New Zealand is known as an outdoor paradise. With amazing beaches, rivers, mountains, glaciers…and so much more. It is no wonder that outdoor activities, such as camping, are so popular. Growing up in the States, we would always go camping; however, we opted for the RV approach. Sometimes we tent camped, but usually weren’t quite that adventurous. Mostly, we just enjoyed the drive and relaxing in beautiful surroundings. So when I heard that RV’ing was popular in New Zealand, I was set on having the freedom to explore the open road.
A New Zealand RV Rental Gives You the Ultimate in Freedom!
There is a lot of open space in New Zealand, especially on the South Island, where we were visiting. In between towns you may have hours with just pure wilderness. Having the RV will give you the freedom to explore however you wish. This might include pulling off for picnics by a lake or river, taking a spontaneous hike, or even changing your route on the fly.
The aspect we enjoyed best about having the RV in New Zealand was that we didn’t need to set our itinerary in stone and book reservations at hotels. We new how many total days that we had, and we had a rough idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see. Other than that, we were able to make up our daily itinerary as we went.
We didn’t have to worry if we took longer than expected on a hike, or if we found a cool town to visit because we didn’t have to be anywhere at a certain time! Whenever it became dark, or we got tired of driving, we would find a place to pull over and camp. And boy did we find some gorgeous places!
Who doesn’t want to camp right next to the ocean and listen to the waves crash all night long?!?!
Freedom Camping in New Zealand!
New Zealand is a camping friendly country, which is part of the reason the activity is so popular. They call it “Freedom Camping.” It means that you can camp almost anywhere outside of designated campgrounds and holiday parks, within a few guidelines of course.
The first rule you must follow is obvious. You are not allowed to camp on private land. Only on public lands. Also, keep an eye out if there are any signs restricting camping. Unfortunately, due to some “bad apples” in recent years, some local councils have set up some laws restricting freedom camping. So if you are unsure, then just check with the local tourism office to be sure that you aren’t violating any rules.
More RV Options Than You Can Imagine!
One of the things that we loved about New Zealand was how easy it was for us to rent an RV…and how many options we had to choose from! It was almost overwhelming the number of companies that rent RV’s. And there are a number of unique camping vehicles out there that aren’t a self-contained RV. For example, you can rent mini-van type vehicles that are equipped with beds and small burner stoves. Some even have toilets, and heaters.
Depending on your budget and how long you plan to camp, it’s great to have so many options available. Also, if you are unsure about your RV driving capabilities, being able to rent smaller mini-van sized vehicles is a reassuring option.
Meet our RV, We Named her “Bessie”
After doing a ton of research, we decided to rent a small RV from Discover NZ. One of the reasons that we picked them was because we were renting the RV on the north side of the south island, in the town of Nelson. Our plan was to drive around the south island for 5 days before returning it in Christchuch before our flight back to Thailand. So we needed a company who had offices in both cities. Discover NZ fit the bill. Plus, they had a great fleet of small profile RV’s – just what we were looking for!
When we arrived at Discover NZ’s property in Nelson, we were greeted by the owners and their friendly employees. They showed us to our RV and before handing us the keys, gave us a complete tour of the RV, inside and out. They showed us how everything worked and where all the hoses / cords were. They answered all of our questions and made us feel very comfortable before we took off in the vehicle.
And then…we were off on the open road!
As some of our readers may know, we always nickname our rental vehicles. And Josh nicknamed our RV “Bessie.” “Bessie” was about the size of a large van. She had comfortable front seats, a 2 burner stove, a refridgerator / freezer, a small sink and was stocked with dishes and pots. She also had a full bathroom with a toilet, sink, and a shower (although not separate, so the whole bathroom would get wet).
It also had a nice back bench area with two couches and a table that moved around easily to change up the seating arrangement. This also turned into a bed at night. Comfortable bedding was included, as well as pillows.
We also had a TV, stereo, and a hookup for DVDs / computers to the TV. The RV also came stocked with some outdoor chairs and tables that could be set up, as well as an awning that we could put out, if we wanted to relax outside. However, we never used this. It was pretty chilly during our trip and we were on the go all the time, driving and exploring most of the days.
Overall, it was compact RV…but it was a perfect set up!
Our RV Itinerary in New Zealand
Wow was this RV fun to drive! We ended up driving south from Nelson, then out toward the west coast of the south island of New Zealand. Everyone we talked to in advance of this road trip told us that this was a drive we needed to do. They all said the west coast of the south island is “typical New Zealand.” And they were right. It was a gorgeous drive! We would do that drive over and over again if given the chance.
We went all the way down, making stops at Pancake Rocks and doing some hiking along the coast. We also explored a crazy pebble beach that had some of the coolest rocks we had seen, and the pebbles were deep! All the pebbles actually made it really difficult to walk because your feet would sink in, almost like quicksand, up past your ankles!
We also had time to do some geocaching…of course! You can check out our video here about adventure caching around the south island of New Zealand!
We continued south to both Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, making stops at both of them to check them out. Then we went turned inland and made our way through scenic mountains to Queenstown, the outdoor and adventure capital of New Zealand.
After spending some time in Queenstown, we headed to a much anticipated destination, Milford Sound. Another 4 hours south and west of Queenstown is this remote area — which is the epitome of natural beauty! We were blown away by this place. See for yourself by watching our 2 Minute Vacation video of Milford Sound.
Then we headed back across the mid-section of the south island of New Zealand, making our way toward Christchurch. We had a blast camping alongside the road next to rushing rivers and bright blue glacier lakes! We even made a trip up to Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand — where it was even snowing!
The Guys at Discover NZ Even Gave Us a Ride to the Airport
We were quite sad when it was time to turn in our RV and head back to Thailand. We really enjoyed New Zealand so much! We had a super early flight on the morning that we were leaving Christchurch. While trying to coordinate an RV drop-off with the guys at Discover NZ, they told us just to drive the RV to the drop off location and just sleep in it for the night. Then early in the morning, a staff member would drive us to the airport!
It was such a sweet offer. This is typical New Zealand hospitality! And sure enough, when we arrived at the drop off location, we were met by the most kind man who invited us into his home (which is actually where we turned in the RV for a cup of tea and snacks. We spent our evening chatting with him, then the next morning, he was up at 4:30 am ready to take us to the airport – which is actually just around the corner from his place.
This was a great way to end our time in New Zealand. We absolutely recommend that anyone who travels to New Zealand rent an RV to drive around so that you can experience the true beauty of this country. And we would highly recommend renting your RV in New Zealand from the guys at Discover NZ! The service was top notch, and the RV was fantastic. We can’t wait to return to New Zealand for another RV trip. Perhaps next time it will be just a little bit warmer!