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New Zealand South Island - Campervan or Car?

Hi everyone,

We are taking a 2-3 week trip to the South Island of New Zealand at the end of November/Beginning of December. There will be 4 of us going, all adults, and we were initially planning to rent a car and stay at hotels and airbnb's. However, I keep on getting the advice and reading up on how it is highly recommended to take a Campervan instead of a car. I am just unsure of if 4 of us will be comfortable for that long of a period in a Campervan, especially because we would potentially need 3 beds between the 4 of us and I don't know if that even exists?

I was hoping to get some advice on the Car vs. Campervan route. I know that most people recommend the Campervan, but if we werent able to do that, would we still be able to see everything driving and staying in hotels? Any pros/cons to each or advice here would be highly appreciated.

Thanks!

Posted by
13213 posts

Where do you see most people recommending a camper van? On Tripadvisor, the advice I see most often is to compare prices and then decide. Often a campervan rental will cost more than a mid-level motel or lodge room. We found that to be the case. We were pleasantly surprised by the self-catering facilities offered by most "motels". And my husband was very happy to be driving a compact car rather than a larger campervan on those very narrow roads ( there is rarely a shoulder even on the main highways).

Posted by
27 posts

Hi Lola,

Thanks for your response. A ton of the New Zealand travel websites recommend the Campervan, as well as a few friends who have gone. This is a celebratory trip, so the expense of one vs. the other we arent too concerned about, moreso what will we be most comfortable with while still being able to see everything. We are planning to fly into Christchurch and are starting a rough itinerary of the following:

  1. Fly into Christchurch
  2. Waipara - Wine Region
  3. Drive Arthurs Pass
  4. Franz Josef/Fox Glaciers
  5. Mt Cook
  6. Queenstown/Wanaka
  7. Glenorchy to hike Roteburn, stay in Te Anau for a couple of nights, do Milford Sound (kayak or cruise?) and glowworms?
  8. Akaroa for Penguins?
  9. Abel Tasman park? (fly from christchurch?)

So with that itinerary, would we be able to do everything and find hotels for each place or would we be better off trying to make a campervan work is the question!

Thanks!

Posted by
6511 posts

When I researched my trip to NZ I considered a campervan, but because I was traveling solo it was a bit too costly for me. I was planning on 1 week on the South Island and 1 week on the North and I ended up renting 2 separate cars rather then dealing with ferries. I started in Christchurch and my itinerary was a somewhat shortened version of yours. I really enjoyed staying in mom & pop motels, the people in NZ are so friendly and helpful. Then I flew from Christchurch to Wellington and picked up a second car that I dropped off in Auckland when done with the North Island.

It doesn't sound like cost is a factor but I think you're right about 4 adults, even in a larger campervan (RV), and you may be more comfortable in hotels/motels/b&bs. Late Nov early Dec is high season in NZ so if you do decide to go the car/hotel route be sure to start reserving your hotels pretty early.

Posted by
99 posts

My family of four visited NZ in December/January. The sources I researched recommended the car and motel/hotel option over the campervan option so we rented a car and stayed in self-catering motels. I think the pros of a car are it's smaller and thus easier to drive on narrow twisty roads and to park, it's cheaper, and you have more breathing room and privacy, especially if there are rainy days and you are stuck inside. The pros of a camper seem to be that it is a novel way to travel and you do not have to repeatedly move your belongings between your transportation and lodging.

I do not think you would have any trouble finding motels with three beds; most of our motel rooms had at least three beds. I used Booking.com, Agoda.com, and AA Traveller NZ Accommodation to identify potential places to stay, and then checked motel websites for better prices/terms. Definitely book your lodging as soon as possible for more/better choices! Certain places like Mount Cook, Queenstown, and Wanaka seem to fill up very quickly.

That said, before booking any lodging, I suggest posting your tentative itinerary on the Tripadvisor NZ forum. I think some of your stops will need to be reordered (e.g., to drive from Fox Glacier to Mount Cook, you have to drive south to Haast, around Lake Hawea, and then north on 8) and some of your driving distances are quite long, and Tripadvisor's local experts will give excellent recommendations that will help your holiday to be as enjoyable and to go as smoothly as possible.

Posted by
2275 posts

If you're already avid campers then you might very well enjoy going the camper van route. If not then I think the novelty would wear off in a hurry.
Before our first trip to NZ many years ago we studied whether to go with self catering places and a car or doing the camper van thing. Finally determined that the potential cost savings of going with the van (and it was minimal) was far outweighed by the comfort, convenience, and relative freedom of going with a car and just staying in B & B's, hotels and (our preference) self catering places around the South Island. Farm stays are another great way to go, which we highly recommend. Have been back to New Zealand many times since then and never regretted our original decision.
Safe travels.

Posted by
13213 posts

I agree that you need some help with the order of travel---Abel Tasman in particular seems outofplace, but if you want to fly to Nelson from Queenstownnthat might work. The people or Tripadvisornin the South Island forum are very helpful with itineraries.

If you decide to go with motels and farm stays (good suggestion there), I can highly recommend the place we stayed in Queenstown---it is well-located, reasonably priced, and has kitchenettes in some rooms.

http://www.coronationlodge.co.nz/

I can also recommend the place we stayed in Mt. Cook Village---it is much less expensive than the big hotel. I wil have to look up the name if you are interested.

If you plan on hiking the Routebourne Track, make your hut reservations as soon as you have your dates. They book up fast! Or if you would consider the guided walk with Ultimate Hikes, I will give them a 5- star rating (we did the Milford, not the Routebourne, with them, but I assume the quality is the same). The guides, the accommodations, and the food are all terrific.

Posted by
203 posts

I did a three week trip in a campervan in July a few years ago and absolutely loved it. Having said that, it was 2 adults and 2 kids, so it was a novelty but with 4 adults I would go with a car and motels.

Posted by
1829 posts

We take a 10-12 week trip to NZ every 3 years and recommend their motel/motor lodge accomodation. As well as towns they can also be located in very scenic spots including beachside (sea and lake) and love the space and convenience. 2 and 3 bedroomed units are readily available. Some will even deliver cooked breakfast to your unit. See below for an idea of what's on offer see the links.

http://www.aatravel.co.nz/accommodation-newzealand/new-zealand-motel.php

http://www.jasons.co.nz/motels-motor-lodges

Posted by
203 posts

I did the campervan thing a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it but partly because of the novelty factor for the kids. To be honest I probably wouldn't with four adults. You would need a 6 birth to have the option of 3 beds and it would mean packing up two of the beds every time you move. You will be incredibly close by the end or hate each other. Flip of the coin which it is. For 4 adults I would go for a car.

Posted by
379 posts

That's a long list of locations to cover in 2-3 weeks. Perhaps cut it in half, and have open jaw flights?

Posted by
27 posts

Thanks SO much everyone! We have decided to go with the car/hotels after reading all of these... seems like the best option!