If you’ve just purchased your first motorhome or you’re planning on hiring a campervan in New Zealand, driving for the first-time can be daunting. Preparation and practice are key before you start your adventure. So, to be fully prepared and avoid any disasters, read our tips for first-time motorhome drivers.
1. Noise in the vehicle while driving
Remember this is a house of wheels, and even the newest most luxurious vehicles will make some noise while driving. If you are used to driving a quiet car, some squeaking from cupboards and a rattle of cutlery can be quite jarring. The noise should never be obnoxious, but it will be present so set your expectations.
2. Get a guide when reversing
To avoid damage, we strongly recommend getting some assistance when reversing. If you have passengers, ask for guidance with reversing or manoeuvring around tight areas. Even if the vehicle has a reversing camera, it won’t always give you a view of what’s behind you.
3. Allow other vehicles to pass
With campervan hire in New Zealand, this may mean you are new to NZ roads. Courtesy goes a long way in New Zealand. So, if you have a long line of traffic behind you, try and pull over when you can. You will mostly be travelling slower than a car, so pull over and let them pass. You’ll often get a thank you toot for your troubles, and it makes everyone’s journey more comfortable.
4. Motorhomes are large vehicles
Most of the larger campervans are built on commercial chassis, which means they can be wider and longer than you are used to. Side mirrors will often stick out wider than a car would, and it’s very easy to clip something if you aren’t used to the width.
Narrow bridges, and other parked vehicles are the most common culprits for damage. Make sure you stay aware of the vehicles width and give yourself some extra space wherever possible.
5. Wind catches taller vehicles
Campervans are taller, longer, and often more square than the vehicle you drive at home. This means it will catch the wind when you drive. The vehicle may sway a bit, or you might feel the steering wheel start to pull in a certain direction. Be extra vigilant driving in windy conditions. If you don’t feel comfortable, slow down or even pull over and wait for the wind to die down. It’s always a good idea to plan ahead and check weather conditions too.
6. Tips to manage house battery power, so you never run out
To stay on top of your battery, plug the vehicle into mains power at a campsite every third night. This will keep your battery topped up and healthy, and remember to switch off anything you aren’t using at the time.
Another common mistake is leaving the water pumps turned on when they aren’t in use. Driving the vehicle can also trickle charge the battery, and choosing a vehicle with solar panels installed can help extend battery life. Plugging into the mains power overnight at a campsite is always the best way to recharge batteries. Once the fridge is well cooled down, keep the door closed overnight and lower the power on the fridge (if possible) to help conserve power.
7. Ask plenty of questions before you depart
If you’re unsure about something, don’t drive off until you’ve asked the owner to explain it. Trying to figure it out later can be frustrating, and time consuming. Allow extra time on your first day to ask questions. These vehicles can have multiple components and you need to learn how to use it. It’s not unusual to take an hour to go over everything in a vehicle.
Cutting the pickup process short so you can get on the road to stick to a deadline can lead to confusion and frustration later. Make sure you take all the time you need and ask plenty of questions!
8. Plan your first day
Plan your first day well so that you don’t start the journey off under pressure. Leave plenty of time for the pickup process with the owner, time to go to supermarket, and check for approximate drive times. If you book an activity on the first day, leave yourself extra time in case you get held up by something unexpected (like traffic).
If this is your first time in a camper, you’ll be spending the first day getting comfortable. This can be stressful, especially if you are travelling with kids. Try and take the pressure off by getting your first day planned ahead of time. Your second day, you will be more comfortable, and you can start spend more time enjoying the things you love.
9. Exaggerate your drive times, and don’t try to do everything
New Zealand roads are different, and although on paper (or google maps) distances look short they can be longer than you think. Always leave yourself extra drive time, and factor in that 4 and 6 berth vehicles have to drive at 90km (the normal New Zealand speed limit is 100km, which is what the times on maps will be based off so you’ll be 10% slower). Be realistic if you are planning activities in different areas on the same day, and make sure you leave extra time to travel between destinations.
10. Manage your waste
Empty/refill both the grey (dirty) and fresh water tanks every chance you get to ensure these always stay usable. Nobody wants to run out of water mid shower.
If you use the toilet, empty and wash it out as soon as you get the chance and put in fresh chemicals.
Every time you run water in the vehicle, it drains into the waste/grey water tank. Make sure you empty this as often as you refill the freshwater. Both these tasks can be easily done at a campsite.
Be warned, if you overfill the grey water tank or the toilet cassette these will overflow INTO the vehicle, not out of it. This is an experience we do not recommend.
Read more of our tips on how you can care for the country, when you hire a campervan in New Zealand.
11. Don’t put food down the sink
When you hire a campervan in New Zealand, you will find that the pipes are much narrower than house plumbing, and are not designed for large food particles. These can easily block up the water pipes, and can cause you headaches. If they do get blocked, you may need to get them cleared out before you can use the water facilities again. Used coffee grounds are especially prone to blocking these pipes, so much sure you put these in the bin.
12. Don’t leave food out
Insects like ants and cockroaches (north island) love campsites due to the combination of plenty of surrounding vegetation, and an abundance of food.
Don’t leave any food out, as this will attract them inside and once they are in the vehicle, they can be very difficult to get back out.
13. Be sustainable
New Zealand prides itself on its clean and green image. And, regardless of whether you are a kiwi or an overseas guest the expectation is that you do what you can to help us take care of our special place in the world.
Never dump your rubbish or waste anywhere but the appropriate bins or dumping stations – not knowing or understanding is never an excuse to dump illegally. If you need help, advice or directions you can ask a local, a campsite staff member, or someone at an I-Site (information centre), you can also call our team who can assist you.
If you head into the outdoors always take out everything you bring in, leave no trace.
14. Freedom camping
With campervan hire in New Zealand, it is legal to Freedom camp. But, there are strict rules that must be followed. Always comply with local by-laws, the easiest way to find out what these are is to stop by the local i-site (information centre) who can advise you of any freedom camping areas in the region, and the rules around these.
You CANNOT freedom camp wherever you like, only in designated locations. These will have limits on the number of vehicles allowed overnight, and can only be used for a certain number of nights before you need to move on.
Failure to follow the rules will often result in an overnight knock on the door, a $200 fine, and being asked to move on.
15. Download a camping app like CamperMate or Roadtrippers NZ
Campervan hire in New Zealand is a great way to explore the country. But, before you start your journey we recommend downloading these apps (they are both free), and contain plenty of useful information including campsite locations with user reviews and dump stations in your area, as well as popular points of interest.