ water and toilet waste. The better campgrounds have their own dump stations.
Or they can be found with camping apps like A OR B.
And I should mention our RV toilets… they are usually tiny tiny cassette toilets that fill up pretty quick if you’re not travelling solo. (Click here to check out an American RV that uses this type of toilet.)
New Zealand campgrounds are decent, too.
Truly! There are some seriously nice campgrounds around.
As a solo female, I’ll admit that I tend to stay in campgrounds. I do love a long shower and my caravan shower is annoyingly average.
I’m currently at a Department of Conservation (DoC) campground at Uretiti Beach. They’re all about nature. and it’s right by a wild and empty beach. I seriously had the whole beach to myself this morning.
DoC campgrounds are usually just a grassy area with a long drop toilet (hole in the ground). It has been disconcerting feeling a breeze from below while doing my business. But this DoC campground is flashier than most with a coin operated hot shower too.
Before this spot, I was at a pricier campground on the edge of Auckland city. It came with powered sites with a concreted area, multiple bathrooms and a playground. But I’m personally happy to have left it for my private grassy patch.
We drive on the left side of the road
Which is the right way 😉
Our roads also tend to follow the lay of the land, and as we are a new country with rugged land, we have plenty of sharp corners and steep inclines.
And braving the gravel roads tend to be worth the bumpy ride as they lead to the best beaches. The wild ones with no people around.
There are two islands
The North Island and the South Island. Inventive names, right?
The north island has more people and is warmer. The south island has more native bush and mountains.
A long ferry ride connects the two islands and having a larger vehicle does hike up the price. But it’s a scenic trip and worth the experience.
I personally love the south island with its dramatic landscape. Particularly down at the very bottom with the Milford Sounds.
Beware of the sand flies
The wetter and more remote areas have these tiny little insects that love to bite and destroy your tranquility. The trick is to cover yourself in insect spray or never stop moving.
I’ve previously dived into my caravan then spent the next 5 minutes killing all the sand flies that slipped in.
But we’re a peaceful place and seriously don’t have any dangerous animals. Just a whole lot of birds, farm animals and friendly locals.
Karen is a solo female living and travelling around New Zealand in a UK caravan, making videos and write articles about this lifestyle. Karen’s aim is to inspire people and show what caravanning in New Zealand is really like – to give practical tips for their own caravan or motorhome dream. Check out her adventures here.