Top 10 Tips for Planning a New Zealand Road Trip
New Zealand: home of Kiwis, outdoorsy activities, and campervans. In fact, New Zealand has the highest number of campervans per capita compared to any other country in the world.
New Zealand’s relatively small size and its breath-taking scenery make it the perfect destination for a road trip.
Whether you’re a ‘I need a hot shower’ type of camper, or a hardened camping aficionado that prefers more remote campsites, there’s something for you.
If you’re considering road tripping around New Zealand, read on for 10 essential tips on how to plan and fully make the most of your trip while staying safe.
1. Safety & Preparation
First of all, the preparation before the trip can save you a lot of hassle when you get there. If you are a British citizen it is a good idea to read up on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice on New Zealand before your departure. While the country owes a lot of its beautiful landscape to tectonic plate action, this also increases the risk of natural disasters such as earthquakes. Keeping an eye on the FCO updates and on local news once arrived can help keep you on top of any important events.
2. Make Sure Your Drivers License is Valid
It is important to check that your driving licence is valid in New Zealand. Any British citizen can use their British driving licence for 12 months. If you do not have a British passport, you will need to check if you need an International Driving Permit. This information will be available through your car rental company so drop them an email to check once you have made your car booking. You can have a look at this useful guide to driving abroad to work through the steps to ensure you are well prepared for getting behind the wheel in a different country.
3. Buy Travel Insurance
Depending on what activities you are planning on taking part in, you’ll want to check the different types of travel insurance available. If you have booked your trip through a travel agency, it is likely that they can also provide travel insurance at an additional cost.
Many companies offer different tiers of cover, so that you can choose one appropriate for your trip. In a country like New Zealand, that offers so many extreme sports such as skydiving and bungee jumping, it is a good idea to make sure that you get the right type of insurance.
4. Car or Campervan?
There are lots of options when road tripping New Zealand including small group tours, or independently renting a car or campervan. Although booking a tour can seem the most stress free and relaxing way to travel, doing the trip by yourself in your own transport can seem intimidating but it doesn't need to be. This method of travel is really flexible.
There are so many reasons to travel New Zealand in a campervan including it being very affordable. This really does come down to your personal preference though, both cars and campervans are great options and allow you to see New Zealand at your own pace stopping where you want when you want.
5. Decide On Your Route
The planning is of course never as exciting as the trip, but can really help make sure your trip goes smoothly. Having a rough idea of where you want to go is useful, although booking campsites is so easy that adapting your itinerary is usually not a problem whatsoever.
Both the North and South Islands of New Zealand are spectacular and it is recommended to see both even if you only have a short amount of time.
There are so many places you can visit and this really comes down to your personal preference, you can choose between travelling between the main towns and cities or going off the beaten track to see nature, beaches and the coast.
6. Campsites & Accommodation
The huge number of campsites in New Zealand mean that you can afford to be flexible with your itinerary. If you find that a drive is taking much longer than expected, it is easy to ring up a campsite on the day and find a space. Apps such as CamperMate and Rankers NZ provide interactive maps that list all campsites in the area which is extremely useful if you wish to check what campsites are available.
The Department of Conservation offers relatively basic sites which are usually in more remote, potentially more scenically beautiful areas, while chains such as ‘Kiwi Holiday Parks’ and ‘Top Ten Holiday Parks’ provide amenities such as a kitchen, hot showers, and often a BBQ, outside playground area etc.
The difference is of course reflected in the price, although the latter campsites usually still cost an average of 40-55 NZ dollars per night for two people and one car on either a powered or non-powered site, which is much less than you would pay for private accommodation in similar locations.
Another option is to stay at hotels, hostels or guest houses which can be booking throughout the country. Check out Booking.com or HostelWorld for the best deals.
7. Read Up on Road Rules & Speed Limits
If you do wish to plan some of your route beforehand, many websites offer ‘travel time and distances calculators’ that are extremely helpful when working out how long a journey will take you as roads can be windy and narrow, even national highways.
There are few large motorways in New Zealand; most are in urban areas on the North Island. Generally, you will be unable to drive certain distances as fast as you may at home because many roads are mountainous and require a much slower speed.
The national speed limit is 100km/h, which is what is enforced on most main rural highways. This does not necessarily mean you can reach this speed, but is an indicator of the maximum speed you should get to. Many roads are single lanes and have a ‘passing point’ at regular intervals.
A lot of slow-moving vehicles on mountainous roads will take advantage of these so don’t rush to overtake them.
8. Check the Weather in Advance
New Zealand has a mild climate throughout the year but checking what the weather is like in advance and to make sure you are prepared for driving conditions.
9. Pack Sensibly
You will also be able to pack accordingly and make sure you have everything you need in advance. Essential things to take include a map, phone, travel guide, the right clothing depending on the time of year and comfortable driving trainers.
10. Enjoy Every Moment
New Zealand is spectacular and by planning a road trip you will get to see the highlights of the country and enjoy one of the most amazing experiences of your life. Try to see as many places as possible and make friends along the way, a lot of people travelling to New Zealand do similar routes so its a great way to meet new people.
All in all, your trip is what you make of it and hopefully these tips will help you prepare for the ultimate New Zealand road trip of a lifetime! Whether you want a jam-packed itinerary or a more relaxed pace of holiday, New Zealand has it all for you.
By Emily Abbott
If you have ever been to travel in New Zealand by car or campervan and would like to share any recommendations leave feedback in the comments sections below.