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Heading to New Zealand in Winter and want to explore the country in the best way possible? Hire a campervan – it’s guaranteed to be one of the best adventures of your life, and promises highlight after highlight of incredible scenery. BUT be prepared. For gods sake, be prepared. Read this BEFORE you go, and take note of every single one of these New Zealand winter campervan tips!
Warm clothing – the most important of all the New Zealand winter campervan tips
New Zealand gets COLD in winter. Whilst the winter weather in Auckland remains at a comfortable average of 15°C (high) and 8°C (low), get ready for it to drop down to -10°C in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Don’t let this put you off though, with the right gear, it’s the best bit of the whole country. And going in winter means you’ll have it largely to yourself!
So it’s going to be cold, what should I take for winter in a campervan in New Zealand?
You’re not an idiot, you know how to wrap up warm. But here’s what I took:
- Thermal base layers (leggings and long sleeve tops)
- Thermal mid layers (such as fleeces and leggings)
- Down jacket (RAB is liiiife for this sort of thing)
- Waterproof trousers and shell jacket
- Thick socks, gloves, hat and scarf
- Hiking boots – these are ESSENTIAL. And make sure they’re fully waterproof. I’m sure in summer you’re fine exploring New Zealand in trainers, but you really need proper boots in winter.
Another little tip for staying warm in your campervan is to blast the heating for the last 15 minutes of your journey before you pull up for the night. Then open the doors as little as possible!
Hire a decent sized van – another essential New Zealand winter campervan tip
Whilst in summer, I’m sure you’d be fine with a little people carrier car that’s been converted into a campervan, this just won’t cut it during those cold nights. You need to have enough space to sit and cook indoors, whilst being able to get dressed (and therefore stand up) in the van is invaluable. We hired a Kuga campervan from Travellers Autobarn, which I’d say was just about big enough. If I had a bit more $$$ to spare, I’d definitely have gone for something a little larger.
Whilst we’re on the subject of your van hire, a very important New Zealand winter campervan tip is to hire a full winter pack from your rental company. This should include additional sleeping bags and an electric heater, along with all the standard living equipment (plates, saucepans etc).
Budget for staying in holiday parks
Whilst New Zealand prides itself on its abundance of freedom camping spots (areas that you can park for free overnight if you’re in a self-contained campervan), I’d leave it to the North Island to take full advantage of these. The reason for this is that it’s just so cold at night on South Island – you’ll want to be able to plug your van into electricity so that you can use your electric heater and have a hot shower! The holiday parks ranged from base rate (two people) NZD$35 to NZD$55. I’d recommend budgeting for an average of $45.
Don’t get me wrong, freedom camping is very much still possible on South Island, and there are some incredible spots. The freedom camping spot at Lake Pukaki was my favourite in all of New Zealand, and it’s worth the chills! There’s more about it here (it’s on the night of Day 1).
The other thing to budget for is petrol. Those vans are incredibly thirsty. Our van probably only did 4.5 hours of driving per tank.
Use apps to find holiday parks and freedom camping spots each morning
Freedom camping isn’t as easy in the winter as in summer. But there’s a bunch of apps you can download to help you find the best spots, and also information about holiday parks. The best ones are Travellers Autobarn and Rankers – I’d recommend having both, as then you can cross reference them to double check prices etc.
Insurance is ESSENTIAL.
I can picture the conversation now with your travel agent:
Agent: “I’d recommend full insurance on your campervan”
You: “No no, we’ll be super careful, we won’t need it – the budget insurance package with the bond will be fine”
My boyfriend’s a very good driver. And he managed to reverse into a tree. Visibility in poor weather is really bad. And the blind spots on those big vans are pretty large.
Leech electricity and wifi whenever you get it
For some reason, plug points and free wifi in cafes across rural New Zealand are few and far between. So whenever you find a plug point and some wifi, have a charging party and download as many shows as you can. You’ll be glad of them during a quiet evening in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by stunning mountains! New Zealand has some sort of fast food chain (McDonalds, KFC etc) in literally every town it seems, and they’ve always got free customer wifi, but rarely charging points.
Learn to put snow chains on properly.
First things first, don’t attempt South Island in winter in a campervan without snow chains. 90% of the time you’ll have no need to use them. But when you do, and you haven’t hired them with your van, you’ll kick yourself. And second, learn to put them on before you leave the rental shop. We didn’t and then had very little signal to look it up whilst on a snowy, icey, mountain side after dark. Don’t make our mistake!
Plan a good route!
You’re about to go and have the best adventure of your lives, and whilst it’s great to make it up as you go along, planning a good route is essential – even if it’s a loose plan. Check out my South Island campervan route guide here or 14 day South Island campervan itinerary here. The other thing we found really useful was to have a look at the Kiwi Experience itineraries – they’re a great base!
And that’s it! All the New Zealand Winter Campervan tips you could ever need! Don’t forget to always get local advice, and check weather forecasts before driving.