Some handy hints for travelling and camping in New Zealand

Friday, Apr 08, 2011 at 00:00


Here are few tips picked up during our week in New Zealand. We hired a self contained Maui camper van so were prepared to use parks and free camps where we could.

Roadside Camping

There are numerous road side camping areas along the highways and byways of New Zealand. These are often administered by the National Parks. Many are not mentioned on the maps so ask or check National Park web sites. National Parks administered camping areas attract a fee of about $6 per night but have toilets and rudimentary facilities. The locations and views are often spectacular though. There are quite a few along the road to Milford Sound. The one at the western end of Lake Gunn on the Milford Road was a favourite for ours. All photos in this blog are views taken at these camp areas.

Insurance on Hire Vehicles and Credit Cards

Insurance on your camper or vehicle can be a killer. If you pay for your hire vehicle with your gold credit card, many gold-cards have in built insurance which will cover purchases and vehicle hire. This includes covering the exorbitant vehicle insurance excess should the worst happen. It could make the need for the "excess reduction policy" redundant.Check out just what you are covered for with your credit card. It could save you heaps.

When you use your Visa/Mastercard to pay for your vehicle, you are usually asked for a security deposit. It was $2,200 in our case. This amount is fully refunded on your return should there be no damage to the vehicle. At the time of hiring, the company will then charge you between 1 and 3% of the deposit amount per cent for the privilege of using the credit card. Make sure that this amount is fully refunded on return along with your deposit. Just another sneaky way they grab a few extra dollars off you. Pay this in $AUD as per below as well.

Credit Card use - $AUD vs $NZD

Most hire places give you the opportunity to charge your credit card in Aussie or New Zealand currency. Pay it in Aussie dollars as the banks will slug you a currency conversion fee and their exchange rates are not always flattering either. If the opportunity to pay in Australian dollars is offered at the time of purchase, take that opportunity.

Tourist Radio Plug in

Maui campers offered us a "Tourist Radio" plug in gratis. This is a GPS enabled unit that plugs into your cigarette lighter and broadcasts through the vehicle radio via bluetooth. It alerts you to upcoming attractions along the way. Whilst a commercial venture that is closely aligned to other tourist operations (Big 4 Van parks for example), it also provided a lot of very handy and historical information about sights and places. If hiring a vehicle and a company offer you this facility, take it. You can ignore easily the referrals but overall, the information content is very useful.

Dealing with the Kiwi National Dish

If it isn't already the case, seafood chowder should be the national dish of New Zealand. It’s cooked just about everywhere and often available as a “take away” for later-on. A great and easy meal. Most fish and chip shops sell it by the cup so if getting it for a later meal, let them know and they'll usually give you fresh fish to add at the time of cooking. Yum!

Queenstown Parking

...what a nightmare! Get up to the Sky Gondola car park earlyish (Before 10:00am) as there is free parking for up to four hours (240 minutes). It's only a short down hill walk to the main town area.


- Dettol and baby oil in equal parts seems to stop the dreaded NZ sandflies.

Fuel Discounts

- 'Countdown' supermarket dockets get 4 cents off at most shell servos.

Keeping things charged

Pack a little 150W inverter if you intend doing more than a few nights camping in a row. It makes it much easier to keep cameras, phones and the computer charged. Use it in the cigarette plug while driving.


I find that a road atlas is a lot easier and in my opinion, better than the tom-tom or dash board mounted moving map systems as it allows you to plan you days travel more effectively. To be able to actually see important bits and pieces on the maps well in advance (camping spots for instance) is important. Use both if need be.

Gas bottle refills

For refilling your 4.5 and 9kg gas bottles, as in Oz, most facilities are "swap & go" types. Most others will charge you for a full bottle regardless of the amount you have used. We used very little in our 8 days meandering about meaning we were going to get stung. A lot of BP service stations sell gas by weight. The minimum purchase is $8.00.

If returning to Christchurch from the north, there is a small BP on the left hand side of the highway in the small town of Woodend. It cost us the minimum amount of $8 for our eight days in the camper (using the hot water heater as well!). It saved us $40!

Open Road Speed Limits

The speed limit for vehicles of 3 tonne and over (your larger campers for example) on open New Zealand roads is 90 kph rather than the 100 kph for vehicles under 3t. – They don’t point this out to you when you pick up your hire vehicle and rely on a tiny yellow sticker on the sun visor to indicate it. You need to be aware of this. Here I was thinking what a friendly lot the NZ coppers were waving at me all the time. Sort of makes sense when I found the sticker on the 2nd last day ha ha.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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