How to choose the best campervan for your New Zealand road trip

When it comes to picking the best campervan for your New Zealand trip, it’s worth considering what’s important to you. At minimum, it’s best to hire a “self-contained” vehicle so you can enjoy the fun and flexibility of freedom camping.

We’ve compiled a list of the main considerations for choosing the best campervan to hire. Once you’re clear on your must-haves and what you’re willing to compromise on, it’s far easier to compare each campervan and the pros and cons.

The bed

The big decision here is fixed or convertible? A fixed bed generally means greater comfort because it’s likely to have a proper mattress (like Māhau). It also means less faffing, assembling and dismantling the bed. However, what you gain in comfort and convenience, you tend to lose in living/dining space.

Think about how much time you might spend in the van but not in bed. In warm and dry weather, perhaps you’ll spend most of your living/dining time outside so don’t need a large seating area inside. If you’re travelling through winter or just prefer the option of dining inside, maybe you’d prefer a comfy and spacious seating area (like Ivan).

Another aspect to consider is bed size… there is no standard. Widths and lengths can vary dramatically, as can the definition of a “double” bed! Find out the measurements and consider how cosy you will be and how a taller person will cope. A good rule of thumb for two people is a minimum of 120cm (about 4’) wide, and the minimum length being the height of the tallest person travelling.

Māhau‘s fixed bed is 150cm x 200cm

Cooking facilities

In smaller campervans, it’s common for cooking facilities to be accessed from the rear door (like The Duke). It’s a great use of space and the cover provided by the rear door gives you some protection from the elements. But you might decide that the ability to cook inside is a must-have, especially if you’ll be travelling in cooler times of the year. Of course, some campers offer the best of both worlds – with the ability to use/move the stove inside and out or being equipped with a stove inside and a BBQ outside.

The Duke‘s slide-out kitchen

Toilet and shower

Ah, the debate over whether to hire a campervan with a fixed toilet and shower cubicle or not! If you ran a poll – and many people have – an overwhelming majority of people say (with hindsight) that they didn’t use the shower much, if at all.

There are so many easy-to-find (and more enjoyable!) options to take showers on the road… at campsites, recreation centres or an outdoor shower (e.g. Ivan even has an ensuite shower tent!).

All self-contained campervans have a toilet so you’re then making a choice between a fixed toilet in a cubicle vs. a portable, pull-out-and-use-anywhere-that-works version. Yep, a portable toilet can be a lot less private but you could just ask your fellow traveller(s) to hop out while you hop on, so to speak! What you lose in privacy, you’ll gain in living space or extra storage!

Like showers, most people find that public toilets are very accessible so they tend to use those more. Even freedom camping spots often have a proper toilet. And let’s face it, emptying and cleaning a toilet is not up there on the list of fun things to do on holiday!

How long do you need to be off-grid for?

While self-containment allows you to freedom camp, it doesn’t necessarily mean the van has the power set up to go off-grid indefinitely.

This is one of the less talked about topics when it comes to campervans – and doesn’t trouble everyone as many people will mix-up freedom camping with time in campsites (if only for the nice showers!).

Kākāpō is perfect for going off-grid

It’s useful to enquire whether the van can sustain itself (this could include equipment like the fridge, lights, water pump or 230V plug sockets). Does it have a way to continuously top-up the power available (usually through a solar panel and second battery) so you don’t have to plug-in at a campsite?

Obviously this doesn’t apply so much if your choice of van doesn’t have power-hungry features to maintain but has a basic chilly bin (rather than a fridge) and battery-operated lights (like Woody).

Woody‘s set-up is super low maintenance

Storage

Next up, let’s talk storage. You know if you’re a pragmatic light-packer… or an I’ll-pack-everything-just-in-case type! It’s fair to say that most of us overpack so it pays to be really honest with yourself and pack only what you know you’ll use. But if it’s a long trip – or one full of activities that require a wide range of clothing and equipment – look for great storage with areas accessible from inside and out. Typically, vans with fixed beds have more storage (the space underneath) and some have a roof-rack and/or bike rack you can take advantage of (like Mahara).

Internal and external heights

We’re talking about whether (the majority of people) can stand up inside the van or not… and how much notice you need to take of the external height when driving around!

It’s great to be able to stand up while cooking or getting dressed but it also might be something you’re willing to compromise on (and therefore save a few bucks). Internal heights – from van floor to ceiling – tend to vary from about 1.1m (3’7”) to 1.8m (5’11”) so it’s worth noting that a very tall person is unlikely to be able to stand up fully, even in a high roofed van.

For external height, you probably don’t need to worry about getting into carparks while driving a compact, standard roofed van (like Morrison) but to be on the safe side always take note of your van height (including chimney, loaded roof rack etc.) and watch out for height restriction signs!

Transmission – manual or automatic?

A quick, sensible word on transmission type (automatic or manual). A campervan trip in New Zealand – especially if you’ll be driving on the other/”wrong” side of the road – is not the time to convince yourself that you’ll be fine driving a manual (stick shift) if you typically drive an automatic. Stick to what you know! Also consider your confidence, skill and experience in driving larger vehicles. A reversing camera is super-handy!

Budget vs. luxury

Often your choice in campervan can come down to budget. If it’s a honeymoon or milestone wedding anniversary maybe you want to splash-out! Think luxuries like a log-burner, oven, freezer or TV screen!

If you’re more budget-conscious and want to make the dollars – and your time in NZ – go on for longer, keep it simple and stick to a more basic campervan.

We’ve got both types of campervans available for hire.

Quirkiness

By now, you’ll have noticed that the vans featured here aren’t your standard grey and white, factory-fitted motorhomes. There’s nothing wrong with those but we prefer something with a little more style and individuality. Some people don’t even realise it’s possible to rent gorgeous vans like these… but it is!

Take a look at our beautiful campervans for hire and pick the best one for your New Zealand road trip.

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