We bought a campervan! One of our goals in New Zealand is to drive the whole country, north and south, and freedom camping is the way to go. We bought the campervan, a Toyota Hiace, within a week of arriving. It’s a little old so Brian did a lot of work sprucing up our campervan in New Zealand.
We haven’t gone campervanning since Iceland so this is going to be an adventure! But before we really hit the road, here’s details on our campervan in New Zealand.
Buying a Campervan in New Zealand
Yes, we could have rented a campervan, but bought instead because we will be using it for months. We want to drive all over the north and south islands over a few months, so buying seemed more practical and hopefully economical as we want to sell it when we’re done.
Because so many people want to drive around the country, there are lots of campervans here. When people arrive, they buy, and when they leave the country, they sell. As a result, there are many ways to find a campervan to buy in New Zealand. We found ours at the weekly Auckland car market. Other ways of finding cars and campervans are through numerous Facebook groups and Trademe.com.
For us, the hardest part of buying the campervan was the method of payment. Since it’s a pain to do money transfers from Canadian banks (you should have seen their mistakes when we bought our boat), our only option was cash. To pay for the campervan, we had to go to ATMs daily and withdraw the maximum amount until we had enough cash. A credit card would have been much easier.
Overall Campervan Info
Our Toyota Hi Ace is a very popular brand here, and Brian especially liked it for it’s height. We’re calling our van “Vincent” and he’s from the 90s, so he likes grunge music and ripped jeans. Supposedly these are reliable cars, so we’re not worrying about age. We’re not planning to go off-roading or anything crazy, so should be fine. The van is white and seats three people in the front bench seat.
Hiaces begin their lives as passenger vans, but we bought this one converted and equipped for freedom camping. The van is manual drive, so Brian’s been teaching me how to drive stick. Still learning new things! We have insurance.
Freedom Camping in New Zealand
I had never heard of freedom camping before coming to New Zealand, so you may need an explanation like I did. Freedom camping in New Zealand means being self-sufficient and equipped to camp anywhere.
Because our van has a toilet and running water and holding tanks for both, we are eligible to be certified self-contained. Conveniently for us, the previous owner certified the van so we are freedom campers.
Car and tent campers are not legally allowed to camp in all the places we can in New Zealand, and recently more laws have been passed, which differ in each region, making it more challenging to freedom camp.
This is a very topline explanation, both because I am new to this subject, and have only begun campervanning in New Zealand. Maybe after a few months on the road I will share more informed opinions. In the meantime, we are going to do our best to comply with the freedom camping rules.
First Night On Board
We did a practice run on board our campervan in Auckland. Since our friends’ flight was landing in Auckland in the morning, we drove from Whangarei the previous afternoon. Auckland is pretty flexible in their freedom camping rules, and we found parking in a side street in Mount Eden.
Our spot was near a park and public toilets, just off the main drag where we found a good restaurant for dinner and another for coffee the next morning. The bed is a little cramped for Brian’s 6 foot frame, but we were pretty cozy otherwise.
Inside Our Campervan
In between enjoying Whangarei, Brian did a lot of work improving the interior of our campervan. We are going to live in it for weeks at a time, travelling both islands of New Zealand, so we want it to be comfortable. Brian added some cabinetry and shelves for cooking and storage.
kitchen (Or Do we call it a galley?)
Our kitchen includes a sink with storage cabinet underneath, a couple of shelves, and a portable 12v fridge that we’ve strapped in. We also have a one burner propane stove, and a portable propane grill for outdoor cooking. I am going to have limited cooking capacity, but we’ll make do with all the dining options in New Zealand.
Living and sleeping space
The back of the van is a couple of couches with an extra cushion that slides into the middle to make a bed. Underneath the seats is storage space, which is good because we’ve got a lot of stuff to bring with us.
Outdoor and Camping gear
We bought a bundle of used camping gear from a British couple leaving New Zealand. It included the aforementioned fridge, stove, and grill, plus tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and coolers. Add that to the kitchenware, hammock, folding chairs and beach towels already on our boat, and we should have everything we need.
The bikes we bought for $50 when we arrived are also coming in our campervan, attached to the bike rack out back. We’ve already re-embraced our love of cycling and look forward to cycling some more in New Zealand.
We may bring the Starlink for connectivity, but haven’t decided. There is room because the campervan has lots of storage, both under the seats and above our heads.
First Road Trip Attempt
A couple weeks after our successful night camping, we did a multi-day trip to south of Auckland to meet our friends. It didn’t go well. The plan was a night south of Auckland, and another night camping in Rotorua before meeting up with our friends at an airbnb. We say don’t make plans when sailing, and that seems to extend to our life on the road. Our campervan started overheating just outside of Auckland and deteriorated from there.
First we tried filling the radiator with lots of water and then with a liquid called stop a leak (because there was a big leak). Then we replaced the radiator cap. We drove a little bit from the place we bought the radiator cap and got to Matamata when the overheating recurred.
We spent the first night in a very busy campervan spot in a lovely village called Te Kauwhata. The campground looked like a tailgate party. It was actually quite nice despite all the people. Everyone was quiet and respectful and clean.
This may be what it’s like to camp in New Zealand, I don’t know because the next night we camped in a vacant lot next to the auto repair shop. This was the fourth auto repair shop we visited when the radiator overheated near Matamata and the first that helped us. They ordered us a new radiator and installed it all in one day. Unfortunately, that’s when they realized the main gasket was shot. Two days before Christmas Eve they couldn’t fix it.
broke down near hobbiton
Our campervan is parked at the autorepair shop in Matamata, near Hobbiton, which we visited because what else do you do when you’re broken down in New Zealand?
We’re used to broken down boats, but this time it was our campervan. We left the van at the repair shop and they fixed it after the holiday. We are ready to try again. Fingers crossed!
Domino in the Van
One positive out of our disastrous road trip is we learned we can’t campervan with Domino. While I think she’ll get used to it, I don’t know if we will. Her food and drink bowls and kitty litter take up all the floor space. She is awake while we sleep but there’s nowhere for her to go but to bother us in bed. And if we break down or there’s no van parking, it’s difficult to find a place that accepts cats for the night. I am happy we learned this before we got too far from the boat and with time to find an alternative for Domino.
So now we’re hiring a catsitter for Domino so she can stay on Go and live comfortably.
Road Trip Plans
We plan to hit the road soon! We want to hike, bike, taste, and explore as much of this beautiful country as we can. Our route is still unplanned, but we are definitely going south. What are your New Zealand highlights, campervan or not? Let us know in the comments! And give us all of your positive thoughts for the health of our campervan!