Travelling in New Zealand: Bus, Tent or Camper?

New Zealand is a country made to explore and chances are if you’re coming over, whether for a year or a few weeks, you’ll want to get around and see as much as you can. For many people one of the big decisions they’ll need to make is how they intend to travel around New Zealand. In this post I’m going to go through the different options, the costs and the pro’s and con’s involved in each. So without further adieu let’s get into it!

Hop On-Hop Off Bus

For many people, particularly those who do not drive, this is the number one option to see everything New Zealand has to offer. The two main companies that offer this service around both islands are Kiwi Experience and Stray. Depending on your ticket this will enable you to go to a town, get off and spend a couple of days sightseeing before catching the bus and heading onto the next location!

What’s the cost?

The cost for both companies will depend on the amount of time you have and therefore the type of ticket you purchase. The best value ticket Kiwi Experience offer is their Whole Kit and Caboodle ticket. With this ticket you can start your trip from any point in the country and end at any point. Its valid for 12 months and allows you to visit all available stops for $1689.

The best value ticket Stray offer is their Maximus ticket. Similar to the Kiwi bus this ticket allows you to start and end your trip from any point in the country. It is also valid for 12 months and allows you to visit all available stops for $1095.

What are the pros?

This is a great option for those who cannot drive, are travelling alone or looking to make friends and have a lot of fun as they go. Richie previously spent 8 weeks travelling on the Kiwi Experience in 2011 and loved it. They offered discounts for all accommodation and activities such as bungee jumps and skydives. They regularly organised activities such as pub crawls, fancy dress competitions etc. which helped people get to know one another. As you can hop on and hop off for one year many people will travel one island, then settle down and work for a while before hopping on a bus and travelling the other island.  

What are the cons?

This can be a pricey option. Both companies charge over $1000 for the 12 months unlimited travel however this price only includes your bus and the interislander. As you travel you will still need to buy all your own food (they will regularly stop at supermarkets such as New World) and pay for each nights accommodation. Although they do offer discounts you’ll still need to have plenty saved to see you through. As companies offer discounts for the extreme sports it can be very hard to say no, especially if everyone else on the bus is doing something which can make you burn through money faster than you anticipated.

You also need to factor in what kind of experience you want. These buses will have more nights out, more drinking etc. than you may want. If you’re in a couple you’ll need to be ready to be in sharded dorms many nights.

Finally although the ticket says unlimited travel for 12 months in reality you can only travel each route once. This means you need to carefully plan out your trip to ensure you don’t have to go back on yourself i.e. you cannot travel Queenstown to Christchurch more than once in 12 months.

Rent a Camper

If you’re only here for a couple weeks and want to have a little more freedom to come and go as you please then you’re better off renting a camper. There are endless freedom campsites, Department of Conservation (DOC) sites and Holidays Parks to choose from throughout the country.

What’s the cost?

There are so many different companies to choose from including Britz, Jucy, Vroom Vroom Vroom, Motorhome Republic and Spaceship Rentals to name just a few. Jucy and Spaceship Rentals tend to be the most popular to rent from and the prices vary. For both companies there is a daily price to rent to car ranging from $19 a day up to $50. The price will increase depending on the insurance, any extras you add on, the age of the driver, if the pick up location differs from the drop off location etc. For 4 weeks of travel a standard camper van for two people will cost approx $1600.

What are the pros?

Having your own car allows you the freedom to come and go each day as you please. You can can easily go to smaller places, more walking trails and hikes than you can with the Kiwi or Stray bus. You can also save some money by renting a self contained camper and staying in freedom campsites. If you have a breakdown or a crash you’ve nothing to worry about in terms of damage or repairs as they company will take care of all of this.

What are the cons?

If you want to travel between the North and South Island then you’ll still need to buy a ticket for the Interislander or Bluebridge (approx $250 one way for 2 people in a smaller camper). Depending on how long you intend to travel for this can be costly. For trips longer than 5 or 6 weeks it could be worth looking into buying a car or camper and trying to sell it on.

Buy a Non-Self Contained Car or tent

For many people freedom camping does not appeal to them and in fairness I can see why – its free therefore you likely will only have a drop toilet, no shower, drinking water, laundry etc. In this case it might be best getting a non-self contained car (this will be a car with a bed built into the back to sleep in but no sink or toilet therefore you will not be able to park in freedom sites. Alternatively you could buy a regular car and tent to camp in.

What’s the cost?

The cost will depend on the year, milage, size of the vehicle and whether it is a normal car or whether it has had a bed and kitchen built into it. Second hand cars can vary from $2000 upwards. When buying a car it’s important to know your budget, the type of car you’re looking for, how much you want it to be able to store etc. It could also be worth asking a mechanic to take a look at it before you buy it in order to put your mind at ease that there are no major mechanical issues. The best places to begin your search in second hand dealers or on the following Facebook pages:

What are the pros?

Buying a regular or non-self contained car may allow you to car share with people (by folding the back seats up and down as required) which can help you save money. These cars are cheaper than self contained vehicles and camping equipment is reasonable and easy to get which make it less daunting.

What are the cons?

As you can’t freedom camp, you’ll have to pay more often for a DOC site or holiday park which may end up costing as much as buying a self contained car. There is less demand for regular second hand cars which may make it harder to sell on once you’re finished travelling. If you’re planning on travelling in autumn/ winter and want to camp in a tent then you’ll need to be prepared for it being much colder than a car.

Buy a Self Contained Car/ Camper

A self contained vehicle means is one that you can sleep, cook and live in. It must be able to store at least 3L of fresh water, 3L of grey(dirty) water and 3L portable or fixed toilet per person per day for up to three days i.e. 9L of freshwater per person etc. It must also contain a sink with an extraction pipe connected to your grey water tank and a dustbin with a lid for rubbish. Many freedom campsites require you to have a self contained vehicle in order to camp there or risk a $200 fine. All self-contained vehicles will have the following stickers on display:

What’s the cost?

As with a non-self contained car this will completely vary depending on the year, milage, size of the vehicle and the finish of the interior. I’ve seen old run down cars on sale for over $7000 and increible newly refurbished vans on sale for $20,000. I would say that you need to be prepared to spend at least $4500 on a decent car. Before looking know your budget and be ready to negotiate with the seller. The best places to look for a self contained car are on the Facebook pages mentioned above.

What are the pros?

Similar to the car, this is ideally a kind of investment. You would hope that after completing your travel you would be able to sell the car on and make some of your money back. You have complete freedom to decorate it as you wish and unlike renting you’re not limited on time and can choose to sell it on whenever you wish. By getting a self contained car you can save a lot of money by staying in freedom campsites rather than holiday parks. Richie and I bought a self contained car and over the course of 10 weeks we saved over $1000 by staying in freedom campsites.

What are the cons?

At the end of the day you’re going to, more than likely, be buying a used car and with that there are always risks. You may buy it and something mechanical will go immediately costing you money. You may crash or breakdown which will cost you. You are responsible for getting it road worthy and certified which also cost money.

When buying a car make sure you bring it for a test drive, the seller should have evidence of a recent service (i.e. a receipt), if there are any issues you could negotiate with the seller to repair them before you buy it. It can also be worth asking a mechanic to take a look at it before you buy it. This is very common in New Zealand and the services are very reasonable and provide some peace of mind.

Final Thoughts

If you really want to save money then you could also consider hitching hiking around the country or cycling and camping. Both are big cost saving alternatives however they are much tougher – mentally and physically! Regardless of your budget there is an option to suit everyone for travelling through New Zealand!

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