Road trips with kids give most people images of whining and constant questions of ‘Are we there yet?’ along the way. It seems crazy to want to plan an entire trip this way.
But we did and we would do it again!
We did a New Zealand campervan holiday with our 4 and 6 year old and we all had a blast… most of the time! Sure, there are a few moments when you wonder why on earth you would want to campervan New Zealand with kids.
But the majority of the time was making memories to cherish a lifetime!
What Is It Really Like To Campervan In New Zealand?
We returned home to a lot of questions from our friends, family and community following our NZ motorhome adventure. And we wanted to put all those answers into an easy place, to help you decide if a motorhome holiday around New Zealand is right for you.
First, see what the kids thought about the campervan. They give their own tour (and it’s kind of hilarious):
Are campervans hard to drive?
Generally no, however in saying that Simon, was the only one who drove our campervan simply because I drive a hatchback and wouldn’t dare drive anything bigger!
If you are comfortable behind the wheel, you should find the adjustment to a campervan relatively simple. They are typically larger than what you drive at home, so take your time on the first day to get familiar with the size and the setup.
Smaller campervans aren’t much bigger than a typical van. For larger campervans, like our Outback 4 from Wilderness Motorhomes, it was 7.4M long and a big difference in size. However, it was modern with great features like a reversing camera and automatic transmission.
You are the only one who knows how confident you are adjusting to different vehicles so consider this during your research phase. Simon had never driven anything bigger than a van, yet he is a confident driver so he transitioned easily.
Is it easy to take a New Zealand campervan holiday with kids?
Campervanning with kids is loads of fun! Most kids will see this as an awesome adventure, especially if they are new to camping.
You may want to choose a more comfortable mid to high range campervan if you are new to camping with kids, simply to give you more space and features.
Slower travel tends to be best with kids, no matter the type of holiday. Being mindful that they are seeing so many new things and having new experiences, so you want to give them extra downtime. Overstimulated kids aren’t fun on holidays!
You can give them some input into what you see and do too, getting them involved in the planning. This is sure to boost excitement. New Zealand is a really family-friendly country too, with loads to entertain kids.
What is the best motorhome for us?
Typically, budget is the first thing that determines the type of motorhome suited to your holiday. Work out your price range and start researching what motorhomes fit within that budget.
You may find that your original budget needs to go up a little to suit the type of features that are essential for you. Most importantly, how many people you are travelling with and their ages, so that you can find a van that may be suited to travel with kids as an example.
All passengers in your van will need an approved seat with a seatbelt so you will need to search for a vehicle to suit – 4 people = 4 berth.
We recommend going fora slightly bigger and fully self-contained vehicle if you are travelling with younger children. This will make your trip more enjoyable than trying to find your way to a public toilet in the middle of the night.
We also recommend a van with gas heating during winter because New Zealand is cold, especially in the South Island and you want to be comfortable. This was our favourite feature of our Wilderness van!
Are children required to use car seats in a campervan?
New Zealand has strict laws on using infant and child car seats, and travelling by motorhome is no different. Children are required to be secured in an age-appropriate car restraint seat until they are at least 7 years of age.
From around age 4 or ideally, when they outgrow forward-facing car seats, children can move to a booster seat instead.
Motorhome hire companies can usually provide appropriate child safety seats at a cost with your booking, however, if you are concerned about the quality, you can bring your own from home instead.
This all depends on the type of campervan you hire. Some are not self-contained and you have no choice but to stay at campsites with toilet facilities and holiday parks.
If you do have a fully certified self-contained motorhome, the amount of time differs depending on the model and capabilities.
You can get an approximate time frame on how long you can spend off the grid when researching different campervan models. They will generally give you a more conservative time frame than what the vehicle is actually capable of.
Our Wilderness motorhomes outback 4 had a recommendation of 3-4 days before needing to power up.
We actually got around 1 week, even with 2 kids and charging lots of devices. We needed to fill up our water tank a bit sooner and replace gas every few days due to being winter though.
How difficult is it to empty grey water and toilet?
If you have a self-contained campervan, you will have the fun job of visiting a dump station and cleaning out your toilet and grey water tank. This is a job that I handed to Simon very quickly!
Your hire company will give you specific instructions on how to do these things when you pick up your vehicle and in most cases, you will have a manual of some sort too. If not, there is always youTube!
Our first attempt was relatively smooth sailing and Simon mastered the processes quickly. I offered absolutely no assistance…
Well, I did film him. And offer moral support!
What do we need to bring?
This really depends on what campervan service you are using and the type of vehicle. If you are going for a low budget vehicle that is not self-contained, you will need to provide most things yourself.
On the other end of the scale, our motorhome included almost everything we needed. The exception was consumables such as food (of course), garbage bags, extra toilet paper. Then it was just a case of replacing gas and water as needed.
Everything else was included – bedding, cooking equipment and crockery, towels, entertainment, dustpan and brush.
You will be able to find details on inclusions by visiting the website of your NZ motorhome rental company.
If travelling in winter in a van that does not have internal gas heating, you may need to bring extra bedding or thermal clothing as it can get freezing!
How long do we need in New Zealand?
This is a tricky question to answer and it will be different for everyone.
New Zealand is a country you could explore for a year and still not see everything. There are so many natural wonders and kid-friendly walking trails to experience along the way.
The best option is to work out your ‘must’ list before you go and then map out a rough itinerary.
It also depends on how much time you have available as well. We did not see everything we would have liked in 2.5 weeks, focusing just on the South Island. However, we felt that this was the right length of time with children before they grew restless.
Keep in mind that travel distances may take longer. This is due to winding roads and the fact that you may be going a little slower in a campervan than you would in a car.
And of course, the fact that travelling with kids tends to take more time anyway.
When is the best time to visit New Zealand?
We did our New Zealand campervan holiday during winter because our children wanted to see snow.
Lucky for us it was a mild winter. We did not need to use snow chains or have any issues with icy roads. We were able to navigate to all the places we wanted to easily. However, our last few days were rainy, since winter is the wet season in New Zealand.
If you want to enjoy winter sports or snowy mountainscapes, winter is perfect. You will stay warm in a higher-end campervan with gas heating.
Next time we would like to visit New Zealand during the warmer seasons, possibly during the shoulder seasons of spring or autumn to avoid the peak holiday seasons during summer and winter.
That being said, there really is no bad time to visit New Zealand!
How expensive is travelling New Zealand by campervan?
New Zealand is definitely on the more expensive scale in terms of cost of living and travel. If you are visiting from Australia like us, it was not a huge difference but still not a cheap destination!
The costs are higher in popular tourist destinations such as Auckland, Queenstown and Christchurch. Queenstown especially you can easily blow a lot of money fast!
Attractions can be very expensive also. New Zealand is known for thrill-seeking adventure attractions. Expect to spend if you want to do a few of these, like bungy jumping or jet boating.
Restaurants are on the higher end too. If you venture further from the city centre in popular cities, you will find cheaper options. Otherwise, cook for yourself as much as you can.
Grocery stores are everywhere, with big chains such as Countdown, Pak N Save or FourSquare stocking the essentials.