Camping in New Zealand
On New Zealand’s quiet roads one of the most common sights is people touring the country by campervan. These vans range from the budget options like Escape, Wicked or Jucy which consist of some mattresses for a bed, a pump sink and a cooler to the massive luxury RV’s from Britz, Mighty Campervan or Maui that have refrigerators, cabinets, toilets and showers. The vans with toilets are considered “self-contained” and can legally camp anywhere as they have their own waste disposal units. All other campervans are required to camp by a 24-hour toilet.
We rented an Escape campervan which was very large for us with lots of storage space and was of the pump sink and cooler variety. Our trip took us to some amazing places but we also were frustrated by some of the camping rules laid out by the New Zealand government as well as the money grubbing of numerous campsites and Holiday Parks. Every campsite we visited charged per person and many also charged for showers, anywhere from $0.50 to $2 per 5 minutes of hot water was standard. The Department of Conservation sites were $6 to $19 per person and generally consisted of an outhouse and maybe some running water. Although we were told about half the DOC sites were free we rarely found them in the DOC booklet and when we did they were generally inaccessible. The Holiday Parks were much more comfortable to stay in with cooking facilities, power, sinks and showers but charged anywhere from $13 to $20 per person.
We camped the majority of the time at DOC campsites and the rest of the time at secluded campsites recommended to us by locals, which were much nicer. Annoyingly whenever we found a 24 hour toilet it was invariably accompanied by “no camping” signs or rules like “self contained vehicles only, maximum three per night and only for two nights of the month”.
Despite our difficulties finding reasonable campsites and the other tiring elements of campervan travel – like cooking on a single butane cooker and washing dishes in public toilets – this is by far the cheapest way to travel in New Zealand. We spent $1800 New Zealand dollars (about $1500 US) for a month of travel including food, gas, car rental, two expensive activities each and campsites.