The Ultimate Guide to Living in a Van in New Zealand

September 24, 2017

Letting my mind guide me, with the moon and the stars in reach, high above the mountains and the sun, I’m unstoppable. I have the world to myself. Nature twirls me around like a ribbon on a present, waiting to be opened, with the apprehension of what’s to come, and the bubbling excitement of the unknown.

My days are simple and free. I wake up surrounded by snow capped mountains and lakes as smooth as glass that reflect the sky and the sun. Breakfast is avocado and bread, and I set off in the early morning and drive through the crisp, cold air. Lunch breaks are anywhere I please, whether it be next to a lake, or a cliff with ocean waves crashing against it. I drive until dark, and spend my evenings eating pasta and playing Chess on my laptop until the battery runs out.

The days go by in their own rhythm, one I know so much about but one that also brings news sights, sounds, and smells every passing second.

Living in a van is the definition of a wild heart and free spirit.

Here is my ultimate guide to living in a van in New Zealand.

The Ultimate Guide to Living in a Van in New Zealand

1) Sort Your Documents

Before you arrive in New Zealand, make sure you know any visa requirements and restrictions to avoid any unnecessary hassles at the airport. You also need to make sure you have a valid driver’s license and travel insurance if you plan on driving. You can drive in New Zealand with a foreign license, but you need to bring it with you.

2) Rent or Buy a Van

You can choose to either rent or buy a van. Buying a van will be a hefty cost in the beginning, but then you have a chance to sell it for the same price at the end of your trip. You also have to be responsible for any break downs you have on your trip.

Renting a van comes with a lot of perks, you don’t have to worry about finding or selling the van, and most companies will offer free roadside assistance anywhere in the country. I rented my van from Wicked Campers. They’re awesome! Their vans are painted and come with a bed, kitchen, and cooking supplies.

The van costs around $35 NZ/ day, which includes insurance.

3) Prepare to Pay A LOT for Petrol

Petrol in New Zealand is $2/liter. Yes, you’ve read that correctly! Petrol is insanely expensive, but a hitchhiker I picked up told me it’s because it includes insurance on the road. Keep your petrol levels above half way to avoid running out in the middle of no where.

The Ultimate Guide to Living in a Van in New Zealand

4) Plan Your Route

I stuck to the south island and started in Queenstown, and made my way around the island in a massive loop.

My route looked a little something like this:

Queenstown- Wanaka

Wanaka- Whataroa 

Whataroa- Lake Pearson

Lake Pearson- Lake Tekapo 

Lake Tekapo- Queenstown

Queenstown- Te Anau 

Te Anau- Queenstown

I ended up spending the last few days in the same camping spot in Queenstown (Moke Lake Campsite) to avoid spending more money on petrol. During that time, I hiked up to Arthur’s Saddle, relaxed by the lake, and took advantage of McDonald’s WiFi.

5) Purchase the Camping Pass

This was one of the best things I did on my trip, and something I highly recommend. For $50 ($25/pp), I got a pass that allowed me to camp overnight in various camping sites. New Zealand is very strict on their freedom camping, you’re not allowed to pick a random spot and stay there overnight. If they catch you, prepare to pay a minimum $200 fine!

Wicked Campers gave me a free map that marked where each campsite was and which ones were included in the camping pass.

The Ultimate Guide to Living in a Van in New Zealand

6) Purchase Supplies

Buy food items like rice, bread, pasta, onions, and canned food (tuna, soups, vegetables). These items will not expire and will last in your van without having to be refrigerated.

I did my shopping at Countdown and PAKn’SAVE, both of which sell really cheap food.

7) Pay Attention to the Weather

Depending on which season you’re driving around New Zealand, you should prepare for all types of weather. I went in the winter, which I highly recommend! Even though the days are shorter and it’s colder than summer, I was basically the only person on the road and felt like I had the entire country to myself. Additionally, I had some incredible views of the snow capped mountains in the distance. The nights were chilly, but I kept warm with blankets and my clothes.

Between return flights from Melbourne to Queenstown, petrol, the van, and food (there were two of us, so we were able to split everything) I spent roughly $800 in two weeks.

Driving a van around New Zealand is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. The freedom, beauty, and experience that comes with living in a van in a beautiful place is unlike anything else you can ever do.

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